Having conquered Beartooth Pass and the north east entry into Yellowstone....now we want to go to The Grand Tetons National Park via the east entrance into Yellowstone...this involves travelling two scenic highways/byways, named after the two most famous residents of this area.
Tuesday 5 June - yesterday was a BIG wildlife viewing day and so we plan a driving day today to complete the scenic drives around Wyoming and Yellowstone.
We’re away from Crazy Creek Campground by 7.30am with a final photo of Pilot Peak.
Little Henrietta & The Bear ready to hit the "Historic Trails".
We’re heading back to Cody along the Chief Joseph Scenic Byway which is also part of the Nez Perce Trail, a National Historic Trail.
In 1877 the Nez Perce Chief Jospeh led a band out of Oregon after the US government broke a treaty with the tribe to take their gold-rich lands. Their trek wound through Yellowstone, out of the Clarks Fork Canyon and north through Montana. In this area it seemed the US troops would finally surround them but in a clever move the muddled hoof prints of their horses confused and deceived the US trackers and the band got away.
North Absaroka Mountains
No sooner have we started our journey, we are stopping for jaw dropping scenes of craggy mountains reflecting in ponds and pools and wildflowers in rolling pastures (accompanied by clouds of mosquitoes which will accompany us for the next few days).
Meadow after meadow of stunning wildflowers....
The road has excellent views of the North Absaroka Mountains, more distant views of the Beartooth Mountains and Beartooth Plateau, and Clarks Fork of the Yellowstone River.
Canada Geese and their brood, out for an early morning swim....
We cross Wyoming’s tallest bridge over the Clarks Fork Yellowstone River and then climb up into the Sunlight Basin-Crandell area to over 8000’ again through a number of switchbacks to Dead Indian Pass at 8048’.
Little Henrietta crossing Clarks Fork...
Twist and wind...twist and wind...
Views back across to the Clarks Fork Canyon...
Here Chief Joseph had to leave behind an injured man and when the frustrated US troops found him they shot him dead in frustration of having been outsmarted. There are superb views here into the deep canyon that the Clarks Fork Yellowstone flows through—from above it seems that the earth is split apart, allowing the river to pass through it.
Little Henrietta was quite puffed when she "peaked out"...
Tribute to Chief Joseph at the top of Dead Indian Pass
The road then drops steeply from the top of Dead Indian Pass towards Cody passing huge spectacular red chugwater rock formations. For the next 11 miles we would have Little Henrietta in "Tow Haul" gear to keep the wear down on the brakes and stop them from getting too hot.
Tow Haul time.....
More stunning formations as we head down into Cody.
Rolling, rolling, rolling......
The Blonde - we have lunch in Cody at an organic cafe - a big hit for me and a "miss" for The Bear as his tongue was lolling out as we walked past a BBQ pork trailer. Even the “Pizza on the Run” ghost busting mobile might have been a better option for him!
The Bear wanted to make that call....
Nope...sorry Mr. Bear it's organic for us today.....
Wandering down the highstreet afterwards I found a superb gallery with some very beautiful artworks including this fabulous mannequin made of twisted sticks wearing a dress of pine cones. It reminded me of another dress of ingenious design I saw in South Australia made of tea bags.
The pine cone dress....amazing...
The Bear and Cody street art.....
Possibly....the biggest rifle in the West?!
Never did find the fried possum stand!
The Bear - we want to be in Yellowstone tomorrow and we need to find camping, so we finish the afternoon driving up the Buffalo Bill Cody Highway into the massive Shoshone National Forest that has given us several nights camping in Wyoming so far. US Highway 14-16-20, the Buffalo Bill Cody Scenic Byway, follows the North Fork of the Shoshone River through the scenic Wapiti Valley to the East Entrance of Yellowstone National Park. The route is known for "its abundant wildlife, astonishing rock formations, and recreational opportunities."
More and more wildflowers...in Wapiti Valley
The Shoshone Forest was set aside in 1891 as part of the Yellowstone Timberland Reserve. One of the oldest Forest Service ranger stations is situated in the Wapiti Valley. The Wapiti Valley is home for the wapiti, or elk as well as the grizzly bear, bighorn sheep, moose, deer, and other wildlife. Buffalo Bill Cody built his hunting lodge, Pahaska Teepee, here beneath a sheltering cliff. This building is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The drive here through Wapiti Valley was another “well kept secret”...you'll find little about this in the likes of Lonely Planet and other guidebooks! Full of craggy mountains etched by weather and erosion into fantasy castles and turrets called "The Wall of Jerusalem". Everywhere were masses of yellow Arrowleaf Balsam.
