We drove into Yellowstone the first day the South entrance opened, so there was a still lot of snow, but the sun was shining and it was a warm day. Our plan was to stop at Old Faithful, where we could park Bessie and have some lunch, then get settled at Madison Campground and do a driving tour the next day. We thought Yellowstone would be fairly quiet this time of year, but this is the park’s 100th anniversary, and they expect over six million visitors in the next four months. Their campgrounds are already booked through the summer.
You can’t go to Yellowstone without getting a snap of Old Faithful gushing, right? We walked both Gypsy and Bailey to the geyser viewing area and settled on a log behind the crowds. We had to wait nearly an hour for the next gush, but it was such a beautiful day and we were in no hurry.
It turns out that a cat on a leash is as much a spectacle as hot, steaming water shooting out of the ground, especially among the Asian crowd. We should have set up a booth for photos and charged a dollar. We could have paid for our next tank of gas. It is a pretty damn cute sight, though: Gypsy and Bailey lolling about together in the grass or trotting side by side, Gypsy traversing a log railing and keeping neck and neck with Bailey on the walk. But by the time Faithful blew, both Kate and Gypsy were exhausted from attention. Even with the geyser spraying into the blue sky, Kate could not redirect attention from our fluffy cat.
It’s a good thing we got here soon after check-in, because this campground was full by 5:00. It’s a beautiful pine woods campground and the sites are comfortably set apart. There are lots of tent campers, even in the cold, and it felt very peaceful. We set up chairs and a hammock and kicked back before dinner.
The next day was Saturday, and there were a lot more RVs than tents. Without hook-ups, generators were going later in the day when we wanted to relax outside. One family next to us had left for the afternoon with their insanely loud outside generator roaring for hours. We ended up having dinner inside with all the windows closed and music on just to drown it out. I really felt sorry for the tenters who had no escape. There were a couple of tent-only loops at the end of the campground, and I rode my bike around them, envying the peacefulness and identifying so much more with the tenters than the RV’ers. There’s no escaping the fact that we’re RV’ers now, but we almost never use our generator, especially near tenters.
This campground is adjacent to a beautiful meadow and river. It was so inviting, but no pets allowed, so we only took in the view. On the second night we were walking the pets when we came upon a buffalo, settled in comfortably for the night on a campground lawn. Bailey and Gypsy didn’t even see the big guy until we were past him, but they could smell something strange in the air and were skittish. When they did see him, Gypsy pulled to get away and we were glad Bailey just kept on walking. We gave him a wide berth.
After dinner the first night, there was still plenty of light. (Strange to have it light till 9:00 when there’s still snow on the ground.) We drove to back to a hot springs area we’d passed before and took the hike past turquoise blue crater pools, rust orange pond slime, bubbling grey mud puddles, steaming geysers and roaring caves. An absolute freak show of geology.
Our one full day in the park, we left the fur kids in Bessie and drove around the park. It’s a good thing we weren’t planning on hiking, because almost every trail we saw was closed due to bear activity. We never saw one, though. In fact we saw less wildlife here than in the Grand Tetons. Just buffalo, elk, and a cute little marmot at the side of the road.
The mountainous part of the main Yellowstone loop was still closed, so we couldn’t see everything in a day. But we went to canyon area, viewed Lower Yellowstone Falls, and took short hikes and walks from parking lots. Gibbon Falls was a beautiful stop, and the Artists Paintpots. We drove all the way up to Mammoth Hot Springs, but by the time we got there the weather had changed to windy and cold, so we didn’t do the hike to the top. But the short walk to a tiered hot springs rock formation was well worth the chill.
On the way back to the campground, we kept our eyes peeled for wolves and bears. But all we saw were buffalo. Several in a field next to a viewpoint, and three plodding down the highway with a ranger escort.
There’s been a lot of controversy about tourist and wildlife in Yellowstone recently. Specifically, a couple of tourists picked up a newborn bison, thinking it might freeze in the cold, and put it in their SUV. They took it to a ranger who returned it to the mother, but the mother rejected it and the baby eventually had to be euthanized. Personally, I don’t know why they had to euthanize it. We bottle-raised Gypsy and I’m sure someone would have been willing to bottle-raise a bison. But the point is, there are lots of stupid tourists who do stupid things in national parks, risking their own lives and the lives of the wildlife. This event inspired lots of Facebook photos of other tourist shenanigans – getting way to close to bears, trying to pet or even sit on buffalo, stepping onto hot spring beds…
We didn’t witness any of this in our visit. But we did see trash thrown into hot springs, a young man reaching down to touch steaming mud right next to a sign that said not to, and people walking into a field of buffalo for photos.
I know I’ve gotten closer than I should to wildlife before. I’m a photographer, and I know how compelled I feel to get that best shot. But I give nature ultimate respect. Maybe theme parks like Disneyland have given tourists a false sense of safety and a blurred sense of boundaries, and they forget that wildlife really is wild.
For the most part, though, I saw tourists in awe of everything around them and respecting the rules. My biggest pet peeve was the tour buses full selfie-crazed Asian tourists. It’s a part of Asian culture I don’t quite get. I mean, I take photographs, too, and maybe some people think fanatically. But I rarely take a selfie, and I just don’t understand the need to hog the best viewpoints taking shot after shot after shot of yourself or your family while others are waiting to get around you or get a view of that spectacular point that probably doesn’t even show up in your photo. At one point I was so frustrated, I nudged my way in and photobombed a young couple to get my own shot of the Yellowstone Falls.