Yellowstone: Mostly Good, Sometimes Bad but Absolutely, Never, Ever Ugly

Even blighted by the haze of distant California fires, YS is still amazing.

We come into YS by the west entrance. This turns out to be the worst entrance to come in to. Big ole traffic jam backed up almost into town. We’re not in a hurry but it’s a bit annoying. I play a game looking at all the license plates. They’re from all over!

Once into the park I really enjoy wading in the YS river at Nez Perce ford. I feel whatever kinship a white lady who loves appaloosa horses can feel. Maybe what I see and experience here wading in the river is not that much different than what the fleeing Nez Perce saw and felt. It’s a bit of wishful thinking.

Our camp site is in Bridge Bay campground. Welcome to suburbia. Actually, I think suburbia is quieter. After 6 days at McCrae Bridge forest service campground this is a bit of a shock. It’s made better because as we enter we see two elk grazing like they own the place. Which they do.

me YS river 4
Me on the banks of the Yellowstone River.

Based on our experience so far of all the crowded roadways we posit that the best time to go anywhere to avoid the inevitable crowds is to get up really early or go really late.

So to test the theory that evening after dinner we head for West Thumb Hot Springs on the Lake. The theory is correct. Hardly anyone is there. Also, on the way there’s a big male elk right by the side of the road who bugles as we slowly drive by. Cool, you elk person, cool. Coming back from the Hot Springs we see his harem. Yellowstone is going to be good for wildlife. (silent yay!)

infinity pool 2
The Infinity Pool at West Thumb drains into Yellowstone Lake.
Hey Mr. Buff, you’re a rock star, go play!
buffalo on road
Hey! I’m walkin’ here!
me buffalo valley
Lucky bison in Hayden Valley. Sweet digs. Water, dust baths, food galore.

Sunday, August 23rd: We get up at 6 am. Campground is quiet. We head for Old Faithful but the road to OF is closed. What? We learn later there is a wildfire. Bummer! To get there now we’ll have to drive way out of our way and surely get stuck in crowds upon arrival. Change of plan! We go north to the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. On the way more bison and Teddy awakes to the realization that these might be giant wild pigs and he must have them! He goes crazy barking from the safety of the back of the pickup. Oh, Teddy, you dog, you! Old faithful dog habits.

The upper and lower falls are absolutely amazing. I am so glad we got up early because almost no one is there. And in some places no one IS there! So nice to have beautiful places to ourselves.

Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. Pictures absolutely do not do it justice.

After GC we head further north to Mammoth Hot Springs which is also incredible. Wish it was not so hazy! Darn that California. We’ve had enough of you! At lunch time we are starving but Mammoth is too crowded so we go to Gardiner, Montana at the north entrance. We get a breakfast sandwich at a roadside food vendor who is clearly from Russia.

me perfect bonsai
Mammoth Hot Springs: there’s a perfect bonsai in this picture. Can you find it?
perfect bonsai captured
If you couldn’t find it is. This is for real.
mammoth hot 13
Where on Earth would anyone see anything like this besides here?

Back “home” we have a Big Nice Afternoon Nap. Walking the dogs at dusk we see the most wonderful great horned owl in a tree at the edge of the forest.

Monday August 24th 2020

Getting up early really does the trick. Up at 6 am again and everyone else is still asleep. The road is all ours again. It takes a while to get over to the geyser basin areas because of the long detour. The fire is not under control yet but we are assured it will be because it’s near Old Faithful. We stop at Middle Geyser Basin because I’ve been dying to see the Grand Prismatic Spring. The air is still quite nippy at this early hour and there is so much steam that it obscures the beautiful colors. I would not have thought of this but it’s still amazing in a different way. The tourists dilemma: go early and miss the crowds and get steam. Go late and get crowds and colors. Hmmmmm, I guess I’ll take steam. We are in the Time of Covid.

Boiling water cascades into the Firehole River at Grand Prismatic Spring.
Later that day we’re lucky to see Grand Prismatic Spring from a lookout.

We move on to Old Faithful hoping beyond hope that it is not already crammed with tourists. But it isn’t and we get a front row seat to watch the show. Oh, Happy Day! Then we wait. And wait. And wait. We have not been able to research so we have no idea when “thar she blows!”. We overhear some people talking. They say they’ve been waiting an hour already so we figure it must be soon and, yes, pretty soon we see boiling water coming out of the vent. Then quiet. Then more bubbling. Quiet again. Finally, after many cycles of bubbling and quiet there it goes! Looks like it goes about 5 stories in the air but, there again, there’s so much steam because of the cold air it’s hard to see the plume.

