We are now officially 33 days into our journey and have finally made it to the first ever National Park in America- Yellowstone. Arnie and I have been to Yellowstone once before, the summer of 1999. Many of you have heard me refer to this trip as the "prove yourself worthy trip" as Arnie made me backcountry camp with him in Glacier and Yellowstone. I always joke that before he would propose, he needed proof I could hang with him. It was a great trip, so I was anxious to show the kids. Like our last visit we would be entering from the North entrance, the only entrance open year round, in the town of Gardiner, MT where we stayed the night before.
We got up early as we were going to do the 9am Ranger led hike/tour of Mammoth hot springs. On the way in we passed a female elk eating in the median right at Mammoth village, so we knew we would have a great few days here. Our ranger tour, with Ranger David, was awesome. I don't know why we didn't do more of these in other parks (besides Mesa Verde and Crater Lake where you have to), you learn so much more than doing it on your own, and frankly they don't take any longer. It was a 90 minute tour and we saw the entire area. The amazing thing is it is TOTALLY different in 14 years, the boardwalk, how big it is, new hot springs and more.
As we went back to the car, I told Arnie that I really felt we should do the North area today, as I was afraid we would not make it back. We have 3.5 days in Yellowstone. The first two by ourselves and the last 1.5 with our friends the Coldiron's. We have a reservation at Madison campground tonight, which is center of park on West side, and then Fishing Bridge for next two nights which is center of park on East side. My gut just told me to stay up North vs. driving down towards the geysers on West side. We had done that drive the last time, lots of fly fishers in the river is what I remember. Thankfully I convinced him, as the next half-day was AMAZING!!!
We didn't get 15 minutes into our drive and someone rolled down their window to tell us there was a bear about a mile up the road, they were turning around to go see it. If you have never been to Yellowstone, let me explain how animal sighting works. RARE is it that you just happen to see a wild animal in the forest or meadow that no one else has. Instead, you are driving and all the sudden cars are parked everywhere, and people are running/fast walking with cameras, and those are your clues that an animal is around. In this case the crazy people were stopped EVERYWHERE, including in the middle of the road, no joke! It kills me. The park clearly lays out some guidance to follow on animals - like how much distance to keep and so forth, but no one follows it.
This bear was down the hill from the road, in what appeared to be perhaps a creek bed for snow run-off or heavy rain, so there was lots of grass to graze on. I saw him from the RV, so let Arnie and the kids get closer, as the traffic was nuts and I had to maneuver around it. Here are some picks of Bear #1 sighting - a black bear.
We kept driving down the road, and not 3-4 miles further down we see a ton of people at a turn-around that sits above a valley. There again is another bear. What amazing luck for us. The even better part was someone was pulling out of a spot that I could maneuver the RV into. We sat and watched bear #2 for a good 45 minutes. He was quite adventuresome, going from meadow, to the logs and would walk on them. Then he went towards the road and crazy people got WAY TOO CLOSE (that was before the ranger showed up and yelled at them). The bear actually got very hostile and we thought it was because of the people, but it ends up he found an animal in the trees and attacked it, killed it and proceeded to sit down and have lunch. We got some really up close views through a nice gentleman's telescope he had set up. This bear was very different from the first, his coat was quite matted, and had brown and black fur, quite unusual looking.
So we are feeling good and decide to head up to Lamar valley to try to see some more animals. We didn't expect to see wolves, as they are nocturnal, but were hoping for others. As we pull up to the intersection at Roosevelt Tower we see our first bison, a few female and a new calf. It ends up they are walking towards the road we are turning onto. Just as we turn and get alongside them (they are opposite side of the road) they start to run alongside us, it was unreal. I hope you can get a sense from the pic below they are trotting. We we so scared, as we were coming up to a bridge and there was an older couple walking on it, with no where to go. I rolled down my window and screamed to them and they tried to get out of the way, but thankfully the bison crossed the street about 10 feet before them. The kids could not believe how close they get.
We then went up to the Lamar valley and pulled over to have lunch. We saw a ton of female bison and their young up in the valley from afar - probably about 500 of them. We also saw three antelope running, deer of course and come cool birds. Now it was about 2pm and we wanted to head down towards Canyon village to catch a 3:30 ranger hike along the South Rim of the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. The kids all took naps the ride down which took about an hour and we were excited for Ranger Michael's talk. He was really great, explained the different trees in Yellowstone, where animals like to hang out, how Yellowstone was formed (three different explosions, the last 640K years ago, and the soot/ash covered 1/3 of the US, and left it dark for 10 years, let's hope the next one is really far away. On the hike we saw a tree with bear claw marks in it, pretty high up, and they were deep. The pic is below with Ben playing the bear. We got some good views of the canyon and also took another one of Arnie and I at Artist's Point so we can compare it to the one we took 14 years ago and see how old we look.
We were all tired from a great first day and headed for Canyon visitor center to get our passports stamped. While inside it started to rain, which we expected as the clouds rolled in. But then it started to downpour, and within about 10 minutes it was hailing. It was very funny to see all the Chinese tourist running outside with the hands cupped to catch it and then eat it, I guess they never saw hail before. After waiting it out we escaped to the RV and headed to the campground. Well it poured the entire night, so we ate inside and played some cards. We were so grateful to have the RV and not be some of the poor souls in tents.
Tomorrow we head for the geysers, starting off with a Ranger geyser walk at Old Faithful at 8:30.