"The Walls of Jerusalem"
The stand out and weird Pagoda-shaped unfinished house called the Smith Mansion, takes center stage along the byway. Lee Smith dedicated more than 20 years to building this 5 storey home overlooking the highway which cost him his life when he fell from the roof, before it was finished....and remains so.
The Smith Mansion
We head to the last campground on the byway that allows soft sided campers and tents before the "Bear Activity Areas" surrounding Yellowstone. Rex Hale Campground on the North Fork of the Shoshone River, is just 30 miles from the East Gate entrance to Yellowstone and has a wonderful vertical cliff backdrop and a rushing river which competes with the noise of the birdsong. Bliss....a great resting spot before we drive through the pass into Yellowstone tomorrow morning.
LH @ Rex Hale Campground
Wednesday 6 June - The Blonde - At the head of the Wapiti Valley the highway enters Yellowstone National Park and here the Byway ends, giving travelers an excellent route to the wonders of Yellowstone National Park. The steep cliffs rising up from the North Fork of the Shoshone River behind our camp were very pretty in this morning’s sunshine.
Little Henrietta all camped up in Rex Hale Campground @ sunrise
We are only 30 miles from the East Gate Entrance of Yellowstone and we start along the 27 mile Scenic Byway through the Wapiti Valley lined with dude ranches and accommodation offering trail rides. It would definitely be a great place to ride but I’ve set my heart on the Sawtooth Mountains in Idaho for this experience.
As soon as we entered the unattended Park entrance we had beautiful views over Yellowstone Lake and a line of cars parked to one side of the road...this could only mean one thing - bears! And wow, did we get lucky. Mum and 3 year old cub are apparently well known round here and today they were casually strolling along the lakeside foraging and snuggling with each other. They had been for a swim earlier and their fur was wet and spikey. Raspberry and Snow! We chased along with all the other photographers trying to get THE shot. I hadn’t had time to grab my big lens thinking any shot would be a treat!
Raspberry & Snow
Raspberry on the hunt.....
Between us we got quite a few! Eventually they moved away from the shore and into the trees where they stumbled on a dead Elk carcass! You should have seen the speed Snow ran back when Mum called to announce her surprise find! By now there were too many photographers and "bear groupies" and so we bid them a fond farewell and made our way to Fishing Bridge to try and get a campsite for the night. We eventually secured one at Madison which then gave us the rest of the day to play.
Into Hayden Valley with the Yellowstone River running through to see Bison, Elk and calves, a Bald Eagle perched in a tree, and a Golden Eagle flying overhead. I needed the Ranger to tell me that one. Just a young guy fending the obsessions with bears that the majority of the visitors want to see. I can’t imagine maintaining patience for an entire season! One lady approached me as I was packing up the spotting scope and asked if there were any bears. I said, no, but there were Elk and calves, Bison and a Bald Eagle. She turned to her husband and said, “she says there’s a Bald Eagle and a MOOSE!!!"...????
"Bear Hunters Bus"..... Yellowstone Park Tour Coach.
The Bear - whilst The Blonde had tagged along with the ranger and the group with him wildlife spotting, I had stayed with Little Henrietta to do some other kind of wildlife spotting...people watching. For me, to a certain extent, this was even more fun than seeing the animals and the birds...as I stood in front of LH I had three individuals approach me and ask what I was looking at through the binoculars...I was so sorely tempted to say "Bears"! But you are unlucky they just went back into the woods"...all everyone wanted to see was bears.
The Blonde - we hadn’t been to the Lower and Upper Falls of the 23 mile long Yellowstone Grand Canyon. Last time we’d seen the giant waterfall from Inspirations Point so we walked down into the Canyon to the Brink of each for photos. The clamber back up on a hot day at elevation left most people puffed. I tried not to show it but it was having an effect!
Long way down....even longer coming back!
The Blonde on her way down...
Crossing now to Norris we called in at the Museum of the National Park Ranger. The museum is housed in the log cabin that used to be the Norris Soldier Station an outlying station for soldiers on patrol. The original cabin was built in 1908 and was taken down on site and rebuilt using original materials where possible and staying true to the original floorplan. Inside exhibits depict the development of the park ranger profession from its roots in the military traditions through early rangers and to the present array of NPS staff specialized duties.
