After a day filled with incredible views and geological wonders we were driving back towards our hotel for some much needed rest. Along the way we encountered several vehicles pulled over indicating an opportunity to see some of Yellowstone’s amazing wildlife so we found a spot in a nearby pull off and parked the car. After a short hike up the road we saw people watching a lone bison just lazily grazing nearby. Continuing to scan the landscape for bears or wolves I glanced towards this bison from time to time just watching and snapping a few pictures.
While watching this large animal for a couple of minutes I began to get lost behind my camera taking different pictures trying different compositions. It was getting better and better because I could get increasingly closer shots isolating this bison and highlighting its details until I briefly looked up from the camera only to realize this large, powerful animal was not within a few feet of me. The only thing between me and this bison was a low, wooden railing which would do nothing if it decided to charge me which I witnessed earlier in the day. That same morning I watched one bison charge after anther bison at full speed displaying just how fast and powerful they really are no matter how they may appear most other times.
Quickly I backed away seeking the cars behind me as a potential buffer between me and this bison. Fortunately it was more interesting in eating and continued walking away from my area. After a little more wildlife viewing we decided we were ready to get back in our car and continue towards the hotel only there was a little problem. This lone, powerful bison was walking along the roadside towards our car preventing us from leaving. Well, we might as well as relax for awhile until it passes our vehicle allowing us to drive away. Slowly we followed at a safe distance just watching as it walked among the many cars now stopped watching it. Do you think there is some amusement to the bison causing such an event? At one point it stopped and looked at our empty car. “Do you think it will find something irritating with the car and ram it?” I asked. How do you explain that to the insurance company? Glad we weren’t in the car at that point. Can you imagine how that would be? Finally it continued on down the road to meet up with a nearby heard allowing us to make it to the car.
Being one of the first cars into a pull off definitely has its advantages as you don’t have to worry about finding a place to park as within a few minutes the roadway fills with vehicles hoping to catch a glimpse and maybe a photo of nearby wildlife. Also you tend to have a front row seat for watching wildlife. Unfortunately if you decide it’s time to leave you may have to wait while the traffic jam caused by whatever wildlife you are watching has caused clears enough for you to get back onto the road and on your way to the next destination.
Once traffic began moving again we prepared to pull out just when that nearby bison heard arrived across the street from us once again stopping traffic. These are definitely not fast moving animals much of the time. This heard would walk a short distance, stop and scratch on the dirt or nearby trees, walk a few steps more, eat nearby leaves, and continue a little further. While it seemed like forever it was really only about 15 minutes before we were once again on the road heading to our hotel for the night. How frustrating must it be for those stuck in this traffic jam far enough down the road and not be able to see what was causing it? At least we got to enjoy it even though the bison were a little close for comfort at times.
On our first trip into Yellowstone National Park, we were less than five miles from the North Entrance when the first encounter with wildlife began. I call these our park greeters welcoming us to Yellowstone. For me it is a truly great way to start a national park adventure and a good sign of what is to come. While driving a short distance I happened to glance to my left and caught a glimpse of a fawn through trees and brush. Fortunately this occurred near a pull off designed to allow people to stop along side the road to take in the sights of that area so I quickly decided to turn in and see if I could spot that fawn again.
Within a minute or two the Elk fawn and its mother appeared coming closer to us. And then there was another fawn in sight. Within a few minutes five Elk fawns and their mothers were grazing within sight and coming closer. By this time the pull off was full of other people all trying to photograph these animals as is typical in Yellowstone. Fortunately this occurred just after 6pm and many people had already left the park allowing for better traffic flow. Not that I really noticed the traffic because these Elk and their fawns were so much fun to watch.
Eventually the mothers all decided they wanted to cross the Gardner River coming closer towards all of us set up to capture this event. They slowly coaxed the fawns to wade through this rushing water towards greener pastures. Because of larger amounts of snow this past winter, the river was flowing faster than normal from more melting snow making it increasingly difficult to ford.
After a few attempts the fawns decided this was a bad idea with conditions too dangerous for them to safely make it across. They found a spot on the river bank and stood their ground. I wonder if having an audience for this helped deter them from trying to make it through this swiftly moving water? As I looked over this pull off full of cars carrying many people with large cameras all looking for a photograph of these Elk fawns crossing a river for the first time, I could see some disappointment as the realizations they were not going to cross the river. Understandable as how often do you get on opportunity to witness such an event right in front of you?
The next twenty minutes or so these fawns would call over to their mothers with these mothers responding attempting to convince the other to get on the other side of the river. After several attempts the mothers all crossed back over the Gardner River to be reunited with their fawns. Several days later we drove by these same Elk and saw that the fawns had successfully crossed the swift river in a different location.
