Browsing Archives for Yellowstone

Day three of our Yellowstone/Teton vacation dawned bright and early as we packed up and left our campground at Signal Mountain to secure a site in Yellowstone right around the break of dawn. We had to stop and get gas and ice (and donuts and coffee) so that we didn’t get to Yellowstone until around 7:00 am.

This was the line when we arrived at the south entrance to Yellowstone National Park.

The line was moving very slowly in part because of an auto accident up ahead.  I am not sure what happened, but we eventually drove by the grisly remains of a pop-up camper that had one side sheered off.  The car that was pulling it was crushed as well.  A woman and a child stood beside the wreckage – the woman was screaming in the face of a ranger while her daughter stood by and looked mortified.  A roll of toilet paper dangled down the side of the clipped off pop-up while the aluminum ribs and insulation littered the side of the road.  From what I saw, it appeared that all the people involved in the wreck were okay.

The top cause of death at Yellowstone Park is car crashes.  This is followed by illness, drowning and falls.  Death by animal attack is rare, but signs in the park warning people of the imminent danger of animal attacks outnumber any other types of signs by about a million to one.  In fact, there aren’t any other type of warning signs.  Only animal danger signs.  Especially bear danger signs.  Which is why my son Drew was so frustrated when by day three we still hadn’t seen any bears yet.  If the signs are right, they must surely be lurking around every corner!

We drove from the south end of Yellowstone all the way to the north end stopping at almost every campground along the way looking for an spot.  We ignored the first few campgrounds hoping to get ourselves more centrally located.  This turned out to be a bad decision.  By the time we reached central Yellowstone, the campsites there were full.  There are about 2000 campsites in Yellowstone for campers with vehicles and 300 back country campsites.  If you multiply 2300 campsites by nine thousand French people, seven thousand Asians and four thousand assorted other Europeans plus maybe a couple hundred Americans and possibly a thousand Canadians you end up with forty two billion people camping in Yellowstone the same night that we were there.

Finally, we reached Mammoth Hot Springs on the northern edge of Yellowstone and our last hope of finding any room at the Inn inside of the park evaporated when we learned that it’s campground was also full.  The Country Doctor located a ranger to get some information about our options for overnight accommodations.  He learned that Gardiner, Montana (just outside the park) had both hotel rooms and campsites available and he also learned that people can camp in the designated wilderness areas of the Park for free.  I could tell by the CD’s voice that this ‘wilderness’ option was very appealing to him.  Not only was it scary, and dangerous, it was also cheap.  Unfortunately, the CD could tell from my voice that the idea of ‘wilderness’ camping was not at all appealing to me as it scary and dangerous and also cheap.

Sensing the danger in my voice, the raised hackles, the attack stance and the flaming eyeballs, the CD wisely opted to drive into Gardiner, Montana where we secured a campsite in a campground on a bluff overlooking the town.

Check it out!  We’re in Montana!  We didn’t even plan to go to Montana and yet here we are!

While the menfolk sat up the tent, I availed myself of a trip to a tricked out, clean bathroom with hot and cold running water and looked forward to a long hot shower later that night.  Then I fired up the camp stove and made us some smoked brats for lunch.

After lunch, we headed back to Yellowstone via the North entrance which is clearly marked by the enormous Roosevelt stone arch.  Theodore Roosevelt laid the cornerstone himself in 1903 during a two week vacation he was taking just up the road at Tower Falls within the park.  Later, a lodge was built to commemorate Roosevelt’s visit.  We would visit the lodge later that day.

But our first stop was the Boiling River.

The hot water from nearby Mammoth Hot Springs runs down from the travertine terraces and joins the icy cold Gardiner river where swimmers can find the perfect temperature to sit and soak after a hard day of traipsing all over the park.

Or a hard day of trying to find a campsite.

This spot was one of the highlights for the kids.

A half mile long hike filters out some of the crowds (including most Americans) so you will bathe primarily with the usual Asians and Europeans.

