Thursday, June 10, 2021

Yellowstone National Park : Day 1 {A Blizzard & Bison}

Hopefully by the time you are seeing this post you have already read our "Road Trip to Yellowstone" post, which includes all of the adventures we had on the way to Yellowstone National Park {because, let's be real, many of the memories are made on the journey itself, not just at the destination}. If you haven't, take a few minutes to check out the post HERE.

Alright, now that you're back and all caught up, it's time to continue with the "main event". [FYI - Prior to going on this trip I asked on my social media platforms if folks would prefer having one single, extra long post or shorter posts. More posts, but shorter in length won out, so I'm splitting the trip up over multiple posts, but hopefully that makes it easier to "digest".]


We left off the last post with pulling into Yellowstone National Park. Because Yellowstone is such a large National Park (the park itself is 2.2 MILLION ACRES!), we had to break it up into different geographical sections. And then we decided to tackle those different areas on different days so we weren't spending too much of the day driving in the car instead of outside, experiencing the environment (but, don't miss the magic of the drives... they are almost just as amazing!).

This was the park sign at the West Yellowstone entrance... I had to do a bit of rock jumping to keep my feet dry. #SoSoggy

I asked the hubby as we were pulling into the park if he thought we'd see any baby bison on the trip. He said probably (since they're normally born in late April or early May), but only time would tell... Well, within minutes we saw tons!

Towards the right hand side of the picture you can see one of the "red dogs" (what they call the babies) laying down. This picture
was snapped out the window within five minutes of entering the park. We were hoping it was a good sign of things to come!

When we pulled in on Saturday, May 22nd, we set up camp, visited with Ryan's dad and his wife and spent time getting settled and acquainted with the campground that would serve as base camp while in Yellowstone (after all the driving the previous few days, it was nice to just put down some "roots" and not have to worry about being on the move constantly). 

We loved this campground. Would definitely recommend it.

FYI - I'm not considering Saturday an "official" Yellowstone day, since we didn't explore much outside the campground. 

Our first full day in the park was Sunday, May 23rd. Now, although Yellowstone is probably most "famous" for the Old Faithful Geyser, we decide to not go on the first day - and we had a few reasons for this. First, we thought it might be busier on the weekends, so if we went during the week it might be a little less crowded. Also, we didn't want the geyser to be so amazing that the other things we saw would feel a little lackluster, so we figured we'd leave it till later in the week ;) 


As I mentioned, Yellowstone is HUGE. We broke it up so we could really focus and enjoy different areas of the park (this took quite a bit of planning to make sure we were doing everything we wanted to do, seeing everything we wanted to see and were doing it in the best order to cut down on drivetime). Originally our plan was to do "Grand Canyon of Yellowstone" on Day 1. Yup, you might not know it, but there's a Grand Canyon in Yellowstone and we dedicated our first day to the area. Well, unfortunately for us, Mother Nature had other plans and sent a HUGE snow storm. Some of the things we wanted to do were suddenly off limits (many of the roads were closed throughout the day due to the weather so we were stranded a few times), so we had to play with the hand we were dealt. With that said, I will share our "planned itinerary" {which will be numbered in the order we were planning to visit}, notate if things had to be skipped or if new things were added {lettered in the order and placement in which we went}. We are now deeming Day 1 - A Blizzard and Bison.

[Note - We were camping in Madison Campground, so the order in which we did everything was due to where we were coming from. If you are staying elsewhere, you might want to look at changing what you start/ finish with.]

