We landed into Salt Lake City airport after a small delay in taking off from Las Vegas which also included around 5 queues to actually get to the gates before take-off. Getting a shuttle to our rental car office, Fox, we had another day as with a staff of 10 on duty only 1 could operate the computer (?!). We finally got our car around 4:30pm and still had to get groceries to take up to our lodgings in Idaho (no shops nearby the hut). So, we ventured into Walmart and were super quick around the store only to be held up yet again, this time by an incompetent cashier. We eventually got on the road North around 5:30pm and had a five plus hour drive ahead of us. We had an interesting drive through the farming plains of Utah and into Idado with the skies seeming huge over our heads. You can see so far in every direction out here and see weather patterns all around. We eventually arrived in the dark, rain and fog so had some trouble finding where we had to go along a dirt road and into a ranch property (Eagle Ridge Ranch) but we finally got there around 11pm. The kind owners had left the door open and key on the table. This would be our home for the next four nights.
We got going around noon the next day and made our way for Yellowstone National Park. It’s about a half hour drive from our ranch to West Yellowstone town, in Montana, where the West Entrance to the park is. Once inside it isn’t long before you are in another State (Wyoming) and there we saw some male Elk complete with antlers (albeit small) pretty much straight away but with strict instructions not to stop on the road couldn’t stop of a proper look. Further on we were amazed to see Bison walking down the road, seemingly quite oblivious to the cars trying to get past. We would see many other Bison on our days here, numbering the hundreds, both in herds with young calves and lone males looking like rocks from far away. They are breath-taking in their size and bulk. We decided to head to Old Faithful this day to make sure we actually got to see it. Along the way there were other thermal features to look at in the Midway Geyser Basin. Here there are geysers, paint pots (bubbling pools of what looks like grey clay), bright blue steaming ponds and bubbling iron red pools. These formation are so bizarre. At Yellowstone you will find one of the greatest concentration of geothermal ‘activities’ in the world. One of the reasons which led to it being classed as the World’s first National Park.
True to the name, Old Faithful blows regularly and they can even predict times. So we arrived and waited around 30 minutes for it to ‘go off’. It was incredible, water spurting over 100 feet into the air. There were a few false starts with small spurts when we thought that it might not go off. When it did, the show went for around a minute or so.
With both of us flagging a bit we went on to Lake Yellowstone to take a look before heading home for the day. Lake Yellowstone is the highest altitude lake in North America and it is huge. Due to the altitude at this time of the year it is mostly covered with sheet ice. Near to the banks there are more thermal springs, creating steaming, bubbling pools an running down into the lake. It creates a wonderfully eerie landscape seeing steam rise from brightly coloured pools amongst mountains and ice-covered lakes.
I happened to take a wrong turn on the way back which took us the long route home. As it turns out though this was a blessing in disguise. Not only did we get a lovely drive alongside Yellowstone Lake but we also got to see two Grizzly Bears on the hillsides near the road. We quickly learned that you don’t have to be a good wildlife spotter here, just a good spotter of people with long lenses and there are many here. Whenever there is a collection of large lenses, it’s likely to be a bear, especially if there’s a Park Ranger on hand. It was incredible to see a bear after all our visits to other National Parks proved fruitless in this endeavour. We were a bit frantic parking and getting out of the car like we were late for a flight or something but we did not want to miss this! They are so powerful to look at and in the evening light there coats almost glow in the sun. One ranger showed us his bear-spray, a deterrent should a grizzly charge at you. Much like pepper spray but around 20 times more potent than human pepper spray. We were done for the day and drove onwards to make for our Ranch, seeing many more Bison along the way.
On the second day we had a shortish venture into Yellowstone. We are both feeling the effects of two plus months travelling without much rest! We took the same route in and true to from, saw many Bison along the way, both grazing and pretending to be cars on the roads. We intended to make for Mammoth Hot Spring, a unique formation of mineral salt terraces. We had a brief stop at a waterfall along the way, Gibbon Falls. The rivers and waterfalls here are so powerful and so can really get a sense for the erosion they are causing which of course make them only bigger.
