Our Western Adventure – Rivers and Creeks and Waterfalls, Oh My!

We watched these two elk for quite a while as the frolicked in the field, and eventually crossed the river further downstream.

We watched these two elk for quite a while as they frolicked in the field, and eventually crossed the river further downstream.

All throughout Yellowstone National Park, there are rivers, creeks, lakes, and amazing waterfalls in addition to the other water features I have already written about. Besides how beautiful the scenery was, the animals were attracted to the areas as well.

On Wednesday of our trip, we saw 2 elk playing in the water. We sat and watched them for quite a long time. The sounds the female elk make are much higher than what you’d expect from such a huge animal. We guessed one might have been the mother of the other, as the one we suspected was the younger kept making yipping noises. We cracked up every time we heard that sound!

Another time we stopped at an overlook at one of the rivers, a badger decided he wasn’t so sure he wanted to let us get back to our car. We had to very slowly walk past his den, one at a time, never taking our eyes off him. Many animals in Yellowstone will run after you if you run. We didn’t want to test the badger to see if he would be one of them. Our wrangler on our Cowboy Dinner later in the week told us there are 3 B’s to watch out for in Yellowstone: Bears, Badgers, and Buffalo. They are all dangerous. Happily, we were smart around all 3, and no one was hurt.

creek walkA few times during the week, we passed by a creek that had a geyser on one side. On Wednesday, we decided to spend some time walking in the creek. While it was a little slippery on the rocks and moss-type plants, it was fun to walk across. We didn’t get too close to the geyser, even though it wasn’t going off.

This was the geyser just behind us to the left that is not shown in the above picture.

This was the geyser just behind us to the left that is not shown in the above picture.

On of the most amazing views was when we went to the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. It was so beautiful, we went twice. Wednesday, we went on one side, Friday, we went to the other side. The canyon is very deep, and has several waterfalls along the river. We went to a place called Inspiration Point. The kids weren’t very impressed, since part of it was closed. Most of it though, was amazing!

One of the waterfalls in the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone.

One of the waterfalls in the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone.

On Friday, when we went to the opposite side of the canyon, a few of us decided to take a little hike. We wanted to go to one of the two spots that go right to the top edge of the waterfalls. Nikolai, Michael, Dysin and I started the hike to Uncle Tom’s Trail. This trail has 300 steps that take you to the edge of the falls. It is not an easy hike. Somehow, along the trail, I looked at the map, and doubted we were going to the right place. We turned around, and hiked a different trail the opposite direction. When we passed the rest of the family, Dysin decided to stay with them. We hiked the trail the took us to an overlook over Upper Falls. It turned out that Uncle Tom’s Trail WAS the trail we were looking for. 😦  We added it to our “things we definitely don’t want to miss next time” list.

A view from near the top of one of the waterfalls.

A view from near the top of one of the waterfalls.

One thing we didn’t do that would have been cool, was to swim in the Firehole River. As we were driving to that area, we realized the road that goes to the main Firehole River area was fairly narrow, and was FULL. People were parked everywhere, and we decided to just drive through. This was another thing added to the list of things we will definitely do next time. We did, however, swim in the Boiling River. More on that later.

Sunsets over the lake were gorgeous!

Sunsets over Yellowstone Lake were gorgeous!

Whether it be pulling over to watch animals play in or near the water, walking to an extraordinary view of the many waterfalls, or skipping rocks across a creek, you won’t want to miss checking out the many water features in Yellowstone Park!

Our Western Adventure – Journey to Jackson

1090On Tuesday of our 9 day Western Adventure, we drove from the middle of Yellowstone National Park, to Jackson, WY. It was a beautiful drive, full of many stops.

The Teton Mountains were beautiful!! One of my favorite scenic spots, was when we stopped at Colter Bay. There are several things to do at the visitor center here, including read about the glacier on Grand Teton. The plaque showed a picture of the changes in the glacier over time. This bay was also just a beautiful spot overall! I would love to stay here for a few nights on our next trip this direction.

Jason and the kids at Colter Bay. Grand Teton and the glacier can be seen in the background.

Jason and the kids at Colter Bay. Grand Teton and the glacier can be seen in the background.

