Shawn dragged us out of bed at 5:30 in the morning because she read that it's best to hit Yellowstone early in order to avoid the crowds. Turns out there was another bonus, which was, morning is when the animals are the most active. We've been staying at AmericInns the whole way and they have continental breakfast that isn't horrible. Cody, like Beulah, sports two coffee shops (possibly more, but two were easily seen from the main drag) and so I went out at 6 am to try to find a decent brew. I found someone who would make me a latte, but it was fairly awful. Tomorrow, I will try the Mudd Shack or whatever it was called.
It's about an hours drive between Cody and the east gate entrance to Yellowstone. We passed through mountain tunnels, which is always cool. This is the reservoir made by the Buffalo Bill Dam
The landscape up to Yellowstone was very similar to a lot of what we'd seen in Montana. No trees and a lot of scrub leading up to rocky outcroppings. Shawn and I both confessed that this was pretty much what we were afraid all of Yellowstone would look like (oh boy, were we WRONG.) In fact, once we got to "cruising altitude," as it were, things looked a lot more like the landscape around Bearskin. Shawn said, looking out at all the pine trees lined up along the roadside, "This looks like home." (Grand Rapids, MN.)
But this is Wyoming/Montana: scrubby.
We passed a lot of horse ranches, too. I joked that where in North Dakota it was all, "I found a cow!" in Wyoming it's "I found a horse!"
Shawn had made a big deal about finding us a hotel room at all in Cody this time of year, and so any time we saw a "vacancy" sign on any of the dude ranch/hotels, we teased her saying, "Oh, sure, you couldn't find anything open! We could have stayed here and had pony rides!" Luckily, she's a good sport and used to us ribbing her.
Even before the official gate, we saw people pulled off to the side of the road. This is what's known in the Yellowstone area as a "bear jam," aka the kind of traffic jam that happens whenever wildlife is spotted.
Here's what everyone was looking at:
I really love the contrast here between the brown/black of the buffalo and the silvery green of the sage brush. This shot seems almost stereotypically Wyoming, don't you think? At first I worried that this big guy was sick being so far from a herd, but Shawn read that male buffalo are loners. Mason said he clearly saw that this fellow was male.
The flowers were really lovely. There were pearly everlastings growing here too (which remind me of deep woods northern Minnesota):
One we were in Yellowstone proper, the road grade started getting significantly steeper. I worried a lot about our new/used car, but it performed like a beauty. Pretty soon there were snow caps in the distance. We had to pull over to take a picture. (We tried selfies, but we kind of suck at them.)
We took a ton of pictures as we moved higher and higher into the mountains. But here are a few of the more interesting shots we got:
Then came the most amazing thing. We saw a traffic jam ahead and I jokingly said, "Hey, maybe there will be bears at this bear jam." GUESS WHAT??!! THERE WERE BEARS.
A pretty good shot considering that Shawn (being non-suicidal) took this picture from inside the car, the window rolled down, with telephoto. There were many more morons who were out of their cars, setting up tripods, and milling around. It is possibly not obvious, but these two are GRIZZY BEAR CUBS. The one in the foregrounds still has a bit of white baby fuzz. There is a mama grizzly somewhere near and, unlike the stupids, we were long gone before she showed up.
We saw dumber people, though.
There was a whole contingent of stupid walking across a grassy plane towards a giant herd of buffalo. Buffalo can run 30 mph. People can not. There were idiots with children doing that.
It does make me wonder how many people die from wildlife every year. Especially since you can get great shots from inside your car. Like this:
Then, we did what every tourist to Yellowstone must do. We went to visit "Old Faithful." OMG. The visitor center near "Old Faithful" is a massive complex and it is ENTIRELY JAMMED WITH HUMAN BEINGS. I don't normally mind crowds, but I do not like being elbow-to-elbow with that many sweaty, impatient people. Mason had the right idea. He put on his Moose Hat (which he picked up at the first gift shop) and read:
But we didn't have to wait that long for the big eruption. For all that, the actual geyser was nifty. Mason and I managed to score some good seats right next to the walkway's edge.
But our stop here was one of those times when no one knows what to do--should we try to eat here? Do we just grab cereal at the convenience store? Get in the car again and subsist on potato chips?--and we were all h-angry and hot. Luckily, I had an epiphany in the bathroom and that was that when the guidebooks told us we needed to practice patience, they didn't mean on the road, they meant with each other. So, we suffered through the long lines and got some real food. (Actually, I made my family find a seat and I waded through the food lines). After that, we felt much better getting out of there and getting back in the car.
We did decide, though, that if someone wanted a cheap version of Old Faithful, you could crush into the bathroom, let someone like me who has stinky farts let out a good gassy one, turn on the hot water faucet, and then everyone cheers. Because that's something that's never in any guidebooks: geysers STINK. They smell like sulfur, like rotten eggs. In fact, the whole "clean pine forest" smell up in Yellowstone has a whole undercurrent of "who farted?"
At any rate, after all that hassle, we decided, in fact, that we didn't need to see any more geysers. If there were a lot of people gathered to see a "site" that wasn't wildlife, we would just pass that site right on by, in fact.
I think we made a good choice. We did see these "painted pots" however:
After that we mostly just pulled out in spots where there were hardly any people. Thus, Mason got some time to contemplate nature on the Summer Solstice:
The very last thing we did was look at the giant falls... that I've forgotten the name of. Because you know what else I wasn't prepared for in Yellowstone? How BAD the signs are... and the maps. I think a lot of tourists would be a lot less cranky if there were better signs directing people to places. But, we had to do a complete 180 at one point otherwise we would have missed these. And, they were pretty darned spectacular, too:
That was Yellowstone. From here, we turn east towards Mount Rushmore and home.... though it will still be a few more days on the road.
Right now, I'm off to avail myself of the hot tub. My shoulders are aching after all that white knuckle driving on the roads. Going up had me worried about the engine, going down had me freaking out about the breaks. I could use a massage, honestly.
Tomorrow? MORE DRIVING. We go from here to Rapid City, hopefully going past Devil's Tower.