So my plan for Yellowstone was to stay on the Northeast/North side due to the access to Lamar Valley where the wolves, bison, elk and brown bears roam. Our campground was the Red Lodge KOA in Red Lodge, Montana. There are campgrounds closer to Yellowstone which would have meet our needs but the idea of pulling the vintage camper on hairpin turns and steep Rocky Mountain grades turned my stomach. So retail campground it is. The KOA did have laundry, a heated pool, and was supposed to have full hookups but somehow we only had water & electric. It was full, so we could not move sites. We set up and prepped for the Yellowstone adventure.
Prep includes breakfast on the way and a picnic lunch in the park. I went to a fantastic store Beartooth Market in the ever so cute town of Red Lodge, Montana. It was like a baby Harris Teeter and Fresh Market combined. Got our supplies and we were off some 70 miles south through Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness (943,000 acre) and Custer National Forest that contribute to the 11 million acres of natural area. The route was via the famous Beartooth Highway which climbs from 5,000 feet to over 10,000 feet of mountain ranges, which I knew but somehow forgot my height aversion. You leave the grassy Montana rolling plans to green to snow capped rugged Rocky Mountains cutting into the blue sky. It is a beauty that your mind seems stunted to absorb.
The road, was a buttpuckering experience (where your anus forms a suction to the car seat) due to the shear, thousand foot drops on my right over tiny seemly ineffective guardrails as we ascended the mountain range to the snow capped peaks! There were 2 daredevils riding bicycles on this death defying road one peddling up the other coasting at a dangerous speed down. I sat clinched grasping the door handle doing Lamaze breathing thinking of how I should have had a tranquilizing prescription like my dog to handle this. I don’t do heights! Snakes, spiders, deep velvety darkness sure, not heights. I managed to watch my altimeter to check our ascent to over 10,000 feet, snap a few photos, and remain flexed for the hour that it took to climb these 30 miles up and over to Yellowstone. There were frozen ice blue lakes, and snow drifts which made me wonder the age of the ice. Oh my God there is a ski lift with lots more brave souls skiing down the 80 degree mountain … hurl moment. The views (the few times when I looked to my right) were unbelievable. We would find another way out.
Thank God made it into Yellowstone.
Most National Parks have an entry fee, normally around $25 a car, which is good for a few days. You may purchase an access pass to get into all the National parks. I wish my beloved Smoky Mountain National Park charged a fee, it would be amazing to see what that kind of money would do for the park and staff.
Okay back to Yellowstone, armed with our map and visitor newspaper we entered ready to see all the amazing things this park offers both with mega fauna and geologic wonders. First stop Lamar Valley carved by the Lamar River banked on both sides by amazing mountains creating a rich green ribbon of river and grass winding and rippling as far as you can see. Rivers here are snow cap fed, crystal clear, rapid and 41 degrees. Bring on the Brown Bears and Wolves! There are switchbacks through the deep “forest green” Lodgepole Pine, Spruce and Birch forest, opening again to the valley floor. On one such switchback we found a Bison on the right a mere 20 yards from the road, traffic slowed to gaze on this 2,000 pound 6 foot beast. As we rounded the corner a Bison was on the shoulder of the road walking the same direction we were going. What popped in my head? If I wanted to … slap him on the ass just by reaching out my car window without even a stretch. His big booty was right there. Then all the rules I can quote about harassment of wildlife popped in my head. We did have a laugh at the deviousness of my mind.
Mammoth Springs is a mind blowing place with hot water seeping out of the ground to create these amazing formations.
Please see the album below for all the photos.
A Raven stopped to model and check us out as we took a stroll to investigate Bison sign on a hill just up from the valley. Ravens are so cool and smart besides being a bit of a beak face. They have even been seen (according to the NPS) unzipping bags to get inside and pillage for booty.
The shear number of mega fauna in the park is overwhelming look at this herd of Bison. Your mind just can’t really absorb it.
As you may have noticed we did the Northside of Yellowstone not the super crowded Southern portion. That we saved for a future trip in three or four years. We planned to hike in the Custard & Gallatin National Forest but were unprepared for the extreme wild and opted out. We did walk the lovely wetlands along the river filled with those famous white barked Birch trees. This place had warnings to make noise and keep your dogs close, along with the bear safe food containers. Here is a 360 degree photo so you too can feel the wildness.
Enjoy the album here: https://photos.app.goo.gl/BmWvMz1ahwyidQ4K6