Here's a list of everything we did/ saw on Day 1 of our Adventure in Yellowstone National Park {and the order we did it all}:

1. Lamar Valley *Plan to return when weather is better

Everything we read said you MUST go to Lamar Valley and if you can do it around dawn or dusk you'd be likely to see ALL THE WILDLIFE. Well, when we heard the words 'baby bison' we knew we'd do everything possible to potentially see them... even if that meant waking up BEFORE the buttcrack of dawn to get to Lamar Valley as the sun was waking up. I talked everyone into meeting at 5:30am to head out for our day. We knew it'd take a while to get to Lamar Valley and even though we wouldn't be there "at sunrise" we figured it'd be 'early enough'. Note: There is almost no cell reception in the park which means navigation is left to maps and road signs. With that being said, we didn't realize until we were already at one of the main intersections that the road we were originally planning to take between Canyon Village and Tower Fall was closed (per the map, it normally opens in "late May", but it appears as though it would be closed longer than that due to construction) which meant we had to backtrack and go a roundabout way. Had the road been open, the plan was to hit up Lamar Valley first (and we probably would've hung out for a while just watching and observing the wildlife). 

2. Mammoth Hot Springs 

Originally this was going to be our second stop of the day, after Lamar Valley, but, with the new route, we had to drive through Mammoth Hot Springs so figured we'd stop and check it out while we were already in the area. Everyone wanted coffee (except me, of course, I don't drink it) so we stopped at the hotel that had an open cafe so they could caffeine up ;) While we were waiting for their cups-o-joe we noticed the snow started falling... and pretty intensely. We called an audible and decided to walk around the hot springs a bit before jumping in the car to continue on to Lamar Valley.

The "stairs" look like they are snow piles, but it's actually liquid limestone that has resolidified and formed into terraces.

As we explored the snow continued to fall (it was wet, heavy and sticky). We did the Lower Terrace Area, but called it quits before heading to the Upper Terrace because of the weather. We figured we could always come back and explore again if we wanted, but getting out of the snow was more important for everyone at the time so we b-lined it to the car.

Liberty Cap is among the best known of the Lower Terrace’s features. The cone shape formed when the hot spring’s plumbing
system had a continuous flow for perhaps hundreds of years. Over that time period, the internal pressure was high enough to
push the water to a great height, allowing the mineral deposits to build up.

3. North Entrance / Roosevelt Arch / 45th Parallel

We decided since we were close to the north entrance we would go there next. This is the original entrance to the oldest national park in the US and the only entrance open year round. It is framed by the Roosevelt Arch (not named as a way to honor the past president but because he was vacationing in the park at the time and asked to speak at the dedication). 

As you can see in the picture, it was sort of like we were in a giant snow globe that someone shook.  

While we were snapping a quick picture, someone needed to use the restroom so we went into the little town of Gardiner outside the gate to find a potty. We found a coffee shop and ducked in out of the snow. Once everyone had emptied their bladders we overheard an employee telling a customer that "they would never close the entrance, but there's a possibility some of the roads might be closed". That put a pep in our step and we thought we should jump in the car and get back into the park before some of the roads potentially closed. {Spoiler Alert - Many of the roads closed anyway...}

When we had originally planned a late May trip we figured it'd be chilly, but didn't expect there to new snow falling!
The pictures make it look fun and pretty, but there were a few sketchy parts when we were slip-sliddin' around.

When we made it to the entrance booth we chatted with the ranger and she told us they had already started closing roads down. She gave us a print-off with some of the closed roads highlighted, but also told us that she'd recommend we call a hotline to get updates about the closures that are more up-to-date... IT WAS ALMOST JUNE! We knew the weather might be on the chilly side and there was a bit of snow in the forecast (we might not have originally expected it when we booked the trip, but once we were close enough to look at the 10-day forecast we saw we would need to pack many more layers and tech gear than we first might have anticipated), but we didn't expect THIS! With that said, it was all out of our control so there was no point in getting frustrated or upset, we just had to go with the flow (and thankfully the four of us were all able to pivot fairly easily). Our new game plan was to head back into the park as far as we could go, see what we were able to and do it with a smile on our faces. (When we re-entered the park the road to our campground was closed so we really didn't have another option ;)) We stopped to snap a quick picture at the 45th Parallel (half way between the North Pole and the Equator), but it was just a sign so it was a quick stop. (PS There is a swimmable hot springs, the Boiling River, {99% of the thermal water inside the park should NOT be touched/ entered/ etc} in the area, but it was closed. We went by {the hubby and his dad were hoping to go in if they were allowed} but had to add it to the "next time" list.)

