Yellowstone 2016

We made it to Yellowstone National Park in the early afternoon on June 30th just as planned. We spent a few nights in Badlands National Park in South Dakota on our way out. We saw bison, prairie dogs and wild storms of thunder, lightening, heavy rain and even hail! At one point the winds were hitting the side of the RV so hard it was rocking… fun. Scary. We stayed in the no hookup, first come first serve RV park, Sage Brush. It was awesome!! Highly recommend it if you want to be “nowhere” for a few nights with amazing animals and mother nature all around! There were a couple of out-houses, trash receptacles and ranger talks in the evening when there was no wild storms.

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Anyway, while in Yellowstone we started off sight seeing like mad. We stayed in Fishing Bridge Campground for two weeks and it was not enough time to see everything and do all the hikes we wanted. A great perk was only one Verizon cell tower that is evidently quite old so no phone and no Internet! Andrew finally had a break from work for the first time in over 13 years! This also meant no posting as we went along… I kept a journal of our trip but now that I’m trying to get on track with posting I’ve decided to cut it to the major highlights and add photos and videos to highlight what we did and saw. We basically went out hiking and sightseeing every morning, no matter the weather (it did snow while we were there but we slept through it), stopped home sometime in the afternoon for a rest and to take care of the dogs, and then went back out late afternoon until sometime in the evening. Since the sun set so late we were often sight seeing until 9 or 10 PM. We put over a thousand miles on the Jeep just driving around the park!This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Overall Sightseeing Experiences

Driving through the park

Yellowstone is working to improve the roadways on a couple long stretches of road. This made travel in these areas tough and added to the traffic on the other roads. Also, if you’ve never been to Yellowstone you may not be familiar with “bison jams.” That’s what the volunteers and rangers called the long traffic jam that piled up throughout the park. Think of a narrow two lane country road. Add a couple shoulders here and there as pull-offs. Now add thousands of cars all looking for wildlife. Someone spots a bear, elk, wolf, etc and stops in the middle of the road to get a photo. What do people coming in the other direction do? They, of course, stop too! Soon there are 50 plus cars slowing, stopping and sometimes getting out for photos.

DSC_0186 (1)This was as we descended driving south toward Roosevelt Tower. Think of a curvy, steep, no guardrail road with a bison strolling along… keeping to the right side of the road. We were the third car driving toward the bison and were able to pass after only a few minutes. The oncoming traffic (following the bison) were in a jam at least a half mile long when we passed!

Video of the bison.

This is how we saw most of the wildlife while we were there. Honestly, we appreciated these jams. This is how we saw a young elk trapped in the Yellowstone River by two wolves. After several minutes of waiting in the car we decided to turn off in the middle of the road and walk a bit to see what was going on. Just as we approached the area (she/he was on the opposite shore)  the elk took off up the steep embankment. Within seconds a wolf was on her/him and we heard horrible screams from the animal as it died. Then a second wolf joined for the dinner. It was a little unsettling to see and hear but this is what makes this park so amazing. Real wildlife acting on instincts.

IMG<em>20160702</em>195129I know it’s tiny but across the Yellowstone River is a wolf eating the carcass of an elk.

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This is how we saw elk, bison, deer, pronghorn, swans, and even grizzly and black bears. “Wildlife-jams!” We were also able to see coyote, foxes, rabbits, bison, elk, snakes and many different birds of prey on our own, driving and hiking through the park. We felt so lucky to have seen so many animals and without ever being in danger ourselves.

Hiking the trails

The trails in the park we most often created by the wildlife that live there. A cool fact we learned from a ranger on a hike we made early the second week. We also learned from emails before arriving in the park and signs throughout the park to carry bear spray. We always did! The trails were really well maintained and we wished we got to hike more of them! Some of our favorites were Elephant Back Loop, Lost Lake Loop and a no name trail at the end of a dirt road near the West Entrance of the park. Elephant Back Loop was a climb… quite a change in elevation as we made it to the height of the trail and saw a fantastic view of the West Thumb Lake, the islands and shoreline! We decided to take this hike on a rainy morning since it was only a few miles from Fishing Bridge Campground and we figured if we were freezing and soaked that it was only a short drive home and the rain held off for us anyway. I think it was only about 3 1/2 miles.

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The Lost Lake trail-head was up north near the Petrified Tree. From there we hiked to the Lake past several yellow-bellied marmots. These little mammals live in dens in the ground and evidently hibernate 8 months of the year! Then we hiked past the lake with blooming lily pads, and a mama duck with her ducklings. We again changed elevation, hiking a long ways down to the Roosevelt Tower camping area. Then we had to hike back up and over which again rewarded us with the most beautiful views of distant mountains, fields of wild flowers, and the amazing blue sky.