Some of our other stops along the way included: the top of the tree line in the mountains (brr, it was cold up there), a place we could walk down to Jackson Lake and feel the water, and several spots that were just plain beautiful! Somewhere along the way, we stopped and had a picnic in the mountains…

Another favorite stop, was the Jackson Lake Dam. One side of the dam looked like an amphitheater. Across the street, on the other side of the dam, there were people fishing, and lots of rocks, perfect for skipping. This was Dysin’s highlight of the day! We were having a great time until one of the fishermen came up from further down the river, and asked us to stop. He said we were scaring the fish away… yeah, because the dam making all that noise right next to us, wouldn’t have any effect on the fish, right? Whatever! 😉

This area, below Jackson Lake Dam, was a great area to skip rocks, and play... we could have stayed her much longer!

This area, below Jackson Lake Dam, was a great area to skip rocks, and play… we could have stayed here much longer!

Jackson Lake Dam - a great place to skip rocks, and play by the river.

Eventually, we made it to our goal, Jackson. This was a cool little town. We spent much of the day relaxing in the park in the center of the town. The four corners of this cute little park were made up of four archways made entirely of elk antlers. The local Boy Scouts go out and collect the antlers that have been shed by elk, to be auctioned off in the park every year.

When we weren’t enjoying the perfect day, we explored the shops all along the main street in town. The kids enjoyed looking at all the art in an art store. It felt like being in a museum made up entirely of original art based on wildlife, Native Americans, and nature scenes. There is a Ripley’s Believe it or Not Emporium, and a historical museum in town, but we didn’t go to either due to the cost of bring 7 of us to each.

Pretty sure I have never seen so many flavors of salt water taffy! I'll have several of each!

Pretty sure I have never seen so many flavors of salt water taffy! I’ll have several of each!

We discovered a GREAT old fashioned candy store with salt water taffy by the barrel full! There’s something special about getting to choose from all those flavors! The walls were lined with jars of all different kind of candy, many of which I hadn’t seen since I was a kid. There were even candies I had never heard of before! I LOVED that store (so did Grace)!!!

After stocking up on candy, we ate dinner at a place called Pizzeria Caldera. While the crust was a little thinner than I cared for, it was delicious! We even tried bison pizza. Soo good!

Our family, standing under one of 4 arches made entirely of elk antlers.

Our family, standing under one of 4 arches made entirely of elk antlers.

Finally, it was time to head back to our campground in Yellowstone. We decided to take a back road, because there was a place “nearby” called The Aspens. Aspen really wanted to have his picture taken by the sign.

Finding this place took us through Jackson’s rush hour traffic, and through the Laurance S. Rockefeller Preserve. We felt like we were not on the right road, because of how small it was. It did eventually bring us back out to a major road. While we hadn’t originally planned on taking this back way, we were glad we did.

One of the things that quickly becomes a common part of driving through Yellowstone and the entire area, is that people suddenly stop on the road, or pull over, for apparently no reason. The reason is usually, that there is an animal sighting. Every time we followed suit, we were not disappointed. While driving through the Rockefeller Preserve, we noticed people pulled over. It took us a minute to figure out why… there it was, a grizzly bear walking along in the woods. This was the only place on our whole trip that we saw a bear. For Michael, it was the highlight of the day.

Day 5 was a great day!

Our Western Adventure – Exploring the Basin

We spent a lot of time exploring the various geyser areas. Since there was a lot of overlap, I’m including them all in one post. I apologize for the length. Thank you for reading! 🙂

Monday – Day 4
After a night of shivering on our first night at Yellowstone, we got up, and made pancakes in the camper. YUM! Once everything was all cleaned up, we left for Old Faithful.

The West Thumb Geyser Basin, with Yellowstone Lake in the background.

The West Thumb Geyser Basin, with Yellowstone Lake in the background.

On the way, we stopped at West Thumb to check out the hot springs there. When we first saw this area from the road, our first thought was that there was a fire there, due to all the steam. We quickly learned that billows of steam are tell-tale signs of hot springs or geysers in the area.

This was our first glimpse of the hot springs and a couple of mudpots. It was beautiful with the backdrop of Yellowstone Lake.  There were a couple of geysers right at the edge of the lake, which were pretty cool to see, though, we didn’t see any erupt while we were there. We did see a large group of kayakers were going along the lake near the geyser basin. I wondered how warm the water was down there.

Old Faithful Geyser

Old Faithful Geyser

After West Thumb, we headed to Old Faithful, where it took us over 40 minutes to find a parking spot! I would recommend going early in the day, instead of mid-afternoon, like we did. Once we parked, we had a picnic lunch in the car before heading to see the most predictable geyser in Yellowstone. They had times posted as to when it was “supposed” to go off. Times are +/- 10 minutes. Amazingly – it was pretty much right to the minute! There were seats all around the huge fountain for people to sit and watch.

