Having finally and successfully tackled Beartooth Pass. here was our chance to revisit Yellowstone at the start of the season....entering from the East is a very different prospect than from the north and the south which are the most popular routes.
Monday June 4 -The Blonde - we were on the road by 5.45am today to drive through the Lamarr Valley which is the remainder of the Beartooth Highway. It flicks back into Montana and back again into Wyoming and forms the Northeast entrance into Yellowstone National Park which I read is ONE of the largest US National Parks, but not THE biggest. I was surprised and now need to know of course which are the bigger ones. Alaska of course has the biggest National Parks.
We pass through the quirky little towns of Cooke City and Silver Gate and not much further along we see cars stopped. A MOOSE! What a treat to start our day. I’m fumbling with the 500mm lens, tripod and new Wimberley Sidekick. I should have practiced while we were held up on Beartooth Pass on Saturday. I manage with my 18-300mm lens and enjoy having time instead to watch this young male with the start of his new season antlers.
Lamarr Valley is a vast open pastureland with creeks and flooded plains running between the mountains. It is Bison Paradise! There were hundreds. At first we saw no calves. And then from the northern hillsides came mothers and babies making their way to the road and creating havoc there. Of course there were idiot drivers who went too fast separating mothers from their offspring but there were considerate people too and several tours including two mini vans of National Geographic tour groups. The guides sounded very knowledgable and interesting.
The biggest bison herd we had ever seen...
The Bear - we spent a couple of hours watching the Bison, small groups of Pronghorn, a handful of Elk and we could hear that mournful bugling of a male high in the hills. It’s not rutting season, that’s September, but he was getting into tune anyway! The other wildlife worth watching turned out to be some of the arriving tourists who were absolutley desperate to know what you were looking at...especially when The Blonde set up her tripod.
The Lamarr valley and the bison herd.
A large bull...up close and personal!
OK, bison calves are....so cute!
The Blonde - we spotted a badger scurrying down the hillside to a den. Soil and dust were flung into the air and then he was off again up the hill. No-one else seemed to have bino’s, as binoculars are called here, and so therefore no one else was focussed on it.....sometimes it is quite satisfying to get a view that no-one else does but then it’s really maddening when someone else is super secretive, and doesn't share!
Pushing on into Yellowstone by lunchtime we headed to Mammoth Hot Springs. It was busy and hot - well 72’F which by Beartooth Pass standards on Saturday is hot!!! There were several elk wandering around the buildings but no males with big racks of antlers like before. The sky was too bright to photograph the calcium deposits so we headed to Norris Geyser Basin which we never completed last time.
On our way, we drove up the Golden Gate Canyon and took a photo of little Henrietta in the exact same spot that her big brother, Big Henry, had been four years ago. (3rd October 2014).
Little Henrietta and "Big Brother", Big Henry @ Golden Gate, Yellowstone
Bridging the Golden Gate Canyon was one of the most difficult and expensive challenges engineers faced when building the first roads through the park. The first bridge was built in 1885. Twelve hundred and seventy-five pounds of explosives were needed to remove 14,000 yd.3 of solid rock which was hauled off in the dump trucks of the day - horses and wagons.
This bridge was dangerously unstable by 1900. Heavily laden stagecoaches crossed the bridge many times a day with the possibility of a fatal drop into the chasm if the wooden trestle failed. The bridge was rebuilt in 1900, 1933, and 1977 using newer materials and engineering each time. So pleased the engineers are getting it right. It’s still a bit of a nail-biter on the bend!
We were in for a treat as we arrived at Norris....Steamboat Geyser was erupting. This is not a usual sight, sometimes it will go years without any eruptions but since March 15 this year it has erupted 8 times. How lucky are we?!
The Blonde Photographer, armed and ready.....
The Blonde Photographer @ Steamboat Springs
It was very impressive with a thick plume of noisy, pulsing steam. Several National Park Rangers seemed to be having some training there as this is pretty unusual behaviour. We wandered the boardwalks surrounding the many geysers like Vixen, Mystic, .......... and a bubbling mud pool.
One of the many mud pools...a little too hot for a mudbath....shame!
The view across Norris Geyser Basin
The Bear - driving around Yellowstone always involves more effort than the map suggests. That is partly to do with the build up in traffic from mid-morning and always to do with any animal sightings when people just stop and block the road.
Bison "Booty Call"...stops the traffic everytime!
To get back to the Lamarr Valley we need to get to Canyon Village then turn north and climb again to the top at 10243’ (3,122M) Mt Washburn. Last time we were here it was so cold we jumped out of the car for a nano-second. This time is was so wild and windy we could barely get the car doors open. Once again we were out for a nano second to look down the valley.
Heading back along the Lamarr Valley...approching another 'Bison Crossing".
The Blonde - we loitered again in the Lamarr Valley on our return to Crazy Creek Campground hoping for a sight of a wolf that we knew had been spotted in this area but we were so tired our resolve to stay until dusk dwindled away and we reluctantly left to make camp back at Crazy Creek just in time for sunset over Pilot Peak. Another long but tremendously rewarding day...what will tomorrow bring?
Sunset over Pilot Peak from Crazy Creek Campground...just simply magical.