After leaving Glacier, we traveled south towards Yellowstone, briefly stopping in Helena and then Livingston, MT. Neither Maggie nor I had ever been, and I didn’t realize just how massive the park was. The park has an upper loop and a lower loop that look like a figure 8. Each loop takes a couple of hours to drive. Since we arrived late in the season, many of the campgrounds were closing or had closed for the year which made the remaining campgrounds pretty scarce. Luckily, we were able to secure a site at the Norris campground, located in the southwestern portion of the upper loop.
Since it was close by, we started our exploration of the park at Norris Geyser Basin where we all learned about Yellowstone’s different hydrothermal features (hot springs, geysers, steam vents, and mudpots). From there we drove to the Old Faithful visitor’s center to watch Old Faithful erupt along with hundreds of our closest friends.
While Maggie and I found the hydrothermal activity very interesting and different, the kids really wanted to see the herds of bison, pronghorn, and wolves which are located in the Lamar Valley on the northeastern side of the park. The drive to Lamar Valley did not disappoint. We saw dozens of buffalo herds, some of which were only a few feet from the road and several pronghorn antelope. We made the drive late in the afternoon in the hopes of doing a dusky hike along Slough Creek which, according to the ranger we asked, was the best time/place to spot one of the park’s wolf packs. While we didn’t see any wolves, we were treated to some gorgeous views and a few bison bulls.
The next day Maggie had to head into the nearby town of West Yellowstone to do some work. After dropping her off at the library, I took the kids to the Bear and Wolf Discovery Center. The BWDC is a non-profit that takes in nuisance bears (bears that have learned to associate people with food) and allows them to be ambassadors for their wild counterparts. It is also where a lot of bear proof containers and trash cans are tested before they can be certified as “bear-proof.” Liam and CJ enjoyed seeing all the animals as well as several mangled prototypes that did not pass the bear-proofing test.
Later in the week, our friend Jacob was kind enough to pop in and visit us for a few days between business trips. The kids enjoyed the car full of junk food that Jacob brought for them and, in return, I enjoyed taking Jacob on a short, but punishing hike to the top of Avalanche Peak.
Jacob also joined us for a hike through Pelican Valley which is touted as “some of the best grizzly country in the lower 48.” While we did not see any grizzlies while we were hiking, we did see and pick up two Dutch tourists who asked to join our crew for safety since the ranger told them that they should not hike this particular trail with less than 3 people in their party. After 6.2 miles of Liam and CJ yammering away at them, I expect next time they’ll take their chances with the bear.
After a long day of hiking and exploring the park, we all decided to get dinner at the Old Faithful Lodge. After waiting close to an hour to be seated, we had a bizarre dining experience in which we had to sit at a table with a random person who was pounding liquor. A fellow customer who was observing our dining experience, felt badly enough for us that he surreptitiously paid our tab. After dinner, Maggie had to drive Jacob’s rental car, because neither Jacob nor I were able to drive. I’m not sure if it was the speeding or lack of headlights that first caught the park ranger’s attention, but within minutes of leaving, Maggie was pulled over on the side of the road and getting grilled by the park ranger. It appeared that she was about to get a slew of tickets, but when she told him that she was the designated driver and the ranger saw the two numbskulls that she was having to drive around, he immediately softened and let her go with a warning.
Yellowstone is a massive and well visited park, but it’s beauty really does live up to the hype. Even though it was more crowded than we like, we were able to find plenty of solitary hikes and breathtaking vistas without another human in sight. Seeing bison up close, watching the mist rise from the rivers in the morning as they meander through fields of golden grasses, and observing coyotes hunting down their lunch were just some of the unforgettable sights of Yellowstone.