Yellowstone, WY: Bison and Grizzlies and Elk, OH MY!

Ahhh, Yellowstone … the mythical, magical, iconic National Park and (most notably) the inspiration for Yogi Bear’s Jellystone.  Who hasn’t spent many a Saturday morning in their jammies on the fold-out couch eating Froot Loops and watching Yogi Bear antagonize Mr. Park Ranger Smith?

Most importantly, we wanted to see some wildlife, dammit!  Cute wildlife! Ferocious wildlife! Wild wildlife!  It didn’t matter what kind.  Roadside signs confirmed that chances were good.

And, of course, we were not disappointed.  Finding most wildlife in Yellowstone is super-easy.  All you do is drive down the road and look for cars stopped all over the road.  Swivel in the direction of the tourists’ 3-foot long telephoto lenses and … Bam!! You’ve found your wildlife.  I was wishing for a Bingo Card where I could slide the little window across each new animal we spotted!

Bald Eagle!
Osprey nest high on a cliff!
Mama Black Bear and her cub!
Elk!  BINGO!

In any public place, the name of the game is “Yellowstone One-Upsmanship.”  Person 1: We saw a bear this morning!  Person 2: Well, we saw three bears!  Person 3: Oh yah? Well, we followed five bears for over an hour!  Person 4:  That’s nothing.  We played hopscotch with 10 bears and then scratched their bellies all afternoon!  It honestly gets a little absurd.

The coolest, and eventually most irritating, were the huge bison, which number more than 4,600, amble VERY slowly, and think nothing of standing in the middle of the road in huge clusters, refusing to budge and let cars through.

Our most special animal encounter was with a grizzly bear at about 100 yards, which we encountered while hiking through the woods. There are only 462 numbered grizzly bears in Yellowstone, though for some reason, the Forest Service does not count the black bear population, which seems elitist and discriminatory.  At least one person per year gets killed by a grizzly in Yellowstone, which the rangers euphemistically call a “negative encounter.”

Another close encounter was with a bison which startled us by emerging up a wooded path right as we stepped from our Jeep. Of course, Bella and Sprinkles in the car started barking like damn fools and the bison
was NOT amused.  He started toward me at the passenger side and I ran around the back to Philip’s side, so he changed directions and started toward Philip’s side.  He directed his huge eyeball into the car window (only inches away) and the dogs went “Barkless” with terror.  Philip and I ran around the back of the Jeep again, clinging to each other and shrieking with laughter, while he decided we were not worth the chase and took off down the road.  Bison males can weigh up to 2,000 pounds, can jump six feet straight up in the air, and can run 35 miles an hour from a standstill.  (You can see how close he was by the Jeep mirror/hood and bikes on the back in these photos!)

The best/worst thing about Yellowstone is the size … 2.2 million acres, of which only 1% is “developed.”  Anything you want to see is always a long way away.  “We better pack a lunch” became the rallying cry!  But once we arrived, it was always so cool.   It was creepy to know that Yellowstone National Park is basically the top of one super-gynormous volcano! But, it has been 640,000 years since the last one, and 1.3 million years before that, so our four-day stay was probably worth the risk. There are lots of steaming, gurgling, hissing features all around!

Of course, you are virtually required to visit Old Faithful, even though by all accounts it is not the most awe-inspiring feature in the park, but because its eruption is truly the most faithful and regular, at least you can plan an itinerary around it.  We raced to see its beauty and were shocked to see this:

Wait!  Is this Old Faithful?  We must be in the wrong place, because it looks like the crowd for an outdoor concert!  Or maybe a religious revival! But no!  All these people show up every 90 minutes to watch O.F.’s 4-minute show. 

Yellowstone’s beauty inspired the nation’s leaders to christen it as American’s first and largest national park way back in 1872. Because of the size, the diversity of scenery in this place is amazing.  Can you believe all these photos were taken in the same park?

The worst forest fire in history ravaged Yellowstone in 1988, burning over 39% of the park (that’s 858,000 acres – yikes!). Even now, parts of the forest are just started to reseed themselves – see the shorty green trees below the burned tall trees.

Friends Ryan and Erin Weed met us in Yellowstone and it was a blast hiking and exploring all week long with their family.

See the staircase perched on the edge of the cliff?  We hiked down to that!

Ryan and Philip got up-close-and-personal with Yellowstone via amazing bike rides.  It is full of audacious uphill climbs of 1000+ feet in one steady climb, but that made the downhills even more exhilarating at 42 miles an hour or more – dodging bison and tourist all the way!  High altitudes and cold weather at 8500 feet were challenging!

When Yellowstone became a vacation destination for the very wealthy in the early part of 1900’s, well-dressed ladies and gentlemen endured brutal, multi-day transportation to their tent hotels via the “Tallyho Stagecoach.”  One of our favorite activities in Yellowstone was a re-creation stagecoach.  We had an awesome steak dinner cooked out in the middle of nowhere, while being entertained with cowboy entertainment and stories of Yellowstone’s history. 

This will have been our busiest week of the trip (due to the large scope of the park and also having friends with us), but Philip and Ryan have still managed to work from their “branch offices.”

And, when we are out on adventures, Sprinkles is minding the computer and phones of Philip Miller Consultants. 

Yellowstone is a wild and wonderful place, and as we head to the town of West Yellowstone, Montana for some 4th of July festivities, we leave you with a photo of the biggest, most rugged vending machine on Earth!  Tally Ho and onward in the Lucky Charm!

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