At first, Old Faithful just started sputtering a little bit of water. The water got higher and higher. It went for about 5 minutes or so, then it was done. It wasn’t at all what I expected. I guess I expected to hear more sound from the water, or something (like in the cartoons). It was actually fairly quiet. One of the dads from the dance studio said his initial reaction to Old Faithful was pretty much the same.

Castle Geyser, one of my favorite geysers surrounding Old Faithful.

Castle Geyser, one of my favorite geysers surrounding Old Faithful.

There are several trails around the geyser to explore. We did the “main loop” on that day, and went back on Thursday to see the parts we missed. As we were walking around the trails, we all got sprayed by a geyser. What was interesting, was that all the males in our group thought the water felt really hot, and hurt. When Grace and I walked by a couple minutes later, we thought it was icy cold, and felt good on such a hot day.

The trails are fairly lacking in shade, and the sun was intense. A few of us ended up with a bit of sunburn. We remembered the sunscreen later in the week. Also, with all the walking/ mild hiking we did, we were glad to have tennis shoes in addition to sandals. Grace wore her flip flops the first day we were at Old Faithful, but wore her tennis shoes most of the rest of the week. We all had back up tennis shoes too, in case it got rainy, or our shoes got wet.

Jason, Michael, Grace, and I at the Mud Volcano area.

Jason, Michael, Grace, and I at the Mud Volcano area.

Day 6 – Wednesday

Wednesday, we had a slight change from our original plan of visiting Mammoth, due to needing to find a hardware store that carried a part we needed to fix part of the camper that broke. We ended up heading to West Yellowstone, which is just outside the park boundaries. It was a cute little town, that we may visit again to explore more. An added bonus, is that we got to explore areas that weren’t in our original plan, and we saw many elk and buffalo that we wouldn’t have otherwise seen.

Dragons Mouth Spring, the loudest of the springs that we heard in the Mud Volcano area.

Dragons Mouth Spring, the loudest of the springs that we heard in the Mud Volcano area.

Anyway, on the way, we stopped at Mud Volcano. This was a cool area that we passed a couple of times during the week. It was a chilly, drizzly morning, and half the kids wanted to stay in the car, and not explore. The rest of us got out, and carefully walked the trails. We had to be careful, because this is, apparently, a favorite area for one herd of buffalo to hang out. There was a huge one at the top of a hill overlooking the winding path. Since my husband was wearing a red hoodie, and my son had on red pants, I was a little nervous that he would charge, but he was more interested in watching. Thank goodness!! One thing to note about the Mud Volcano area – it is one of the stronger sulphur-smelling areas we visited. I was especially glad for my bandana to cover my nose on that day!

I think this was across the street from Mud Volcano. The buffalo seemed to be drawn to the springs areas.

I think this was across the street from Mud Volcano. The buffalo seemed to be drawn to the springs areas.

Day 7 – Thursday

We went to Old Faithful early to avoid the parking disaster we had earlier in the week. This was a good idea! Not only did we get to park right away, we got to walk the trails we had previously missed before it got too hot out. After a delicious lunch in the cafeteria at the Old Faithful Lodge, we left to explore the rest of the Upper Geyser Basin.

One of the geysers we saw near the Biscuit Basin (north of Old Faithful) was called Artemisia. Nearby, was the Morning Glory Pool. Jason and most of the kids were ready for a break from the sun and walking, so Michael, Nikolai and I hiked to these two on our own. We were glad we did – they were gorgeous!

My two hiking buddies - Michael and Nikolai!

My two hiking buddies – Michael and Nikolai!

We also explored the Black Sand Basin, the Midway Geyser Basin, and the Fountain Paint Pot areas on Thursday.

The Midway Geyser Basin was pretty cool, because it had some gorgeous pools and springs. One of the highlights of this area is the Grand Prismatic Spring, the largest hot spring in Yellowstone. I wish the walkway were somehow elevated here, because being level with the spring, I felt like we missed out on the true beauty of it. I have seen pictures taken from the air, and it is much more gorgeous than we could even see. The clarity of all the springs, especially those in this area were amazing! Another cool part of this area was the water that was draining into the Firehole River from here.

Grand Prismatic Spring

Grand Prismatic Spring at the Midway Geyser Basin

Day 8 – Friday

The last of the springs we visited was the Sulphur Caldron. It was definitely the stinkiest place we visited. The bandana didn’t even kind of help, and Michael didn’t want to stand still long enough for a picture because it smelled so bad. Fun fact, this spring has a pH level just below that of battery acid. You definitely wouldn’t want to touch that one!

Sulphur Cauldron - the stinkiest place we found in all of Yellowstone Park.

