"People are extremely passionate about Yellowstone on all sides of every issue."
The Yellowstone Interlude began with the wife and I traversing the Beartooth Highway from Red Lodge on Friday morning. Rumors were stirring about that the lowland rain we had received the previous day was snow in the Beartooth Mountains, and in the highest elevations it had snowed a light covering. Luckily for us we encountered none of the snow personally though wee could still see traces of the newest snow along with last winter's efforts. Though it was cold and drizzly once we hit the higher elevations the scenery was wonderful. Charles Kuralt said years ago that the Beartooth Highway was one of the most scenic and beautiful highways in America--the man knew his food and his beauty!
After what was supposed to be a quick, but instead was a gut-wrenching, slow as molasses lunch in Cooke City, we headed into Yellowstone National Park through the Northeast Entrance. The Northeast Entrance is one of two entrances into the park that are open all year--the others is the entrance at Gardiner. I enjoy entering park from the Northeast Entrance as it has my favorite sign. I have always wondered what idiot would "molest" the critters of Yellowstone.
Entrance into Yellowstone begins with expectations--GREAT EXPECTATIONS. It is always the wife and mine expectation that we will witness many of the magnificent animals of the Yellowstone ecosystem--moose, grizzly and black bears, elk (especially as the rutting season has begun), wolves, and even the mighty (and plentiful) bison. It was not too long before we encountered our first critter--the mighty bison.
The bison were on the move. Bison are big critters who pretty much do whatever they want to do whenever they want to do it. They are big and powerful and dangerous--plus they are a heck of a lot faster than people think they are. They are not slow domestic cattle--these fellas are on steroids--unless, of course, they are crossing the road. If they are crossing the road . . . well, everyone is at their mercy.
With the typical Keener luck this didn't happen to us once, but twice. After the first ten minute delay waiting for the bison to cross the road we encounter a wandering herd down the road at Roosevelt Lodge. Once again, they took their sweet time getting across the road. But, hey! Who was I to complain!
Unfortunately, this was the critter highlights of the day. Despite our expectations of abundant wildlife, the best that we could do that first day was a couple hundred bison. The rest of our trip through Yellowstone to the East Entrance and Cody was pretty uneventful. A nice oriental meal and lots of rest in Cody got us prepared for our main day in Yellowstone the next day.
As I stated earlier, the wife and I always have great expectations whenever we go into Yellowstone National Park and Saturday morning was no different. After a quick breakfast at Mickey D's Golden Rainbow Room--and yes, it was quick--we were on the road towards Yellowstone. Again, the rumors of snow had been circulating around Cody that there was snow in the mountains. The East Entrance takes one over the most notorious of the passes--Sylvan. My fear and deep down hidden expectation was that it had snowed on Sylvan Pass. Happily we were only greeted by wet roads as we made our way over the pass. It was coming down off the pass that we spied our first moment of "awe"--Yellowstone Lake. Through the breaking dawn and drizzle we witnessed the new day from on high.
From there we headed into the park towards the Fishing Bridge area where--yeah, you guessed it--we encountered some more roaming bison. Actually the bison were not so much an issue as were the other tourists who kept stopping, hopping out of their vehicles, and attempting to get close up pictures of the bison. I imagine this is what the sign was talking about--molesting! Thankfully the bison were patient, even though the ranger was losing his patience. I am thankful that I have a good telephoto lense on my camera. From the safety of the wife's truck I got a beautiful picture of a bull bison.
Even with great expectations of seeing abundant wildlife--translated that into grizzly and black bears, moose, and wolves--we were shutout in the critter department. Mostly we saw more bison, lots of geese and ducks, and a few other itty-bitty critters. Whenever that happens I am thankful that God took the time to make Yellowstone a natural wonder of beautiful landscape. I had plenty to take pictures of . . . if the critters weren't going to cooperate I knew nature would.
In prime grizzly territory--Hayden Valley--we saw nada of the grizzly. Instead we got to spend some time witnessing the beauty of the thermal wonders of Yellowstone--geysers and mud volcanoes. These too can be pretty awesome. It was here that we took our first mini hike of the day to witness the beauty of this huge thermal bomb making its way up through the ground. Oh, yeah! We also saw our first vicious critter of the morning--the human-eating chipmunk. If there is one critter in Yellowstone you don't want to molest it is the chipmunk!
Next stop was the Upper Falls of the Yellowstone Grand Canyon. This waterfall must be one of the most photographed sites within the park. Here we encountered plenty of tourists all snapping pictures of the waterfall and canyon. When in Rome one does as the Romans do and I took pictures. These were among my favorites from this stop.
From the Upper Falls we headed over to one of the "wonders" of Yellowstone--the Petrified Tree. Yellowstone has one petrified tree in its millions of acres of land--only ONE! Since there is only one everyone ought to see it and this was the first time that the wife and I got to witness this natural wonder. More importantly we got to take our second mini-hike of the day. Together we hiked the mile down the trail to the Lost Lake--prime grizzly territory again. At least that is what the sign said, but we saw nothing. Just a lot of bison dropping, elk rubbings on the trees, and some sort of scat that we could not identify--but no grizzlies! Despite there being no grizzlies the lake was well worth the hike.
Next stop . . . Mammoth. Mammoth is a favorite spot for the elk to gather, especially during the rutting season. Even though it is early in the rutting season there is always some young bull pushing the envelope, and sure enough there was one young bull with his little harem. Making it even more spectacular was getting to hear the young bull bugle. Hearing an elk bugle is music to the ears and this one did not disappoint.
From Mammoth we began the journey back home. We headed through the Lamar Valley where we did not see any wolves or bears--just lots of people staking out places along the road with spotting scopes and binoculars watching carcasses. These patience people were hoping that a wolf or bear would come along and make a feast on the carcass. Unfortunately we did not have time for this as we were taking the Beartooth Pass home. The drizzle of the day in Yellowstone was snow showers in the higher elevations. Those rumors were true at the top of the Beartooth Pass as we drove through snow and sleet that was covering the meadows and peaks. The wind was whipping the snow and sleet across the pass and luckily the roads were warm enough to keep everything from freezing. I did not need the excitement of driving the pass in icy, snowy conditions--my hair is grey enough.
Though our original expectations were not met, we were not disappointed. We were blessed to have had the opportunity to have a brief interlude in Yellowstone to feed and refresh the soul. We were blessed to have been able to share it with our friends from Nebraska, who will tell you that this is their favorite special place. And, we were blessed . . . plain and simple. That alone tops all the expectations. Hope you enjoyed it as much as we did.