Saturday, July 21, 2012

Yellowstone & Grand Teton

Saturday July 14th

I woke up early (5:30am) and was ready to hit the road after my good-byes with Nanc.  She was actually up before me and ready to get moving first, so it worked out just about perfectly.  As I did my last check of our cabin, I pondered what I would do with my day.  Originally, my plan was to stay in the parks through the weekend and head home Monday in order to be home Tuesday night.

I felt as though I had already had several great days of wildlife viewing, even if I had not seen the illusive wolves in either Hayden or Lamar.  I had also not yet seen a moose, but I had what I thought was a good lead on locating them, down in Grand Teton NP which was my initial plan for tonight's overnight.

I opted for the most direct route to GTNP, which would have me heading towards Tower and over the Dunraven Pass one more time.  I did see a couple of blacktail deer near Tower.  I also stopped in Hayden Valley "just in case" something was around to be seen.  I did photograph this beautiful bird eating insects on the water's surface.  I think it may be a wood stork, but after looking at dozens of photos of the Yellowstone birds, I'm not certain. (PS Note:  I've been told it's a great blue heron!  Thank you to my friends on Trip Advisor!)

When I reached Canyon Village I was actually feeling hungry and wanting a real breakfast . . . you know, eggs, meat, toast.  I remembered the breakfast hours at the Canyon Soda Fountain, and realized they would not be open for at least another hour, so I pushed on towards Lake Village.

I stopped at the lovely Lake Lodge where there is a decent enough cafeteria where you can pick and choose ala carte.  That seemed to fit the bill for my cravings just right.  Admittedly, I over-ordered, but that was OK as it allowed me to make a sandwich for later in the day.  The food was delicious in spite of not being piping hot.  I couldn't believe how great a bottle of orange juice could taste!

The view over Yellowstone Lake was beautiful.  It was quiet and serene, especially since there were very few people up and around at 7:00am.
After breakfast, I headed to the West Thumb Geyser Basin to take a couple more photos.  The first time I had been through this area the sun was just rising and it was really too dark to get decent photographs of some of the boiling pots and other features in this area.

Before leaving Yellowstone, I wanted to find out about the eruption prediction for the Great Fountain Geyser . . . you know, the one I waited for hours to see, only to later find out it went of early that morning.  I stopped in at the Grant Visitor Center to inquire.  The geyser had already gone off that morning around 6:00am so it was now predicted for 6:00pm plus or minus two hours.  As much as I wanted to witness that event, it didn't seem worthwhile to hang around all day and overnight in Yellowstone to accommodate possibly seeing it, so I set about a plan that would have me leaving the area later in the afternoon.

I again saw one of the resident bull elk at the Grant Village junction.  From Grant Village, I continued on south to the John D. Rockefeller Parkway that connects Yellowstone NP with Grand Teton NP.   Along that stretch of road I saw several deer, all passively watching traffic pass as they grazed on the morning dew moistened grasses.

Arriving at the Colter Bay Visitor Center, I stopped in to get what would be the last of my NPS Passport stamps.  I also asked the young ranger inside about wildlife viewing and bear sightings.  He was not very helpful, giving the standard "bears are everywhere out there" response.  OK - thanks!

As I exited Colter Bay Village I did swing through the gas station to make note of the price as I knew I'd be needing fuel later in the day.  At $3.579 it was going to be the cheapest in either of the parks, so this was the spot I stopped back later in the day to top off my tank.

Earlier in the week, I met a couple from Portage, Wisconsin.  In talking about the wildlife we'd seen, I was envious that he had seen moose.  He told me that he had been told of a marsh area just beyond Colter Bay down the Pilgrim Creek Road.  Sure enough, when I made the left-hand turn, I could see a number of cars pulled to the shoulder, and several people out walking into the willows.  There was also a tour company with guests watching.  Their driver/guide was explaining to folks about the moose habitat and that the bull moose in this area were getting ready for rut season next month.

From the vantage point that I had, I could barely see the moose they were talking about.  One man had hiked deep into the willow to get his photos with what appeared to be a 600mm lens.  He was shooting without a tripod.  All I could think was "good luck with that" as I have my challenges with my 70-300 lens at roughly a third of the weight.  As the two large bull moose continued to eat, they worked their way into a small clearing.  They didn't seem to be bothered much by the group of 10 or 12 people observing them.  Surprisingly, there were only a couple of us interested in or trying to photograph the animals.

