13th Jun 2012 - 19th Jun 2012
West Yellowstone and Yellowstone National Park
On Wednesday we had a leisurely start and then travelled the 14 miles into West Yellowstone where we had booked into for the week and from where we had also booked a rental car. We arrived early and chatted to the site hosts, Jean and Liz, who were extremely knowledgeable on Yellowstone and suggested some possible routes for us. We collected the car and went for a short drive into Yellowstone – we drove the Firehole Canyon scenic drive and then visited Old Faithful. We had been given a tip to go to the Old Faithful Inn and go up to the second floor where there was a viewing platform with seats. When we arrived we saw that we only had ten to twenty minutes until it was due to erupt. We made our way through the Inn which was built entirely of wood and took our seat. We had an excellent spot for viewing and five minutes later Old Faithful bubbled rapidly, sent out a few spurts and then the boiling water and steam shot up at least 30 feet in the air – incredible! On our return journey we did the Firehole Lake Drive and the Riverside Drive. It rained as we drove back to our campsite and we discovered that the windscreen wipers were hopeless on the hire car.
On Thursday we were champing at the bit to set off exploring but we called in to the rental car company about the wipers and in no time at all they sent someone out to purchase new ones and fit them. We had decided to drive the northern loop of the park as well as the Lamar Valley and we had an amazing day. We saw two bald eagles, four black bears (one with a kill, a Pronghorn faun), umpteen bison and calves, a Pronghorn and a faun, a coyote, elk and some new water birds. All of that and the most stunning scenery as well. In the Lamar Valley we watched bison and calves crossing the Lamar River and it was incredible to watch how the mother bison stood in front of her calf to shield it from the river’s current. We had such a good day that we did not arrive back at Harvey until 8.30pm – shattered.
We did not have a great night’s sleep due to text messages coming in to Linda’s phone from her phone provider and so we decided to have an easy day on Friday. We packed our lunch again and set off to drive another scenic drive but one which was outside of Yellowstone – the Quake Lake scenic drive. We visited a site where on 17 August 1959 an earthquake of 7.9 on the Richter scale struck. Despite the fact that the area was teeming with tourists, just 29 people lost their lives as the canyon shifted 19 feet causing the lake to tilt up the 19 feet to create huge waves. The Army Corps of Engineers battled to create a spillway so that the Hebgen Dam held. The Visitor’s Centre is now equipped with a Seismograph showing the earth’s tremors. As we travelled on the road we spotted two small herds of mountain goats with babies who were grazing by the river. Some of them had started to lose their winter coats and they looked as if they were balding. We then went into the Park to drive the Riverside Drive to see if we could improve our Western Tanager picture as we knew that this was a good habit for them. Typically, as we located one and Seamus was about to take the shot, a motorist went through and the bird flew off – hopefully we will have better luck next time! During the day we saw an amazing total of six bald eagles on six separate occasions.
We were up early on Saturday morning and packed up the day again. This time we travelled south and drove a 290 mile loop which took us out of Yellowstone and back into the Grand Tetons National Park, then through part of Idaho’s potato growing belt. What a wonderful day. We spotted two male Moose grazing in a pond, stood with two sherrifs in Wyoming watching an air mountain rescue as a result of a mountain biker coming a cropper somewhere on the hillside (according to one of them “it was not the place that they usually scoop them up from”!), saw a pair of new birds of prey (yet to be identified), spotted a female Moose in a farmer’s meadow and travelled through wonderful scenery.
On Sunday we drove the southern loop of Yellowstone taking in Lamar Valley which is a prime spot for wildlife – needless to say that whilst we saw plenty during the day we saw nothing much there at all. We passed the place where we had seen male Elk in the distance and this time they were much nearer and so we trudged through the rough meadow to take some shots of them on the opposite bank. Their antlers were incredible! How they hold their heads up we will never know because we did lift a pair of antlers that were on display in a visitor’s centre and we needed both hands and to bend our knees – they can weigh up to 40lbs. On our way back we spotted two baby elk fauns which are apparently called calves but we are afraid that they will never be calves to us because they are the most gorgeous spotted bambi’s. However, all we could see of them was the occasional glimpse of their little faces because they were laying down with their mothers in the long grass.
Monday was our day of hot springs and we set off to view the mid geiser basin. We had not gone very far into the park when we saw our Elks with their fauns and they were in full view – wonderful! The mid geiser basin hot springs were incredible – not only were the colours amazing but it was so gusty that the steam appeared to be coloured too and the light was just right to get what we think are good pictures – we did have to be careful of our camera lenses though as the vapour from the pools can damage them. From there we went to Mammoth Hot Springs and here Seamus was so disappointed because they had changed so much in the last few years and were nothing like he remembered them from his visit of 40 years ago. The water had all but gone and all that was left were whiteish calcite structures. However, just as we were leaving the area he spotted the Western Tanager and he managed to get a good photograph. On our return journey we saw our first honey coloured bear and believe it or not it was another Black Bear. It seems strange that Black Bears can be honey coloured and Grizzly Bears can be black!
On Tuesday we had intended having a very early start but unfortunately neither of us woke up! So, we set off around 9am to drive up to Lamar Valley again which was our favourite scenic drive. We saw the Bald Eagle swoop in and land on a tree stump where we had previously seen it. The bison appeared to have moved much closer to the West Entrance. The Elk and fauns were on the opposite bank. We saw a Black Bear on the side of the road and apparently it had two cubs but we did not see those as we were in a queue of traffic with nowhere to pull over. Our Black Bear at the Petrified Tree was sleeping in the same spot. The herd of Pronghorns were grazing in the same meadow and mother and faun were there too. Whilst quite a few of the bison had moved on, there was still a large herd grazing by the river. Whilst scouting the area we spotted a bear on the edge of some tree but it was a long way off and so we could not positively identify whether it was a Black or a Grizzly Bear. This time on our return journey we found ourselves at the start of what became a huge traffic jam. A herd of bison had decided to occupy the road and a bridge and they had to call in the wranglers to drive them back into a meadow. We must have been there for a good 30 – 40 minutes but what an experience watching the experts at work.
So, after a week of exploring Yellowstone we have seen less than 5 percent of it because even if you drive all the major roads (250 miles) you will only get to see 5 percent of the park because 80 percent of it is forest, 15 percent is grassland and the remaining 5 percent is water, which makes up the 2.2 million acres. We shall be sorry to leave West Yellowstone's Hideaway RV site as we have been very comfortable here and our hosts were excellent.