BOURNE IN THE USA

 

WYOMING

Wyoming (16th to 31st July 2010)

 

Yellowstone National Park (16th to 25th July 2010)

 

We're both very excited as we drive into the northern entrance of Yellowstone. This is somewhere we have wanted to visit for a long time. Yellowstone is most famous for its thermal features and has the largest volume of geysers than anywhere else in the world. On top of this there is a huge area of mountains, valleys, rivers, waterfalls, lakes, semi desert scrub and meadows with an abundance of wildlife.

 

Mammoth Hot Springs


We make sure we get to the big stone arch entrance as early as possible as it hasn't been possible to reserve a campsite here, and people have warned us that the first come first served sites fill up very quickly. Yellowstone gets around 3 million visitors a year, and half of them turn up in July and August! Rich charms the camp host at Mammoth Hot Springs campground with his Geiko gecko impression, and we're allocated a beautiful pitch on a hillside looking down over a valley. It's also less than a mile to the Mammoth hotel which has showers, a shop, visitor centre and resident elk, so we're nicely appointed for our 6 nights here. By 10:30am the place is full and stays that way the whole week. People start queuing to fill vacated spots by 8am every day; it's crazy.

 

We have a wander up to Mammoth Hot Springs to see the Travertine Terraces. It's around 85'f with clear blue skies so it's a bit roasting up on the terraces. The upper terraces are wonderful with spewing springs and colourful steaming pools.

 


One evening we go to a ranger talk at Mammoth Hot Springs, which is about the era when the cavalry ran the park at Fort Yellowstone. There are still some original military buildings from the late 19 th century, which they now use for admin and staff housing. The park was established in 1872, the first National Park in the USA, and the cavalry had the challenge to stop poaching and to stop tourists vandalising the natural features.

Each night at the campground we get treated to a wonderful display of stars and the Milky Way, plus some exciting thunderstorms with fork and sheet lightning that spin in at high speed and leave just as quickly. Our tent withstands a few high powered tropical-type rain storms and gusty winds, but otherwise it's clear and very warm with beautiful sunsets and rainbows. This place certainly gets some interesting weather!

 

Norris Geyser Basin area


About 20 miles south of our campground is Norris Geyser Basin where we wander around the geysers and springs, with a really strong smell of steamy sulphur. The bacterial colours in the water are amazing, blues and oranges, depending on the temperature of the water. It feels like we're on another planet, so weird. On the way in we pull over in a lay-by to grab a drink then Rich sees a big brown bear wandering past, so close that I don't even want to open my car door. It really frightens some people wandering along the riverside. Pure luck, but we're happy to have spotted bears so quickly after arriving!

 

Lamar Valley (north east)


One evening, we take a drive to the north east side of the park where we're told there's a good chance of seeing animals. It's getting dusky and it's a long drive, but we're rewarded with seeing a very large bison wandering along the road, bigger than a car, and an amazing sunset. We also see a lovely black bear by the roadside.

 

Trip to Upper Geyser Basin and Old Faithful


We decide to join the rest of the crowds and see the Old Faithful geyser. Even at 8:30am the park road is already really busy. A few minutes out and a coyote runs across our path and heads up the hillside. Soon after, he is chased out of the bushes by a deer, very National Geographic. It's the first coyote we've seen! Further on, we stop to look at a bison drinking at the river, and Rich gets some shots of him. In the forest, we see a load of elk grazing.

After battling through the road works we eventually get to Black Sand Basin and park the car to walk the 2 mile trail to Old Faithful, and avoid the mad parking and crowds at the lodge. It's getting very hot now. The trail takes us past some amazing thermal features; hot springs, geysers, fumaroles and streams of orange water. The colour of the water in the hot springs determines the temperature of the water. Certain bacteria live at different temperatures, with blue bacteria living in the hottest water and orange bacteria surviving as it cools a little. These organisms live on the sulphurous chemicals, rather than oxygen. NASA has been studying them to understand how life may exist on other planets. The place is out of this world, I love it. We get sprayed by a geyser as we walk past it. We push on towards Old Faithful and get two chances to watch it go off, 1pm and 2:40pm. It is enormous and so powerful as it pushes something like 4000 gallons of water through a 4 inch gap underground. A huge crowd gathers to watch it, but the other amazing geysers have very few people around them. As we walk the trail back to the car we notice that Daisy Geyser is due to erupt in the next half hour so we hang around. We get really close to it as it erupts at 3:30pm, only 5 mins after the predicted time.

