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Yellowstone Up Close and Personal

09 - 10 May 2009 Trip Report

Trip Report ~ by RandalH

Raven by John William Uhler © Copyright All Rights Reserved

~ May 2009 ~

Mount Haynes by John William Uhler Copyright © All Rights Reserved

Saturday - 09 May 2009

It was bear-fest 2009 (so far) in the park over the weekend. Didn't get into YNP until after 2:00 PM on Saturday due to a lunch stop at the Clarks Fork and Spoon while driving in via the Chief Joseph. Very nice burgers...definitely keeping it on the list of places to stop when hungry.

Bears 1-3 were in the meadow (Round Prairie) just south of the entrance to Pebble Creek...a mom griz and two cubs. The cubs played and tumbled about while mom kept a watchful eye and soaked up the sun. It was a great sight, albeit one that was at the fringe range of our binoculars and well out of the range of my camera. Bear-gers can't be choosers though.

Bear 4 was between the Yellowstone Picnic area and the Yellowstone River bridge near Roosevelt Junction. No binoculars was just below the road in a small meadow with a herd of 15 or so bison glaring in from the sage. It caused quite the traffic hassle, but was a great view to see the tension between griz and bison (well, the bison were tense...the bear acted like he/she/it could care less).

Bear 5 was a black bear foraging on a hillside above one of the tiny lakes (Blacktail Ponds) on the side of the road between Roosevelt and Mammoth.

We were three and a half hours into the park and had already seen five bears. I don't know if the numbers back me up, but I cannot remember a previous spring in the park where I've seen/just missed seeing so many bears.

Old Faithful Eruption and Buffalo by John William Uhler Copyright © All Rights Reserved

Anyhow, we'd decided to "wing it" with the night's plans...considering the time we got into Mammoth, we went down into Gardiner to grab a room and dinner. Took a short late-evening hike from Liberty Cap up the Beaver Pond trail a short ways and then up to the back side of Narrow Gauge Terrace before hooking up with the upper terrace drive and walking back down on the main terrace boardwalks as the sun set. Incidentally, if anyone else has taken this trail...just before you reach Narrow Gauge, there's a grade that heads down toward Mammoth that looks like it was as old trail or, from the width, possibly a road. I'm not aware of any routes that ran this way, but given the proximity to the Eaton and Bathtub Spring I'm curious about it's origins. The route was actually grown over by Narrow Gauge and the route above that was harder to follow via eyeball, but it appeared to trace the hillside, possibly linking in with the upper terrace drive in the New Highland Terrace was getting dark so I wasn't able to sniff around as much as I wanted.

Sunday - 10 May 2009

The little one decided wake-up call was 6:00 AM...I was okay with it, but I think mom wasn't too keen on how Mother's Day started out.

After a breakfast at the Mine in Gardiner, we went back to the terraces. On an earlier trip to Yellowstone this spring we'd heard rumblings that a couple black bears had been frequenting the upper terrace area during the early morning hours. Since it was early morning and we'd seen five bears the day before...hey, why not? Surprisingly, no bears. It was fun to see the difference in coloration on the terraces from twilight the previous night to early sun in the morning.

Bear 6 for the weekend was actually between Mammoth and Norris and gave me the first opportunity to witness my first incidence of touronism in '09...a couple photographers determined to ignore the 100-yard rule and wander through the trees toward the griz because taking the clear shots from the road were obviously too blase.

Lower Falls of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone by John William Uhler Copyright © All Rights Reserved

We stopped at Norris to wander the back basin. It's always been one of my favorite places in the park...not sure why. Maybe because I get the same thrill standing by Steamboat that I do when I buy a lottery ticket -- hey, lightning might strike. Unfortunately, my luck with Steamboat matched my luck in Powerball and all I got was a few splashes. Better luck next time...

The rest of the trek through the basin was pretty ordinary...some small splashers, nothing dramatic. I always feel nostalgic walking past Echinus remembering many picnic lunches devoured at its side waiting for eruptions. Hopefully future generations will get to see it play in brilliant fashion like I remember, but if there's one truth in Yellowstone, and especially in Norris, it is that change is constant.

From Norris we rode without incident toward Old Faithful with a brief pause to honor an age-old tradition of sitting at the Flood Geyser overlook and watching an eruption. We waited for a chilly half an hour with the wind blowing down the valley. A river otter swimming in the Firehole behind the geyser and an osprey swooping down to pick up a fish before soaring off kept us occupied while waiting for the eruption.

At Old Faithful, I delivered the Mother's Day lunch I promised my wife in the lodge...the first time she'd witnessed the inside of the Lodge. I don't know how she felt, but I'm always awed looking up at the ceiling whenever I pass through the entryway. After food and some shopping in the gift shop (attention...if you've authored a cookbook about the west, my wife is easy money...), it was time to walk the basin...we'd been here opening weekend, but the walks were still mostly snow-covered and it was just too cold for the little one so we'd retreated after an eruption of Old Faithful and a quick skim of Geyser Hill.

This time we went straight for Grand, determined to hit the part of the basin we hadn't seen on opening weekend. We found out Grand had just entered its 4-hour eruption window. I know Grand sometimes erupts early in its window, but I've never seen it go in the first hour, so we decided we'd risk it and head down to Morning Glory and back. The Giant platform was playing with some vigor...Grotto Fountain (I think...) had an eruption as we approached. Took a moment to admire Norris Pool, another favorite place for some reason as I have seen it go from muddy area to bubbling mud pot to muddy geyser to the clear pool it is today in my lifetime.

Got back to Grand just before the mid-point of its window and lucked out that it hadn't erupted yet. The hillside marmots made the three Turban cycles before eruption pass fairly quickly and we were treated to a nice eruption of Grand with one re-start. Even the 8-month-old ooh'd and ahhh'd and bounced at its bursts.

While a lot of the Grand crowd headed down basin to begin the sit on Riverside, we went the other way as we'd decided it was time to head back home. The drive over the Divide and around West Thumb was without wildlife. A bald eagle just past Steamboat Point brought a momentary pause and then it was up and over Sylvan and down the North Fork to home.

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