It’s June, 2007 and we’re off to Yellowstone National Park again. This trip didn’t require as much planning as our 2006 visit to Yellowstone since we had an idea what we were doing. I wanted to go June 9 but had trouble getting the accommodations I wanted so we went June 16. I wanted to split the trip between two areas so we stayed at Canyon 4 nights and Roosevelt 3 nights. That seemed to put us closer to the wildlife than Old Faithful did last summer.
This time we even had a scope. It wasn’t a great one but it was free. It was a 15x45 Bushnell that we used on a monopod. It wasn’t great in off light but was surprisingly good in good light. I was surprised how well we could see. Not like the big Swarovskis but not as expensive either.
We arrived in Jackson Hole, WY on Saturday, June 16. We stopped at Alamo to get our rental car. It was a Subaru Tribecca. Very nice for a rental. It had a sun roof and a camera for when you were backing up. We took it and headed to Albertson’s in Jackson. Needed to load up with breakfast stuff, lunch stuff and drinks. We even got the ice chest there and got more out of it than expected.
As we went through the Tetons, we stopped at Mormon Row. There are old barns and other buildings from the early 1900’s there that are being restored. There was a decent sized bison herd there too. You can see all of this with the Grand Tetons as a backdrop. It was cloudy but we got decent pictures. We stopped at Oxbow Bend too. It was gorgeous as usual, although cloudy. From there, we cruised on into Canyon by way of Lake and Hayden Valley. There were a few bison around but not much else. It was 81 degrees and felt hotter.
Canyon Junction was OK. I wouldn’t call it real nice but the location is super. We were in a cabin with two twin beds and a bathroom. We didn’t spend enough time there to matter much. The restaurants are centrally located. They have a dining room that is OK and a cafeteria that is fairly quick. Meals weren’t the highlight but we didn’t go hungry. This was only the second week they were open so many of the employees were rookies. We are going to stay in Canyon again in 2008 so it must be OK.
Sunday we were up at 4:00 AM. After getting up at 3:15 on Saturday this was no small feat. We headed into Lamar Valley. It was just getting light as we got to the bridge over the Yellowstone. There was a black bear in the middle of it and we followed him across. Pretty good way to start the day. We saw a lot of bison but little else. On the way back we took the road to Slough Creek and pulled off at the bottom of the hill. No wolves to see but we could hear them. That was almost as good. They weren’t real close but so what.
It was raining so we went to Roosevelt for breakfast. First time I’d been in the lodge and I liked it. The porch looked promising too. After breakfast, the rain quit and we headed back into Lamar.
Sue was using our scope and found a wolf. It was dark brown and heading up the river. It was moving towards the bison herd but didn’t really get that close. It headed up the bank and into the trees. From there we headed to Dunraven Pass. We stopped at one of the turnouts and saw grizzlies from a long way off. The estimates were ¾ mile. It was a sow and 3 cubs. There was a male at the bottom. It was cool but they were really spots with legs. Just before the parking lot on top, we hit a traffic jam. We parked and walked back learn we’d missed a grizzly and two cubs in the parking lot and sliding in the snow. Oh well, timing is everything. Before we left the parking lot, we got snowed on. Remember yesterday was 81. We went through Hayden Valley and stopped at Grizzly Overlook. We saw two gray wolves by the river but it was rainy and getting foggy. No chance at a picture but fun to see them. At this point, we gave up and went for a drink and dinner. We had to get through an Elk Jam to get back. One lonely bull stopped traffic.
Monday we started in Hayden Valley. A 5:00AM start with no breakfast and no coffee. We figured out later that the Lake Lodge has coffee at 6:30AM but that didn’t help today. As we got into the valley, it was 23 degrees. We saw a coyote, a fox, elk and untold numbers of bison. The bison are fun to watch since there were a bunch of calves and they have a lot of energy. After Hayden, we headed up to Dunraven and over to Tower. We saw the same bears as before. The sow and 3 cubs were still there but a long way off. As we headed back towards Canyon, we stopped at the Cascades Lake picnic area for breakfast. We finally got it right. Watch the wildlife and eat when you have time.
After breakfast, it was to be geyser day. We headed to Old Faithful and the Upper Geyser Basin. On the way there, we were delayed. There was a Coyote Jam and I’d never heard of one of them. The pups were playing and drew a crowd. They were in kind of high grass and you couldn’t always see them that well. Mom had moved them here from a location where you could see them better. They pretty clearly weren't concerned about people or the cars.