Back on the road, we stop at the Fountain Paint Pots where there are wonderful mud pots, blobbing and spitting clay. They're great fun to watch. The volcanic area in Yellowstone is vast. The caldera that the main sites sit in is only a part of the park, which stretches for miles around it. Thermal activity is everywhere, and you can see steam trails in the forests, in fields and on the hillside. (and smell the sulphur pong!)

Dunraven Pass and Mount Washburn

 

Rich gets chatting to a wildlife photographer at the campsite. He has some amazing pictures of a grizzly mum and cubs that he has taken in a place called Dunraven Pass, high up in the mountains in the north east. We decide to go on a bear hunt for the day.

We drive to Roosevelt Lodge on the north east corner then head south towards Mt Washburn and the Dunraven Pass. On the way we spot a black bear in the woods and then another black bear further along which runs across the road in front of us. We drive over Dunraven pass without seeing much, but when we get to Hayden Valley we come across a large herd of bison, very close to the road. Some people are standing only about 2 feet from them as they rest, very stupid as they are prone to goring people.

On the return, we see a herd of elk next to a lake, which seem very skittish. A man tells us that he saw a lone black wolf wandering around them and making them twitchy. We hike down to the lake to try and see more, but the wolf has gone and the elk are a little too far away to see properly. On the road back we get caught in a bear jam and park up to watch a black bear mother with a yearling cub. Every time there's a bear sighting near the road here (unless you are out very early or late in the day), there's random vehicle abandonment as people scramble to take a photo and the whole place gets jammed up. Normally 3 rangers then show up to control the traffic and move people on. A bit different to the other parks we've been in, but then this park is a lot busier. It's much nicer to catch the sightings when everyone else has gone home.

We go back over Dunraven Pass and are rewarded with a very close encounter with a grizzly mum and two gorgeous cubs. They are just the other side of the road up a small rock face. The mother is teaching the cubs to dig for roots. The rangers move us on eventually but we spin round and catch her heading down the valley, at full speed. It looks like something has really spooked her, though the ranger can't tell us what. As we head back to the campsite we stumble across another black bear mother with two tiny cubs and another bear jam. All in all a successful and exciting wildlife day, particularly as we have now seen an elusive Yellowstone grizzly bear.

Later on in our visit, we decide to have another go at Dunraven Pass and see what we can see. On the way through Hayden Pass, we see a very large grizzly mother with 3 cubs, quite a way off. She is dark grey with a light streak on her side and one of the cubs is silvery grey. At Dunraven Pass, there's quite a crowd gathered with rumours of the grizzly. We park up and get chatting to R.O. who has been a wildlife photographer for many years. He's from Wyoming and gives Rich some good tips for wildlife watching. The bears are behind a set of trees, but we stay put on the roadside for a couple of hours. We are rewarded with a very close up view of the mum and 2 cubs. She starts to come towards us and the rangers hoard people out the way. One of the rangers is busy taking his own photos and doesn't realise how close she is until she is virtually on top of us. She wants to cross the road, but there isn't a big enough gap so they end up hazing her back down the hill. I feel sorry for her as the ranger should have stopped the traffic and moved people back quicker. She runs off and settles into the grass again; the cubs look a bit spooked. Altogether, the waiting around has paid off for us.

 

Lost Lake Trail

 

We try and take in a bit more of the north east area and walk a 4 mile trail to Lost Lake. It's pretty hard going heading up the hill through a flowery meadow at altitude in 75'f and sunshine. On the way up we spot a yellow-bellied marmot beside a ranger hut, and Rich gets some photos of him as he poses. Beyond the meadow the trail leads to the Petrified Tree then on to the Lost Lake which is strewn with water lilies. Rich spots a beaver in the trees and we can hear him gnawing on wood. The way back to the trailhead takes us through a forest and down a steep slope where I manage to slip over and bruise my “ego”. We see a lovely deer in the forest and pronghorn by the side of the road (another type of deer).

Cody and the east side of the park

 

It's time to stock up on food for the week. Cody is supposed to be a fun town and involves driving about 130 miles across the eastern section of the park. There aren't any bears out today but we get really close to another coyote, which runs alongside the car. At a lay-by, there is a crowd of people with spotting scopes and one lady lets us look at a black wolf who is sitting on a hillside with a pup. It's really difficult to see wolves so this is very exciting. The bison are all over the road and causing chaos. There are more elk around despite them being hard to spot in the summer.

