137 Hours in Yellowstone National Park
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Most trips lately, it feels like we are rushing through parks, spending 2-3 days in each and barely having time to sleep, process, or enjoy the area. So this year I wanted to try something new of picking at least a few places to really settle. The first of these would be Yellowstone. We had 6 nights planned for Yellowstone National Park. The first four nights, we would stay in our favorite (and admittedly spendy) Wonderland Lodge. The last two nights, we camped in Bridge Bay Campground. This 6 day arrangement worked out splendidly. We had time to get some work done or take a nap back at our rental and we were able to feel relaxed. We even skipped a sunset or sunrise here or there. Hopefully this trend will allow us to be more productive and feel better throughout the summer. Here’s a breakdown of our time in the park:

Wednesday Afternoon & Evening: Set up time lapses in Lamar Valley. We brought binoculars to the park for the first time this year and we got to try them out on the wildlife. Consensus, we like them! We stuck around the park until late but sunset was uneventful and we saw very little interesting wildlife.

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Thursday: Thursday morning we ‘slept in’ until 6 am. Michelle had office hours to host at 7 and Kelly had some freelance work to do. After a gas station breakfast, we headed into the park for a relatively late 9 am start to hiking. We tackled Mount Washburn from Chittendon Road. This 5.5 mile hike involves a long steady climb up a wide gravel road to a fire lookout. We loved this hike! Great views of Lamar Valley and the whole park plus a herd of bighorn sheep. We had lunch at Canyon Village, bought a park sticker, and brainstormed about afternoon hiking. We decided on Grizzly Lake but were foiled by road construction. Plan B was a short nap, grocery shopping, and meal prep. We went out that night for a pleasant sunset and spotted bears 68 and 69 on a hillside while we were walking a short trail.

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Friday: The big plans for Friday were wolf watching and a 16 mile hike along Slough Creek trail. A small rock in our brake plate slowed us down. We still got to the trailhead at a decent hour of around 7:15. This hike was really lovely—a relatively flat hike out through wilderness with mountain views. We got up close and personal with some bison but never saw the bear or wolves we were hoping for. Lack of sunscreen application and open trails for 16 miles gave us some sunburn issues (pretty severe for Michelle). A hike of this distance of hiking called for ice cream—our first in over a month. The staff at Mammoth Hot Springs general store were friendly and we enjoyed our cones—Huckleberry Fudge for Kelly and Sea Salt Caramel Truffle + Moose Tracks for Michelle.

After cleaning up and a quick nap/dinner at our hotel, we headed back out for sunset. This turned out to be about the most amazing experience we have had in a National Park. Afternoon thunderstorms were being broken up by the setting sun. We saw a full double rainbow and plentiful sky color. We drove up on Blacktail Plateau to see what the views were like just as the sky turned pink everywhere. Between pink colors and more erupting rainbows it felt like we were in a rainstorm of rainbows. You’re sure to see some of these images on our instagram pages and on our fine art selection soon.

Saturday: We tried another 4 am wake-up call for wolf spotting but had no luck at our overlook. We were feeling surprisingly good after 16 miles on Friday and thought we might tackle a tough 14 mile hike starting from our favorite Yellowstone River Overlook Trail. The sun started blazing bright and early (even at 7 am) and we immediately began questioning the plan. Wearing long pants and sleeved shirts while climbing up 2500 feet later in the afternoon sounded miserable. So we finished the shorter section of the trail and headed over to the Lost Lake Loop. This hike was OK. We had some nice moments but that heat was really coming in. Back to the place for more napping, work, and an early dinner. Back out for another afternoon stroll up and along the Yellowstone River Trail. Other than marmots, we had no animal sightings this year on this trail. Next, we headed over to Lamar Valley. Things looked hopping at an overlook, and sure enough, when we pulled up, a black wolf had just been spotted. A fresh bison kill was lingering along the river in the valley and we got to watch it enjoy dinner before it trotted off.

Sunday: Our time in Gardiner was over. After sleeping in until 5 (FIVE) am we headed south down the west side of Yellowstone. We planned to make this a traditional ‘geyser’ Yellowstone day. We stopped first at the Artist Paint Points and then made our way to Grand Prismatic. The steam was still thick over this mesmerizingly blue spring so we did a hike out and back to Fairy Falls before climbing the overlook. We were still in long sleeves and pants and again by 10 am, we were roasting. Next, we headed back to Firehole Lake Drive, hoping to photograph some abstract colors of geysers and springs and to avoid the crowds. We were only partially successful in both. Our plan for meals that day included getting lunch in the Old Faithful area. So far, that has been our biggest planning mistake. The crowds were atrocious and the food choices were abysmal. We watched Old Faithful go off and then walked around the entire complex twice trying to find something edible, finally ending up at the Old Faithful Inn dining room. The lunch here was fine and it was late enough in the afternoon that we had some quiet, which was even nicer because we sat right by an open window with a breeze.

On to our campsite at Bridge Bay Campground. I don’t remember if we were allowed to pick this site or not, but it was PERFECT. Shady, cool, and set off just back enough from the road to feel private. And also super close to the restroom. We cleaned up our car and belongings, set up camp, and then drove up to Hayden Valley. No exciting wildlife or sunset colors.

Monday: We can do a 5 am wakeup call out of a bed nearly any day but out of a tent? SO HARD. We managed to get and going by 5:30 and then drove around a bit before ending up at the trailhead to Elephant Back. This 5 mile loop had only moderate elevation gain and a nice view of Jackson Lake. We next did the flat Natural Bridge trail out of our campground. Short, and too maintained for our preferences, but interesting. Then we loaded up on ice and soft drinks from the camp store and made our way back north to Lamar Valley. We figured we should spend our last evening in our favorite place, even if it was a lot of driving. We shot time lapses and cooked noodles for lunch in Hayden Valley. We scoped out our double rainbow site and a pond where we had spied moose early in the week. Another hike up and back on the Yellowstone Overlook trail and we headed off for Lamar. Things were quiet when we got there but that changed when a grizzly and two cubs were spotted feeding on the bison kill. What fun to watch! The momma ate her fill while keeping an eye on the surrounding valley. Two wolves popped out to spook them and they took off. She had to shoo them a bit at the beginning to get them away from the meat but eventually they scooted up and into the hills.

Then the wolves came down to scope out the area. They circled and circled making sure the coast was clear before taking their turn eating. We watched for a long time and eventually they, too, migrated out of the valley. Meat is tasty, but also risky for these animals, so they don’t linger.

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We started the long drive back to the other side of the park and stopped at the Tower area to view Yellowstone Falls. We had only been to this region once a few years back and had not enjoyed the crowds or sunny view. Turns out sunset is quite lovely there! Fewer people and the right light for some excellent shooting. Back to our tent where we slept remarkably well.

Tuesday: On our way out of the south entrance of the park, we checked out the West Thumb Geyser basin along the shore of Yellowstone Lake. It was fairly quiet and had plenty of interesting pots and springs. Too much steam to photograph well so it might be a better sunset spot itself. And then off we went, southbound to the Tetons.