Sulphur Cauldron – the stinkiest place we found in all of Yellowstone Park.

Final Note:

Because of our change of plans on Wednesday, we didn’t get to see the hot springs at Mammoth. The next time we go back, we will definitely be taking a day to explore this area more.

 

 

 

Our Western Adventure – Hot Springs and the Geyser Basin

A panoramic view of the West Thumb Geyser Basin with Yellowstone Lake in the background.

A panoramic view of the West Thumb Geyser Basin with Yellowstone Lake in the background.

Several days of our Yellowstone vacation included exploring the various geysers and hot springs in the park. I had never seen them before, and they were nothing like I expected.

There are several “geyser basins” (or areas where there are multiple hot springs and geysers in the same area) around Yellowstone Park, but there are only four or five in the entire world! We truly saw many unique areas, and things change there all the time. We could go again in 3-5 years, and things could look completely different.

Being my first time at the hot springs, I was surprised at how stinky it was. There was a definite sulphur smell in the air. Steam was rising off many of the springs. I so badly wanted to feel just how hot they were, but I probably would have been burned – either from the heat, or the acidity. Either way, it’s also illegal, so I didn’t give in to the temptation to touch the water (or let anyone else in the group).

Some of the springs were so clear, you could see every detail of the pool, quite deep. Several looked like you could dive in, swim down, and find The Little Mermaids grotto of treasures below!

Some of the springs were so clear, you could see every detail of the pool, quite deep. Several looked like you could dive in, swim down, and find The Little Mermaids grotto of treasures below!

The clarity and colors in many of the hot springs across the park were incredible! I think that deep down, I thought the photographs I had seen were doctored in some way. This was not the case! The colors were so bright; it was amazing! Colors were caused by the chemical makeup of the springs, the depths, the temperatures, the bacteria and microorganisms that were living in it, and the minerals left behind in the run-off. Speaking of run-off, many of the springs in this area literally emptied into Yellowstone Lake or rivers in the area.

The orange solid surrounding many of the pools are called "bacteria mats". They are made up of living microorganisms.

The orange solid surrounding many of the pools are called “bacteria mats”. They are made up of living microorganisms.

Besides the colors, I didn’t expect the ground all around the geyser basins to be thermal as well. That means the ground all around was also hot, some areas only having a thin layer of ground above underground springs. There were several areas where we could see recent sink holes, or where vegetation was obviously being impacted by acidic or thermal activity under the soil. In some areas, we could feel the heat rising from the ground, and often were greeted by hot steam from the geysers or hot springs. There were signs all over, reminding us to stay on the paths. Nikolai and I often wondered how they knew where it would be safe, and how they anchored the walkways so as not to collapse with new sinkholes. We also noticed buffalo prints and dung near many of the hot springs, and wondered how people could fall through, but not the huge bison!?!

I’ll have an upcoming post about the various areas we explored in the geyser basin and hot springs.

 

Our Western Adventure – Devil’s Tower to Big Horn

Devils Tower, shrouded in fog in the morning.

Devils Tower, shrouded in fog in the morning.

On Day 3 of our trip, we went to Devil’s Tower,  and drove through Big Horn on our way to Yellowstone.

I wasn’t really sure what to expect when it came to Devil’s Tower. After all, it was just a big rock formation, right? We saw it from our campground – cool. It was smaller than I expected from a distance. Even up close, it was only a 1.3 mile hike all around the base, though taller than it originally seemed. I fully expected all the kids to complain about having to walk around it; especially since it was drizzling when we got there, and covered in fog.

The sign that talked about how the Devils Tower rock formations were created.

The sign that talked about how the Devils Tower rock formations were created.

Instead, we all enjoyed the hike around the base. The fog quickly cleared. We saw rock climbers going up the tower, and coming down from the top. We saw some rocks that we got to climb on, beautiful overlooks, and learned a bit about how rock formations can be made. What was cool to read about, was how it started as solid magma, then tiny holes were formed as heat tried to escape. Eventually, the holes created cracks all the way down, which created columns in 4, 5, or 6 sided shapes. Did you know hexagons are nature’s most perfect fitting shape?

Devil's Tower after the fog cleared.

Devil’s Tower after the fog cleared.

There were several lookouts all around the tower. Some looked out over the valleys, some looked at forest or rock formations. We got some great pictures, learned a little, and had an enjoyable hike – the first of what would become many over the course of this trip.

