We start our journey in Bozeman around 10AM. We take route 191 because I want them to see how beautiful it is. When my sister Elaine and her husband visited in October 2007, we drove via Livingston and Gardiner and I wanted her to have a new experience.
Cindy has not been to Yellowstone since our family trip in 1975 when we "drove through" the Park from the South Entrance to the East Entrance early on an August morning. We were inside th Park for about two hours, if that, following AAA's advice to "avoid the traffic". We had spent several days in the Tetons, which we all loved, but were now heading back East and had been warned to "avoid Yellowstone". I know the Park was different in those days, and we were hitting it at the height of tourist season, but that advice still boggles my mind. Then again, it made my discovery trip in 23 years later all the more amazing.
The sky is overcast when we begin but the landscape is still gorgeous and my sisters are duly impressed. The most exciting feature is seeing the roaring Gallatin River in full flood, with enormous rolling waves the color of milky coffee. Both my sisters have cameras and we each have a pair of binoculars and we make good use of them!
Our first glimpse of wildlife is some elk - a small band of cows grazing on a green slope across the River to the west of the road, just minutes after we cross the Park border.
For the rest of the drive to West Yellowstone, the clouds do their best to discourage us, unleashing great downpours, then letting up, only to unleash again. There are numerous patches of snow on the north-facing slopes, giving the impression is that spring has not quite arrived.
Both my sisters live in the east; Cindy in New York, while Elaine lives in our home town of Cincinnati. We have already had spring this year; in fact it has already been overtaken by summer. Not so, here in the mountains. They find it hard to believe it's June here; they tell me it seems like "April" in Bozeman and "March" in the Park.
In a meadow beyond a melt-pond we see some sandhills and overhead we see hawks flying.
We reach West Yellowstone and enter the Park proper. The rain comes and goes as we proceed along the loop road. At the first big pullout beyond 7 Mile Bridge we see white birds on the river which we all assume are swans. I stop and we check them out with our binoculars from the dry safety of the car.
Elaine remarks that one of the birds has a yellow beak, and looks more like a pelican. I look again and say - you're right! Those ARE pelicans. We have a good laugh. Before this, neither of them knew of the existence of pelicans so far from an ocean, so it is a nice sighting.
Our next stop is a few pullouts further on, where a herd of bison and calves is resting in the meadows along the Madison River. The rain cooperates by letting up for a while, so we get out to take photos and watch the mothers and babies interact.
Seeing such iconic creatures as bison so close is still a thrill for me, and they both eat it up. After a nice visit, we drive on, but soon are stopped by another herd of bison, this one walking along the road. We don't mind this at all, because it makes for great close-up photos of the shaggy beasts.
Eventually the bison decide to leave the road in favor of a riverside meadow and we move on. After a rest stop at Madison Canyon we head north. Note: it is a point of pride for me to find the most comfortable bathrooms for my guests, and to avoid the grungy ones if at all possible. Madison wins big points for its facilities. 8~)
We are stopped briefly by a flagman on the Gibson Canyon road, but not for very long. We investigate a small thermal spring on the wes side (I forget the name of it) and stop at Gibbon Falls. Here we are amazed at three things: 1. the amount of water roaring over that cataract; 2. the amount of snowpack still visible and 3. The idiotic risks tourists take to "get a photo".
We arrive in Canyon to a slight lessening in the rain. We have lunch at the Grill and then I send Elaine & Cindy to visit the marvelous Visitor Center while I get us checked into our cabins.
Now we head out to the Hayden Valley and more gorgeous vistas. Since Elaine's earlier visit was October, the landscape looks quite different, but I am surprised at how late the spring is here. I was expecting green-up to have begun, but it hasn't. The weather has been too chilly and wet; just not been enough sun.
I stop at the Otter Creek pullout and show them the spot across the Yellowstone where the Hayden Valley wolves once had their pups, and tell them this is where most of the pup footage was shot for Bob's film.
We see various ducks in the water, but I don't see any sign that wolves have been here recently - by that I mean no tracks or other signs of repeated visitation. But we do run into a woman who posts on Y-net who is familiar with the Canyon Pack's habits. She says for the past week they have been seen sporadically from Grizzly Overlook.
So we go there. Elaine remembers this spot because her husband, David, spotted a grizzly on the eastern hill. The rain is currently cooperating so I set up Layla and try to find some animals for them. I see a pair of sandhill cranes and a bald eagle. We do not need the scope for all the geese along the river. They are so noisy they are easy to find!
Elaine has eagle eyes, and finds elk on the hillside. And these elk have calves so I zoom in on them with Layla for an up close and personal look.
We take a leisurely drive south, stopping here and there when the mood strikes us, but the rain returns and puts a gloom on things. We turn around at Mud Volcano and head back north.
At Alum Creek we spot a Great Blue heron standing in the water, fishing in its solitary, serious way. I pull over and angle the car so we can watch it while staying dry. The bird strikes and misses a few times, then surprises us with a bold twist backwards. He gets one! The stabbed fish is then expertly maneuvered and swallowed.
Elaine remembers that in October 2007 my plan to drive them over Dunraven Pass was thwarted by a snow storm, which closed the road. So I head up that way, just in case the same kind of thing happens this trip.
Again we are met with an amazing amount of left-over snow-pack. We stop at the pullout with the interpretive sign that names the various peaks of the Absarokas. The view is really amazing.
Next I take them on a tour of the Canyon and its various overlooks. We stop at Artists Point (still my favorite) and then Inspiration Point and the weather cooperates again, allowing my sisters to take nice photos. On our way back to the car from Inspiration, I stop to check out an osprey nest. And sure enough, an osprey is in it!
Our final stop is Overlook Point but the rain returns in earnest, cutting that visit short. By this time we are hungry for "real food". I am so proud of Elaine for being such a trooper in this miserable weather. Cindy is far more experienced with the outdoors, so I don't worry so much for her, but she is rightly protective of her ct her camera!
Tonight is opening night for the Canyon Lodge Dining Room and the wait is about 45 minutes. So we head to the lounge and have a round of drinks near the fireplace.
We have a good dinner together, laughing and talking while the rain turns into a torrent outside! Then off we go to our cabins and bed, praying for some sun tomorrow.
Today I saw: bison with calves, a chipmunk, sandhill cranes, a bald eagle, elk with calves, geese, a great blue heron, an osprey in its nest, pelicans, ground squirrel, lots of rain, and the spirit of Allison.