Adventures in Yellowstone: Spring 2021

swalker

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Thanks for the comments on the pictures.

My wife and I have had one or more siamese cats for most of our married lives. The only breaks have been when one dies and I am just not ready to "replace" them just yet.

In this case, our wonderful cat died almost 3 years ago. About 2 years ago, Lori found the two cats in the pictures and watched them closely as they were born all the way through getting close to being ready to be placed with their new owners. She visited them several times and fell in love with them before she even was able to bring them home.

The large, lighter colored one is a male lilac point siamese named Po. He is by far the largest cat we have ever had. He is intelligent, lazy, loving, and stubborn!

The darker colored one is a female chocolate point siamese named Kei. She is small, sweet, curious, cunning, and very naughty. She likes to play. If you are not willing to play with her at the moment, she will do something she knows she is not supposed to do just so that you will pay attention to her.

I will try to post a few more pictures of them on this trip.

As I described earlier, the weather was wonderful for the first 3 days of the trip. We tried to spend time walking/rolling around the Upper Geyser Basin while the weather was good. We brought my wife's bike so she could ride alongside me (where the park allows it). Otherwise, I kind of get excited about seeing the next great thing and seem to leave her behind:).

This is what we were doing the day the weather was supposed to change. We saw many geysers erupt, which I really enjoy. I have many favorites, and one of them is Grand geyser.

Grand is the tallest, predictable, fountain geyser in the world. It is set at the base of a hillside, which makes for wonderful viewing.

The Grand complex consists of quite a few geysers, with Grand being the largest. It includes Vent, Turban, Grand, West Triplet, Percolator, The Sputniks, and Rift.

Grand has a major eruption about every 5 to 7 hours. Looking at the pattern of recent eruptions, it is pretty easy to narrow down the likely window for the next eruption to an hour or two.

While waiting for a Grand eruption, there are many things to see. Often, there are marmots running around on the hillside behind Grand. It is common to see Ravens and an Osprey or two fly by. In the meantime, there is a pattern of thermal behavior to see. Various thermal features in the Grand complex have behavior that lets us know when an eruption of Grand geyser is likely imminent.

The day the weather changed for the worse, we were waiting at Grand geyser for an eruption as threatening clouds blew in from the west. The temperature dropped significantly while we waited. Eventually, Grand erupted and the scene was fantastic, with Grand erupting in front of ominous clouds, then Turban erupting, and then Vent erupting. What a spectacle. I have attached a picture that does not do the scene justice.

This was just one of the many geysers we saw during the 3 days of good weather. After that, we transitioned into wildlife watching, which kept us in the car as we drove around Yellowstone in nasty weather. I will describe more about that in the next post.

Steve
 

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KevinM

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Steve, you say the photo of the Grand erupting with the backdrop of the approaching weather doesn’t do it justice, but it is incredible nonetheless. Po and Kei are freaking adorable, and they have obviously found your coach perfect for lounging just about anywhere and everywhere!
 

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When the weather turned cold and wet, Lori and I spent time driving around Yellowstone looking at wildlife. Yellowstone is a large park. For example, it takes a couple of hours to drive from the Madison campground (where we stayed) to the Lamar Valley, which is in the northeast portion of the park. The Lamar valley is well known for its wildlife. With the bad weather, we had ample opportunity to make this drive (and others) and we did see quite a bit of wildlife.

We saw many grizzly bears (with cubs), black bears (with cubs), elk, and buffalo (with calves). We also saw blacktail deer, bighorn sheep, mountain goats, wolves, coyotes, fox, and a moose (which are pretty rare in Yellowstone). The birds were amazing, as always. We had wonderful views of osprey fishing and also saw bald eagles, golden eagles, ravens (a favorite of mine), great blue herons, trumpeter swans, mountain bluebirds, and many, many more.

Unfortunately, there were not very many opportunities to photograph wildlife. The best times to photograph wildlife are at dawn and dusk. Due to the various mechanical breakdowns we endured, we needed to be at our motorhome at dawn and dusk. Due to the enormous crowds of people, we could not find a place to pull the wheelchair van over and park when we did see wildlife close enough to the road that I could potentially take a picture.

Yellowstone was very busy while we were there. I read after we returned home that this was the busiest May in history for Yellowstone. Visitation was up 11% from the previous May high, which was in 2019.