From there we finally got to Old Faithful. There was an eruption right after we got there and right after we finished walking the Upper Basin Boardwalk. For the second year in a row, it was cloudy It wasn’t as pretty as it could have been but I still like it there. We saw Sawmill, Grotto and a couple of others erupt as well. On the way back to Norris, we were caught in a 30 minute bison jam. Never saw the bison. I kind of enjoy them when I can watch.
Tuesday was our last full day and night at Canyon so we headed back to Hayden Valley. It was very foggy on the way down but we go some interesting pictures and a nice sunrise at Alum Creek. We got coffee at the Lake Lodge this time too. Sue’s day already starting off better now. We saw a small crowd at an overlook at Trout Creek and stopped. They told us there was a Grizzly laying down and a coyote laying in the open. This time the scope was good. We could see the features on the bear clearly and see the cub. We could also see the interaction between the bear and the bison up above it. It seemed to us that the bear and the bison treated each other with a lot of respect. Now we felt like we had actually watched a bear.
By now it was sunny and we could see the bison herd. They were beside Alum Creek. We got some pictures of the bison and this hill reflecting into the water. They turned out very well. Also got some pictures of the calves playing. We could watch them for a long time. We left there and headed through Dunraven Pass to Lamar Valley. We didn’t see a lot but there coyote walking down the road beside us. After all this, we headed to Norris Geyser Basin. We hadn’t been there before so needed to check it out. There’s two areas there: Porcelain Basin and Back Basin. They’re both very interesting but Porcelain is prettier in my opinion. We several geysers erupt there too. I enjoyed Norris but like Upper and West Thumb Geyser Basins better. By now we were getting tired after getting up early all the time. We went back to have a drink and organize our clothes for the move to Roosevelt.
Wednesday was to be our last day in that area. We made a final early AM pass through Hayden Valley and took a few scenic photos. Not much happening with wildlife and we were too early for coffee at Lake. Not a great start. As we got near Canyon there was a large Grizzly standing beside the road. He slowly ambled up and over the bank while we took pictures from the car. That pretty much made our day no matter what else we saw.
From there, we took time to drive the Canyon Rim Trail. We stopped at Inspiration Point and Lookout Point. Both offer spectacular views. We also finally stopped at the Brink of the Upper Falls. Its actually prettier than I remembered.
Now its time to check in at Roosevelt. We wanted to get there and get unloaded because we had to be at the coral at 4:15 for the cowboy cookout. It took the rookies a while to get us an early check-in but they finally worked it out. No bathroom and pretty cramped. Similar to our tent. We liked Roosevelt anyway and will stay there again next year.
The Cowboy Cookout was great fun. We took the 1 hour horse back ride. It’s a half hour out and the same coming back. The horses are well trained. They only gallop if they get behind and think they need to get caught up. We enjoyed the wranglers that were with us. Especially Danielle and Amy. They were friendly and had stories to tell. They even joined us for dinner. At some point, chocolate cookies were mentioned and Danielle’s face lit up. When we got back, we gave them what was left of our cookies. They made a good trip a lot of fun and it just seemed the right thing to do. As far as the food: Not the best steak I ever had but maybe the nicest place I ever ate a steak. If you’re on horseback they won’t let you take a camera. You need to have one you trust them to carry on one of the wagons if you want pictures.
Thursday was another real early day. We were up at 4:15 to go on a wildlife tour with Rick Keats of Yellowstone Yearround Adventures. We thought we’d do that as insurance. As it turned out, we learned a lot about the wildlife and the park along with seeing the various animals. We learned that the Sandhill Cranes stash the chick in the reeds very early in the morning and don’t return until dusk. We also enjoyed an osprey nest that we would have missed on our own. We learned other important lessons as the day progressed.
We started by watching 3 wolves in Lamar Valley. It was two black ones and a large gray one. They were a long way off but his scopes allowed us a decent look. I took a couple of pictures but they weren’t great. A 50x500 lens with a 2x converter wasn’t enough. I also didn’t get it focused well. We initially thought we were seeing two black wolves and a rock. Eventually the rock grew legs and walked away with the other two.
After the wolves we headed up to Dunraven. This time the sow with 2 cubs was closer to the road. Rick got parked and we got to take several pictures. Sue’s view through the scope was better but that’s OK. We also saw mountain goats at a great distance and looked down into an Osprey nest. They were fun to watch. After lunch, we went looking for a black bear. We found one with a cub stashed up a tree. That was special. Rick’s timing was dead on.
