Our 2009 Summer Trip - Yellowstone

We took a couple of days for a quick tour of Yellowstone. Yellowstone is one place that we could return to again and again or even spend a couple of weeks and still not do everything we want to. I've gone to Yellowstone many times since visiting there with my parents and it never gets old.

We got to stay at our favorite campground, Bridge Bay. There aren't any hook-ups there and I doubt there are any level capsites. Be prepared with levelling blocks (or firewood may be used as a stop-gap measure), even if you have levelling jacks. At least our jacks and front wheels always need help here. The open vistas, proximity to Hayden Valley and the lake and the facilities at Fishing Bridge suits us just fine. Every time we stay there, we always have surprise visitors and this time was no exception.

The sites aren't level and ours was a back-in, but we've been in less spacious spots.. Even in mid-July it can be cold in Yellowstone ... or it may be hot. You never know.

The following is a brief run-down on the other campgrounds that we've stayed in. But remember that in Yellowstone, the campground is just a place to park while you sleep. If you are spending much more time than that, you're missing out on a wonderful experience of some sort.

Grizzly RV Park in West Yellowstone is a nice, privately run campground. In my view, West Yellowstone, like Jackson, is largely a commercialized tourist trap. Having said that, Grizzly isn't a bad choice. It's located just a block or two from the Park entrance. The drive along the Madison River to the loop road at Madison Junction is scenic and there's almost always wildlife like eagles, swans, elk, buffalo and, if you're lucky, even moose to see as you drive into the Park.

Small herd of cow elks alomg the Madison River

Madison Junction is inside the park, sitting at the junction of the Firehole and Gibbon Rivers. The resulting river is called the Madison. Like Bridge Bay there are no hook-ups. It's closer to the geyser basins in the Old Faithful area as well as Norris and Mammoth. Elk and buffalo are frequent visitors.

Fishing Bridge is the only campground inside the Park with full hook-ups. It's sites are closer together than the other campgrounds, but more level. If it were a private campground it would receive poor reviews, but in Yellowstone its location far outweighs any negatives. Wolves, moose, buffalo and even bear may occasionally be sighted inside the campground. At the lake outlet, there are almost always large flocks of pelicans. Fishing is no longer allowed from the bridge or in the outlet as this is prime spawning ground for the native cutthroat trout.

Arriving at Bridge Bay. We needed the mosqito repellant for a couple of days. The resident bull at Bridge Bay - yep, he was waiting for us. And here he is on an early morning stroll near our motorhome.
And now he's near the neighbors. I got a corner of our door in the pic, so you can see how close he was. 2 bucks visited us one morning. And a doe dropped in one evening.

Even though buffalo have been the most prevalent large animal in the Park, there are others, like the deer seen at Bridge Bay. Usually we can count on seeing about as many elk as buffalo, but not on this trip. We also saw 4 bears, including a mother and her cub, a couple of mountain goats (first I remember seeing in Yellowstone), a beaver, a badger and a couple of coyotes. We did not see any moose or (for the first time in years) any wolves.

We didn't get pictures of all of them, but here are some:

This group of cows was the largest elk herd we saw. .This mother and her cub were between Tower Falls and the Petrified Tree road. The cub's in the tree on the right.
It's harder to see in this picture, but on our return trip, the cub had climbed down and was with its mother at the base of the tree. Bear between Tower Junction and Mt. Washburn.. This bull elk, in velvet, was the only one we saw in camera range. He was in Hayden Valley, near Canyon.
This coyote, near Old Faithful, seemed to be playing with his food, probably a field mouse.

Usually we get up early at least one morning and drive into the Hayden Valley until we find a buffalo herd. Then we wake up the kids and have breakfast in the motorhome watching the buffalo. This time we saw a few small herds of solitary bulls - too young to win a harem or too old to fight any longer. Until our last night in the Park we didn't find the herds of cows and calves that we normally expect in the valley and even then they were a mile or two from the road.

The bulls still put on a show for us, stopping traffic and shoving each other around. By the way DO NOT approach the buffalo closer than 25 yards. Every year several people are killed by them. They are by far the most dangerous animal in the park.

Sometimes, there's a decision to be made - like this one near Dragon Mouth Spring. We sucked it up and went on through the mist. Fortunately the buffalo let us and the other tourists pass. And then we used our zoom lenses to get really close.
Sometimes I'm pretty happy to be in the motorhome. No zoom lens needed for this shot. And when we're stopped for a buffalo jam the little guys are allowed to get up close and personal. He's letting these cars know who controls the roads in Yellowstone.
Big old bull sittin' in a wallow near Petrified Tree road. Zeke and me (uhh I) examine a series of buffalo wallows and trails while we watch the herd coming in. Here they come - cows, calves and harem bulls down the hills and into the Hayden Valley.
Don't worry Zeke, we won't get too close. No stampede, but the herd moved down the mountain pretty fast. Once they cross the road, it's time to rest. Some, like the calf in the foreground, won't wait to cross the road to eat.