As we were leaving Devil’s Tower, there was a prairie dog town just at the exit. We stopped and watched the playful little animals for a little while. I was snacking on dried banana chips, and decided to see if they liked them. Now, I know we are not supposed to feed the animals, but someone else was giving them Fritos, so I thought we’d at least offer them something healthy… the prairie dogs LOVED the banana chips!Now, I’m not condoning breaking the rules, but it was pretty cute to watch them…

This may have been one of the highest altitude points of our trip... as you can see, not much grows up there!

This may have been one of the highest altitude points of our trip… as you can see, not much grows up there!

After we were done exploring Devil’s Tower, we drove through Big Horn. The mountains were beautiful! We saw a lot of antelope as we drove through this area. I was only a little disappointed that we didn’t actually see any of the Big Horn Sheep while we were driving through. We did, however, see 2 herds of regular sheep, if that counts. 😉

We stopped at a few of the scenic overlooks, for even more amazing views. At one point, we were at “the tree line.” Practically nothing grows at that altitude. When we got out to take pictures at the overlook, we were surprised at how cold and windy it was up there at close to 10,000 feet above sea level!

One thing to note about Big Horn: USE THE RESTROOM BEFORE ENTERING THE PARK! I can’t emphasize this enough! We drove over 60 miles (at slow speeds due to being in the mountains) with people who had to pee, and there were no rest rooms or portapotties in sight! Being that we were in a National Forest, it felt a little wrong to just go pee in the woods!

One of the coolest features of this leg of the drive, was in Buffalo Bill State Park, an area between Big Horn and Yellowstone. We drove through three tunnels that went right through the mountains. We have plenty of concrete tunnels here in MN, but there’s something really cool about driving through a tunnel, knowing you are in the middle of a mountain, and seeing nothing but stone around you. Grace was a little freaked out by the thought that the tunnels could collapse around us at any moment (though, we all know they wouldn’t). She held her breath through each one. The last tunnel was really long, I was a little afraid she might pass out if we didn’t get to the end soon.

One of the tunnels going through the mountain in Buffalo Bill State Park.

One of the tunnels going through the mountain in Buffalo Bill State Park.

We pulled into Yellowstone after dark. We were almost immediately greeted by a HUGE porcupine in the road, that stared at us as if daring us to hit it. Seriously, I didn’t know porcupines could get that big. We didn’t hit it, we stopped and watched it for a minute as it gave us that daring stare, then went around it.

We also saw an elk cross the road in front of us. Finally, we found our campground and started to set up. That night, we were FREEZING!! None of use expected it to get THAT cold during the night. We all shivered despite wearing layers, having sleeping bags and blankets.

At the end of each day, I asked the kids what their favorite part of the day was. Their responses were varied. Dysin liked the Big Horn Mountains the best. Aspen liked almost hitting the porcupine. He was one of the only kids still awake at that point, so he actually got to see it. Grace and Nikolai both said their favorite part of the day was the hike around Devil’s Tower. Michael liked feeding the banana chips to the prairie dogs, and hiking at Devil’s Tower. He also was the only one that was warm that night.

It was a great one of many days on our trip.

Our Western Adventure – South Dakota

We recently got back from a 9 day adventure, which ultimately ended up in Yellowstone National Park.

This picture was taken in 2012 in the Badlands. We attempted to recreate this picture again this year.

This picture was taken in 2012 in the Badlands. We attempted to recreate this picture again this year.

Day 1

We left just after 8 am on a Friday morning. Leaving only 15 minutes later than our goal was pretty good for 7 people headed halfway across the country. We drove from MN to South Dakota. The kids were really good for the long trip! It was a little cramped, as we now have 4 teenagers and a 10 year old, and there was almost no complaining. We had 4 tablets, each with movies downloaded onto them, and a Kindle Fire, plus cell phones and an ipod. We let them watch/play on them for much of the drive out.

This is the recreation attempt in the Badlands this year. Hard to believe how much the kids have grown in the past 3 years!

This is the recreation attempt in the Badlands this year. Hard to believe how much the kids have grown in the past 3 years!

Our first stop was the Badlands. We got out, and explored at a few of the sites. We noticed things were much greener this year, than when we were last there 3 years ago. Michael and I explored a trail that I didn’t remember being there when we last went. It took us out over the tops of the hills, and to an awesome overlook! We also climbed a different rock formation, and came to another awesome view. Jason and the rest of the crew explored another area while we were doing our little hike.

Once we were done in the Badlands, we went to Sleepy Hollow, our campground in Wall, SD. We were about a block from Wall Drug, but didn’t go there. The campground was fine, nothing spectacular. We were only there to sleep.