The Bear @ Museum of the National Park Ranger
It was manned by a retired Park Ranger who had had a very interesting career and told us several stories. I could have chatted for longer but The Bear was giving me that look...time to be going. There was a collection of badges worn on the uniforms and a collection of some National Park symbols from around the world including the Lake District, the Peak District and the Yorkshire Dales National Parks.
Before making camp at Madison we went to one of our favourite spots from our last visit - Grand Prismatic Springs - the third largest hot spring in the world. It was just as beautiful and just as crazily busy especially with the “new age travellers - N.A.T's" who just yell and block the boardwalks doing selfies!
Phones at the ready......
The Blonde - we don’t care much for the visitors who race from A to B and yell and shout. One Indian man yelled so loud behind me while I was photographing at Grand Prismatic I almost fell in the scalding water. I mentioned it to him and even gestured a “shoosh” towards him, but it went right over his head! Talking of heads, there will be many that will be overheated or even sunburned as the wicked wind at Grand Prismatic whips any unguarded hat right off and plonks it in the water. I wonder how often the Rangers need to clean up and just how they manage to reach without disturbing the fragile bacterial mats?
"Rush Hour" @ Grand Prismatic...The Bear amused by the developing scene, with the N.A.T.'s
Prismatic Springs - bison footprints in the foreground......
Grand Prismatic Spring....minus the N.A.T.'s...plus a storm brewing.
Madison campground was just fine and I had a walk along the river to watch the fly fishermen catching trout while The Bear did the dishes and digested dinner. I think I’d like to try my hand at fly fishing. Something about standing waist deep and flicking that line up and down!
Thursday, 7 June - The Blonde - I have decided we need to hike today. Our choice is one of the most popular hikes in the Park to Fairy Falls...so we get out on the trail early. The first side trip is to Grand Prismatic Springs Overlook. The elevated view gave me at least another 50 phots to edit! It’s addictive! The vibrant colours and the silhouettes of the visitors on the boardwalk in the rolling steam.
The lookout was teaming with mosquitoes though and despite a kind lady spraying all the photographers with repellent we were still forced away. We seemed to be able to lose the pesky biters by walking fast. But as soon as we stopped to take photos or loiter to take in the view we were savaged again.
Grand prismatic Spring from the trail lookout
The 297 foot Fairy Falls was beautiful this morning. The water tumbled over the top of the cliff and spouted out of the cave.
The Bear @ Fairy Falls....does that sound right?
Going further on the trail gave us a view of Twin Butte (affectionately know as the "Dolly Parton Hills" by the Park Rangers!) and a hike up to the cleavage surprised us with two very well kept secrets - the spluttering but once magnificent at 80’ Imperial Geyser, and the Spray Hot Springs - a superb turquoise hot spring with vivid orange, yellow and green algae all around.
"Imperial Geyser" from above.....
Accompanied by some bubbling mud pools and here we have a mini Grand Prismatic almost entirely to ourselves. We shimmied up the hillside for yet more photos and then I just had to get to the top - which is never the top because there are always more tops out of sight! But I did find an old Bison camp with a magnificent lily filled lake. I laughed at the thought of the Bison’s awesome choice here and imagined them laying around at the top of this hill admiring the huge vista of the Park; the steam from Grand Prismatic, the Paint Pots and even more distant hot springs and geysers; the view of the cascading Fairy Falls; and their own secret lake full of beautiful yellow lilies. It can’t get much better for a Bison can it?
The "Dolly Partons" and "Lily Lake"....bison paradise!
The Bear - we were back at the start of the trail by 12.30pm. By now dozens of people were coming in and we’ve always liked the smug feeling that we have already completed our hike (even if we were a little weary from our 9 mile jaunt!) and we’ve had the best part of the day to oursleves. We were reluctant to leave Yellowstone NP. There is still so much more to see and do. It is a Park that needs to be revisited many times and each time it will yield new things to see and admire. It’s impossible to experience everything in only a couple of days. There are miles and miles of trails we need to hike and so much more time to loiter hoping to catch the glimpse of a wild animal. And so again.... with a little tinge of sadness we head south and back out of the park....but also in great anticipation of entering The Grand Tetons NP, which we have not visited before and have heard so many wonderful stories about.