Languages from around the world will rise over the gentle roar of the hot water splashing into the cold river.  People conversing in German and French and Japanese, with the occasional familiar American tongue joining in.

The boys played for two hours in this river.  They nobly fought the current trying to get from one end of the warm area to the other.  We all really enjoyed it, except for the CD who got tired of relaxing after about ten minutes.  But he was outvoted as the boys were having a marvelous time and I was almost in a coma from the pure bliss of hot water against my skin.  The only thing that would have made it better was a glass of champagne, but food and beverages are banned in this area of the park.

From the river, we headed back into Mammoth Hot Springs which is the site of the first hotel built in Yellowstone.  Mammoth Hot Springs was a military fort and it’s tidy layout is a site for sore eyes for one who long for signs of civilization after too long on the trail.

A herd of elk was grazing on the lawn around the post office and the clinic. One ranger’s job was to place orange cones around the herd so that people would stay back far enough. As the herd moved through the town, the ranger with the cones would pick them up and re-set them in a new spot. I kind of wondered what her official title was.

“Elk Cone Lady”

“Herd Safety Cone Manager?”

“The Cone/Elk/Setter Upper Person?”

“Elk Cone Setter/Vocal Warning Over and Over Again Guide?”

“The Lady Who Shouts at the Tourists While Setting Up Cones around Herds of Elk?”

Or maybe just…

“That Irate Elk Ranger with the Orange Cones”

Hopefully it’s only a temporary assignment for her.

We found a parking space, glad to be rid of the pop-up camper, and set out to climb the travertine terraces.

I only got about halfway up when I spotted a bench and just sat down.  The terraces are interesting, but seeing the steaming pools and marbley pitted rock up close is not that much better than viewing it from a great distance.  The Country Doctor sat down beside me and said, “Have you had it?”


“Why don’t you go back down to the town and we will meet you there.”

He didn’t have to make that suggestion twice.

I hiked back down, got an ice cream cone and enjoyed the terraces from a great distance.

Trust me, my experience was not diminished in any way.

After a while my family joined me.

We all got some ice cream and cold drinks and then with renewed energy, we continued on our tour of the park.

Our next destination was the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, but we got sucked off the main highway by a back road that wound through a bit of wilderness.

Even if you drive every road in Yellowstone (which I am sure we did) you will see only 2% of the park.

We saw an elk.

And some gorgeous country.

And encountered our first ‘bear jam.’

A black bear was feasting on some red currant bushes right by the side of the dirt road.  It was almost as if some centrally located control tower had ‘cued the bear’ for the oncoming tourists.

Trust me, we were watching for a safe distance.

We watched the bear for quite a while, partially because we were trapped by the cars in front of us, and partially because it was a bear.

The bear eventually ate all the currants and then he clawed open dead log lying on the ground and a mass of squiggling insects were revealed.  He poked his snout in the insect squirm and took a bite, but then literally turned up his nose and climbed up the hill for more currants.  This was a bear with a very sophisticated palette.  As he ambled up the hillside away from our view, the cars began to pull out and we followed.

We passed an area that showed signs of recent fire.  In an average year, 22 fires are started in the park by lightning.  In 1988, the year that 800,000 acres were burned inside the park, there were 50 fires started by lightning.  Black Saturday occurred on August 20, 1988 a day when hurricane force winds whipped through the park setting 165,000 acres ablaze.  Smoke plumes could be seen from the space shuttle and ashes fell as far as 100 miles away in Billings Montana.  The park is well on it’s way to recovery from the fires of 1988.  Adolescent trees cover large sections of the park while the skeletonized remains of the older trees still stand silent sentry over their younger kin.

We finally arrived at the Canyon which is carved out of yellow stone.

Hence the name of the park.

On our way back to Gardiner, we stopped at Roosevelt Lodge for dinner.  Theodore Roosevelt camped near this area during one of his visits to the park, but he did not stay in the lodge as it was built fifteen years later in 1917.

It’s the smallest lodge in the park and has a laid back atmosphere.  We were able to get a table as soon as we arrived.

