Yellowstone National Park

Shan and I were both very excited to finally make it to Yellowstone. We had tried to visit it at the start of our trip, in fact it had determined the time we departed as we wanted to get here before the snow closed the roads. It was not to be and we tearfully continued on our journey after posing for a photo at the gates. Fate (and my parents) had now intervened so we could make a second pass.

Yellowstone is the region that inspired the concept of the National Park. The landscape so impressed the early Europeans who witnessed its sights they invented this new concept of protecting its natural beauty for future generations to enjoy. In 1872 Yellowstone National Park was legislated into existence.

Not everyone was happy with the concept of conservation. Animal poachers, souvenir hunters and developers threatened the park. The United States Cavalry was brought in to enforce the rules of law establishing Fort Yellowstone, a settlement that remains an administrative hub today. The Park Rangers were handed control of the park in 1918 and assumed the protective duties. It felt strange seeing Rangers armed with pistols and was interesting to learn the history of rougher times that accounts for this. Also, there are bears.

A mother Grizzly bear with her three cubs.

We saw many bears in Yellowstone. Spring is the time of year the mothers bring their cubs down from the hills to forage in the grasslands recently revealed by the retreating snow. The cubs are incredibly cute however there is always an air of caution as this is the time the mother bears are not only most protective and territorial but are especially hungry after hibernating all winter and giving birth.

Baby Bison were also out on display, looking slightly ungainly with their spindly legs and slightly too large head. Their lovely caramel coloured coats contrasted with the darker brown fur of the adults. Jackson, our bison stuffed toy, was gleefully thrust out the window by Shan in an attempt to lure the more inquisitive bison to investigate. Early one morning we entered a valley engulfed in thick mist, out of the mist a bison emerged, plodding along the highway. We pulled over to let him pass

People traversing the boardwalk that minimises damage to the geyser pools of the Grand Prismatic Spring.

Apart from the diverse wildlife Yellowstone offers an amazing array of volcanic features. The park itself is a super volcano, the last cataclysmic eruption occurring 640,000 years ago. It's not expected to erupt anytime soon but I couldn't help but think about it as I watched the geysers erupt and the ground bubble as it released sulphurous gas into the air.

The Grand Prismatic Spring

We stayed in West Yellowstone, a town that exists solely to service the 3 million visitors who enter the park each year. The season was just starting to ramp up, a few restaurants were still closed from winter time. I imagine the town must be pretty quiet in the colder months even though the park remains open to snow trekkers.

While driving we came across a lone Grizzly, already spotted by a bank of wildlife photographers with lenses that gave me lens envy. One brave guy ventured to the other side of the road. Even while shooting he looks braced to run. I can't blame him, this is a field where the person with the biggest zoom has the least chance of being eaten. Shannan's vantage point trades proximity for people closer to the bear than she is. A safe choice, looks like that investment in a pair of binoculars is paying off.

Grand Teton National Park

We failed to make it inside Grand Teton National Park on our first attempt, see Failing at National Parks. This time the government was functioning and the snow had (mostly) melted so we were in high spirits.

This fence runs next to an old, two room log cabin. The early settlers encountered some very trying situations but they did get rewarded with morning views like these.

The Grand Tetons are unusual in that they have no foothills to take away from their immense rise from the ground. With the winter snows melted away the bison are enjoying the easy grazing of the lowlands however we didn't see many other animals. It can still snow at this time of year and the food is not particularly plentiful yet.

We are now travelling with my parents who are on their way to visit my brother in Canada. Our accommodation is somewhat more sophisticated than the old 'tent on the mud' setup we had grown accustomed to. As a testament to our well honed travelling skills we didn't have too much trouble adapting.

Shannan has collected a friend for Smokey, Jackson the bison. It comes complete with sounds to attract the real thing to our car.

Yosemite revisited

Returning to California was supposed to be the beginning of the end of our journey. From Cayman we were booked to return to San Jose, catch up one last time with our friend and collect the suitcases we left in her keeping before flying back to Australia.

We were not done with travelling yet and the opportunity presented itself for us to extend for about a month, starting with a sneaky trip to revisit Yosemite National Park. As we arrive the park is just emerging from the winter snows and spring is in the air. The birds are chirping and the tourists are visiting.

I had plenty of time to pause for reflection while waiting, perched on a rock, for a particularly enthusiastic couple to get all the angles they needed for their new book.

