Published: June 20th 2012June 17th 2012
The intention was to open with a "Good afternoon Ranger Smith" and back that up with every Yogi Bear metaphor I could muster. Boo Boo, Jellystone, pic-a-nic baskets, they were all going to get a run. Pulling up to the entrance of Yellowstone and the wind was taken straight out of the sails. Not only was Ranger Kowolski female but she also had a look of intensity that said, "Very funny sir, I've never heard that one before". Straight on to the back foot, tail between the legs and, "Yes thank you Ranger, I would like a map of the park".
Yellowstone has a conjoined twin, Grand Teton, connected at its southern hip. The National Geographic Guide describes Grand Teton as the more physically scenic of the two with Yellowstone providing all the character. To some degree that's true if mountains are your sole criteria. However, Yellowstone has a right to take umbrage to NG's angle because it's anything but ugly. She still plays host to a smorgasbord of visual landscape fudge whilst throwing in a hefty mix of other attention grabbers, specifically a proliferation of wildlife and a solid dose of geothermal bubble and froth. Yellowstone's menu has a
more diverse flavour than that of Grand Teton.
The park is teeming with the types of animals that get shutters clicking and we were exposed to it 5 minutes in, barely a few klms from the entrance as we stopped for lunch by the babbling Madison River.
"Gaz! What's that big black thing down by the river"?
"That would be a bison I'd say".
"There's another one, and another and ......"
Within a minute the WHOW was surrounded by a gaggle of the furry beasts, close enough for me to stare down the eye of the grand daddy and see a thought process going through his head.
"Will I scratch my great hairy butt against this tree stump or on the front of that ugly white metal thing with the 4 round legs and 2 humans gawking at me from inside"?
Fortunately he went for the stump option. The insurance claim would have made for some unique reading if he'd decided the other way.
"So sir, you claim the front fender of your RV was torn off by a bison butt".
3 days and around 300 bison later, buffalo ennui had
set in and their overt numbers mean they are lower down the food chain for the squillions of quasi wildlife photographers armed to the teeth with lenses that look as though they should be hanging off the side of the SS Nimitz.
On one balmy evening, a sleuth of these guys were perched on a cliff overlooking a fairytale valley liberally sprinkled with bison when out came the call:
"In unison, the entire squadron swivelled 180 degrees on their tripods to rattle off a thousand frames or so of mum and her two cubs sauntering down the hill behind, the bison having been relegated to second class citizen.
Aside from being a wildlife nirvana, Yellowstone is also a living, breathing, belching volcano, albeit an underground one. The subterranean gurglings vent themselves in some dynamic fashions and are worth the price of admission alone.
Some areas provide a wasteland of sulphur pools while others are an orgy of spitting fumaroles. These landscapes may be harsh in places but at the same time they can produce the full artist's palate. Throw in more than the occasional geyser strutting it's stuff and you could comfortably consume an
entire day amongst these thermal show ponies. That's of course if you can stomach the smell. Sulphur has an odour that could revive a dead dog, or kill a live one.
Cross that southern border and Grand Teton is touted by National Geographic as the cotton candy sister of Yellowstone. GT is blessed with in your face good looks but it also has a wildlife trump over big siss up the road. If you want moose, this is your watering hole and don't the tourist plebs love them. Wildlife traffic jams are a regular phenomenon in North American parks but the moose version in GT is extreme enough to warrant rangers to zoom in on "moose hot spots" to control the real zoo unfolding on the tar.
These areas provided the best and worst of RV parks in respect with bang for your buck. There's rarely a story in best so here's a resume of the worst. Three and a half times the price of the best, no WiFi and a litany of school camp regulations. What about the neighbours. The Good Ol Boys plus Mom. The 3 of them combined mounted to around 450 kg of prime
US beef. That's akin to 1000 pounds for American readers stuck in the imperial slow lane. Don't think for a moment either that Mom wasn't carrying her fair share of the burden and most of her excess baggage was from the derrière up. It was like watching a giant pear trying to balance on a couple of toothpicks. How their beat up antique trailer took the strain is a solid endorsement of "Made in America".
