Another great day in Yellowstone.
We got on the road about 9 this morning. A bit later than we had expected, but everyone was slow in getting ready. On the agenda was exploring the upper loop at Yellowstone. As we said before, the park is about seven miles from the campground, then there’s a 14 mile drive into the heart of the park from the entrance.
The first thing we stopped to see was the Norris Geyser basin. This is a large area of many geysers. There is a long boardwalk/trail around the basin but we only walked a bit of it and got some good pictures. There’s also a museum there in a building built in the 20’s. It had the first exhibits explaining the difference between the various thermal features here: steam vents, geysers, hot springs, mud pots, etc.
Before getting to Mammoth, the next major stop on the loop, we were luck enough to come across a mother black bear with her two cubs eating about 100 feet from the road. A crowd had already gathered and there was a park ranger already there keeping people far enough away. Annie was very excited about the bear and she jumped out of the car before it was barely stopped to check it out, running straight up the road. So much for back pain. The kids bailed out just as quickly and our family alone created a good traffic jam. We got some good video as well as pictures including one where a cub was climbing a tree.. As we came to find out today, the park staff are always on the lookout for bears close to people (roads, parks, etc.) Once a bear is sighted in one of these places, rangers immediately go there to make sure people don’t get too close. Many times visitors will report bears, or any of the staff of the park who sees one will radio it in to get a ranger there. The one other thing the ranger has to do in these situations is keep the traffic moving. All the roads are just narrow two lane roads and when there are wildlife close to the road, especially bears, traffic jams quickly form. Besides already formed traffic jams, the other thing you have to always look out for are people slamming on their brakes when they think they see something. This happened once today. Annie had warned Chris about a particular driver, but he almost hit her anyway because he was looking at the same animal she was. Annie only screamed a little.
As we continued around the loop, we stopped at a place to look at some cliffs. The book we have said you could sometimes spot Coyotes there. Chris was looking through the binoculars at the cliffs when he spotted a Bald Eagle coming our way. He called it out, and the twelve other people there whipped out their cameras and started clicking. It was very cool to see this bird float slowly over us in circles. That bird hadn’t finished going out of site when Chris spotted another one coming from the same direction. This time Annie was ready with the camera and we got some great pictures of this one.
We finally came to Mammoth. This is a busy place with a lodge, cottages, restaurant, and gas station among other things. There are about five of these more populated crossroads around the park. Mammoth is the biggest we think just by looking at it. It’s also one of only two which are accessible by car in the winter. All the other parts of the park are accessible by snowmobile or snow busses in winter. We had lunch there in a good fast food style restaurant. Annie and Chris both think the company than runs all the vending and extracurricular activities does a pretty good job. The food was fast but good and not too overpriced and the places are clean.
After lunch, we got on the road again and decided against going up to the Beartooth Highway. It would have added at least four hours to the day and it was already nearing 2pm. Instead we decided to complete a leisurely trip around the remainder of the upper loop. The next sites we saw were on a six mile dirt road with very little traffic. It was a good diversion from the paved busy road. While we didn’t see any animals, we did get some great mountain pictures as well as some of the wildflowers growing everywhere along the road.
Back on the main road, we made a quick stop to see a petrified redwood tree. They say the area used to have redwood trees of the same variety as found in California today. 50 million years ago, a volcanic eruption petrified this particular tree as well as two others next to it. Unfortunately, the other two had been destroyed by visitors picking pieces off them before the last one was protected by a high fence. So there it stands, about 20 feet high. As I said, this was a quick stop.
After another bear picture taking stop, we headed for Dunraven Pass, the highest point in the park.
This is a long road up. On the way, we detoured up another dirt road to the Mt. Washburn trailhead. This ends in a parking lot near the top of this mountain. It was about 12 degrees colder up there, with snow banks still present around the lot. We got some pictures of the kids in the snow. This is pretty high up with steep drops on all sides of the lot. Annie wasn’t too comfortable looking down and kept close to the truck. From there, if you’re brave, you could hike another three miles and 1,400 feet up to a fire watch tower. We could actually see the tower from the parking lot because there are few trees at that elevation. We decided against the hike. A sign read that at the summit, it could snow any day of the year.
Back on the main road, we finally got to the pass. Around the second week of June this road was still closed due to winter conditions. By now there wasn’t any sign of snow but there was spectacular views of the surrounding mountains and valleys.
As we kept on around the loop, we continued to see wildlife – mostly bison and elk. At one point, we ran into a traffic jam and as we neared the source, we saw a bison walking up the shoulder of the road. It crossed through traffic, through a parking area, and joined several others in the meadow next to the parking lot. We got some great close up pictures of two of them. It was funny to see a couple of people trying to run to keep up with this bison so the woman could get a picture of the man with the bison in the background. At one point the bison stood erect, looked straight at them, and we though he was going to charge them, but went back to eating instead. We laughed at what great pictures that would have been to see the people getting chased by this huge animal.
As we left the park, Annie did a bit of last minutes shopping in town, and we gassed up for our start home on Sunday. We hope to get rolling bright and early since we have to go through part of the park for the trip. We want to do that before the crowds and traffic get bad. Hopefully by going through early, we’ll see some wildlife as well.
That’s all for now. We’re all getting excited to be home and see everyone. See you soon.
Annie’s thought of the day: “My eyes are killing me from squinting to look for animals on every hill and in every field. I’m addicted.”