After spending some time with the moose and getting a nice selection of photos, I felt amazingly fulfilled in terms of my desired wildlife photography.  I decided to make the drive further into GTNP for what I hoped would be some interesting photos of the mountains and lake, and then I would head back to Yellowstone.

I enjoyed my drive through GTNP to include the Jenny Lake area.  With more people now awake, and it being a Saturday morning, the roads seemed quite crowded with people, cars and bicycles.  It should be noted that if you enjoy bike riding out in the wild, this park is a great place to do that!  There are numerous trails and bike paths; many of which are are relatively flat terrain.  I did take the drive up to the Signal Mountain Summit, which had a nice view from the top.  I was surprised to see so many cyclists heading to the top of what was a rather lengthy, winding road.

So back in Yellowstone, my plan was to exit the park through the East Entrance towards Cody.  That drive would have me passing by the Mud Volcano area again, so I also stopped there to get some photos (and video) of one of the more active gushing hot springs.  I also made a brief stop at the Sulfur Caldron, another very stinky area that I had previously passed before the sun was up.

The drive to Bay Bridge Village and out the East Entrance Road was uneventful.  While this is known to be one of the highest populated areas for brown bears, I saw none.  In fact, I saw little in the way of wildlife.  I did stop to take this panorama photo of Eleanor Lake.
I enjoyed doing the "pano" photos, as they provide a very wide angle view of the landscape, something I don't have the right lenses for.  With Photoshop software, several images can be merged together to create a single image such as this.  This one was created using three images.

As I exited Yellowstone NP, it was 4:00pm.  I wondered about how far I would be able to make it before having to stop for the night.  I considered the National Forest campgrounds just outside of the park, but realized that would have me stopping for the night before 6:00pm which seemed like a waste.  I pushed on, enjoying the views as I passed through areas known for their bear population.  I didn't see any, however, but I did stop along the way to photograph some of the lovely waterfalls that were seen coming out of the side of the mountains along the roadside.  (This photo was actually taken inside Yellowstone NP, along the East Entrance Road, just before reaching the exit.)

Around 4:45pm I was approaching the Buffalo Bill Reservoir and Dam.  I stopped in for a quick visit at the NPS Visitor Center, as they were getting ready to close at 5:00pm.  This is a National Historic Site and open to the public seven days a week and is free.  I wish I had more time to explore and take the self-guided tour.

Moving on, the town of Cody, Wyoming was just minutes away.  I first saw the infamous Buffalo Bill Cody Stampede Rodeo Grounds and considered over-nighting in Cody in order to take in the evening's show.  But since it was only 5:30pm and the show wasn't until 8:00pm, I didn't want to just hang around, especially since as I drove through town, it was apparent the other attractions were already closed for the day.  Looking back at it as I write this a week later, I'm sorta sorry I didn't stay and experience a real western rodeo.

In Cody I did make a call home to David to let him know I was on the road and heading home.  I thought it might be possible to make it back to the nice KOA in Buffalo, Wyoming and that was my plan.  I did some quick calculating, figuring that if I could make it that far, that would leave me with around 18 hours of driving to get home sometime on Monday.

During my drive on through Wyoming, it was nice to be taking a different route east.  This routing not only took me through Cody, but it also avoided all of the construction that I drove through going west.  I also got to see a lot of free range livestock including cattle and sheep near Graybull.  It was still very hot, with temperatures still in the high 90's at 6:30pm.

I jumped on I90 at Sheridan and was able to make the rest of the drive to the Buffalo KOA.  I checked in just before the office closed at 9:00pm.  Completed zonked from the 500+ miles driven today, I was ready for bed.  I did try to access the free WiFi from my campsite but being on the far backside of the property, the signal was too weak to connect.

I feel asleep to the DJ spinning wedding music at the hotel next door.  Yep that's right . . . there was an outdoor wedding reception next door with music blasting into the Wyoming night.  Ah how I already miss the sounds of nature in Yellowstone!

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