The last full week in June, we had six full days in West Yellowstone. It was glorious. We took a raft of photos with my poor overworked point-and-shoot camera; it did its best for us but a new camera moved to near the top of the wish list.Sunday we pulled into the campground in the afternoon. On the way, there’s a rest area on one side of the hill; we stopped there for lunch and enjoyed the picnic meadow and the spring, with what looks like CCC stonework around it. The water was breathtakingly cold. Over the rise and Whoops! There’s our campground. I was really glad that I knew it was on the same site as a Super 8 motel or we would have missed it; as it was, we made the turn just a whisker faster than we like. They were going to put us into a teeny gravel site in the center of the campground, just barely large enough for the trailer by itself, but we bargained for a better space on the campground edge and they were accommodating. Once again, walking the campground pays off. Sunday night was the first of the G&G rally get-togethers, which was pleasant enough.
Monday, J had to work until afternoon, but then we went into the park. The (high) amount of traffic was surprising to me, though I guess it shouldn’t have been. My memories of a family trip years and years ago are of stop-and-go traffic throughout the park. We were spared that once we were through the admission gate, and went off to see Old Faithful first thing. It took a while to find parking in the enormous parking area. There seemed to be a crowd around Old Faithful so we headed right over, bypassing the lodge and concession buildings; it’s a huge complex. I was briefly disappointed to see that by the sign on the ranger station we’d missed the eruption by ten minutes, but a nearby photographer assured me it hadn’t happened yet, and we were in prime position when about five minutes later it did go off. After the geyser geysered, we walked the trail out to Morning Glory pool, passing many more geysers in various stages of spitting and burbling. It took about 90 minutes to walk the loop we’d chosen, including stops to take photos with other people’s cameras (J must have a trustworthy face, more than one family asked him to get a photo of all of them.) And just as we’d gotten close enough to see it well, Old Faithful erupted again right on schedule, so we had a gorgeous walk and saw Old Faithful twice.
Tuesday there were a bunch of activities on the G&G schedule but none that we wanted to do more than we wanted to go into the park again. This time, we headed out first thing in the morning, planning to stop at every little turn-out and loop road in our path. This worked great; we headed south toward the geyser area again and stopped at paint pots and aquamarine and cobalt pools and falls steaming from the heat of the water. Our favorite was the Grand Prismatic Spring, almost a small lake in size, deep blue in the center and orange and peach at the edges. The surface swirls with steam all of the time, until a gust of wind moves the curtain aside to show the lucent blue. It was a clear cool day and viewing conditions were perfect; I looked back at the spring as we walked away and was rewarded with the sight of the colored steam -- vivid blue and peach as it moved over the surface of the water.
On the main road again, our passage was halted by a large herd of buffalo (yes, yes, bison, I know – they’ll always be buffalo to me.) They were crossing the road in small groups, mostly cows, dark brown and shaggy with the remnants of their winter coats, and calves, cinnamon colored and incredibly cute. One calf crossed right in front of us to join his mother who was watching from the shoulder of the road. Naturally, this was one of the days that we’d forgotten the camera..
More than once in Yellowstone I had cause to marvel at people’s willful ignorance. This time it was the woman holding a toddler, who walked right up to one of the mother and calf pairs and turned her back to them, gesturing to her companion to take their picture. Luckily, the buffalo were more interested in crossing the road than in taking umbrage and all ended well.
We did as many geothermal features as we could stand, and once we started to get hungry, hotfooted it over to the Lake Yellowstone Hotel, which we had been assured had the best restaurant in the park. We made it just in time for lunch and really enjoyed our meal in the old-fashioned dining room with a stunning view of the lake. In the afternoon, there was time and energy for one last vista at Artist’s Point, the beautiful view of the falls at one end of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.
On Wednesday, the rally had arranged an all-day bus tour to a couple of gold-mining towns in Montana. At a stop in Virginia City, I got to take a stagecoach tour, which was a lot of fun especially since I was the only passenger. So the driver and her small collie and I all rode on the driver’s bench up top. It was lots of fun and good information with very little camp, for which I was grateful. We also stopped at Quake Lake, created by a massive rockslide caused by a major earthquake in 1959; it was very interesting, especially seeing what the area was like in that era. We saw more antelope than you could shake a stick at. We were a little frustrated by the vague itinerary -- the schedule kept shifting at whim. I doubt we’d do that sort of thing again, but a stop at a local meat market made up for it somewhat as we were able to get an excellent bison roast for the chili J was going to make for the last potluck of the rally.
Thursday we were so tired that we abandoned plans to visit the park again in favor of resting at the campground and getting the laundry done. We weren’t the only ones with that idea so the laundry room was a happening place, especially since only one or two of the dryers could be considered to be working well. In the evening we had a gift exchange at the potluck, which was one of those “stealing” exchanges. Normally I hate those but this was more good-natured than most so it was ok. The gifts we’d brought, a quilted vent pillow and a bottle of bourbon, were much sought after and went early, which was gratifying.
On Friday we got up early. Not too early, as I remembered in the nick of time Thursday night (just before setting the alarm for five am) that the road we wanted to take wouldn’t open until 8 am. We were there for the road opening, and drove the north loop of the park in a quest for wildlife. We saw more buffalo, some elk (we saw elk every day we were there), and two near-bear (that’s when you get to the clot of people looking out into the forest just in time to be told that: ”there was a bear, right over there!”) To make up for the near-bear, though, we did see a wolf, hunting in a marshy meadow. He crossed the road as we were walking back from parking and I got some good photos as he moved across the meadow, causing a major traffic jam. Most of the animal sightings we had in Yellowstone were the result of stopping to see what the traffic jam was looking at, though in this case I’d spotted him and we‘d pulled over to start the ball rolling (or stopping, as the case may be.) The bald eagle in a nest close to the road was at home to visitors, and we got a great view from the truck driving by slowly in the press of traffic, as in front of us folks persisted in slowing or pulling over despite many signs saying don’t stop don’t slow down in this area.
Saturday we took the sure thing as far as bear sightings are concerned and went to the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center in West Yellowstone. They have an interpretive center with info on both black and brown (aka grizzly) bears, along with a small zoo featuring a wolf enclosure and a number of rescue bears. The bears are allowed into the viewing enclosure in groups of two or three, according to their temperament one assumes. This goes on all day, and they’ve set up a neat feature where kids are allowed to go into the enclosure between bears and hide food for the bears to find. It was a fun time for everyone, and it was neat to see the bears come in and look for food. They also had a big flock of ravens hanging around, and I heard the staffer warn the kids to hide the food well, because if we could see it so could the ravens and they’d eat it first if they could. We had just enough time in the afternoon to nip in to the park and visit Grand Prismatic Spring once more, this time with the camera, and got some good photos from the trail on the hillside behind the spring.
Sunday morning we headed out for the long drive to Madison after hearty farewells to the folks we’d come to know and like over the course of the week.