Saying goodbye to Cody, we headed out of Buffalo Bill State Park at sunrise, which is not so early for us, but not typical for our travel companions. We wanted to travel over the 8,500 ft. Sylvan Pass in the cool weather and get through Yellowstone before the roads became jammed with traffic. Morning is the best time to see wildlife, and no sooner had we cleared the pass and entered the grasslands, we were met with a slow-moving bison herd who seemed to prefer the road rather than the goat paths through the fields. We loved it, of course, but soon enough along came a ranger with some kind of sound device on his vehicle to encourage the big beasts to move along.
Early morning construction and bison crossings in Yellowstone!
'Round and 'Round They Go
Our destination was Bakers Hole campground just outside of West Yellowstone, MT. Bakers Hole is first come, first served and has some sites with electric and some just for boondocking. Because most of the sites are wooded, solar isn't always the best option here. As it turns out, we didn't have a choice as all electric spots were taken. We did manage to find two spots across from each other, both with a good amount of sun. Though not perfect, they would do.
There are two loops of sites in the campground, and all day long rigs arrive and drive the loops looking for a suitable open site. Such is the peril of a no reservation system. While Bill and Kelly went to fill up with water, another rig pulled into their site intending to settle in. Steven went over to inform them that it was taken (and already paid for!) but the guy insisted there was no tag on the pole. Helpfully, Steven pointed out that indeed there was and this made the fellow very cranky and stressed out his wife. Off they went to make another round and (hopefully) find another spot. We never saw them again.
A Bee Story
We only stayed at Bakers Hole for three nights, but we made the most of our time there. We spent a lovely day visiting the Grizzly Bear and Wolf Center. We've been here before and enjoyed it. It's good to see it is expanding to include river otters, which top my list for cuteness. A few years ago, with Steven's parents and Tara and Zac in tow, we went to the IMAX Theatre next door to the center. While we were watching the movie "Yellowstone" (what else, right?) a bee stung Tara squarely on the leg. All hell broke loose in our section of the theater as we all yelped and jumped around while Steven whisked Tara away to get help. Since he is allergic to bee stings he thought Tara might be as well and indeed her leg was swelling up nicely. Turns out the doctor (only one in the whole town, I guess) was actually out of town taking his own son to a doctor, so Tara just had to tough it out. She did great. We got our money refunded, even though the rest of us saw the entire movie. We seem to have our fair share of fond family memories based on emergencies. :)
On our second morning at Bakers Hole, we enticed Bill and Kelly to get up early again (noticing a theme here?) and drive to Hayden Valley. For years this has been one of our favorite places to see wildlife before the crowds set in. It was, as always, beautiful, but the hoards of bison were missing. It appears they've moved to the east side of the park, as that's where we found them in numbers. Following our sunrise adventures, we headed to Canyon Village for breakfast. This is my favorite place in Yellowstone for breakfast, partly because it's so central. When we used to camp in our little popup Alfred Hitchpop, I usually started out the day wearing my pajamas because it was way too cold in the early mornings to do anything other than hop out of bed and make a dash to my warm SUV with butt warmers blasting. We'd spend a few hours sightseeing at sunrise before we'd arrive and Canyon and I would change into regular clothes. Steven has a ton of video footage of me roaming around Yellowstone in my PJs. :)
We continued our day in Yellowstone visiting Artist's Point and the spectacular Lower and Upper Falls, Firehole and other geysers. Then we made our way through Mammoth Hot Springs to the north entrance at Gardiner, MT.
For The Benefit and Enjoyment of the People
Every time I see the arch at the north entrance of Yellowstone with this saying etched in stone at the top, I get a little verklempt. To me, it somehow seems even more poignant today than ever before. In 2016 when the National Park Service had their 100 Year Anniversary, they launched the "Find Your Park" campaign. At the time, we were in Alaska. Denali! Still, I knew, Yellowstone was my park, no question. It has been my park since I was a child and it thrills me to no end to take friends to see the sights I have enjoyed most of my life and have shared with my own family for years.
Just You Wait
After three days in West Yellowstone, guess where we moved to? ANOTHER of our Top Ten campgrounds! How many is that, like,14?
Henry's Lake is a serious Top Tenner, though, because it's a gorgeous state park nestled at the edge of a beautiful lake and surrounded by mountains. Overall, we had not seen a great deal of wildlife in our travels through Yellowstone, but just you wait, we said to Bill and Kelly. Just wait until we get to Henry's Lake, you'll be tripping over the wildlife!
Well, not so much, but we did see two moose, a herd of pronghorns, a couple of elk, deer and lots of raptors. But most were really far away and it was difficult to see them without binoculars. I don't know where all the wildlife has gone, but this year they were scarce.
A Grand Sunrise
The campground at Henry's Lake is still a great basecamp for Yellowstone, as it's only about 15 miles or so from the west entrance. We all got up again before the crack of dawn to make the drive into Yellowstone to watch the sunrise over the Grand Prismatic hot spring in the Midway Geyser Basin. If you've seen a photo of Yellowstone, you've probably seen this gorgeous spring with it's rainbow-like colors. Even though it's quite large, it's actually very difficult to photograph. That money shot you've seen on the cover of National Geographic is taken from a fixed wing aircraft, a perspective not readily available to visitors. But, all is not lost.
Just south of Midway is Fairy Falls Trail. From the parking lot, it's about a half mile hike, somewhat steep but completely doable, to an overlook. Not only did we get a better perspective of Grand Prismatic, we also enjoyed the beautiful sunrise that backlit the steam from surrounding springs. We didn't get to see the rainbow colors of the spring, but that's because the ambient temps were far too cold. Still, it's quite an experience and well worth losing a bit of sleep over. We shared the overlook with one other couple and could hear just a few hikers below us.
Later in the day when we passed by the parking lot was full and the cars overflowed into the road. As we strolled the boardwalk that surrounds Grand Prismatic, we could see the crowd gathered at the overlook and congratulated ourselves for getting there early.
Don't I Know You?
We visited a few other geyser areas and as we made our way around a boardwalk, we ran into friends from Sammamish, Jerry & Sandi Bishop! Dr. B, as we call him, was our beloved veterinarian for many years for our kitty Pixel, then both Steven and I went to work at the clinic. Dr. B retired not long ago, as did Sandi from her teaching job, and now they are traveling from their new home near Spokane. We later met them in West Yellowstone for dinner. How fun to meet up during our travels!
Breakfast And A Show
We made our way once again to Old Faithful and this time she did not disappoint! We were pretty happy to see she still has it in her to reach high in the sky! While I do like visiting Yellowstone in the early mornings, Old Faithful is one place where I prefer the afternoons. In the days before we got a rig too large to fit in most of the park campgrounds, we always stayed inside the park, along with a ton of other people. The line for the showers always seem to snake around the building, but of course we were usually there in the height of the season. We learned early on that at the Old Faithful Lodge you go up to the check-in desk and "buy" a shower. For $3.50 we were given a fluffy towel, mini bottles of shampoo and conditioner, and all the hot water we could stand. Afterward, we would mosey out to the second story balcony, order a glass of wine and settle in to watch Old Faithful. Now THAT's the best way to see the show!
At Henry's Lake State Park we enjoyed eight glorious days of the beautiful Idaho autumn, with colors seeming to change before our very eyes. We also managed a day trip to Mesa Falls and beyond, but for the most part, we were happy to just relax by the lake, watching for wildlife.
NEXT UP: The Big Eddy!