Almost everything in Cody Main Street is Buffalo Bill themed, with quite a lot of cheesy shops and photo opportunities. Buffalo Bill himself is walking the pavement and says “Howdy!” to us. We have lunch in a Mexican/American restaurant, mooch around a few photography studios then get on the road. The valley back in to Yellowstone is very unusual, with yellow coloured hoodoos. The bison in Hayden Valley cause all sorts of tailbacks on the park road. They just seem to wander in the road and expect the cars and RVs to get out their way. One comes towards us while we're listening to Jimi Hendrix and he looks like a rasta walking and nodding in time to the music. Along the river I see a couple of white pelicans on rocks, they are massive birds. A large 10 point male elk is sitting in the grass on the north road watching the world go by.

 

Lewis Lake

 

It's time to move on to the south of the park so we can be a little closer to Yellowstone Lake and the geyser areas. Knowing what chaos ensues at the campgrounds, we make sure we are on the road before 6:30am to drive the 2 hours to Lewis Lake campground. En route, we see a mother black bear and 2 cubs on the north road, and then another black bear. There's a pronghorn male by the side of the road. The low cloud in the Lamar Valley creates a beautiful light as the sun is rising through it. The fog is dense in the Hayden Valley in the east, and I nearly hit a couple of bison as they loom out of nowhere. This slows us down a bit. Further down the road is Yellowstone Lake, which is more like a sea. It is the highest lake in the USA at over 7000 feet. It is so calm and the reflections are gorgeous. A large male elk is next to the road.

Further on we drive down the side of Lewis Lake, which is another huge lake. The campground is wooded, and peaceful. We manage to get a nice pitch and beat the rush. The site soon fills up. There are no generators allowed here, and only small RVs, so a lot of people are tent camping. The only downsides are a lot of mosquitoes and only primitive vault toilets. It's a quick walk in the evenings to the shore of the lake to watch the beautiful sunset colours on the calm water.
We meet three lovely guys from Oklahoma state who turn up on Harleys and camp opposite us on our last night. Steve, Philip and Eddie have that great soft southern accent and are really nice people. We spend a fun night round the campfire with them swapping silly bear stories!

 

Yellowstone Lake Area

 

We're now on a moose hunt as this is the only big animal we haven't seen in the park yet and they're proving elusive. We drive back up to the centre of the park and head for Gull Point where there are supposed to be moose. It's a nice drive along the lake and we stroll on the beach, but no moose. So, we head to another area, called Pelican Creek and take the nature trail through the marshes, but still no moose. After a lovely high powered shower at the Fishing Bridge RV park we drive back to the camp, spotting a few very big male elk on the way – but no moose!

A ranger tells us that since the very widespread fire in 1988 the moose have mostly moved away from Yellowstone, but can still be found in Grand Teton on the little side roads.

 

West Thumb Geyser Basin

 

This smaller geyser basin is lovely because it sits on the banks of West Thumb Lake. Despite the hot weather the springs are still steaming madly. The water from the hot springs flows directly in to the lake and there is a lot of thermal activity under the water of what is basically a smaller caldera within the large Yellowstone one. Despite this, the water temperature is only around 40'f and a lot of the year it is snowy and frozen. There are a couple of large pools here that are very deep and a beautiful blue colour from the heat loving bacteria. By the side of one there is a mountain bluebird nest and we see the parents popping in and out of the tree hole to feed their noisy offspring.

Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River

 

Whilst waiting for a good bear spot one day, we decide to see the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River and walk the North Rim Trail from Inspiration Point to Grand View. The view of the Lower Falls and the valley is beautiful. The falls are twice the height of Niagara Falls. The valley beneath is carved from weird coloured yellow rocks with odd shaped formations, due to the volcanic activity in this area.


Shoshone Lake

 

We're out early one morning to dodge the heat of the day and walk to Shoshone Lake along the DeLacey Creek. The lake sits in the south of the park and is the largest backcountry lake in Yellowstone. It's a 6 mile hike through dense forest, lush meadows and along the creek edge to get to the lake. The walk would have been wonderful, except we got totally set upon by mosquitoes that seemed impervious to the DEET spray or the wipes. Rich was like a mossie magnet, they were circling all round him. We had to resort to wearing headnets and Rich had to put his sweatshirt on. Evidently there's a geyser basin the other side of the lake but we just wanted to get back to the car. Such a shame, but at least we got a few hours of exercise.

Wyoming continues... next page....