So much for sleeping in. #EpicFail. I woke up at four o’clock in the morning… which turned okay because I posted my first blog of the trip while the #AdventurePartnerForLife snoozed away next to me. It was lightly snowing when I woke up and a little colder than I was expecting this time of year here, but I always bring plenty of layers and, well, I’m always cold, so today’s no different.
After our free hotel breakfast, we headed into the west entrance of the park to begin the Yellowstone figure-eight loop. We’ll actually be doing it over a couple of days, with a stop in Grand Teton in the middle. Our first stop was Gibbon Falls, which I remembered being one of my first stops when I spent the summer of ’95 in Yellowstone as part of the Youth Conservation Corps (YCC). They actually weren’t as impressive as Mesa Falls the day before, but had some really nice views downriver. Getting into the car in the parking lot, I noticed almost immediately that the crows here are the size of our cats (literally); I’m certain they’re on steroids.
Continued north on the loop, where we stopped off at Monument Geyser Basin for a quick walk. Met a guy with two knee replacements, so obviously, he and Jeff got along wonderfully. Moving along, we passed up the Artists Paintpots since it was a longer walk and Rein had mentioned it wasn’t much to see. Originally, it was on the list; probably too soon in the trip to get lazy, but we’ve got time and plenty of other sights to see. Jumped out at Norris Geyser Basin, which was a particularly impressive geothermal display. Kind of blew Monument out of the water. (…Get it? He he.) Anyhow, it was insanely colorful and was basically a huge plain of geothermal activity. Extensive boardwalks. A little smelly, but they can’t help themselves.
Veered a touch off the Grand Loop to catch some sights just north in the Gallatins. It was this stretch of road that we caught our first glimpses of wildlife (besides overgrown crows). And the Gallatins are very well-known bear country! Saw some mule deer and tons and tons of bison. This is also when the weather started becoming a little schizophrenic. It would snow heavily for a half hour at a time and then it would be clear blue skies for another half hour. We drove up to Obsidian Cliff in heavy snowfall and then stopped at Roaring Mountain where it was just beautiful. (Know that these two locations are not at all far from one another.)
You get almost dizzy and hypnotized from peering into dense forest in a moving car looking for wildlife, but, yes folks… it finally happened—I spotted a bear just below a tree line in an open meadow on the mountainside. He seemed to be foraging roots. I feel I deserve bonus points for spotting him myself, too; I actually got to start the wildlife viewing crowd on the side of the road. (Patting myself on the back.) I couldn’t tell whether he was a black bear or a grizzly. If he was a black bear, he was light colored (though I know black bears are often brown); if he was a grizzly, he was a juvenile and I didn’t notice the distinctive hump on his shoulders. If anyone can tell me what kind of bear he is from the photo, definitely let me know. (Click for a larger view.) For those of you who don’t know, Jeff and I have carried a bear-sighting curse with us for many, many years now. We’ve visited several bear-heavy parks and have seen not a one. We’ve even been told stories, like… how the bus right behind us in Denali saw a bear in the river basin we were just hiking in, and how three bears walked right down the main drag in downtown Banff the day before our arrival. Well… the curse has officially been lifted.
It was gorgeous out for the bear sighting, but suddenly became snowy again as we drove back to the Grand Loop and started east. We continued past dozens of bison, but it was a little difficult to photograph them with the precipitation. Saw a couple sitting right on the edge of the road and I asked Jeff to pull the car over for a photo opp. The landscape dipped down below the asphalt, and me, being all of 5’2″, couldn’t get a clear shot. Briefly contemplated crossing the road to get a better view, but decided against it because it was just way too close for comfort to the animals. They’re gigantic. And fast, I hear. As I’m getting back into the car, wouldn’t you know, a number of tourists start clicking their cameras all of six feet from these hairy beasts. Good luck in life, guys… because you. are. stoopid. Please, join last week’s baby bison killers on the list of dumbest people in America.
Continuing east, we passed Mud Volcano and Sulphur Caldron, where I literally began dry heaving because it smelled so bad. Jeff thought I was joking, but I was completely serious; it was involuntary and I couldn’t help it. Began a slow ascent into the Absarokas and stopped at Lake Butte Overlook to get a better view of Yellowstone Lake. For some reason, I don’t ever remember seeing Yellowstone Lake as a teenager, but it’s enormous and I have no idea how I could possibly forget it, but… it happened somehow. I’m snapping some photos and suddenly realize there’s a huge storm front rolling in over the lake. I look out over my viewfinder and the clouds seemed to have very quickly halved their distance from where they were only a moment ago to when I glanced up. The joint decision was made to hightail it outta there before it caught up with us entirely.
Well, the storm caught up with us. And we were in the worst possible place, too—crawling steadily over Sylvan Pass, making our way to the east entrance of the park where our cabin for the night was located. Sylvan Pass sits at 8,530 feet in elevation, but its surrounding peaks—Avalanche, Grizzly, and Cody—are upwards of 10,000 feet. This single stretch of road has only opened for the season a couple weeks ago. It was near-blizzard conditions, and there we were, driving 25 miles per hour back and forth on switchbacks with a cliff to one side of us. I breathed, very deliberately, into my nose and out of my mouth, gripping the “oh shit car handle” with white knuckles for the next hour. It’s times like this that I just don’t know why I can’t be happy with a five-day, all-inclusive beach vacation in Cancun. I guess I wouldn’t have any interesting stories to tell, though.
I know how surprised you are to discover we survived. Not without a little PTSD, though. We checked into the Pahaska Teepee Resort to discover that our cabin had no wifi and no television. Apparently, you’re expected to talk to your spouse when you have nothing else to do? Totally kidding. But we were genuinely a little thrown off with no TV and decided to head to the next best place—the bar. Of course. As always, we made nice with the locals. One guy was actually from south Alabama, where my husband’s from. We also heard how, just last week, a woman tried to take a selfie with one of the bison that rolled up on the resort grounds and got charged. Serves her right. (I can say that because she was fine. I’m sure she’ll never do it again, but she was fine.) This seems to be a frightening trend in Yellowstone. I don’t know why in the world anyone would think this was a good idea.
Speaking of… I ran across the street to see what a growing crowd was gawking at to learn there was a moose near the river. A girl was pointing it out to me and, initially, I couldn’t find it for the life of me. Yeah, it was like twenty feet in front of me. I’d truly expected it to be on the other side of the river and, when I realized how incredibly close it was, I thought I’d skip right on back over to the bar, away from the wildlife. Someone else can get attacked; I’m getting another beer. I also saw the cutest little ground squirrel. He can get close… ish.
The evening ended with us collapsing in our tiny cabin, exhausted. But at least the weather had finally cleared; it was sunny out again. And we got to see a bear. Bad ass in my book.
Don’t forget: Stay with us for tomorrow’s drive back over the treacherous Sylvan Pass, and for the spectacular Grand Tetons.
Today’s featured photo: Yellowstone’s geothermal wonder, Roaring Mountain… with sunny blue skies.
© 2016 Jordan Campbell. All rights reserved.