Day 2

 

Many days, we stopped at picnic sites such as this, or ate picnic lunches in the car. This site was in Custer.

Many days, we stopped at picnic sites such as this, or ate picnic lunches in the car. This site was in Custer.

Saturday morning, we got up and headed to Custer State Park. On the way, we stopped at the Minuteman Missile Museum. The museum is brand new, and not quite complete. It will be a cool stop for people when it’s done. We didn’t see the actual missile outdoors as shown on the website. This was probably due to the fact that we got there right before they closed.

Shortly after entering Custer, we came across the buffalo herd. They were very close to the road, and I was surprised at how brave the bikers were. There was one HUGE male right next to our car. Seriously, I could have probably reached out and touched him! He was sniffing the rear of the buffalo in front of him (which the kids thought was hilarious). Then, he turned his head, and started sniffing towards our car. His head was bigger than my window… I started panicking a bit (which the kids also thought was quite funny). We couldn’t really move the car, due to stopped traffic… I was definitely ready to move on. Darn imagination, picturing him ramming right through my car door!

Baby buffalo taking a drink from its mama!

Baby buffalo taking a drink from its mama!

As we continued our drive, we stopped to pet and feed the donkeys. They are “wild animals”, but they are actually pretty tame. The kids fed pears to the donkeys, and thought it was pretty cool that they ate them right out of their hands. We also saw some antelope hanging out in the same pasture.

After leaving the wildlife loop, we drove through the Needles Highway. This was a bit nerve-wracking, as we were pulling the pop up camper. We were heading through at the end of Sturgis, so there were motorcycles everywhere. They weren’t exactly staying in their lanes during the hairpin turns, and we were sure we were going to end up hitting one. No, we didn’t, but a few got close. The tunnels were especially frustrating. There are 3 tunnels, all one lane. We honked upon entering the longest one, and there was no response. As we got right to the entrance, a whole group of motorcycles went through, followed by several others. We did our best to back up, but with a line of vehicles behind us, it was very difficult. Luckily, a motorcyclist behind us went ahead to the other side, and asked them to hold off so we could get through. We were thankful she did. This was probably the most stressful part of the trip. I don’t think we’ll drive that again with a camper behind us!

Grace, pretending to hold up Devils Tower at our campground.

Grace, pretending to hold up Devils Tower at our campground.

We wrapped up the day by heading to our campground at the KOA at the base of Devil’s Tower in Wyoming. They have a nightly showing of Close Encounters of the 3rd Kind. Unfortunately, we got there late enough in the evening, that we were still setting up camp, and did not get to watch. We ate dinner at the campground. Prices were a bit high for the quality of the food, but we were hungry, and didn’t care. The camp ground was nice, though the bathrooms were stinky! At the KOA, I threw in the laundry we had created so far. While the laundry was going, the kids played Exploding Kittens, and I sat in the laundry room reading. It was a peaceful night!

The Animals of the West

While we were in on vacation, we saw many different kinds of animals. On the way out to Yellowstone, we drove through Custer State Park and saw all the wildlife there. Overall, we saw many more animals than I expected. I will put pictures with the animals that I have pictures of.

In no particular order, here are the animals we saw:

Porcupine – we actually encountered 2 of them. Both were on the road. We joked that they were trying to commit porcu-cide.

Deer – we saw several mule deer

Grizzly bear – we saw one walking in the woods while driving through a wildlife preserve between Yellowstone and the Tetons

Lots of unique birds and waterfowl that we don’t see in MN

Swans – we saw 4 in a river

Several different types of hawks

Eagles

Bats

Fox

Trout

Weasel

Chipmunks

054

Here was a rabbit we saw in the Badlands in South Dakota.

This was either a bald eagle, or an osprey nest in south Dakota.

This was either a bald eagle, or an osprey nest in south Dakota.

My son Michael thought it was so cool that the donkey would eat a pear right out of his hand - in Custer State Park in South Dakota.

My son Michael thought it was so cool that the donkey would eat a pear right out of his hand.

We came across this herd several times during our week in Yellowstone. Sometimes they were by the road, sometimes by the hot springs.

We came across this herd several times during our week in Yellowstone. Sometimes they were by the road, sometimes by the hot springs.

This was one of many large bull elk we saw. This was the only one losing the velvet off his antlers. We also saw many female over the week in Yellowstone.

This was one of many large bull elk we saw. This was the only one losing the velvet off his antlers. We also saw many female over the week in Yellowstone.

This yellow-bellied marmot crossed our path as we were hiking to the top of Upper Falls in the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. When he ran, his tail moved as if he were a wind-up toy.

