On our way to Mammoth Springs we realized that even the best laid plans can quickly dissolve in the park. We pulled up to a major animal jam, signaling a really good find. Was it finally the bear we had been seeking to see from a distance? Nope, it was even better. This congestion was due to a grey wolf sighting. The wolf did not disappoint those of us who stopped, especially if you had binoculars, which thankfully we did. She hid now and then out of sight, but allowed us to see her run down the hill side. At one point she sat down on her haunches in front of some tree for a good minute or two, staring directly toward us. Okay, so we were now a little behind in our timing to get to Mammoth Springs, but we should still be able to easily see it before we need to leave he park. Wait, what’s this? Another traffic jam, this time due to a two year old Grizzly bear. This little guy was tearing the ground apart with his claws from his paws. We were told the he was digging up grubs to eat, yummy. When we first pulled up to the bear sighting everything was orderly, people pulling over to stop, get out and look. However, we all know it only takes one, and when we were leaving some guy decided that even though he was driving he was going to just stop in the middle of the road, put the car and park and get out and take some pictures. Well thankfully park rangers follow these bears around and he quickly put a stop to this rude man’s antics, “Get back in the car sir.” Okay, so now even more time ‘lost.’ As if the wolf and bear were not enough we passed a herd of bison on the side of the road, with the calves getting some milk from their mothers. Soooo cute! After adding up all these impromptu stops we had no time and light left to see the springs in the northwest corner. However, we did stop for Graham Cracker ice cream and that is one super highly recommended flavor.
Out of the park, pronghorn scatter all about the grasses and wish us farewell. There’s a rainbow over the park in the distant setting sun. Second night arriving late, this time somewhat expected (and also of fast food - McDonalds and Burger King consecutive evenings – it has been a long time since we’ve eaten like this! Please say the hiking is helping). We slept very well that night, exhausted from the adventure, feeling satisfied with this version of the sightseeing.
The next morning we woke up to a wonderful breakfast, which included a strawberry rhubarb jam, bagels, yogurt and a lesson on how to easily remove the shell of a hard boiled egg. After breakfast we took back off to get to Yellowstone, this time entering through the west entrance. We pulled over to the side of a road for a hot second to take care of a pretty bad nose bleed (too much up and down elevation and dry, dry weather!), and immediately after that we stopped for an exciting potty break. What made this stop so memorable is that there was a lone bull wandering through the picnic area about 20 feet away, leisurely swaying its huge head, beard swinging as he walked, pausing for a moment to scratch its face on a wooden table. “Mommy, that’s my first bison!” a little girl shrieked. Amateur.
Down to the geysers and Old Faithful Lodge like a puzzle of old pines zigzagging up to the top; heard that they snowed themselves in over the winter to complete the structure. Love this retro lodge feel and think it would be fun to experience a stay in the future.
Saw Old Faithful go off twice; the second time, with the Beehive and another one at the same time, which was a rarer occurrence. In between, we hiked to the top of a hill/mountain to look down on the crazy smoking moonscape below, with scalding spoutings and steam and strange colors. Still don’t fully comprehend, even after the interpretive exhibits on the geology of the park (very cool). There was a fearless little chipmunk whose seat on a downed tree was stolen by Alexis and when she asked Joe if the chipmunk was too close he just replied, “If one foot away is too close, then yes.” The chipmunk just looking right at her like, “What’s up baby girl? Why don’t you lose the zero and get with a hero?” He then scampered away, showing off his little tail.
Managed to steer clear of the bad weather that was immediately surrounding us all day and continued on to our first hike to Fairy Falls, and it was our only hike without being equipped with bear spray. Alexis told Joe that we should talk loudly, because she had read that bear attacks typically happen when bears are surprised and tend to leave the area if they hear people coming. Looking back, Alexis half regrets this, because Joe decided he needed to talk in his bear scaring voice the entire 1.7 miles to the falls. However, we did not encounter any bears so we will never know if we would need to thank him for being so annoying on the trail. When we finally got to the falls we instantly realized why it was named Fairy Falls. While looking up into the sunlight in what looked like a small cove above, sprays of mist danced and spiraled from gusts of wind as the water of the falls tumbled down, filling a small area below before making its way into the stream to continue its journey down the mountain.
More bison here causing jams; on the first day, we only see what we learn are the big old bulls: solitary males who like to be on their lonesome, close to the road, showing us all who’s boss. Kinda cool.
Sunset multicolored brilliant in the huge sky and didn’t set until very late and then just kept setting way past 10pm.
The park ranger welcomed us to the east entrance of Yellowstone with a warning that this would change our lives. “Grandeur” – “wildness” – “national parks” all do kind of take on a different feeling when you’re experiencing the place.
And then it was all about our whirlwind tour: two completely energized, intense, chock full days of taking a whole lot of crazy wilderness in at once. The east side of the park took us through forested mountains, winding down to Yellowstone Lake, which is the largest freshwater lake in the park. First stop was to a taxidermy-filled info center and second stop was for cocktails in the lodge of the Lake Hotel. Live piano music and views of the lake accompanied our bourbon and Moose Drool. On to the canyons, which were picture perfect massive cliffs with waterfalls and a huge river running through them, just waiting for painters’ canvases to take their picture.
We enjoyed seeing pictures of the park’s history and all the visitors a century ago in Victorian-like garb climbing up close and personal to some of the biggest sights, before safe distances and preservation were embraced. Inspires you to go ahead and take a risk as you see that the lady in the little heeled boots, corsets, and skirts could do it.
Lots of large birds/raptors spotted; they have a conservation program in which they ask visitors to document any raptors sighted. Joe is turning into a bird-man.
From Bighorn through Cody, which looked like a fun cowboy town tourist center with Buffalo Bill all about; need to save that for another trip (had also wanted to visit the Heart Mountain Relocation Center memorial, one of the only remaining Japanese internment camps from World War II). A long road along a river takes you to the east entrance to the park, where we experienced such a heavy downpour we could barely see and traffic coming towards us veered into our lane. We hoped the rain removed some of the dust from our car, which is starting to put on the miles and collecting bugs on its front grill like a cross-country etymologist, but is zippy as ever.
We also had fun listening to the AM radio broadcast from Shoshone National Park warning against feeding the bears.