Typically, many of the visitors to Yellowstone arrive by tour bus. So, one vehicle brings in around 50 or more visitors. It is not unusual to see 50 to 100 large tour buses every day. This year was different. There had been a ban on tour buses due to Covid. That ban was lifted just before we arrived, but it took awhile to get things going again. This spring, I saw only 2 tour buses. That meant just about everyone in the park arrived by private vehicle (car, van, SUV, etc.).

To make matters worse, almost all the lodging in the park was closed due to Covid. Only cabins with private baths were available, and there just are not many of those. Also, only 2 of Yellowstone's many campground were open (again, due to Covid).

That meant just about all the people in the park drove private vehicles into the park every morning and back out of the park every evening. The number of cars on Yellowstone's roads was astounding. I had never seen such traffic there!

So, I just have a few wildlife photos to show you from this trip. I will say that going into this trip, one of my objectives was to be able to get a nice picture of a fox. I had never had the opportunity to take a quality picture of a fox in Yellowstone.

One rainy day, we drove all the way out to the Lamar valley and then kept going toward the park's northeast entrance. We stopped at Barronette Peak (I know that is the incorrect spelling, but that is the official spelling for this particular mountain). Normally, we can see mountain goats on the peak. They are hard to pick out in the spring, but I did manage to see one.

While looking for mountain goats, a fox wandered up to where we were parked. I was able to get out my camera and snap a few shots. I was delighted to have the opportunity to do so!

On another rainy day, we again made the trip to the Lamar valley. On the way back to the campground, we came across a family of sandhill cranes at the very western end of the valley. They were wonderful. We were able to get my camera set up and I got a few shots of them. Those are hard birds to get close to in Yellowstone, but these were pretty close to the road. I was really excited to be able to take their pictures.

And, finally, while we were camping in the Tetons, we discovered there was a fox den in the campground. I spent an evening there being bitten by mosquitos and took a few pictures of the fox and her 3 kits. Unfortunately, the adult fox had a tracking collar and ear tags, so while the photos are wonderful, they don't really capture the spirit of "wild"life.

Steve
 

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affected

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beautiful detail in those photos Steve, there is nothing quite like photographing wildlife 👏💜
 

swalker

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After being in Yellowstone for about 2 weeks, the weather started to dry out a bit. We still had showers and it was well below freezing most nights, but the days of constant overcast and precipitation were behind us.

With the improving weather, we tried to spend a few days doing trails that would allow me to get into Yellowstone's backcountry on my four wheel drive wheelchair (the Magic Mobility X4).

For one of these trips, we visited the Lone Star geyser area. This is a few miles south and a bit west of the Old Faithful area.

There used to be a road to the Lone Star geyser, but that road was closed to vehicles many years ago. Now it is a degraded asphalt track that is open for hikers and bikers. It is about 2.5 miles from the parking lot to the Lone Star geyser.

We had a pleasant walk/ride along that track, having to cross a flooded portion of the trail where the wheelchair wheels got wet up to the rims. We made it through that just fine and continued on our way to the geyser.

We ate lunch at the geyser and then continued further into the backcountry, taking the Shoshone Lake trail toward Shoshone lake.

The Shoshone Lake trail is a narrow single track. It crosses a stream over a "bridge" that is a single board. Obviously, I had to find a way around that, and I did.

The trail also traverses a few hillsides that are uncomfortably steep. The trail was just barely wide enough for the wheelchair. Rolling off the edge of the trail would have resulted in a tumble for sure. We made it through those sections as well.

As usual, I managed to get a bit ahead of my wife. As I was sitting in the wheelchair waiting for my wife to catch up, a trail crew came from the opposite direction. They had been making some repairs to the trail further ahead. They were surprised to see me on the trail. I suspect I was the first wheelchair they had seen on that trail:).

My wife caught up with me and we continued on our journey toward the bridge over the Firehole river. We reached that bridge and managed to make it across the very rough approach on to the bridge. We crossed the bridge and continued a short distance on the other side.

I knew that was as far as I could go, because I have done this trail before. I stopped and my wife scouted ahead to confirm it would be a bad idea for me to try to continue. We took a break and turned around there. We stopped for some pictures at the bridge and then retraced our steps back to the car, overcoming all the same obstacles we had faced on the way in, but in the opposite direction.

It was certainly a fun trip in beautiful country. It was great to be outside in nicer weather after all the cold, wet weather we had endured over the previous 10 days or so. We did about 7 miles total on that trip.