The 140 mile grand-loop road forms a figure 8. You can see a lot of Yellowstone without leaving your car. But to really feeel Yellowstone you need to make a few hikes. They don't need to be long hikes, unless that's what you choose. Of course you need to hike the trail around geyser hill as well as the trails around all the geyser basins. Climbing the Hot Springs terraces can be a real accomplishment as can be climbing down into the Grand Canyon at Tower Falls.

Something I haven't done since I was a kid is to climb to the fire lookout on Mt. Washburn. I also want to take the trail to the beaver dams near Mammoth. A couple of years ago we rode our bikes from Midway Geyser Basin to Fountain Flats. Somehow I've never seen Lonestar Geyser or walked along Pelican Creek. There's always more to do and see in Yellowstone.

Here's some of the scenic places we saw on this trip:

Yellowstone Lake is a spectacular sight, whether you're admiring the reflection of a sunset, marvelling at the sunrise or watching a flotilla of pelicans fishing in Pelican Bay or the outlet by Fishing Bridge
.Going north from Bridge Bay , Lake, or Fishing Bridge, you pass through the Hayden Valley and arrive at Canyon - the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.
This shot was taken along the South Rim Trail of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. The rim trail is populated with strange-looking people. Taking a snack break along the trail.
It's a long-ways down to the river and probably not a pleasant trip. Looking downstream from the rim trail Just one of many views of the falls from the rim trail.
Just north of Canyon, the Grand Loop road climbs up the slopes of Mt. Washburn on the Dunraven Pass. Mt. Washburn is the highest mountain in the Park. Watch for elk, mountain sheep as well as wolves and bear.
Yeah boys, that's a big world out there. From the southern slopes of Mt. Washburn you can see the Tetons on clear days. Silly boys - old, white folks can't dance, even on the side of a mountain. But who knows, your buffalo dance just might work. Sometimes it seems that teen-agers don't pay a lot of attention to mountain scenery, but most times they surprise us.

North of Mt. Washburn are Tower Junction and Tower Falls. A right turn at the junction takes you to the Lamar Valley. a left turn leads to Tower Falls.

The Tower Creek Falls is one of the most spectacular, in my opinion, in the Park. It doesn't have the volume of water that Upper and Lower Falls have, but its water's leap down into the Yellowstone river is very picturesque.

Over the years I've taken over 100 pictures of Tower Falls, but this one from 2001 is one of the best. The hike down from the parking lot to the Yellowstone River is short but moderately difficult. Sometimes the boys can take their eyes off the scenery to allow Grandpa to take a picture or two.

Continuing west from Tower Falls leads to the Petrified Tree road, the trunk of a redwood that was petrified in place. Shortly afterward you arrive at Park headquarters in Mammoth. We chose not to stop in Mammoth on this trip, but turned south to Norris. North of Mammoth is the town of Gardiner, MT and the northwestern entrance to the Park.

Norris is reputed to be the hottest of all the geyser basins. It is probably the most water-starved as well. It has several tiny geysers as well as the world's tallest, Steamboat Geyser. Unfortunately, Steamboat is also one of the most unpredictable. Some years it erupts several times and other years it may not erupt at all.

At Norris there is the choice of several trails. I wasn't feeling well, so they made this hike without me. This shot shows a hot spring, a small geyser, one of many at Norris, and vegetation that was killed when the ground became super-heated. One of the hot springs in the Norris Basin.

From Norris, you may continue south to the edge of the caldera at Gibbon Falls, back past Madison Junction and around to Old Faithful. The alternate route is east from Norris Junction, back to Canyon and down through the Hayden Valley.

We went back through Hayden to Bridge Bay, saving Old Faithful and other geysers for another day.

To get to Old Faithful, travel south along the lake, to West Thumb Junction. then west over the continental divide (3 times, I believe) and down to the geyser basins. I've probably seen over 100 eruptions of Old Faithful in person and many, many more over the internet. It never gets old!

I've probably taken several hundred photos of Old Faithful. This one, taken in 2008 from inside the lodge is one of my favorites. Also on our 2008 trip, we caught the Grotto in a minor eruption. This year we caught The Lion Geyser in an eruption. It was the first time I'd seen this geyser "perform".


San Francisco Bay Area

Part 1 - Parties and Graduation

Part 2 - Jelly Belly, Big Trees and Natural Bridges
Southern Utah and Arizona Part 1 - Travelling, camping and Zion Part 2 - Grand Canyon
Part 3 - Bryce Canyon Part 4 - 3 State Parks
Part 5 - Cove Fort and Manti temple Pageant
Northern Utah Part 1 - Visit to Kayleen and Andy's, Oquirrh temple, Bear Lake and Heritage West Center Part 2 - Fourth of July at Lewiston, other Cache Valley pictures, Saint Anthony Dunes and Idaho Falls wedding

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