This yellow-bellied marmot crossed our path as we were hiking to the top of Upper Falls in the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. When he ran, his tail moved as if he were a wind-up toy.

This badger did not like that the trail to the river was a little too close to his home. We were a little nervous having to walk past him to get back to our car.

This badger did not like that the trail to the river was a little too close to his home. We were a little nervous having to walk past him to get back to our car.

These playful little prairie dogs were right next to the road near Devils Tower in Wyoming. They loved the dried banana slices we were throwing them.

These playful little prairie dogs were right next to the road near Devils Tower in Wyoming. They loved the dried banana slices we were throwing them.

We saw several antelope between South Dakota and Yellowstone. This one was in Custer State Park.

We saw several antelope between South Dakota and Yellowstone. This one was in Custer State Park.

This little snake crossed our path down by the Boiling River in Yellowstone.

This little snake crossed our path down by the Boiling River in Yellowstone.

Tent caterpillars of some sort at Devils Tower.

Tent caterpillars of some sort at Devils Tower.

Beetles like this were all over the place. They kept landing on Nikolai.

Beetles like this were all over the place. They kept landing on Nikolai.

Lessons Learned about Yellowstone

Here is our family at Artists' Point in the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. Left to right: Me, Aspen, Nikolai, Michael, Dysin, Grace, and Jason

Here is our family at Artists’ Point in the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. Left to right: Me, Aspen, Nikolai, Michael, Dysin, Grace, and Jason

Our family just got back from a week-long trip to Yellowstone National Park. There were a few things we learned:

*Yellowstone gets VERY cold at night! The first night there, we were all shivering, even though we were sleeping in sweat pants, socks, t-shirt and hoodie, and were in our sleeping bags. We had to buy warmer sleeping bags for the two boys who slept in the tent. Then, we used their old sleeping bags to add a layer to two people sleeping in the camper.

*Despite a cold start to the day, and even a couple rainy starts, it heats up quick in the mountains. We all wore layers that we shed as the day went on.

*Groceries are expensive in the park. There are several General Stores that had a decent selection of groceries, but things like meat and cheese for sandwiches, was about double what it is at home. Despite the prices, we had picnic lunches almost every day, so we had to purchase them a few times at park-prices.

*A large water jug is a GREAT idea!  With the heat, and how much walking we did, we drank a lot! Several places throughout the park have water filling stations. I expected the water to taste like well-water does here, but it was very fresh and clean tasting! We got a 7 gallon water jug that we kept in the back of our vehicle. We filled it up several times throughout the week, which we used to fill our water bottles several times a day.

Old Faithful during one of its many eruptions per day.

Old Faithful during one of its many eruptions per day.

*The food at the cafeteria at Old Faithful Lodge is delicious! Portion sizes are more than most people can eat, and it’s very reasonably priced. We ate there twice – once for dinner, once for lunch.

*They take their bear warnings very seriously! Recently, there was a man who was attacked, partially eaten, and cached for future consumption. Several trails were closed. The bear and her two cubs were captured during the course of the time we were out there. She was put down, her two cubs are going to be sent to the Toledo, Ohio zoo.

*Don’t take selfies with the buffalo. Recently, a 17 year old girl was trying to get close to a buffalo to take a selfie. The buffalo gored her with his horn. She did not survive. The park’s recommendation is to stay at least 25 yards away from most animals, and 100+ for bears and wolves.

*There are a lot of stupid people in the park. No matter how many warnings there are all over about not getting too close to the wildlife, A LOT of people got out of their cars and were not afraid to get close to the animals, especially buffalo. We saw one man, who was between our car and a buffalo, get too close, and the buffalo stomped towards him to let him know he didn’t like it. I was pretty sure we were going to watch him die right in front of us… our car would have been wrecked too… Whenever we saw people get too close to the animals, we’d say, “Darwinism at its finest…” Most surprising, was how close people let their little kids get!?!

*There are a LOT of rules you need to follow in the park. The rules are for the safety of you AND the animals. It’s in your best interest to read the signs (and the rules from the campgrounds), and to follow them. This includes bringing all your food with you (or using the shared bear-proof food boxes available), and throwing your trash in the bear-proof trash bins that can be found all over the park. Another important rule includes staying on the trails. In many areas of the park, the ground surrounding the walkways are thermal. One wrong step could open up a sink hole and/or new hot spring. Other areas are eroding due to extensive foot-traffic. In order to protect the paths and the park, it is a good idea to stay on the path, and not kick the rocks or gravel around.