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The third hike we totally enjoyed was near the West Entrance. We were out driving around one morning during the second week and we came upon a dirt road. We of course had to take it. At the end was a picnic table and a trail head without a name. So, we hiked it. This followed the Madison River for a bit and then cut inland toward another trail. The hike was really beautiful and we saw a deer, frog, and a few huge ravens. We also saw a LOT of “dog like” poop… it was at that point we decided we might want to head back since wolves or coyotes seemed to be spending a lot of time there. On this particular hike we saw no people at all. So amazing. At the end we decided to sit in the Madison River and cool down. Luckily I thought ahead and left a bag with suits and towels in the Jeep;-)

IMG<em>20160709</em>161600Madison River, cooling off after a hike near the West Entrance

### *Time with park rangers and volunteers *

On a few occasions we were able to spend time with the Yellowstone Park Rangers. Next time we are in a national park we will be sure to take more advantage of the Ranger offerings! We heard a few great evening talks given at the amphitheater near our campground. We learned about the history of Yellowstone, of all the National Parks, the near demise and then restoration of the bison, and other facts about the wildlife in the park. In addition to the late night fireside chats we took a hike with a ranger and a VIP (Volunteer in the Park/Very Important People) along the Yellowstone River. We learned on this hike about the change in flow of the river (it used to flow south and to the Pacific Ocean and now it runs north and ends up eventually in the Mississippi and the Gulf!) as well as about the different fires that occurred more recently in the park. The area near Fishing Bridge, where we were hiking, had not burned for over a hundred years and so it had many very old and mature trees including lodgepole pines (these make up most of the forests in the park), spruce and fir. On this hike we watched a fox playing in a field as we heard stories of adventure seekers from the late 1800s and early 20th century surviving, after being left behind by their traveling group, by eating different plants. We also learned about a couple different types of lichens (algae and fungus living together) and that some are edible and just seeing them on the rocks and trees is evidence of how clean the air is in Yellowstone. These interesting and beautiful “creatures” don’t live where there is bad air quality.

We saw bear, elk, and learned that the bison we saw rolling in the dirt may have urinated in the dirt first. This is how the males make sure they smell just right to attract a female! It is that time of the year…

On another occasion we took a boat tour of West Thumb. Our Ranger on this day was a very knowledgeable and entertaining gentleman, and taught high school science for 50 years and at the same time spent every summer as a Park Ranger in Yellowstone! Most of the rangers and volunteers work in Yellowstone for part or all of the summer and have other jobs elsewhere the rest of the year as it is so cold and snowy in the late fall through spring that most of the roads and buildings are shut down.

Other fantasticl experiences occurred at noon one day and at 11:00 PM another! The Museum of the Rockies offered a viewing of the sun through special lenses so we could see the sun spots as well as flares coming off the sun! The night time viewing was absolutely awesome. We were able to see Saturn and the rings, Jupiter and its five moons, a cluster of stars and planets that with the naked eye was just black sky, as well as an up close and personal view of the craters of our moon… these telescopes were so powerful, and the things we could see were just spectacular! The one gentleman was telling us that Yellowstone is one of the few places left in the country where the night sky is so visible because of the lack of human made light.

*Boardwalks and Visitor Centers *

The major hydrothermal aspects of the park seem to have roads right to them. There may be some not accessible by car but we honestly saw a ton of sulfur scented mudpots, geysers, hot springs, and fumaroles all over the park. These are all features that exist because Yellowstone has lava just a few miles under the surface. The rainwater and snow melt seep into the ground and is heated. Each hydrothermal feature is created with slightly different conditions. Also, the stunning colors of the features are created differently. The hot springs can be clear or beautifully colored depending on the organisms that live in them. It was amazing to see the roiling water, so hot, and know there were organisms living  in them that we don’t even understand yet! The mudpots, also known as paint pots are created by water and different levels of acid. There are some as acidic as a battery acid. The acidity actually dissolves the rocks and minerals and can cause really stunning colors as the bubbles pop at the surface. Mammoth Hot Springs is known for the beautiful travertine terraces. These are created by the hot water and limestone reacting together. All these features were accessible by car, boardwalk and paths throughout the park.

Video of Dragon’s Mouth

My favorite experiences were near Old Faithful but didn’t include its eruption! It is not as faithful as it once was likely due to earthquakes shifting things around. Anyway, our second night in Yellowstone we went over to Old Faithful after 8 o’clock hoping to see it and the other hydrothermal features  without too many people. The place is mobbed during the day. We arrived just as dark clouds started to gather in the distance. We had several great sightseeing opportunities throughout this trip when it rained. This was the BEST! We walked onto the boardwalk behind Old Faithful to see the other features, geysers, and hot springs. The boardwalk emptied with exception of maybe five other people. The sky was magnificent with the setting sun and storm, the thunder and lightning were close and we had the most amazing 50 minutes wandering, listening, watching, and smelling the rain blow in. We made it back to the car by the time it started to drizzle and drove home totally pleased with the experience!!

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Another very cool experience was walking on the long blacktop path behind the boardwalk we walked on the second night. We were quite hot, there had been no rain that day, and we were circling back to the parking lot when we walked past Daisy Geyser and it went off! Then we were nearing Castle Geyser which hadn’t erupted since October of 2015… and we saw it was erupting! Super lucky to be in the right place at the right time!

Plants in the park

SO many amazing plants all over Yellowstone. There were evergreen trees, from saplings to hundreds of years old, trees with “bobby socks” and even a redwood petrified from a long ago volcanic eruption which shows how much the environment of Yellowstone has changed! Flowers were everywhere, all different colors and sage brush with its amazing smell covered the “high desert-like” areas. We loved being in the open clean air, and smelling the rain when it blew in.

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### So there you have it! Just the nuts and bolts of our two weeks in Yellowstone. I have so many more photos, videos and things we experienced… maybe I’ll share in a post later when I am ready to reflect on all this a little more!