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.

Cody, Wyoming

One of the  benefits of camping is the view.  It takes dedication I don't have to come out to a location specifically for a shot like this in the freezing cold. When it's right on your flapstep you can admire your surroundings knowing that when it gets too cold you can crawl into a fuzzy warm sleeping bag and go to sleep, ready to catch a spectacular sunrise.

Camping at Buffalo Bill State Park, Wyoming

Cody was founded by Buffalo Bill, pretty much as a tourist town, and contains the Buffalo Bill museum, which is Huge! We spent about 5 hours there before finally calling it a day. There was a wing devoted to Buffalo Bill and his Wild West show, and a wing with 1500 guns and what they'd killed, complete with two guys kitted out in full camouflage visiting it when we were there. And a Yellowstone wing (sniff) which had a good, but scary, educational video about bears and camping. 

 

Failing at National Parks

First, a gallery of Fail courtesy the United States government. For those who don't know, we have been greatly effected by the US govt. shutdown which has closed access to all the National Parks (a huge chunk of what we had planned). In addition to the parks being closed all the national camping areas are shut down as well which has made finding somewhere to stay for the night more difficult. 

That said, we didn't let a little thing like the United States Federal Government put a crimp in our style. Plenty of good scenery to be had, and we can probably write a book on how to do the national parks on the cheap now.