When we left Jeremy and Angela’s we set off for Yellowstone. We had planned to camp on the West side near Earthquake Lake, but the weather was still against us. With high temps hovering around the 30’s and lows into the teens with snow, we had to come up with another option. As adventurous as I claim to be, there is no way I would want to be tent camping in that kind of weather and definitely no way I would subject Gal, Girl and Dog to that either. We found a great spot at the North entrance in Gardiner, MT called Yellowstone Gateway Inn. They have 1 bedroom apartments with full kitchens and pull out sofa bed’s. The space was great, the location was fantastic, just 1 mile to the North entrance of Yellowstone. I drove through a small portion of the Southern part of the park about 2 decades ago, but have never really experienced Yellowstone before. What an experience we had!
We set out for a tour early Friday morning with 2″ of fresh snow on the ground at our Inn. It turned out that most of the roads in Yellowstone were closed as the higher passes had received a foot plus and over 2 feet of snow in some spots! We took in some sites, saw a lot of Elk and found ourselves at Chico Hot Springs to swim and soak while the weather did its best to clear. Later that afternoon we set off back into the park and we had great timing. We saw our first wild Bison, then hundreds more! You see the photos and hear the stories but to see these massive animals mere feet from your vehicle or to stumble across one staring at you on a quick jaunt from the truck is mind blowing. We really enjoyed stopping to watch them graze, crossing rivers, tearing up grass from under the snow and driving right by them on the road.
We headed up towards Tower Falls and got out of the truck to a small group of people pointing down a hillside. I went to check it out and there it was, our first black bear! She was foraging, eating the plethora of berries and munching on what seemed to be everything within her reach. She could care less about us watching her and appeared to be delighted with her feast. After watching her for a while, we drove on forgetting about the waterfall. We circled back to catch a glimpse of Tower Falls and left Girl in the truck as she wanted to do some of her schoolwork. The falls were only 200 yards away and as Gal and I headed up, we were cut off by a group of female Bighorns and their calves. They looked hesitant and kept looking back where sure enough that same black bear was there climbing the hill. Before we knew it, she was sauntering along right in front of our truck where Girl was inside! She stopped and munched on the Rosehips mere feet from where Girl was sitting and then moseyed along across the road to destroy a small Aspen and more Rosehip. Living in Boulder, CO one would think we were accustomed to seeing black bears, but after living here for 21 years, I have only seen 3 and all from quite a distance. This was such a treat and there were only about a dozen other people there with us for the experience.
The next day we headed back into the park to see what we could find. We had geyser’s on our mind and the plan was to get to Old Faithful. Not too far into our drive, we saw the familiar horde of people stopped roadside so naturally we stopped to see what was going on. Off in the distance, we spotted our second black bear! We watched for a bit, realizing we were too far away for any decent photos and honestly wanting to get away from the crowd of people. We drove on seeing more Bison, Elk and Pronghorn along the way. We stopped to watch a lone Coyote hunting, and succeeding, in the snow with a herd of Bison and stopped again roadside to see our 3rd black bear! This one was a bit closer but on a hillside partially hidden behind a tree. Again, with a lot of people and a ranger coming through hollering at people not to stop on the road, we got back into the truck and moved on.
We checked out Lower Falls and Grand Canyon of Yellowstone and finally got some sunshine. This was the first sun we had seen in nearly a week. These areas were gorgeous, but thoroughly crowded, so we moved on and stopped at Norris Geyser Basin. We were treated to a little more sunshine and a really incredible hike with geysers spouting off all around us. The colors and landscape were like out of a Dr. Seuss book and by the time we got back to the truck, we were tired and hungry and decided the trip to Old Faithful seemed a bit tedious especially after all the driving we had already done. As much as we wanted to see it, the magic of Norris Geyser Basin satisfied our souls.
We started to head back up and over the snowy and a bit sketchy Dunraven Pass when it happened. The thing I had been wanting to see most in Montana and Yellowstone careened down a slope right as we were driving by, causing it to skid to a snowy stop 10 feet from us and leap back into the woods…a male Grizzly Bear! I saw it right away as it came out the trees and skidded to a stop. As luck would have it, we were right at a pullout and there was absolutely nobody else around. I jumped out of the truck with my camera in hand. In hindsight this was probably the dumbest thing I could have done. He saw me instantly with deadlocked eyes on mine and came walking forward towards me through the trees.
We were close, far too close for comfort, but he literally nearly landed in our laps. I scurried back around to the drivers side of the truck, trying to catch my breath and keep my hands from shaking while keeping my eyes on this majestic beast. The moment I disappeared from his view, he put his nose to the ground and came out of the trees into a clearing.
I crept back towards to rear of the truck with my camera to my face and watched him through my lens from about 50 feet away. It was challenging to shoot with the adrenaline surging through my veins. When he saw me again he stared directly at me with his nose to the ground. I crept another foot or two closer and then he jumped up on hind legs snarling, batted his baseball glove sized paws at me and lurched forward with a pounce sending snow flying up and leaving me crippled with fear completely exposed behind the truck (check out Girls post for her incredible shot and take on this epic event).
All the while Gal and Girl were shooting photos from inside the truck, thankfully, and now the people that were not present for the past 20-30 seconds started to show up to marvel at what we saw, which caused this magnificent beast to dart back into the woods. I honestly did not really notice the all the people. I did not make eye contact or talk to anyone about the once in a lifetime (to us anyways) experience we had just witnessed and got back into the truck and continued up the pass. I pulled back over about a 1/4 mile away as I was still shaking and in shock and awe of what had just happened.
All in all, Yellowstone was the highlight thus far of our trip. Despite not being able to camp in Yellowstone due to weather I am so happy and fortunate to have been able to share such an incredible journey through this magical place with my family. Liv is one lucky Girl to have seen the plethora of wildlife and beauty in this park during such an incredible time of the year when these creatures are preparing for the months of harsh winter ahead.