Yellowstone: Where the Wild Things Are!

 

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Post by Alexandra

The day after our eclipse trip to Rigby, Idaho ended, the four of us (Phil, Carol, Jim and I) departed for Yellowstone National Park. We stayed there six nights, giving us five full days to sightsee. Though it had been 10 years since Jim and I were last in Yellowstone with Felicia, it looked the same except that there were a ton more visitors. It was good to be back since Yellowstone is a unique place with all of its plentiful wildlife and geothermal attractions.



Once we setup our trailers at the Fishing Bridge campground, the four of us went to the Fishing Bridge Visitor Center to sit on a bench, relax and watch the sunset over Yellowstone Lake. Once the sun had gone down, we attended an interesting ranger talk in the nearby amphitheater about elk.

Yellowstone is a big park, over 2 million acres, so there is a lot to see. We decided to drive different loops the next couple of days and stop at various points of interest. On Wednesday, the four of us took the loop from Fishing Bridge to Canyon, Norris, Madison, West Thumb then back to Fishing Bridge. We saw plenty of bison along the way, mostly  between our campground and the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone area.

We made several stops in the Grand Canyon area for amazing views. It is a majestic canyon where the Yellowstone River has created the canyons and falls (upper and lower).  The colors in the canyon are created by hydrothermal alteration.

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That day we also stopped at other waterfalls and geothermal sites. There were a few places that we were unable to stop at due to the full parking lots and large number of tourists/visitors. It always amazes me how some visitors ignore the warnings posted that bison are wild and dangerous. We saw several people get too close to the bison wanting to take a close-up picture, when they should be at least 25 yards away. Park rules state to stay 100 yards away from grizzly bears and wolves and 25 yards from all other wildlife. Bison may look slow but those 1,000-2,000 lb. mammals can run up to 30 mph, which would make for a bad up close experience. Got to respect the wildlife!

Thursday the four of us drove the loop that goes to the north section of the park. We drove from Fishing Bridge to Canyon, Tower-Roosevelt then Mammoth Hot Springs. While heading out of the Fishing Bridge area, we saw a young grizzly running along the Yellowstone River (between Fishing Bridge and Canyon campgrounds). If one is going to see a grizzly in the wild, that is the preferred way with some good distance between you and the bear!

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We stopped at Tower Falls near the Tower-Roosevelt campground which is where we saw a Petrified Tree.  It hard to believe that it is 50 million years old and was once a redwood, among a forest of redwoods, pines, oaks and other trees.  A volcanic eruption around that time buried the forest in ash.  Before the trees could rot, volcanic silica plugged the living cells to create the petrified trees.  There used to be two petrified trees but in the early days of the park, people took pieces until there was nothing left.  A fence was placed around the remaining tree for future generations to see.  It is an unusual petrified tree since it is still upright.

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In Mammoth Springs, we stopped at the visitor Center and then the Mammoth Hot Springs Terraces.

We were hoping to see elk since they like to hangout in the Mammoth Hot Springs area but alas, they had left earlier that morning.  Their scat was evidence that there were a large number of them. The Mammoth Hot Springs Historic District includes some buildings from Fort Yellowstone. Interesting that in the late 1800’s the army was brought in to help administer the park due to poaching and exploitation.  They built Fort Yellowstone in support of the hundreds of soldiers (and their families) who lived there.  In 1872, Yellowstone became the first national park but there was not a National Park Service established until 1916.  Therefore, the army was there for 32 years and during that time they patrolled and protected the park. We then drove up to the Roosevelt Arch, which is at the northwest entrance of the park, to take our pictures in front of the iconic arch.   It was originally built to welcome Yellowstone visitors who came by train.  They would arrive at Gardiner, Montana then would proceed by horse-drawn carriage into the park going through a grand entrance. The arch was built in 1903 and dedicated that same year by Teddy Roosevelt.

Friday, Jim and I scheduled a horseback ride at the Tower-Roosevelt corrals and we had to be there by 7:45am. We left early since we were not sure if we would encounter wild animals on the road, which could slow us down. The first part of our drive was very heavy with fog, therefore, we had to drive slowly plus there were a lot of bison on the road. Once we got to the stables, we saddled up and enjoyed a pleasant trail ride. Jim had his usual bison encounter during the ride. This time the bison did not pursue him like what had happened when we were last in Yellowstone on a horseback ride. It was a nice way to see part of Yellowstone that is away from the roads and throngs of tourists. We did not have pictures from this ride since cameras are not allowed. After the ride, we picked up sandwiches at the Tower-Roosevelt general store then went to Calcite Springs to sit and eat lunch while enjoying the beautiful view.