Once at Mammoth Hot Springs we parked the car and went for a boardwalk tour of the terraces. Several key ingredients combine to make the Mammoth Hot Springs Terraces: heat, water, limestone, and a rock fracture system through which hot water can reach the earth’s surface. Once the hot water is on the surface it deposits minerals to form the terraces upon which variously allured bacteria live to create a wonderful spectacle of coloured steps. This is unlike anything we have ever seen before, we can’t believe the amount of geothermal activity going on in this Park. We had heard of the geysers before but didn’t quite realise the extent of them and all the other stuff going on. There are often steaming ponds next the roads you are driving along so you feel like you are driving through a horror film or 90’s music video.
A short walk done we hopped back in the car and made for our lodgings. Heading back though we came across another collection of large lenses so scanned the hillside. Not seeing anything we looped back around and were amazed to see a Grey Wolf walking through the scrub just next to the road. As we were driving on the right side, it past right our car, so close that you could have touched it. Much like the other animals here, you see them on television but in real life they just take your breath away.
Our final full day in Yellowstone and I intended to see some more bears. We have both developed a bit of an obsession with seeing these creates after all the parks we have been to so far and so many signs to be wary of them. I had heard that the Lamar Valley is particulate good for wildlife so that’s where we headed. It took around 3 hours to get there, going through Mammoth Lakes on the way. Here I stopped at the visitor centre to ask advice about the trail and the need for bear spray. I was assured that we should be fine- just make noise all the time and ‘announce’ yourself around corners and the bears will know you are there as a human and not food. Further along from Mammoth Lakes a Coyote crossed our paths, he looked rather despondent and we both wandered why. Maybe he had lost the gopher he was chasing.
I had picked out a walk for us to go on in the Lamar Valley. We hadn’t done much walking here, mostly driving and getting out to look at things. It was a short walk, around 4 miles, that looped from a ‘petrified’ tree, past a lake and through a wooded area where there lived bears. A short way in on the trail though we were stopped by a Bison. Park guidelines are very strict in not approaching wildlife, to let them be wild and for your own protection. Bison are known to have gored people so we retreated and went around the other direction of the loop, stopping once we got to a good vantage point and took in the view of the valley beneath us and mountains all around.
We were happy enough with our walk that we got back in the car and drove for Tower Falls. The ranger in the visitors centre had said to me that there had been Black Bear sightings along this road and indeed, not far along it we found a Park Ranger truck parked up which usually signals wildlife. There was a Black Bear foraging and eating grass only around 30-40 feet from the road. It was amazing to see a bear so close and with a ranger close by we felt protected enough! We stayed for some time as the crowd grew, so our car became hemmed in. We managed to leave eventually and drove to Tower Falls for some lunch and a look at the waterfall.
Before we headed back home, we decided to drive some more in the Lamar Valley, this time up to the NE Entrance. There are bigger pastures and meadows alongside this road and we saw a whole range of wildlife. Goats, bighorn sheep, herd of Bison with spring calves, Pronghorn Antelope, Fox, Deer and Elk. Feeling like we couldn’t do any better than this we turned around and headed back through Mammoth Lakes towards home. We got to see another bear on the way though – a Cinnamon Black Bear. Essentially a brown coated Black Bear. This one was besides a road we couldn’t stop on due to the lack of hard shoulders but we went slow and could seen him foraging in the wood on the hillside. So happy to get another look at a bear.
A stop in Mammoth Lakes for postcards yielded an Owl with rather large chicks in a huge nest and a group of Elk sitting down by the hotel. There is so much wildlife here it is just astonishing. You get to see animals almost every road you take. Knowing that this was likely our last day in the Park we decided to head back along the road that we had seen the Grizzlies on the first day to see if we could spot any more. We were not disappointed as we saw one on the ridge of a snow-patched ridge eating grass. In the afternoon light there are amazing, their fur shining and glowing in the sun. This once stood on the ridge so you could see it’s silhouette against the blue sky. Such a wonderful sight, I am totally in awe of these creatures. Further along the road we caught sight of another lying down in a meadow. This one was huge and when it lifted it’s head you could see just how big. Feeling well and truly satisfied with our time in Yellowstone we drove home, leaving the next day for a night in Thermopolis before getting to Denver where I will turn 34! There was one more wildlife spotting though, this time outside the Park. A fox crossed the road in front of us with it’s dinner in it’s mouth. We also, were off home for dinner.
Animals we saw:
Brown coat Black Bear (cinnamon bear)
Bison (alone and in herds with calves)