Purchase of the week. Bison, bear, moose ,elk. There's the full sphere of printed material detailing how to deal with the potential dangers of those animals. Nothing is handed out on how to deal with the genuinely vicious critters, mosquitos. Scouring the supermarket shelves, Penny came across the mosquito wrist band, guaranteed for 200 hours protection from the moment of unsealing the packet. At $1.89 it was a bargain and it works a treat, not a single bite on my left wrist. Every other piece of exposed flesh was ravaged but the wrist came up smelling like a rose.
In a nutshell, Yellowstone and Grand Teton look as though they were created by Walt Disney after he went to university and got his
Degree in Green. All the rides are here, there's just no cover charge or metal.
I think I preferred Yellowstone to the Rockies and Yosemite, which is a pretty big claim given I was overwhelmed and in awe of Yosemite and I marvelled at the grandeur of the Rockies. Yellowstone had something different to offer at every turn.
First up, the hot springs. We drove past the hot springs in the evening as we drove into the park to our campsite, ( the nice campsite, not the overcrowded, cramped one next to the good old boys and mum. Speaking of which they reminded me of the movie "Bad Boy Bubby". For anyone who has not seen the movie on DVD get ready to be shocked. For those who have seen it, I think you get the picture).
The hot springs in the soft morning light had the effect of making the springs look like giant layers of toffee cake with splashes of caramel drizzling over the side. A great way to start the morning, shame the park had no coffee shop.
Next come the geysers in an assortment of vibrant colours, a
bit like vivid in Sydney at the moment. There were a number of geysers, all different in colour and smell, but really great for photos.
Next on the agenda were the mud pools bubbling and overflowing which looked like huge vats of hot chocolate (why do women describe things in food terms!) In winter when the climate is much cooler the mud bubbling slows down and they form into shapes and forms sometimes looking like squashed faces. However in the warmer months they have a constant bubble and no funny faces could be made out.
In addition to all the natural attractions of the park, the wildlife was also on full display making it great for some additional encounters to add to our list. We came across quite a lot of Bison, often in really large numbers and were even lucky enough to be surrounded by them on our first day, actually first moments into the park. They appeared almost from nowhere and surrounded WHOW chewing, eating and scratching around us. We thought we were celebrities as people aimed their cameras at us, well the Bison surrounding us. Moose were also on the agenda, two large males. They
The artist's palate
are absolutely huge animals, a little dumb looking at times, but they have an uncanny ability to disappear before you in a the smallest scratchiest bit of scrub. For such a large animal they are well camouflaged in the park.
A big tick on grizzly bears, seeing a number of them including a mother and her two cubs, probably the biggest crowd pleaser.
Added to all the natural wonders and animals we encountered, the wild flowers in the park and along the highways were in full bloom. If we were not looking at great mountains, lakes, geysers, or animals etc then there was always the beautiful flowers and pastures carpeted with yellow and purple flowers to look at. The drives as well as the trails have all been great. So I think you get the drift, I really enjoyed our week at Yellowstone and in Gary's words " if that wasn't enough meat and potatoes" the dessert was the Grand Teton, grand mountains surrounded by jewel like lakes (National Geographic's description, not mine) and only a hop skip and a jump from Jackson Hole with a bike trail all the way.
This is definitely an area I
would love to come back to in the winter to ski. You arrive into the lake on sleds and then cross country ski to the geysers and amongst bison and any other wild life that likes the extremes. Sounds pretty nice except Gary keeps reminding me how much I hate the cold. Ah, but I could see myself cruising up to Jackson Lodge, sitting overlooking the Grand Teton in their lounge ( it is truly a spectacular outlook) sipping an evening cocktail and maybe even staying at one of the cabins at the lodge. Dream on!!
There are more photos below