The food was excellent and affordable.  Cal and Drew had elk burgers.  Ethan had catfish.  The CD and I shared a bison steak and Roosevelt beans and Jack had spaghetti and meatballs from a plain old regular cow.

I had to take a photo of the sink in the bathroom because it was so cool and maybe I was getting a little obsessed with the idea of hot and cold running water at this point in our camping vacation.

It was just so beautiful!

Soooooooo Beautiful!!!!

Here ends day three of our Yellowstone vacation.  Are you exhausted yet?  Bored?  Sick of nature?  Wishing for a comfortable bed, a modern toilet and a hot shower?  Fortunately there are only four more days to go!

Hwah ha ha hoo hee ho ha ha HWAH!

To see a larger version of any of the photos, simply click on the photo.

Evidently the rumors are true. Elk can’t read.

Photo taken at Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone National Park, July 2010

Day two of our Yellowstone/Teton vacation we drove to the top of Signal Mountain and enjoyed the panoramic view.  Signal Mountain is a little mountain that is in the middle of the ‘hole’ or the flattened our area that is surrounded by the Tetons, Yellowstone park, and a variety of other distant ranges on all sides.  This would be a view of the other ‘distant ranges’.  Sorry I don’t know what they are, but the river in the distance is the Snake River where we were to whitewater raft later in the day.

Here is my family looking all astute.

This is the Teton view from Signal Mountain which would be from the other side of the mountain.  I am pretty sure that is Jackson Lake in the distance.

On our way into Jackson to whitewater raft the Snake river, we were pulled off the road by the magnetic beauty of this building which turned out to be the Craig Thomas Visitor’s and Discovery Center.  From the road, the building was so stunning that I had to see what it looked like on the inside.

It did not disappoint.  For more photos or to learn more about the Craig Thomas Discovery and Visitor’s Center, click here.

In the photo you can see not only the massive limestone fireplace, but also a topographic map of the Teton area.  Can you see the hole in the middle of the surrounding mountain ranges?  That is how Jackson hole got it’s name.

The visitor’s center has excellent displays.  Here the boys run their fingers over the pelts of various animals that live in the Tetons.  We watched a short movie on the geographic formation of this area in the auditorium ate sandwiches out of the trunk of the van and then headed on into Jackson.

We were scheduled for an afternoon white water rafting trip so I had about fifteen minutes to walk around Jackson and snap photos before our bus left for the wilds of the Snake River.

A part of me wanted to just hang out in Jackson and skip the river entirely.

But I knew we would be back that evening to have dinner with the CD’s former nurse Ella and her husband Mike.  They had moved to Jackson only ten months prior to our visit.

So I rapidly took some photos of this extremely photogenic town and then got onto a bus with (I am not even kidding) twenty French people.  They all had wet suits on over their french bikinis.  None of the Americans had wet suits on (nor French bikinis).

“Why do we have these wet suits and no one else has them?” they asked.

No one was able to answer them, but I think it is because when you visit a foreign country, you are at the mercy of marketing even more than when you are at home.  So when someone tells you to rent a wet suit, you rent a wet suit.

Let it be a lesson to us all.

Don’t rent the wet suit until you see the natives renting the wet suit.

I was glad that I took the photos when I did, because when we got back from the river, the light was fading fast.

We walked around Jackson with Ella and Mike after we put our name in for a table at the Merry Piglets a Mexican cafe that is popular with Jackson locals.

For two days Drew had been very anxious to see a bear as he had been seeing warning signs about bears and bear proof trash cans and bear safe food storage in the campground and yet not one bear had crossed his path.  So when we saw this huge stuffed Grizzly in a store, we had to make sure that Drew saw it in case it turned out to be the only bear we saw.

And then we bought some fudge in a candy store.

And had a fabulous dinner with Mike and Ella.

Here ends day two of our Yellowstone/Teton vacation.

I did buy a water proof disposable camera and took some photos of the raft trip.  If any of the photos turn out, I will try and post a few.

Have a good weekend!

Making pink cupcakes for a baby shower,