2010 USA Roadtrip Yellowstone Visits

We had a thoroughly wonderful time visiting Yellowstone with the excellent advice we got from Chuck, the volunteer at the Yellowstone Association (web: www.yellowstoneassociation.org or tel. 406-848-2400). At the end of April, not all roads were open in the park but what we saw was great and there were hardly any people to contend with. We stayed in Gardiner Montana at the Super 8 (click here to read that post) and used the North Entrance to go back and forth. We were a week late to make use of the free entry during  National Park Week so we used, for the first time, the Golden Pass that Jim Boeck had bought Dimitri as a present for his birthday in 2008. That gives us free entry to all national parks. Cool!

The first day we visited Mammoth Hot Springs and drove the road to the Northeast Entrance through the Lamar Valley.
The Painter's Palette at Mammoth Hot Springs


We decided to go in the afternoon so that we could end up in Cooke City for dinner and drive back to Gardiner at dusk when we were told the best animal viewing would be. Chuck, the volunteer advising us at the Yellowstone Association office in Gardiner, recommended that we hike near Trout Lake, which we did. It was a short hike but we enjoyed it.

When we saw our first American Buffalo or Bison we were thrilled.
Our first bison sighting in the spring when he was molting (or something like that)

They were everywhere in the park and it was a big deal for us to see them. Some bison even were grazing outside our Super8 motel window in Gardiner early in the morning. 

All totaled we saw three different bears (two blacks and one grizzly) but, for Dimitri, they were all too far away to be satisfying experiences for him. For Audre the distance was just fine. We knew to stop our car and investigate each time because of the number of cars parked along the road--not exactly a "bear jam" but welcome identifiers to stop and look at (or for) the bears. 
Our first black bear fishing with it's paw. There's a sandhill crane on the shore behind the bear

Audre saw her first two muskrats near a pool of water (and was only able to identify them later by seeing a picture of muskrats). There were lots of white-tailed mule deer around the park and also behind our Super 8 early in the morning. The pronghorn antelope we saw were graceful and elegant and it was fun to be introduced for the first time to them.
Bison and pronghorn antelope share the grazing area

We were on a bighorn sheep lookout but never spotted any. Or any moose for that matter. 

The weather was okay for our first 2 days in the park. On our second visit we drove to Old Faithful and were entertained by it. On the way there we stopped at a few view points. The most interesting area along the way was the Midway Geyser Basin. 
Audre and Dimitri at the Fountain Pot and Cleypsdra at Midway Geyser Basin


We have lots more lovely snaps that we took at Midway Geyser Basin on the way to see Old Faithful. Click here to see them all.
here is our iconic photo at Ol' Faithful

We took a hike to the observation point above Old Faithful through a forest with ponderosa pines, subalpine furs (or spruces) and cedars. In many places in the park, the damage from the 1988 fires was obvious and sad but what was inspiring, was to see the new growth of ponderosa pines. They were generally about 12 feet and fluffy, healthy looking trees, gradually covering the devastated terrain in many places.

So, during two visits we were able to visit two of the three areas that were then open in Yellowstone. The evening of our second day in Gardiner, snow was predicted and a spring storm closed pretty much all of the park. On Wednesday we took a drive into the park anyway, hoping to go see the Canyons area but we were turned back by a closed road. We ate our picnic lunch in our car by the Mammoth Hot Springs area, gazing when we could, at Mt. Everts. But the snow storm often obscured our view and we decided to return to our hotel in Gardiner.

It continued to snow on Wednesday and the park was closed again Thursday morning. Instead of staying in Gardiner to see if the weather improved, we drove to Bozeman, MT. We had originally planned to exit Yellowstone through the West Entrance on Hwy. 20 and to spend some time in West Yellowstone. Because of the closed park roads, we drove north from Gardiner on Hwy. 89. Our visits to Yellowstone were great and instead of moaning about what we didn't see, were excited by what we did see in what was almost our own private park during the time we were there.

We want to go back to Yellowstone for a number of reasons not the least of which is that, after we had left we learned that there were free, natural, outdoor hot pools that we could have used (even if the park's interior were closed). This is the description I found in a Bozeman Community Chamber of Commerce magazine:

"Boiling River, Yellowstone National Park:

Located approximately 100 miles from Bozeman is the town of Gardiner and the north entrance to Yellowstone. Just a few miles into the park, visitors may turn into a small parking area for the Boiling River. A 10-minute walk will take visitors directly to the river. Featuring a 5—yard-long stretch of thermal soaking pools along the Gardiner River, the Boiling River produces the largest discharge of thermal water in Yellowstone National Park. Easily the park’s most popular soaking location, visitors will enjoy easy access from the North Entrance Road and may comfortably soak all day in the all-natural water, even as the snow falls.

Geologists suspect that the river’s 100-yard channel of 140 degrees F water is a result of the underground flow from Mammoth Hot Springs, located 2 miles to the south. A 6-foot-wide stream of hot water pours over ledges into the swift-flowing Gardiner River where it mixes with cold river water. The water level in the Gardiner River will determine the temperature of your soak and can vary dramatically."

So, we shall return.