That saddening day approached- the end of the vacation- as we made the long drive back to Colorado from northern Montana. As soon as we left Glacier National Park we yearned for our return visit. The scenery was stunning, but we did not see much wildlife (not a surprise considering our limited back-country excursions). We wanted to get our wild animal fix, and there is no better way to do it than visiting Yellowstone National Park. We had purchased an annual National Parks pass in January, and the northwest corner of Wyoming would add two more to the five National Parks or Monuments we had visited this year.
I wanted to stop by Flathead Lake (the largest natural fresh water lake in the western part of the contiguous United States) on our way out of Montana, as I had never seen it before. I also wanted to visit an old friend who lived nearby, but neither would happen. Schedules didn’t jive, and we had over extended ourselves on this trip. Instead, thanks to the enormous size of Montana, this day would amount to nothing but driving after we left Glacier. We stayed the night in Bozeman and got up early to enjoy a drive through Yellowstone and rendezvous with my ranger friend Tim at Old Faithful for lunch.
As a youngster I had always enjoyed the drive from Bozeman to the north entrance of Yellowstone. The valley south of Livingston with the impressive back drop of the Absaroka mountains is beautiful and brought back a flood of memories. Once in Yellowstone I was disappointed to not see any bighorn sheep between Gardiner and Mammoth Hot Springs, as I have nearly every time I’ve visited. I was also hoping to see a large herd of elk in Mammoth, but there were none. Our dissatisfaction was short lived, for only minutes after leaving Mammoth we had a great view of a black bear (if you’ve been keeping track that is three black bears in three states).
A little while later we drove up to large bull bison, walking down the road like he owned it (our car would have been no match). I’ve seen this many times over the years, but it’s still cool.
At one point near Dunraven Pass we came up to another car jam. We found a place to pull over and got out. For the longest time we could not figure out what people were looking at and photographing. I kept looking into the trees for a bear, but in the end it was just a marmot chowing down by the side of the road!
This similar situation would happen two more times; once by Canyon Village (where we were apparently a few minutes too late to a grizzly party), and again in the extreme sense in Hayden Valley next to the Yellowstone River. Finding out what everyone was looking at took so long that we eventually hiked down to the edge of the river and only then saw the four or so river otters playing in the water. Not the easiest creatures to photograph, as they were just rolling around on top of each other like a school of fun-loving eels.
We finally made our way to Old Faithful and met my friend Tim. I had not seen him in 20 years- the year after we had graduated from high school. What a great guy. A little time with him made me feel stupid for letting so many years pass.
After lunch we got back into the car and made our way down to Grand Teton National Park.
Our final destination for the day was Pindale, Wyoming. I did some work for the city government a year and a half ago and had fond memories of having dinner at the Wind River Brewing Company. After a long day there is nothing better than enjoying a good meal, washed down with an awesome micro brew, in a great atmosphere, with friendly service .
We had originally planned on camping that night, but after such a long day we didn’t really feel like roughing it. We sucked it up and spent the money for a more comfortable bed and a hot shower, and did not regret it. The next morning we drove the rest of the way home.
That’s all, folks! Ten days, 3,600 miles, four states, two countries, and three national parks! Too exhausting to ever do something like that again, but it was nice to cover so much ground and see all that we did. Looking forward to flying next year!