Thursday, June 20 was another early day for us. Today was to be our first day in Yellowstone National Park and we wanted to get on the road early. After packing up the trusty Toyota 4Runner we set off on our last trip up the Moose-Wilson road. As usual, we saw several different large mammals including elk, deer and pronghorn.
After entering Yellowstone at the South Entrance the four of us started to get giddy with excitement; our first stop of the day was the Fishing Bridge Visitor Center so we could check on the status of a few trails, specifically Natural Bridge, Storm Point and Pelican Creek. Natural Bridge was closed due to grizzly bear activity but the other two were open.
We decided on Storm Point and thankfully we were early enough to find a spot in the parking lot. The day was gorgeous – partly cloudy and breezy, perfect weather for bundling up. After a quick stop at the sign warning visitors to be bear aware, we were off on the trek to Storm Point on Yellowstone Lake.
The trail starts off in a meadow but quickly enters a forested area that borders the lake. Near the end of the trail we were able to watch two marmots playing. Until this point we’d only seen a marmot once and before we knew what it was, the family nicknamed it ‘the irradiated squirrel.’ So, seeing two marmots and knowing what they were was a special moment for us. I know, that sounds silly but we watched the marmots play for quite some time.
Once the marmots had wandered off to find shade for an afternoon nap we continued our journey to the very end of Storm Point. Although it was windy almost our entire trip, the wind here was crazy. It was cold, it was blowing sand around and at times we had to brace ourselves. It was also gorgeous, though, and not a single one of us complained.
Instead of taking the next hike on our agenda, we decided to hit the road because we had a long drive to Gardiner, Montana to check in to our hotel. Normally the drive wouldn’t take too long but with road construction around Tower, we figured that we’d better start the drive earlier vs. later.
After passing through the construction we came upon a Bear Jam just west of Elk Creek. For those that are unfamiliar with the words ‘Bear Jam’ – it is a traffic jam caused by bear activity. People seem to forget that they are on a major roadway and just stop their cars in the middle of the road to gawk at the bears. We weren’t able to see the bears, a momma black bear and her two cubs of the year, and since there were no safe places to pull over we continued our journey. All is well, though, we saw the trio the following day.
Our first stop in Gardiner was K-Bar Pizza. This is a local favorite and as we were pulling up, Ava commented that she hoped they had pesto pizza. Obviously the previous night’s Mountain High Pizza Pie dinner was still fresh in her mind. Lucky for her, they did. Our waitress was in town for the summer from Ghana and both of the kids were excited to talk to someone that lives so far away. I regret not getting her name but she was delightful and her and Ava really took a liking to each other.
Next stop was our hotel to check-in, freshen up and then hit the road again. The evening in Lamar Valley was our plan and let me tell you, this was one of the best nights we’ve had in Yellowstone. Here’s part of the trip recap I posted on the Yellowstone.net Forums:
After dinner and checking in to the hotel we headed out about 6: 15pm. On the way to Roosevelt we saw a few cars pulled over to the West of Elk Creek so I stopped in a pullout a bit ahead of the jam. We were able to watch a presumably courting pair of black bears – one black and one cinnamon. If I had to guess, the female was black because she acted disinterested for most of the time and when the cinnamon walked up to her to canoodle, she swatted him. They stayed together for quite some time, though.
As we continued on towards Roosevelt we saw two cars in the Phantom Lake pullout and there was a black bear in the middle of the waterless lake. We watched him/her for a while and then continued on to Lamar Valley.
We stopped and peeked at the Osprey nest with the mom on a branch and a chick in the nest, our first osprey and osprey chick ever. We then continued on down just west of the Institute and a gentleman with a scope let us look at a grizzly bear up on the ridge.
After that we continued on east through the valley and spotted a big grizzly bear on the mountain about 300-400 yards from the road. We watched him until he went out of site then drove on through the valley. We stopped at the rest stop past the one with the restroom (before Soda Butte) and watched startled pronghorn run through the valley. Then we watched a family of four, with 2 young kids, meander out into the valley. It was after 8:30 pm and it was getting dark quickly.
Before heading back we drove up towards Trout Lake and saw another grizzly on the hill by Soda Butte Cone. I thought it may have been the one we saw earlier but I was wrong. After turning around so we could head back to Gardiner, there was a jam at confluence. The grizzly we saw on the hill had meandered down, crossed the road and then wandered off down into the confluence area – heading up the Lamar River direction.
A ranger was there when he crossed (we missed the crossing but an excited visitor in the pullout told us he was right there when it happened) and then left once it was on the other side of the creek. We found a spot at the pullout then walked across the road to watch – when we drove by he was about 50 yards from us, the kids loved it! We stayed until he walked out of sight.
We didn’t get home until about 10:30 MT time but we were all excited about our first day in YNP!
Read all of my YNP Summer 2013 Road Trip Recaps:
- Day 1 – PHX to SLC – Yellowstone National Park Road Trip – Summer 2013
- Day 2 – SLC to JAC – Yellowstone National Park Road Trip – Summer 2013
- Day 3 – Grand Teton – Yellowstone National Park Road Trip – Summer 2013
- Day 4 – 1st Day in Yellowstone – YNP Road Trip – Summer 2013
- Day 5 – Norris Geyser Basin, Bears and Wolves – YNP Road Trip – Summer 2013
- Day 6 – Off Trail Adventures, Beartooth Highway & A June Snow Storm
- Days 7 & 8 – Yellowstone to SLC to PHX – Final 2 Days of Our YNP Road Trip