This is the continuation of our June vacation after driving through remote central Idaho.
When we arrived in West Yellowstone, we were completely underwhelmed. We quickly turned up our noses at the town full of lower end hotels and restaurants with iceberg lettuce and chicken fried steak proudly on the menu. The RV park where we were staying was pretty much a gravel parking lot albeit with full trailer hook-ups and nice, clean bathrooms. I still need to tell you all how we became trailer folk but that is a story for another day. The point is, we now own a trailer and Andy is a better negotiator than I realized…or he just knows how to work me…or both. I digress…
Luckily, West Yellowstone was the only thing disappointing about Yellowstone.
We entered the park for the first time on Monday morning. Our intention was to arrive early and see all of the wildlife taking early morning drinks from the rivers viewable from the road. For a variety of reasons, that did not happen. Despite our kids rising early, there are a lot of steps getting everyone’s bellies full and bodies cleaned and dressed. Our German traveling companions were not exactly early risers either.
So rather than fighting it, we arrived in the park after 10am and were immediately in awe of the natural beauty all around us. Again, how did we not realize this when we were kids?
The first day we did the southern driving loop of the park which seemed to give access to all of the important park attractions including:
Yellowstone River complete with fly fishermen,
other intereseting geothermal attractions,
Um, don’t let you kids fall into that one…
Hayden Valley (you will see this later),
Yellowstone Lake (um, do you realize this lake sits in the crater of the Yellowstone Super Volcano, ya…nothing like a 1500 square foot caldera),
and the Grand Canyon of Yellostone.
We ended the day by getting ice cream at Yellowstone Lake and then going on to the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. There is a trail there called Uncle Tom’s Trail which we decided to follow. At the beginning of the trail there were signs implying it was treacherous and Andy told me a tourist had fallen to their death in the area last week, but we decided to push on. Eventually the trail descended and reached a point where hundreds of stairs continued below. Andy carried Eloise and I held Belén’s hand while she proceeded to walk down over 350 stairs, pose for a photo and then climb back up them. We were shocked to say the least, but now we know not to underestimate a girl fueled by ice cream. So many people who passed us on the way up and down pointed at her and looked at us like we were crazy. They did this just before almost having heart attacks themselves… Throwing 300 stairs in front of people quickly separates the fit from the not so fit and we saw much more of the latter. Anyway, so we are signing Belén up for the children stair climbing event in the London Olympics and plan to pump her up on chocolate mint ice cream before the competition.
This was at the conclusion of the trail where you realize you have to turn around and ascend all of the steps you just descended (the smiles are a little forced.)
By now, you are dying to know, what about the animals? Did you see any animals? I have been building the suspense for so long I know you are all gripping the edge of your seats.
I will end the suspense by saying, we saw nearly every type of animal we wanted to see. The only thing we didn’t see was a moose and we understand it is quite rare to see a moose at Yellowstone.
Yup, we joined the masses and pulled Patrik’s rented SUV over for plenty of animal photos. Only minutes after entering the park we saw a mama bison and her babe next to the road and then a few minute later, there was an entire herd. At this point we we were still enamored by bison, not realizing they are like rats in Yellowstone.
I have to admit that even on Day 3, when we understood bison ubiquity within Yellowstone, it was still cool to see them.
My favorite bison encounter was when we stopped to take a parting shot of the animals and an elk sauntered across the road and joined the bison grazing in a field.
There was a little deer that seemed to follow us everywhere.
And we cheated a little and saw both wolves and bear at the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center, albeit behind bars.
But do you think we were satisfied with seeing bears behind bars? Nope! Two Americans and two Germans were actually quite determined to see a bear in the wild (the other two Americans just wanted to watch the iPad and suck their binkie), but again I am getting ahead of myself.
The second day in the park we did the northern driving loop and I know this is going to sound really bad but I only remember a few parts of it because there was a lot less new stuff to see AND I was kind of in the middle of a really exciting book. Have you read Girl with the Dragon Tattoo? It is VERY good and I am one of those people blessed with the ability to read from the backseat of a moving SUV so between entertaining the kids and looking out the window at a whole lot of trees and NO BEARS, I read like crazy. Patrik and Claudia had both read the series, so it was nice to be able to pepper them with questions about what might happen next to Lisbeth or Mikael. Claudia kept a great poker face but Patrik always gave a little something away.
We did climb up some mountains, cross the continental divide again and find snow so it wasn’t a total bust. I almost forgot Mammoth Falls which was a very unique geothermal attraction and a fun place to get out and hike around.
But I have to say the southern loop seemed to be where all of the action was at.
Day Three found us at the aforementioned Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center in the morning before Eloise about lost it in the advertised authentic but in reality totally not authentic Mexican restaurant outside the doors of the center. We took the girls back to the trailer for their nap and I was terribly disappointed to have more time to finish my book. Meanwhile, Patrik, Claudia and Andy sat hunkered down in the SUV listening to Germany play in the Eurocup soccer tournament.
Almost simultaneously, Germany won, I finished my book and the girls awoke refreshed so we decided to head back into the park in search of bears. We headed to Hayden Valley because Andy predicted that was where we would see bears IF we were going to see bears. We made a minor planning error and forgot to bring sustenance for our journey back into the park. Both me and the girls started to turn into grizzlies ourselves just before we found a visitor’s center store loaded with all kinds of healthy snacks from Greek yogurt to granola bars. We were set and ready to find some bears.
When we arrived at Hayden Valley, the vast area was only hosting some water fowl and a bison in the distance. Andy, Patrik and Claudia sat outside for probably 40 minutes scanning the valley with our binoculars before the action started. Eagle eye, Claudia, said, “I think I see a bear.” The guy parked next to us didn’t believe her but when Andy looked into the binoculars he confirmed her suspicion. Not only was it a bear, but it was a Grizzly mama and her two cubs, WAY off in the distance. We decided to get closer and drove to a pull our closer to where they were frolicking in the meadow. The bears started walking down by the river so we once again got in our SUV and drove to an even closer pull out. Next, we watched in amazement as in the course of another 15 minutes, the bears swam in the river, played some more, crossed the river and then proceeded to cross the street within 50 yards from our vehicle. Even with my childhood fear of bears, it was SO cool. There were enough other dumb people, like some Chinese tourists who didn’t see a good reason to get back in their car as the bears walked within 30 feet of them that I figured Darwin was on our side and our kids were safe.
A little too close for my taste
As you can see from this video, Belén pulled herself away from the iPad once the bears has crossed the street. Eloise slept through the excitement.
The craziest part of it all was that once we had pulled away and driven a couple more miles down the road, another bear walked right in front of us and crossed the road without even acknowledging our existence.
We finished our Yellowstone tour with a couple more side road detours where we saw more elk, bison and geothermal attractions and then headed back to our trailer for one last night before leaving for Boise the next morning.
Yellowstone is a truly amazing place that I am so thankful is protected as a national park. Nowhere else in the world can you see unmanaged forests, pristine rivers, geothermal enigmas altogether with wildlife and breathtaking views around every corner. I am SO glad we made the trip to Yellowstone and we will definitely be making it again in the future.
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