"" Writer's Wanderings

Thursday, October 08, 2015

Road Trip 2015 - Yellowstone National Park, The Bison

First of all, no matter how many times you sing "where the buffalo roam," it does not make it true. As we listened to a park ranger explain (all the while a toothpick perched in the corner of his mouth) there are no buffalo in the U.S. Nope. There are water buffalo and cape buffalo in other parts of the world but what is known as the American buffalo is really a bison. He seemed to know his stuff. I'll take his word for it.

Our first close encounter with wildlife was with the bison. We were driving along and I caught a glimpse of something out of the corner of my eye and yelled for Bob to stop. Good thing there was no one behind us! He backed up a bit and there, standing so still on the crest of a small hill that I thought maybe it was a statue, was a huge bison. He slowly looked us over and then went back to sleeping or daydreaming or whatever it was we'd distracted him from.

Now if nothing else had happened, I would have been content with that close encounter but later, it got up close and personal! We rounded a curve and had to slow suddenly because there were a few bison on the road. The more we inched forward the more bison seemed to appear until we were surrounded. I rolled the window down cautiously. I'd had a bison stick his head in the window at a drive-thru animal safari once and the slobber was atrocious. Of course then the bison knew there was food. These guys and gals just were lumbering on to find a grazing spot.

We were thrilled obviously and within the next couple of days would find ourselves up close and personal several other times. One morning we drove down a side road where there were several large herds of bison and took some great pictures there.

At the end of one day, as we were exiting one of the other areas of interest where we'd stopped, Bob had to stop the car because the bison were leading a string of cars down the street. He stopped and got out of the car to take a video. The bison were actually beginning to run. I happened to turn and look in the other direction when I realized that there was a group of bison running through the field and straight at our car. I yelled for Bob to get back in and just as he did, the bison seemed to put on the brakes, look startled that we were there and then the group split and went around us. My heart didn't stop but it sure did pound! It was repeatedly pointed out through rangers and signs that bison can run up to 30 mph.

We saw dry bison and wet bison. Big old bison and young calves trotting beside their moms. Bison standing. Bison walking. Bison running. Bison laying in the grazing areas. Bison crossing the road and meandering down the middle of it. If you go to Yellowstone and you don't see any bison you probably have your eyes closed. There are said to be about 5,000 in the park that roam freely and just in case you don't believe that they can be dangerous, the NPS has a video on their website to warn you.

The most dangerous thing we saw was a photographer who was so engrossed in taking pictures of a large elk that he didn't realize a bison was walking right down the path beside him. Thankfully he pulled his tripod up and backed away and let the one ton bison with the horns pass by.

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Road Trip 2015 - Yellowstone

After a long, almost seven hour drive, we arrived in West Yellowstone, Montana. The town reminded me of a western mining town--of course it was modern day rendition of the old era. The Yellowstone Park Hotel would be our home base for the next four nights.

To try to save a little time, we scurried down to the information center for the park which was just about to close. As a matter of fact as we were waiting for the couple in front of us to finish, the lights went out.

The park ranger looked at us, shrugged his shoulders, and said, "How can I help you?" He gave us a quick run down of what to pay attention to in the park and where the best spots to observe wildlife were. We went off to find a cup of coffee and a place to sit and peruse the literature he put into our hands.

The next three days were amazing. The weather turned on us and offered a little rain but it didn't dampen our enthusiasm. There are basically two loops to the park, an upper and lower. We knew that the weather was iffy for the first two days and we wanted to see Old Faithful when it was predicted to be better weather on our third day. With that in mind we drove the upper loop all the way to Tower where we discovered that the lodge there where we thought we'd get lunch was closed. Undaunted, we doubled back and found something to eat at Mammoth where there was a hotel and dining area and some elk mingling with all the people.

The neat thing about our drive was that the rain either slowed or stopped almost every time we were ready to get out of the car. It did the same thing the next day only this time it was actually rain mixed with snow. We started off the morning with a light snow covering and news that the road between the Tower where we'd left off the day before and the Canyon where we were going to turn north and finish the upper loop was closed due to ice on the road. We decided to head south instead and explore the area between the Canyon and the Lake. That worked well with the weather really cooperating by the end of the day.

Our third day was not as sunny as we'd hoped but at least it wasn't raining or snowing as we watched Old Faithful and explored the other geothermal areas in the lower loop of the park. That day we spent almost as much time watching wildlife as we did the geysers.

So, how many pictures of bison and elk can one person take? Lots! And there was so much more. I decided that the next series of posts on Yellowstone will not be a blow by blow each day but rather divided up into categories of wildlife and natural wonders. Stay with me. The best is yet to come.