OldFaithful 1

Yet, as we walk away, I think of the Peggy Lee song “Is That All There Is?” OF is kind of a let down compared to other sights we have already seen.

Technology aside: It’s been interesting not having cell or internet service. I say to Marty I might be getting too used to being irresponsible because I sort of don’t care. There are some bills we can’t let slide. Sigh. I would like to be totally irresponsible. But it puts a hamper on certain things because we can’t research stuff before we go. Can’t get driving distances. We have to get used to doing things the old fashioned way. Guess and gosh. Rule of thumb. SWAG. Be OK with not knowing everything. With not being a walking encyclopedia. Weather forecast? Who knows? Look at the sky. Prepare for any eventuality.

Tuesday August 25th

This is our last full day. I want to check out Blacktail Plateau because that’s where the first wolves were released in 1995. I also want to check out Lamar Valley in the northwest corner of Yellowstone because word has it this is where the fewest tourists go and where the most wildlife is.

As we leave the area and are driving through Hayden Valley we see people congregating on the side of the road looking at something. We pull over and get out the binocs. Way off in the distance is… A LONE WOLF! Oh My God! Oh My God! Some guy standing near says oh, no, it’s a coyote. (wet blanket! crepe hanger!) But it’s not a coyote, dude. We’ve seen enough coyotes at the ranch to know the difference. Sure, and b’gosh, it has the distinctive characteristics of a gray wolf. The characteristic smooth trot. The rounded ears. The shorter snout and heavier body. It goes over the hill at a walk and we drive on. Do we even need to go to Blacktail now?


The Blacktail Plateau drive turns out to be a wasted hour on a one-way gravel road. Nothing there but my imagination. But no matter. Soon after we finish with that we are rewarded by big herds of buffalo and antelope in the Lamar Valley. Marty gets a great shot of a big bull buff right by the side of the road.

Buf head M
Some times you really feel like you need a bath and a spa day!

Now the question is shall we go back the way we came or continue on? Going back the way we came seems so boring. Going forward seems such a long way.  But the potential for adventure overcomes the need for ease. We decide to continue on as I start singing “We may never pass this way again”. And, boy, are we glad we kept going. Spectacular mountains and high jinks on the highway. There’s a lone cowgirl pushing a large herd of cattle right down the middle of the road. They seem to know where they’re going but, do they? We never find out. Further on we encounter the Clark’s Fork. Who knew these things existed?  When we stay on the beaten path we miss the most amazing things.

Clarks Fork M
Clarks Fork. Looks like the overleap where Butch and Sundance took their plunge.

Further on we find that Cody, Wyoming is nothing to write home about but the tacos from the taco truck are fine and good and remind us of California.  South of Cody we follow the Buffalo Bill River and the Reservoir of the same name and everything changes. Here is some really bizarre scenery: The Holy City. It’s called the Holy City because some people think these rock formations resemble a silhouette of the ancient city of Jerusalem. Near Wapiti on U.S. Highway 14. So weird. So weird.

Holy CIty M 2
The Holy City rock formation outside of Cody going to east YS entrance. This is for real, too.

Now we are back in Yellowstone and getting into the mindset of leaving in the morning but YS isn’t done yet. As we drive into the camp we find two bull elks play fighting right next to our trailer! I pity the poor people who had their camp chairs ground to dust by elk who don’t give a rat’s arse what they do or where they go. Take that camp chair. We didn’t like you anyway.

Elk fight M
It’s my party and I’ll butt heads if I want to.

Then it rains which puts to rest our worry that the stupid people next to us will play music until well past curfew again tonight. So, because of the nice rain, we get a good night’s sleep and in the morning it’s time to go. Goodbye Yellowstone. You were amazing!


4 thoughts on “Yellowstone: Mostly Good, Sometimes Bad but Absolutely, Never, Ever Ugly”

  1. So enjoyed reading this! Memories if high school vacay in Yellowstone. What wonderful scenes and pics, truly breath-taking. Your travelogue, as always, most excellent. Safe travels as always and keep on, keeping on!

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