By then, it was early evening. We decided to stop by the Upper Geyser basin on our way back to the campground (it was on the way). We were not planning to get out of the van, but changed our minds and decided to do a short tour in the wheelchair. I am so glad we did.

We spent just under an hour walking/riding on the boardwalks of the Upper Geyser basin. In that brief time, I saw some of Yellowstone's largest geysers erupt.

Grand geyser (the largest, predictable, fountain geyser in the world) not only erupted, but had a double eruption, which is unusual. The evening lighting was absolutely magnificent. Daisy geyser, another of Yellowstone's major geysers also erupted. Then, Lion geyser erupted. It is another of the major geysers. I then noticed that in the distance, Old Faithful geyser erupted. What an evening.

We decided to start making our way back to the van. On the way, we found out that an indicator geyser for Beehive geyser (one of my favorite geysers) had started erupting, meaning that Beehive geyser could erupt soon. We waited and watched it erupt.

In all my years of watching geysers in Yellowstone I don't recall ever seeing this many major geysers erupt in such a short period of time. It was stunning and magnificent. We really enjoyed it.

After that, we made our way back to the motorhome to fire up the generator and turn up the heat so that the water lines would not freeze overnight (temperatures were predicted to be well below freezing).

Here are some pictures from that day.
 

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KevinM

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Simply awesome, Steve. What a day.
 

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Wow. That’s amazing.
 

Mary2

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What a great day!
 

Fusia

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Steve, I'm so enjoying your stories and your photos are amazing! The cackle of sandhill cranes is one of my favorite sounds in the world, so I particularly enjoyed your photo of the sandhills with the chick.

You mentioned that you really like ravens… many years ago, my husband and I took a snow coach into Yellowstone during the winter to to stay several nights at the Old Faithful Snow Lodge so we could snowshoe and ski. That was back in the day when there were no limits on snowmobiles, so Old Faithful was usually packed with snowmobilers during the day when Old Faithful was scheduled to erupt. One afternoon, we were walking through the big parking lot where all of the snowmobiles were parked, we noticed a bunch of ravens dive bombing the snowmobiles. It turns out, if they hit the seat hard enough the seat would pop open, allowing them access to what was in the little storage area under the seat. They had learned that most of the snowmobilers stored their sack lunches under the seat! So, the ravens filled their bellies and the snowmobilers had to go hungry.😊 They are very smart, social animals.
 

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I am really glad folks are enjoying this thread. There is no doubt that we had some challenges on our trip, but we also had a wonderful time. I am so glad we were able to pull it off.

Fusia, I have seen ravens do amazing things in their quest for food. They are certainly among the most intelligent birds. I also like how playful they can be. Sometimes they seem to take joy in flying just above a car an a straightaway, as if they are racing it.

The day after we did our hike to Lone Star geyser, we decided to do the hike from Fountain Flats to the Grand Prismatic spring overlook, with a detour to Fairy Falls on the way back.

Most of the trail is an old dirt road. The road has been closed to cars for many years, though there are very rarely service vehicles on it.

After all the wet and cold weather we had endured, it was great to be out on a warm day. My wife was on her bicycle, which is allowed on the main trail, but not on the side trails we did, and I was riding the Magic Mobility X4 four wheel drive wheelchair.

We had a wonderful hike past hot springs, a lake, and then along the Firehole river. There were very few people on the trail. Along the way, we passed one of the two backcountry campsites that are designated for handicapped users. This one is in a nice setting, but there is no toilet, so would difficult for some users (like me).

The other handicapped backcountry campsite is at Ice Lake and is also in a nice setting. It has a wheelchair accessible toilet, but is only 1/4 of a mile from a major road and just a couple of hundred yards from a quarry. It is a very noisy place during the day.

I have looked into camping at one of the backcountry sites, but it just does not seem practical to do so. But, every time I roll by one in my wheelchair I think about how I might someday manage to spend a night in one.

It was a very pleasant day and the miles seemed to go by too quickly. We came to a part of the trail that was flooded, but I managed to get my wheelchair around the edge of it, just getting the wheels wet up to the rims. I was worried about getting stuck in the flooded part!

After about 3.5 miles we came to the turnoff for the trail to the Grand Prismatic spring overlook. That trail is a real challenge for a wheelchair! It is only about 400 yards long with an elevation gain of about 135 feet. That is steep for a wheelchair! I was in the four wheel drive chair, which can do steeper, more treacherous slopes. I have done this trail in the four wheel drive wheelchair before, so had confidence that with care I could make it to the top.

