Close Encounters of the Animal Kind

Yellowstone continued to be pretty amazing. Well, except for sleep I guess. D slept ok-ish our first night in the Old Faithful Inn, but Z and I didn’t sleep very well, thanks to the old radiator that heated our room, and would “BANG” loudly at different times until I jumped out of bed and turned down the heat. Oh, and the radiator was about 3 feet from D’s head. He actually didn’t wake up as much as I would have thought, but I sure did have moments of panic trying to shut up the stupid radiator before it woke him up.

So, even though we weren’t very well rested, we were excited to continue our adventuring in Yellowstone. We explored the southeast part of the park, and journeyed to the West Thumb area first thing in the morning. We hiked around by the geysers at the edge of Yellowstone lake, which was quite a sight to see. Geysers, mud pots, and hot springs all along the edge of a cold freshwater lake. Due to the snow.hail the night before, the wood boardwalk was a little bit slippery, but we didn’t fall. We did get surprised by some female elk who were right off the boardwalk at one part of the trail.

Elk grazing just off the path. And yes, there was a guardrail between us.


West Thumb and Yellowstone lake, with a hot spring in the foreground.

After wandering the boardwalk, we decided to do a short trail to Duck Lake that left from the same parking area. We followed the signs and crossed the main road and entered the woods, only to have Z stop dead in his tracks ahead of me and start pointing into the woods. I looked through the trees, and about 25 feet away was a massive male elk with a huge rack of antlers laying among the trees. We stared in awe for just a moment while we quickly and quietly skirted the edge of the trail furthest from the elk and kept walking. It was incredible to see a massive animal so close. We kept walking on the path, and it looked like not many other people had used the trail recently. It was a steady incline through a burned forest, or a part of the park that had a wildfire about 20 years ago and still had a lot of downed trees and some new growth trees. My mom, aka Gemma, was worried about bears and we didn’t have bear spray, so she suggested we sing. I was fine with just talking loudly, but Gemma started singing the “Battle Hymn of the Republic” quite loudly as we hiked. It was pretty hilarious to hear her singing as we hiked uphill through the trees. We eventually came to the top of the ridge, and got to look down in to Duck Lake, a beautiful little lake surrounded by trees. We hiked back, and waved hello to our elk friend who was still in the trees where we had left him (again, quickly, as we also got out of there ASAP). We decided that was enough fun at the West Thumb area, so we got back in the car to continue our journey in the park.


Surprise giant elk just off the trail. Look at those antlers!


Hiking to Duck Lake.


Duck Lake, through the trees.

We drove to the Yellowstone Lake main area with the Lake Hotel and main parking area to hike a trail through a marshy area to go see the fishing bridge. I read about this trail in our Yellowstone Treasures book, but once we parked, we could not find a sign or any indication about where this trail started. Z started wandering into the marshy reeds by the lake on a thin beat down trail, while Gemma and I went to the lodge to ask, Unfortunately, the girl at the lodge had no idea about this trail, and we just decided to go meet up with Z and explore a little. By the time Gemma, D, and I caught up with Z, a lone bison that had been wandering at the far end of the marsh had wandered a little closer. While we talked about what we were going to do, Mr. Bison picked up speed and instead of slowly wandering around, he was walking at a decent clip in our general direction. Gemma cut and run down a main path (ok, not quite, but she was doing her trademark speedwalk) and myself and D in his ergo also started walking pretty quickly away from the bison. Z wasn’t as afraid since we still had some distance between us and the bison, but we all decided at that point to scrap that hike and head back to the car. We took a nice little detour to get back to the car and keep clear of the bison, who apparently forgot about us by that point, and went to eat a small lunch from the deli at the hotel.


Sneaky bison. He doesn’t look threatening, but I didn’t want to check up close.

We drove further north and checked out the Mud Volcano area, which included a short hike on a boardwalk to see a variety of mud pots and geysers. There was a really cool area called the “Dragon’s Mouth” which was a pool with bubbling pond of hot water at the edge of a cave, and it made a rumbling sound as the water bubbled and hit the walls of the cave. I easily imagined a dragon living in the cave.


The mud volcano!


The Dragon’s Mouth, a really cool feature.

We decided to check out nearby Hayden Valley and the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone briefly before we headed back to the inn. We took a short side drive and pulled several times to take spectacular pictures of the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. It is a large canyon with rock walls in various shades of yellow, red, and brown, and the beautiful Yellowstone river running through the center, complete with waterfalls in a few places. Just gorgeous. It was nice to take a moment and take a deep breath and enjoy the scenery there.


Grand Canyon of Yellowstone.

Satisfied and tired after a pretty full day of adventuring, we started our drive back to the Old Faithful Inn. As we drove, we listened to podcast videos, called “Inside Yellowstone” from the National Park Service about different features of the park. These videos were fabulous at giving short descriptions of different areas, animals, and features of the park as we drove around. We made it most of the way without incident, but then traffic slowed down, and we thought there was some construction, but it turned out there was a herd of bison by the road. We had to stop so two bison could cross the road right by our car, then watched the other side of the road, in the other lane, as cars drove slowly behind a bison who apparently thought he was leading a parade or that the road was meant for his use. The backup on the other side of the road went on for quite a while, and it was a pretty funny sight to see.


The bison who was stopping up traffic by walking on the other side of the road.


Back at Old Faithful, we relaxed, enjoyed the delicious buffet dinner, and got D to sleep. Z and I went outside to take some pictures of Old Faithful erupting at night, and get some pictures of the stars. The stars were incredible. Amazing. Breath-taking. There were so many stars to see, thanks to the lack of artificial light, so we could actually see the milky way and thousands of stars in the clear (and cold!!) sky. It was a beautiful way to end a busy, animal-filled day.


Old Faithful erupting at night.


The big dipper at Yellowstone.

Oh, and if you think things are going quite well, especially with toddler D, just wait. Wait until the next post, because that changed pretty quickly.


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