While the bandana did not block all the sulphur smell of the hot springs, it was very helpful!

While the bandana did not block all the sulphur smell of the hot springs, it was very helpful!

*The hot springs are stinky! I was warned by my Mother-in-Law, thank goodness! I brought a bandana along, and whenever we were checking out stinky springs, I’d put it over my nose. I was glad I did. I heard several people say, “That is one smart woman.” I also heard people say that it was a good idea, and they pull their own bandanas over their noses.

*You can’t use mileage to gauge how long it will take you to get anywhere in the park. The speed limit through much of the park is 25 or 35 MPH. You also never know when there might be a buffalo herd, or elk on the road that you need to stop for. You also might want to do some sight-seeing along the way to wherever you are going.

I did not expect to see nearly as many buffalo as we saw. Often, traffic was stopped by herds crossing the street.

I did not expect to see nearly as many buffalo as we saw. Often, traffic was stopped by herds crossing the street.

*Use the pull-offs or scenic overlooks. You won’t regret it! There are so many beautiful sights to see in Yellowstone. If you don’t pull over a few times, you will miss them. Many are hidden gems that require a short hike. It sometimes took us an hour or two longer than we expected to get somewhere because we pulled off to see some hot springs or other sights. If you can stay relaxed about your plans, you will really enjoy all the park has to offer.

*I’d recommend wearing shoes that are good for walking on uneven terrain. I alternated between tennis shoes and sandals. I still ended up with a blister under my pinky toe, which was not fun to walk on the last day.

*Yellowstone has a lot of cool history. Take a few minutes at the various sites to read the plaques that give history of the area, or explain the geological features and how they were made. We learned a lot on this trip just by reading signs!

One of the many amazingly colorful hot springs we saw.

One of the many amazingly colorful hot springs we saw.

*Pictures truly do not do this park justice! The mountains, waterfalls, valleys, wildlife, hot springs, geysers… all are so much more beautiful in person. When I saw all the colors of the hot springs in pictures, I thought they must have been enhanced. NOPE! The minerals, bacteria, acids, etc. are so much more colorful than you can even imagine!

*The altitude seemed to mess with the tire pressure some. Our gauges on the Traverse were showing some really screwy numbers for the tire pressure. In the end, it was fine…..

*Be prepared to spend some time looking for parking, especially mid-afternoon. We drove around for about 40+ minutes looking for a place to park at Old Faithful.

*It’s OK to be over-prepared. We had planned on eating dinners at the campground several evenings. Most nights, we didn’t get back to the campground until after 9, so we ended up eating at the various locations we went to. We had a lot of food/spice items we didn’t end up using, but we would rather have it that way, than not have enough.

*A couple things to make sure you have: garbage bags, dish soap, duck tape, ways to charge camera batteries/ phone batteries, lanterns, wet wipes to clean hands when the sanitizer in the rest stops is not enough.

*There is no phone signal in most of Yellowstone. We were not quite prepared (mentally) for the fact that not only was there no wifi, there wasn’t even a phone signal. Not a big deal, really, except when you think about all the what-ifs that could happen driving in the mountains, surrounded by wild-life. We all survived just fine!

*Finally, we learned that 5 days was not enough. We saw a lot of wonderful things, but we have a list of things we missed that we want to go back and do or see. Even the teenagers want to go back and experience even more of the park!

Feel free to add any lessons you learned in Yellowstone National Park in the comments below.

Newly added: 8/23/15

* If you are going to do a road trip like this, it’s worth it to buy the seasonal Interagency Park Pass. It costs $80, and gets you into all National Parks, U.S. Forests, etc. for one year.  It does not get you into Custer. You can buy a pass that’s good for a week there. With the pass, we didn’t have to pay for admission into the Badlands, Devil’s Tower, Big Horn, Yellowstone, and the Grand Tetons. There are plenty of other places you could use this on, if you were going into the Black Hills, Mt. Rushmore, etc. It’s worth the money.

* Many of the different areas have trail guides. They have maps of the many different attractions at each location, such as geysers, hot springs, waterfalls, trails, etc. They also have some information about the sites, and make a great keepsake of the trip. They have a recommended $1 donation at the boxes these are located at. They are very helpful!

*There are free guides available at several locations that include maps of the entire area. The two we referred to the most were the “Oh Ranger” Yellowstone National Park guide (it has a green cover with buffalo on it), and the Jackson Hole Traveler, a white book, with a moose drawn on the cover. The Jackson Hole one had maps of the Jackson, WY area, as well as maps of Grand Teton Park and Yellowstone.

 

%d bloggers like this: