Have we dragged these photos out long enough for you? It’s a bit much, I know. But this is my virtual scrapbook so you’re stuck with it if you visit.
We weren’t expecting to see Grizzly bears, particularly not up close. We pulled over to a rest area because it looked busy and would probably yield an animal sighting. However, since Dale and I are dopey we thought everybody was looking up at two giant birds mating in the sky. We started at them until they flew out of sight and then looked around, realizing that was but a side show to the main attraction.
Located just down a slight slope from up–and quite near an outhouse–was a mother Grizzly and two cubs. To quote Dale, “That’s a motherf*ckin’ Grizzly!”
Indeed! And she was rooting around the ground, looking for food for her cubs. I was pretty transfixed but also quite nervous. Occasionally, the bear would pause and turn to look at the crowd. Not afraid of us but just to be sure we were staying put on the hill. Needless to say, I was staying put.
Frankly, I was calculating the odds. At one point, the bear pushed her paw into the largely frozen ground and dug a huge patch of dirt up with very little effort. I knew enough to know that I could be that patch of grass and I basically turned to Dale and said, “That was cool but I’m out.”
I ducked back into the car, behind the crowd. Dale, for his part, was calculating the odds as well.
He watched the bear closely and opted to stand behind a man who had a leg brace. Surely the bear would take the low hanging fruit first, yes?
At some point, the bear came closer and Dale booked it back to the car. Apparently his calculations had been off. The guy with the brace was safely in his car well before Dale got back to ours.
At any rate, it was amazing to see the bears up close! They were adorable and beautiful and pretty seriously majestic in size and presence.
So as cool as it was to see the giant animals? I was probably more excited about the ground squirrels. I’m a dork, I know this. It’s not news. And ground squirrels are unlikely to kill me. That helps. They are also about as cute as it gets. They are bigger than chipmunks but a little smaller than wild squirrels. We sat near a stream and watched them frolic for about an hour.
They ran and played with the chipmunks–there seemed to be a combination of playfulness and competitiveness among the tiny animal population of Yellowstone. I wanted to bring this guy home in my pocket! Just LOOK at that face!
I had so much fun watching animals that we really missed a lot of random things–like the mud pots. I seriously told Dale to keep driving. What cute animal would hang out near hot mud?.
In my last post, I forgot to include this quick video snippet I took while at the overlook for the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone–it gives you my view and I thought it was pretty spectacular!
I’ve said repeatedly that we saw a lot of bison. And while we were there they were having babies left in right. It seemed like overnight there were dozens of baby animals everywhere we looked!
On the first morning in June we saw a spectacular sight–a herd of bison with a bunch of babies were frolicking in the valley beneath the road we were driving on. There was a small crowd and we made friends with some of the other lookie-loos. They told us that they were veteran animal photographers and that seeing a bison herd of this size moving rather quickly across the land was unusual.
Bison are pretty spectacular animals–the largest mammals in North America, I think. Anyway, they were making a lot of noise and grunting away across the plain.
Of course this was especially exciting because of all the baby bison that were herding with them. They are so cute! And they jump around their mommies in a very funny way, bucking and playing.
Wait for me, mommy!They were moving from one end of the valley to the other, through a marsh area.
They would move a smidge and then pause to drink.
The babies stuck close to their mothers.
An overview of the valley.
And another area, with mountains in the background.
I took a quick video of the bison as they passed.
After our bison encounter we were hopping to spot some otters in the wild. We hiked up a very, very steep hill (oy) and came to this pretty spot, Trout Lake. We’d heard this was a popular spot for otters but we didn’t see any. Otters were the one animal we really wanted to see in the wild that we did not see.
On our way back down–notice the slope, people!–we stopped so Dale could take this pretty picture (and so I could catch my breath).
Later that day, we spotted this gorgeous waterfall.
It’s hard to tell how spectacular this waterfall is–but Dale has helpfully created a way! Hee! That tiny white blur above the waterfall? It’s a car driving by on a road far above it.
Dale took some really spectacular photos in Yellowstone and he finally gave me some to post. I’m epically behind on blogging but I’m home sick with the plague so I’m playing catch up!
On our first day in Yellowstone we started at Mammoth Hot Springs. Despite it being a rather chilly day it was quite warm walking the boardwalks at the hot springs.
Steamy springs and chilly air create a ghostly cast over the water.
Another shot of the hot springs–they are literally hot. And kind of stinky. Like rotten-ish eggs, honestly.
Dead trees in the midst of the Mammoth Hot Springs. I composed this shot (and was very proud).
Mammoth Hot Springs. In the midst of the highest concentration of geothermal activity on the planet. Neat.
People walking out onto the boardwalk to get closer to the hot springs. I have no idea how the boardwalk doesn’t go bad really quickly. But then again? They probably do.
The famous terraces at Mammoth Hot Springs.
After we hung out at the hot springs we drove for a spell and found a pretty place to sit. It was warming up and we noticed that our sitting area had tons of little creatures busying about. And I spotted my first ground squirrel. I was so excited. I like the small rodents–it’s my thing. Seriously HOW CUTE IS HE?
There were easily a dozen ground squirrels and chipmunks in this picnic area–they are the park’s tiniest vultures, looking for scraps of lunch. They were very fun to watch.
Because we went in early spring we saw animals every few seconds–they were all along the sides of the road! It was really an unusual experience and from what we’ve been told you have to come to the park early in the year to see this variety up close. So we stopped for our first “bear jam”–when there is wild animal up close everybody stops to get a better look and it causes a traffic jam in the park. And I was astonished by how close some people chose to get to this small black bear. I was pretty far away and zoomed in. And then RAN back to the car.
There were a lot of molting animals and the elks were no exception. She was really pretty and just wandering by the side of the road.
Just a few minutes later we saw quite a few cars pulled over to the side of the road. We thought it might be a bear so we pulled over. But we got really lucky. This big-horn sheep was just wandering in a ravine right next to the road. It was the only one we spotted on the entire trip. He was just grazing.
Buffalo were not nearly so scarce–saw one every five minutes!
We stayed at this hotel for two nights. And we saw plenty of elk. Indeed, they surrounded the hotel all day long. They lounged on the front lawn and in front of the restaurant next door. It got so bad that rangers would have to come and bar people from getting to their cars. Elk are tolerant of people but you can’t come too close. They rule the roost at Yellowstone.
The snow was fading but still visible, depending on the elevation. Dale wants to go back in the summer so we can see the park in bloom.
Dale went to take a photo of a pretty scene and made a friend. This little chipmunk was very interested in Dale. He darted around him nonstop, inspected his bags, sniffed out his camera gear and eventually just sat near him. I was sad we couldn’t bring him with us.
It was a bit of a hike but we got to the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. It wasÂ spectacular.
Gorgeous waterfall in the midst of the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone.
And we ended the day with a lovely elk spotting–look at his velvety antlers.
The day we left Keystone, South Dakota, we knew it would be a long day. We had a full day of driving ahead of us with a few ideas for side trips (Devil’s Tower, most notably). But the sky was a spectacular blue and we were in good spirits so we headed off…
I should have been worried when this guy chased us out of town… Seriously, staged shoot-outs scare the crap out of me.
The Presidents glowed their stoic approval of our trip in the early morning sun…
We also spotted two wolves running through a field. They were eating…something…heard our car and took off. But I got a quick shot of them before they disappeared. I am a ninja with a camera, seriously.
And finally! Welcome to Wyoming…ah. I kinda loved Wyoming. It was just so expansive and theÂ sky really does go on forever there.
First side trip of day…Devil’s Tower. You know I grew up watching a lot of movies so this iconic set piece from Close Encounters of the Third Kind was pretty cool to see in person. From where this photo was taken we were still 30 minutes away from it.
We’re getting closer! It’s pretty odd. They think it was formed by a volcano or something? I dunno but it was pretty gigantic.
How gigantic you ask?
So big that the blue dot you see on the side of it? That’s a climber. There are actually several climbers on there if you click on it to view it larger you might see more.
For some reason, I really enjoyed driving across Wyoming. I think it was a combination of the ridiculously expansive sky, scattered with endless popcorn clouds and the green fields that go on forever in both directions. It just feels very much like the rest of the world doesn’t even exist.
But then, after quite a long while of driving, the world comes back! In the form of the Bighorn National Forest. Pretty spectacular sight.
After what felt like quite a long time driving (a couple of hours)? We got to Bighorn.
I love these old signs! And from here we pretty much drove straight UP the mountain! Did I mention I’m prone to car sickness and slightly afraid of driving near steep drop-offs? It was going to be a long day, is what I’m saying…
Near the top of Bighorn the sky was a dark blue and the mountain was covered with some pretty serious snow! Wow!
Dale was very excited that Betty made it up to close to 10,000 feet. I was excited I didn’t pass out on the way up or down.
Coming off the other side of the mountain was pretty spectacular. There is the Bighorn Basin. It goes on for miles in every direction and makes you feel like the insignificant little flea you are in the face of Mother Nature. I loved it.
Next thing I knew we were in Montana! We were headed to the Beartooth Highway and Beartooth Pass, considered one of the most scenic drives in America–and the most beautiful entrance to Yellowtone.
The Beartooth Highway is the section of U.S. Highway 212 between Red Lodge, Montana and Cooke City, Montana. It traces a series of steep zigzags and switchbacks, along the Montana–Wyoming border to the 10,947Â ft (3,337 m) high Beartooth Pass. The approximate elevation rise is from 5,200Â ft (1,600 m) to 8,000Â ft (2,400 m) in 12Â mi (19 km) in the most daring landscapes. (My tummy was not amused).
Along the way we came across the Smith Mine Disaster site–where 74 men died. Interesting that they leave the mine there, slowly decaying, in memory of the men who died there in 1943.
We drove up a perilously winding and narrow road for what felt like the rest of my life. I was woozy to say the least.
When we got to the very top of the mountain there was a sign my mind would not process. I asked the ski bums hanging out what we need to do. They were going to stay until the road opened–they were just here to ski. We had to turn around and backtrack all the way back down the mountain and cut over, across Wyoming to Cody in order to go to a completely different entrance to the park. We’d already been in the car for about 12 hours. We were within two hours of our hotel–if the road had been open. So we had to turn around (I cried, I’m only a little ashamed to admit it). I took this photo at 7:10 p.m. We got to our hotel around 1:30 a.m.
Here’s a quick video of me on the way back down the mountain. I was feeling a little sorry for myself and pukey. It’s embarrassing. You can also hear Dale start to laugh openly at me. Hee!
We did stop and have the best fish and chips of our lives in Cody, Wyoming, and had an awesome bartender named Clay listen to our sob story. Once we got into Yellowstone–in the dead of night–two more roads were closed creating further delays.
At least a cute bear was waiting for us in our room…
Once we got to South Dakota and got that whole Mt. Rushmore thing out of the way we had a few other things to see! In fact, we want to go back to this area because we missed so much! Our next big stop was the Crazy Horse Memorial. Crazy indeed!
I wish I could express to you how big this damn thing is! It’s just SO DAMN BIG. Allegedly, you could put all of Mt. Rushmore on Crazy Horse’s face. And they aren’t even close to finished. It’s pretty spectacular but you can’t really get that close to it unless you want to pay a second entrance fee to take a bus up to the base. Since we had a lot to see (and had already paid for parking and admission) we were iffy on it. I also felt that the whole thing was run but the wacky white dude’s family that was the original sculptor. And I was like: Um, where are the actual Native Americans in this scenario? They seemed to be there but not in charge.
To give you some idea of the size? That is a guy and some major equipment at the base of the front of the sculpture. It’s pretty nutty.
This is the life-size rendering of the sculpture representing what it will look like when complete. Pretty spectacular.
From Crazy Horse we headed back into town for lunch. Sadly, we didn’t have time to hang out at Bedrock City–the Flinstones-themed park–but we for sure drove up and checked it out. OMG I LOVE DINO SO MUCH. *ahem* I have scads of pictures of the gift shop that I’ll post on my stupid Roadside Curiosities blog someday! Anyway, I just thought it was pretty awesome.
Seriously, how cute is this? I know, right?
So we weren’t 100% sure how we wanted to spend the afternoon. Dale decided he wanted to go to Custer State Park because they have the largest roaming bison heard in the United States. And I must admit I figured the animals would all be out of view and the whole thing would be lame since we didn’t even pack a lunch or anything. I was totes wrong. We didn’t just spot a few bison–we had to get out of their way. It was amazing. They were molting so they they felt a little embarrassed at the state of their coats.
Custer State Park was quite lovely, despite the cloud coverage–and even that was pretty lovely.
We also got very lucky to get up close and personal with an antelope. He was quite friendly, grazing along the side of the roadway in the park. We saw lots of antelope but none was this cozy!
Even more exciting was the fact weÂ went so early in the season that all of the animals were busy having lots and lots of babies. And is there anything cuter than baby animals? Hell no! Here is a one of the most adorable baby animals in the world: A baby bison with mommy. This little guy was so cute. He would nuzzle his mommy and then he would do this adorable jumping/bucking thing in circles around her as she stood there, totally stoic. You know she was all beaming and proud on the inside though.
Dale took this awesome shot of a bison enjoying a little mid-day snack.
To give you some idea how close these giant animals were to us? I took a quick shot out the car window. This is what’s known as a “bison jam”–all the park visitors pull over to get a view of the animals. You always know to pull over when you see more than two cars pulled over–something (or someone) is there to see!
After an afternoon at Custer State Park we went to one of the top places to see: Rapid City Dino Park. I’ve wanted to go here for as long as I can remember and it was so worth it. This spectacular cement dino sits at the highest point in the city so you can see it from all around town. I love it so much OMG.
These guys were created in the 1930s as part of the Works Progress Administration, a program meant to put people to work. The city really embraced these guys and have kept them in incredible shape, painted and repaired regularly!
I mean, seriously. HOW GOOD IS THIS? I was so excited I fell and skinned my knee and was excited to have skinned my knee at this classic place.
Exciting news for blog followers! Heh. We bought a tent. REI was having a super sale so we picked up this huge Base Camp 6 tent. It sleeps 6 (allegedly). This will open up all sorts of adventures for us. Here she is in all her fancy glory!
And the test has a huge rain cover. Every time I have gone camping it has rained. And this is why I don’t like camping. So the deal is, the rain cover is supposed to be like Teflon. We shall see!
A view from the cavernous inside! Did I mention that we put the tent up in the public park near our apartment? We had a lot of lookie-loos and we were pretty sure the cops would show up but nobody cared. Lots of little kids looked deeply envious of us! Camping adventures will be coming to a blog near you–later in the summer–but for now we have our weekends plotted out for the next 5 weeks!
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