This is a relatively new trail, having opened just 3 or 4 years ago. I was surprised to find that the trail had deteriorated a bit and that much of the trail had a significant lean to the downhill side. The damage was sufficient that I could not ride the wheelchair on the right side of the tral, which would is the side we would normally walk on in the US. Instead, I had to hug the left side for most of the trail.

Many people could not adjust to seeing a wheelchair on the "wrong" side of the trail. Several waited patiently for me to move over to the proper side! I could not. I also can no longer speak loudly enough to converse with someone a few feet away, so it was hard to communicate with them that I was on the "wrong" side for a reason.

Most people figured it out, but there were a couple of young men who definitely did not. They were pretty obnoxious. I received comments that wheelchairs (and their users) should not be allowed. It was easy to ignore the verbal insults, but they just would not move out of the way. So, I did what I have done before in such situations, I slowly moved the wheelchair toward them. I was confident their innate sense of self preservation would cause them move before contact was made. They did move:).

My wife, who was behind me, heard those young meen grumbling and cursing as they passed her.

This side trail is a real challenge even for the Magic Mobility X4 wheelchair. If I try to climb the trail at full speed, it will overheat and shut down. I then have to wait for it to cool down sufficiently to turn it back on and continue the journey.

So, instead of riding up that trail at full speed, I did it at reduced speed. At the halfway point, I stopped the wheelchair and let it cool down for a few minutes before continuing. Doing that allowed me to make it to the top without incident.

The trail ends at a few steps that I can still ascend (and descend!), so I was able to make it onto the observation platform.

We had a beautiful view of Grand Prismatic spring. It is the largest hot spring in Yellowstone and I think the second largest in the world. The water is a wonderful blue color and there are streams of bacterial mats of various bright colors emanating from it. This was a beautiful day to view it, and I was able to snap a photo to share with you.

We then headed back down to the main trail, which was a very fun ride in the wheelchair!

Once we rejoined the main trail, we headed back toward the van. After a few hundred yards, we took another side trail, this one to Fairy Falls. That is a wonderful trail to a beautiful, 200-foot high waterfall. The wheelchair can make it almost to the waterfall, but I had to turn around a couple of hundred yards short due to big rocks in the trail.

I turned around there and my wife continued on to the waterfall. There were quite a few bugs where I turned around, so I continued solo back to the main trail and waited for her there.

From there, we we continued on the main trail back toward our van again. Along the way, we passed one of my favorite places to stop for lunch. It is on a bluff overlooking the Firehole river. As we pulled over for lunch, a beautiful great blue heron glided majestically low overhead.

For our entire Yellowstone trip, we had kept a lookout for a particular trumpeter swan that hangs out on the Firehole river. We had looked in vain, never seeing it. Yet, right where we pulled over for lunch, we saw that trumpeter swan feeding in front of us. It was wonderful.

In the distance, there was a fly fisherman fishing with no apparent success. We watched him and the other critters as we ate lunch. There were a couple of very large solitary buffalo grazing near us, so we kept a careful watch on them to make sure they did not get too close.

As we finished lunch, the great blue heron returned, landing on the opposite bank of the Firehole river. It started fishing. We watched it fish for about 15 minutes and suddenly it made its plunge into the river. It stood on the bank and, after spying a target, lunged for it, winding up completely in the river. It caught an amazing large trout and carried it onto the bank. It then turned the trout around so it was facing head down and swallowed it whole. It is the largest fish I have ever seen a great blue heron swallow. Amazing!

We never did see the fisherman catch a fish.

After lunch we continued our journey back to the van. I stopped at Goose lake, and watched some of the waterfowl. I saw a movement in my peripheral vision and looked over to see a river otter. I don't see many of those in Yellowstone, so that was a real treat. It played around a bit and then made its way to the lake, where we watched it swim around for a bit.

We then headed back to the van. Overall, we went a bit over 10 miles. It was a wonderful hike!

Steve
 

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KevinM

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Thank you Steve. I and I’m sure everyone else are getting great enjoyment from your posts. You’re storytelling is wonderful, and I feel as though I am there with you two. Kevin
 

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This thread is so good, thank you Steve we are hanging on every post 💙💙💙
 

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Hi Steve. I am a little frightened after reading this, and I haven't even read the whole story yet.
BTW, I used to live in Eagle, in Denver now. I am an RN and worked at the Shaw Cancer center and the Eagle County jail.