Friday, October 02, 2015

Road Trip 2015 - Going To The Sun Road, GNP

Our last day in Glacier National Park was a planned drive from east to west on the Going To The Sun Road. The construction of the road that bisects the park began in 1921 and was completed in 1932. Several small tunnels were obviously a challenge back in the day. The name of the road derives from an old story from the Blackfeet of a deity named Sour Spirit who came down from the sun to teach the braves how to hunt. On his journey back to the sun, Sour Spirit had his image reproduced on the mountain now called Going To The Sun from which the road takes its name.

I wasn't sure what to expect since I had read reviews that said the road was treacherous with narrow spots and sharp curves. Probably as the seasons change it could get a bit dicey but the dry roads were just fine and while they weren't a four lane highway, there was plenty of room to maneuver even when faced with a large RV. Those who are squeamish though and travel west to east rather than the way we did might have a fright or two. It always seems like you are closer to the edge than you are.

There was some construction being done on parts of the road and that will continue as the need for repair on a 75 year old road arises so some parts of the road that usually allowed pulling off for points of view were closed. Other than that, we had an easy go.

The small park newspaper that is available as you enter the park had in the center section a map and numbered areas of interest along with the explanations for each. There is a shuttle that runs during the peak season and stops at several places along the way for you to get out and explore.

There were lots of good views of several of the glaciers the park is named for. Several options for boat rides on some of the lakes and rivers are available but many of those were closing for the season. A hike to a glacier was also not on our to do list so we just enjoyed the views from the road.

After stopping at Logan Pass, an elevation of 6,646 feet, where the road crosses the continental divide, we wound our way down to Lake MacDonald stopping for a few more good views and a waterfall or two, including one where the whole wall next to the road "weeps". At MacDonald Lodge, we enjoyed a nice lunch and then continued on to the west side of Glacier National Park and the end of the road--for the park.

The end of the road for us was a very nice B&B, Good Medicine, in Whitefish, Montana. Whitefish reminded us a lot of Redmond, WA, where our son and family used to live. The lake looked very similar as did the surrounding landscape. The town of Whitefish had a distinct western flavor but we ate at a restaurant that featured Cajun/southern cooking.

And of course, it was time to do some laundry before heading to Yellowstone.

Thursday, October 01, 2015

Road Trip 2015 - Many Glacier, GNP

Our next foray into Glacier National Park took us up to the Many Glacier area. We saw a sign for the Apikuni Falls and stopped for a morning walk. The walk was more than we'd bargained for. No where on the sign marking the trail did it say what the climb was. Later, when we found some literature on hiking trails, we discovered that it was a 700 foot rise meaning that the end of the trail at the falls was 700 feet higher than the beginning. Add to that the fact that we were already at a higher altitude with the mountains, it was a real lung burner.

Halfway up the trail we stopped and reconsidered. Nope. We'd made it that far we were going to see it through. We let the youngsters and the hearty hikers pass us by and we took it slowly, stopping often to just look around and make noise--for the bears.

We were rewarded with a view of the falls near the end of the trail. You had to climb over some wet rocks to get to the base of the falls but we figured we'd gone far enough and had seen enough. The walk down was a breeze and took about a third of the time as the way up.

On the way to the Many Glacier Hotel where we planned to eat lunch we passed a slew of cars parked on the side of the road, people standing around them with cameras and binoculars poised. We pulled over as a park ranger signaled us to a free spot. Bob rolled down his window and asked what was up. The ranger pointed to the hillside and said there were several bears there. We should get out and take a look. We did and watched for a while as a black grizzly and a brown mama with two cubs foraged for snacks along the hillside. They were quite a ways up and I wished for a better long distance lens but blowing the picture up at least gives a good idea of what we saw.

After enjoying a delicious lunch at the hotel, we found the trail the ranger by the bears had told us about where we might see moose. We took a short hike, thankfully level, to a small shallow lake and sat with a dozen other people who were waiting to see if the moose would appear. Apparently the female had been along the opposite shore in the morning and the male usually made an afternoon appearance.

A couple of well placed roots provided a nice spot to sit and we waited. And we waited. And we waited. About forty-five minutes later we decided the moose was not going to show any time soon and a cup of coffee sounded really good. We got our coffee and drove off to visit the Saint Mary Visitor Center.

The Visitor Center was at the beginning of the Going To The Sun Road that we would travel the next day. It would save a little time if we went through the exhibits there then rather than wait for the morning.

Our drive back again took us through the rush hour cattle traffic and we slowed several times to make sure they didn't decide to cross in front of us.
Some of the glaciers.

In the little town of East Glacier, we had a wonderful dinner topped off by our first taste of huckleberry pie. It's sort of like blueberry but a little sweeter, I think. They make everything out of it--huckleberry vinaigrette, jam, taffy, etc. Wonder if they have to fend off the bears to get enough?

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