We had a good time with Rick. It was about an 8 hour day and we learned a lot. If you have time in your schedule, you might consider it too.
Dinner that night was at the lodge with drinks on the front porch. It’s a real nice setting. The only drawback we saw was if a bus comes in, they get really backed up. If you see a tour bus parked there, you have to make a decision. They will fill the restaurant quickly. I was second in line after it filled and had a 30 minute wait. That was about what we wanted but some had a wait closer to an hour. Without a bus, there’s really no issue.
Another self-imposed early start on Friday. After all, if you want to see the wildlife, you need to get up when they do. We didn’t see much obvious in Lamar and even the turnouts were empty. We went to Floating Island Lake to take pictures of the cranes. They got a later start to the reeds so there was more light. These pictures turned out a lot better than the earlier ones. From there, we headed to Dunraven. This time the turnouts were jammed due to the mom grizzly and 2 cubs being close to the road. Sue kicked me out with the camera and she stashed the car someplace. This was a close look at the bear. She and the cubs crossed the road just below us. Hard to get a good picture due to the ranger and the crowds but it was another highlight of the trip.
As turned into our daily ritual, we headed into Hayden Valley from there. We were rewarded with a bison jam and 2 more grizzlies. We actually like the bison jams when we are actually in them, rather than way back somewhere. One gave Sue the eye to the point that she rolled up her window. Another one sniffed my side of the car when it went by. You would not want to irritate them. Once again, a glorious day in Yellowstone.
This was our last night at Roosevelt. I again avoided the dreaded 3:00AM bathroom trip. All in all, we both really liked it. We’re going back next year. That time with 2 regular beds instead of one. A little more room couldn’t hurt.
Saturday was checkout day. We went to Lamar and it was again slow. We made one more trip to Floating Island Lake and got some more decent pictures. We were going to make a drive to Jackson Lake Lodge and stay someplace with a bathroom. We were going to Canyon and across to Norris to get there.
As we got to Canyon, there was a big jam. We parked and saw a moose and calf in a pond near the road. Of the places we were told we might see moose, this wasn’t on the list. We stopped to watch them and lost a lot of time. We finally decided to go on down into Hayden Valley. Another full turnout on the left. This time it was otters. A couple of them were feasting on the fish. There were white pelicans too but the otters weren’t sharing. More time lost but now we’ll head to Jackson Lake.
A few miles more and here comes a grizzly. OK, we’ll stop again. We didn’t watch long before he went over the hill. We drove on slightly ahead and stopped again. This time we watched both the bear and a bison. A big bull was below us rolling in the dust. All of a sudden he came to full attention. Obviously he noticed the bear. The grizzly never paid any attention but kept coming. At this point the rangers were nervous. They assumed the bison would split and he did. I guess they can run 35 MPH after all. At least he didn’t come up the hill towards us. By now, we were hungry and headed down the road. A quick lunch and off to Jackson Lake.
I thought Jackson Lake Lodge would put us closer to the airport and be a nice change from Roosevelt. It was. Very nice. The cottages are nice and on streets that look like something from a small town. The view from the lodge is spectacular. We tried to eat in the restaurant but didn’t have reservations. If you have that problem, don’t worry. The bar has an equally good view and you can get food. Sue liked it so much that she says next year we have to spend 2 nights so she can feel like she really stayed there. I don’t know how much longer I can afford her.
I asked her how she was going to get all the souvenirs and gifts back home. Remember the ice chest? She did. She stuffed it with the excess, taped it up and declared it to be baggage. Next year she claims we’ll take one with us. We’ll see.
Sunday was another early start to get to the airport. Going through the Tetons we must have seen 200 elk. It was barely light and scary to have that many of them in and near the road. One thing we learned has to do with the airport. Small airport with big crowds. Don’t show up late or you’ll regret it.
Don’t get too hung up on agendas. We mostly made it up as we went and loved it.
Take food with you. Don’t let your stomach dictate your wildlife viewing schedule. Yellowstone has many picnic areas, many with toilets.
Don’t avoid Roosevelt because of the lack of restrooms in the cabins. It’s a very nice place.
Reserve early. We tried for Roosevelt cabins with bathrooms in early June 2008 and were too late. At least we got a bigger cabin.
You’ll have more fun with a scope but it doesn’t have to be an expensive one. If you at least have binoculars, someone will usually let you look. We let several people use our scope.
Be nice to everyone. You should do that anywhere but at Yellowstone it may lead to you being allowed to use a scope. We let several people look through ours.