Our next stop was the Lamar Valley and the east entrance.  We saw a lot of bison herds and a North American Pronghorn but no elk or wolves.

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One would need to get there early in the morning or at dusk for any possibility of sighting those. On the way back to our campground, there was a bison traffic jam.  Several bison were slowly crossing the road and a few others just stopped for a while in the middle of the road.

On our last day at the Fishing Bridge campground, the four of us went back to the Fishing Bridge Visitor Center and attended an interesting ranger talk about grizzly bears, bison and Yellowstone cutthroat trout. We did not know that the native Yellowthroat cutthroat trout are endangered by the non-native larger lake trout, which were introduced to Lake Yellowstone in the 1980’s. Per the National Park Service, in addition to the lake trout eating the food that cutthroat trout eat, one mature lake trout can eat about 41 cutthroat trout per year. The lake trout have a longer lifespan (25-40 yrs) than the native cutthroat (10 yrs). Consequently the native trout population has declined. This issue also impacts the Yellowstone predators, such as grizzlies and eagles, since cutthroat trout is a part of their diet. The lake trout lives in deep water so they are out of reach for local predators whereas the native trout live and spawn in shallow areas. The NPS is working to reduce the invasive lake trout by hiring a commercial fishing company as well as some anglers.     The ranger recommended taking bear spray, which the park sells and even rents, whenever one is hiking, backpacking, etc. He said though people carried it with them, it hasn’t been sprayed at bears in the park often, but when it is, it’s very effective if used properly.   The ranger demonstrated the correct way to use bear spray.  He said that wearing bells is not preferable since that will not scare the bears away but instead, they will become curious about the noise and want to investigate.

We talked to a ranger at the visitor center to confirm if the nearby Storm Point nature trail was open and if there were any restrictions since we had heard that this trail usually is closed late spring and early summer due to bear activity. All was good to go. That afternoon we drove to Indian Pond, where the Storm Point trail starts. This trail is in prime grizzly bear territory so we all brought bear spray and air horns with us. Luckily no bears were sighted but we made sure we made noise while hiking with our continuous talking (even some brief singing), per the park ranger recommendation.  The trail goes through a meadow and briefly through some woods then up to Yellowstone Lake at the Storm Point lookout. We sighted a couple of bison near the pond and out in the surrounding meadow. Once we got near the point, we saw several yellow-bellied marmots in a rocky area. At the point, it was a beautiful lookout over Yellowstone Lake. That lake is so large, it almost felt like we were at the ocean! The trail then took us into a lodgepole pine forest before returning to Indian Pond. It was a beautiful hike with great views in grizzly bear country.

The four of us had decided on our last night in Yellowstone to stay at the historic Old Faithful Inn. The building looks like a grownup’s tree house or something from Lord of the Rings. It is a historic landmark built in the early 1900’s. The Inn’s lobby has a large stone fireplace with a handcrafted clock.

When we visited it 10 years ago, we thought that it would be cool to stay there one night someday. We were able to park our vehicles and trailers in the large parking lot behind the lodge for the night. The Inn has different types of rooms but the only ones available when we made the reservation late last year was the “old house standard room with bath” or “without bath”. We had opted to get the room with a bathroom. In summary, the place has a lot of character but the room we were in was rather spartan for the price.  We would visit the lodge again but not spend the night.  That day, Carol, Phil, Jim and I watched Old Faithful erupt then Jim and I went off to explore the various basins and geysers near the inn.

When we returned, we saw a couple of rangers on horseback passing through the Old Faithful Inn area. The horses are used to transport rangers, scientists, etc. with their equipment into areas that are not accessible by vehicles.

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Come Monday, unfortunately, it was time to leave and head off to our next stop, Grand Teton National Park. Yellowstone is always a joy to visit. I think it is one of the few parks that has such an abundance of wildlife so if you love nature and wildlife, you will enjoy visiting this magnificent park. We will be back!

 

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