We had planned to camp overnight in the valley. On arrival in the early afternoon we discovered the rest of California had decided it was a perfect weekend to do the same. We added our name to the (long) list on standby for a campsite with strict instructions to return at 3pm to see if we would have a place.

This gave us time to find a lovely spot away from the bustling crowd for a picnic. As an aside, it strikes me as odd how, across the US, picnic spots are put in the least scenic areas of carparks. It certainly makes it easier to carry your food to the table but misses the point as far as I'm concerned. 

Returning to see if we could stay the night we filed in with a crowd of other hopefuls. Names are called out for the reserve campsites. We are still a long way down the list when the last name is called. Even though we lucked out I am struck again how motivated and helpful the park rangers are. We have been to a fair number of National Parks in the US by now and we are yet to come across a Ranger who won't go out of their way to be helpful and seems to genuinely enjoy their job.

Making the most of the rest of the day we circle the valley before heading up higher to areas that were closed off due to snow on our previous visit. We made it to Glacier Point just as the light faded and had a glimpse of the spectacular waterfalls and the valley below. It was just enough to make sure I want to come back again. Maybe with some hikes next time...

You can see the post and photos of our original visit here: Yosemite National Park

p.s. We had said our teary goodbyes the night before with much 'you must visit us in Australia' and 'oh you're welcome back anytime's. Well we cashed in on the 'anytime' offer the following night after we were unable to find a campsite in Yosemite. So be warned if you invite us back after we've come to visit!

Eastern Islands, Galapagos, Ecuador

Greedy to experience as much of Galapagos as possible we booked for a second boat cruise right after our first. This time aboard the Santa Cruz, a larger boat holding 90 guests for 5 days. This would take us out to the older islands on the eastern side of Galapagos.

Me, after the buffet breakfast

Our 5 day itinerary aboard the Santa Cruz

The islands on the east of Galapagos are the oldest. The volcanoes have stopped erupting, the landscape is showing more advanced signs of erosion and the animals are well established. 

We were able to land on Rabida, an interesting red island that we had only seen from the ocean while aboard the Angelito. Then Santiago, Genovesa and finally San Cristobal where we had changed our flight to leave from. The only island we would not see in Galapagos would be Espanola.

Genovesa is an amazing island covered with bird life. Here we saw our first red footed boobies and finally got to see frigate birds with their large red bills inflated. They use them as pillows to rest their heads on when not attracting a mate and look like they could pop them with their beaks during a sneeze.

The frigate birds puff a bright red pouch of skin full of air to attract a female to their nest. Shannan gave some of the less endowed birds an inferiority complex by remarking (loud enough for them to hear) that they would never attract anything. The ones that did put on an amazing courtship display involving wings wide and dancing with their red puffs bouncing around. Their warble was similar to a turkey gobble.

The feet of the red footed boobies is coloured by the food they eat. The red footed boobies, a distinct species from the blue footed variety, nest inland and commute each day to distant food sources. These birds are very large and have some disturbing social habits where murder and rape are common place.

Once again, snorkelling provided eyeopening experiences. This side of the archipelago the sharks seemed bigger and more numerous. One expedition ended early when Shannan declared shed had enough after twice being sandwiched between a huge galpapos shark and a large pack of yellow eagle rays. It is a bit unnerving when something much larger than you sidles up alongside, no matter how well fed and disinterested it looks!

Back aboard the Santa Cruz we had an assortment of activities as we moved to our next location. The top deck had areas for sun tanning (good for Shan who is frantically tying to even out unfortunate sock and bather lines in time for Rasha and Bens wedding!) and a bar with shade and ice water (good for me). Books were read with the tropical islands floating past. The Santa Cruz also had a jacuzzi which I made a point of getting into at 10pm on our last night when I realised we hadn't even looked at it yet.

Our Captain treated us to a night of singing. La Bamba finale!

Our captain treated us to a night of latin american classics. Que Ses Quie Sas and La Bamba being highlights. I was conscripted at some point in the night to play the part of a boobie on stage, much to Shannan's delight.

We befriended some Australians who were also traveling around the continent and spent one night shining their torch over the side of the boat to illuminate the fish. Life just teems in Galapagos, absolutely everywhere. It really is amazing. Just over the side were sharks, sea lions, flying fish (delta winged!) and sea turtles. Unfortunately we may have ruined the night for a poor flying fish when it suddenly found itself well lit and a nearby sea lion gave chase. Oops.

Giant Tortoise eating breakfast at the bus terminal on the way to board the Santa Cruz. A normal day in Galapagos.