With just on hour of daylight left on our first evening in Yellowstone National Park, we took off exploring the several walkways built around Mammoth Hot Spring Terraces. During research ahead of this trip these hot spring terraces weren’t an exciting feature that I was in a hurry to see so this seemed like the right amount of time to quickly explore the area. Upon first viewing these formations I was surprised at how white they were and the formations creating all of these little, unique pools. Something I’ve never seen anywhere before.
Apparently this extreme white comes from calcium being brought up with the springs and deposited as water from these springs cools which means these terraces continually change. This means that the terraces viewed last summer are not the exact same as the ones I saw this summer which will be unique next summer for different visitors. That’s kind of fun. Still, after walking around these features for a little while I felt I’d seen enough to call it a night and return to the hotel for much needed sleep. That’s when the photographer inside of me kicked in.
Shapes, textures, colors, and living and dead trees creating interesting objects began to appear. Yes, they were there the whole time but I didn’t really see them individually. Algae and bacteria living in this hot water add colors to the pure white calcium deposits creating amazing patterns in the terraces. Add to that trees which have been overtaken by these mineral deposits provide another layer of texture to this scene. Soon I realized I could spend a lot of time here catching these items as the light continues to change highlighting different features of each terrace formation ending in beautiful photographs.
Now there wasn’t enough daylight left to capture the Mammoth Hot Springs the way I would like to. As we continued to explore different areas, the springs became more and more fascinating with their little calcium ridges flowing over past living trees turned into decaying artwork and colored different shades of orange and brown as light continued to fade from the almost clear sky. Other areas provided trees a place to grow as a hot spring would become dormant providing more interesting features. With renewed energy it was off to see more areas and discover more of these steam filled deposits creating calm pools of water waiting to cool as they seep from one to another.
Eventually the sky became dark enough to prevent further photographs highlighting these great colors and textures so we returned to our car for the trip to the hotel before crashing into bed for some much desired rest. These Mammoth Hot Springs became more interesting than I would have imagined and every time we passed them on the way to see another location there was a temptation to stop and get more photographs in better light. However that would come at the cost of seeing more of Yellowstone. One advantage to visiting the terraces later in the evening is we really didn’t have to deal with crowds. With this being our first night here it was a false sense of navigating through Yellowstone in mid June. The next day would quickly change this with vastly larger numbers of vehicles and people.
Yellowstone National Park was one of the most eagerly anticipated parks on our National Parks Monopoly board from the beginning of our adventures and has definitely lived up to its name. We chose to stay in Gardiner near the North Entrance so our first experience in Yellowstone was to go through the symbolic Roosevelt Arch. The arch itself if beautiful but seems quite out of place now so it must be symbolic as it does not fit the surroundings very effectively. When it was built in 1903, according to a nearby sign, it must have been a grand entrance into this scenic and adventure filled land and now remains as a piece of history here.
This is a vast and continuously changing landscape and as such requires some time to drive through, when you can drive through it as half of the year snow covers many of the roads closing them to most vehicles. During the peak summer months of June, July, and August there is much to see and do but require some additional attributes for vacationers. First you need to bring a lot of patience as travel is relatively slow due to numerous other visitors all stopping along the road to see the incredible views and wildlife, many times without consideration to those behind them.
Secondly be able to accept many things that you can not control. Most of this is from people wanting to get a certain picture of wildlife, the numerous hydrothermal features, special group shot, or that all important selfie. Other times it can be from people trying to catch up to their group or kids being clueless to their surroundings. Relaxing and understanding other people have different priorities and schedules can help enjoy this beautiful time of year to explore Yellowstone. One tactic to get around some of these annoyances is to start really early in the morning and/or staying later in the park when most others are headed back to their residence for the day.
We had four days to explore this massive place and each day brought something new to see with some of these days packing in more than can be taken in for a single day. Fortunately that’s what pictures and maps are for, to recall what each day provided. Before heading to Gardiner I spent several hours doing some research of what makes this National Park special so that while driving around we wouldn’t miss these things. The most recognizable piece of Yellowstone National Park is the hydrothermal features created by molten lava a short distance under the Earth’s crust as a large portion of this area is basically inside a caldera of what is now a dormant volcano.
The next highlight is the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone which has the Yellowstone River rushing through it. This river falls over a 300 foot cliff resulting in a thunderous crash heard for miles as the water continues on into the canyon. With above normal snowfall this past winter melting at a fast pace, the flow over this waterfall is faster and louder than normal. Yellowstone Lake is another of the grand pieces to explore with many doing so either by fishing, kayaking, or boating. Be careful as the water is still cold even during the warmer summer months being able to cause hypothermia which occurred a week before our trip here. While these are destinations within the park, arguably the biggest highlight of Yellowstone National Park is the wildlife. Unfortunately, seeing many of the different wild animals residing here is unpredictable so the only way to have an opportunity to see it is to be on the lookout while driving from one location to another or hiking into some of the back country areas with safety precautions understood and accessible. I’ll continue to go into detail on many of these highlights in later posts.