We are planning a road trip this in August. Hope to learn some tips from you.
 

swalker

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We really had a great time in Yellowstone, despite the various challenges we faced. Eventually, our 3 weeks there came to an end and we had to leave for our week in the Tetons.

For those that don't know, the Grand Teton National Park is just south of Yellowstone National Park. There is a short gap between them that has recently become the Rockefeller Parkway (a lot of land was donated by the Rockefeller family).

Our plan was to drive from the Madison campground in Yellowstone to the Headwaters campground at Flagg Ranch in the Rockefeller Parkway, a trip of about 55 miles. Despite having to traverse some narrow, winding, two-lane roads and having to cross the continental divide 3 times, we anticipated a pretty easy, uneventful trip.

The trip turned out to be a bit more eventful than we anticipated:)!

We departed from the Madison campground late on a Sunday morning. I was driving the motorhome and my wife (Lori) was following in the wheelchair van.

In a previous post, I have mentioned that there were a lot of people in Yellowstone while we were there. We found out after we returned home that May of 2021 was the busiest May in the history of Yellowstone.

In addition, the vast majority of lodging (hotels and campgrounds) in the park was closed (due to Covid), meaning that folks had to stay outside the park and commute into Yellowstone on a daily basis.

To make matters worse, Yellowstone had banned tour buses. On normal trip we typically see 50 to 100 tour buses a day. On this trip, we saw 2 tour buses for the entire 3 week trip.

The most visited part of Yellowstone is the Old Faithful area. The closest lodging outside the park to the Old Faithful area is in West Yellowstone, Montana. The trip from West Yellowstone to the Old Faithful area goes right by the Madison campground we were departing from.

And, this was the Sunday after a holiday week.

I had really not considered any of the factors as we prepared to depart the Madison campground! We were to discover that there sure were a lot of cars in Yellowstone that day!

As we departed the campground, I found a sufficient break in the traffic to pull onto the road. We proceeded for about 1/4 mile and came to a stop. It was stop and go traffic for the next 10 miles!

It took us an hour to go about 2 miles up a steep, continuous grade. The motorhome started overheating in the stop and go traffic and there was absolutely no place to pull over. I really had no choice but to nurse the motorhome up the hill trying to keep things as cool as I could.

We eventually made it to the top of the hill and found a pullout with just barely enough space for both me in the motorhome and my wife in the van. We had a very long lunch there waiting for traffic to subside. After about an hour, it looked like traffic was thinning out and the motorhome had cooled down, so we continued on our trip.

We made it a few hundred yards, just around the next bend, and came to a stop. At least we were not climbing a steep grade. I worked to keep the motorhome from overheating as we continued in stop and go traffic for another hour.

In all, it took us about 3 hours to drive the first 16 miles of our trip. By that point, I was already pretty tired. We still had the worst of the winding, narrow road ahead of us as well as the 3 continental divide crossings.

We continued on and eventually made it to the Headwaters campground in Flagg ranch. I was sure glad to get there. But, I could not turn into it. There had been a medical emergency and the entrance was blocked by an ambulance and 3 patrol cars.

It took awhile for scene to be cleared. In the meantime, we just sat there and blocked traffic (by then, there was a line of recreational vehicles behind us, so we were not the only ones blocking traffic).

The medical emergency was eventually cleared and Lori went into the office to check us in. The assigned us to a campsite that required driving up and down hills over a narrow, very dusty, dirt road. We finally made it into our very narrow, very short, very dusty, dirt campsite and I was relieved!

So our short and easy day of travel turned into a bit of an epic journey. In the end, we made it and I was glad to be able to rest and recover.

Steve
 

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What a lovely, stress-free travel day, Steve. I‘m running out of “holy crap’s”!

Cabin fever took hold of our country, and when the door to the cabin was cracked open a swarm of humanity emerged, larger than the cicada hatch this year. It sounds like about half of the swarm headed for Yellowstone.

I wondered about overheating issues in that kind of terrain and traffic. When we travelled throughout the west in the summer, the major issue we faced was road construction everywhere. perfectly understandable since the weather window for construction is so short in some places. But it would stop traffic for miles and hours.

Our coach engine usually ran at a steady 182 degrees even with our 4,000 pound tow vehicle, until we got stuck in traffic on a long steep grade or were climbing a ridiculous climb over a pass. If we were able, we would find a pullover and unhook. Saved a lot of stress on me and the engine!

Looking so forward to your next chapter, Steve. Kevin
 
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