A picture or it didn't happen, right?! 

At this point we figured we'd try our luck to finally make it to Lamar Valley, but on our way we got an update that the road past Tower-Roosevelt was closed so we turned around (yet again) and went back towards Mammoth Hot Springs. We ended up pulling into a turnout, busting out our lunches (we packed them because there aren't a ton of options inside the park {especially since a lot of places weren't opening until June}) and eating while we waited for the weather to ease up.

4. Blacktail Plateau Drive

This one-way drive is supposed to be pretty scenic with tons of wildlife, but unfortunately it was still closed for the winter.

5. Tower Fall

Supposedly this is an amazing waterfall lookout, but it's on the portion of the road between Tower Fall and Canyon Village closed for the 2021 season. (Normally this stretch of road is closed mid-October to late May {so we thought we'd be fine}, but they are currently improving this specific trail and overlook so it is closed at least through the end of 2021. #Bummer)

6. Mount Washburn Trail

Apparently this is an awesome 6.4 mile hike, on Dunraven Pass, of one of Yellowstone's most dramatic vistas, but it's on the portion of the road between Tower Fall and Canyon Village that is closed for the 2021 season. (Normally this stretch of road is closed mid-October to late May {so we thought we'd be fine}, but there haven't been improvements on this portion since 1930 so they are doing a major overhaul and the road is closed through the end of the year. #HaveToDoItNextTime)

A. Wraith Falls

Originally we didn't have this hike on our list of things we needed to do, but we had been in the car driving back and forth in the Mammoth Hot Springs area because it hadn't been closed yet, so we all just wanted to get out and stretch our legs for a bit. The hike was less than a mile round-trip and the falls were pretty awesome (even if the trail was extra soggy and muddy). I doubt you can really tell in my iPhone photo, but it was sort of like a big cascade of stairs that got wider as it got lower. It isn't your traditional waterfall look so it was cool to see and we all thought it was totally worth the stop.

You can't really tell, but it looked like stairs underneath the waterfall. 

It wasn't very long, but it was nice to get out of the car.

B. Undine Falls

This was another one that wasn't on the "must see" itinerary, but it was right near to road and we had nothing else to do so we stopped. I mean, let's be real, one can never really see 'too many' waterfalls, am I right?! Nature is pretty awesome.

A short walk from the car to see yet another waterfall.

C. Roaring Mountain

We had the on the list for another day but with so much being limited, we figured we'd pop by while we had the opportunity. Roaring Mountain was named for the numerous fumaroles {steam vents} on the western slope of the peak which during the early 1900s were loud enough to be heard for several miles. We were hoping to hear it ROAR, but with the wind, snow and sleet falling from the sky {and the fact that it doesn't really roar any longer (sometimes people say they hear it hiss)}, we ended up just snapping a pictuure and checking it off the list. #MaybeTheyShouldChangeTheName

A ton of thermal activity happening on this mountain.

7. Grand Canyon of Yellowstone

Like I mentioned, most people know of the Grand Canyon National Park, but there are actual multiple "Grand Canyons", one of which is in Yellowstone. The hubby and I have run the Grand Canyon NP (in Arizona) from the South Rim to the North Rim and back to the South Rim {and I'd love to do it again}, so we are fairly familiar with the 'main' Grand Canyon, but didn't know much (read that as 'we knew diddly-squat') about this one before we started planning our trip. 

As with most things throughout the day, when we arrived the visibility was pretty crummy, but we didn't let that stop us from getting out. The hubby and I threw on our layers and decided we would get in some miles. We parked at the Brink of the Lower Falls, checked it out (pretty amazing to be right next to that much moving water {and, holy crapoly, the power behind it all!}), then hiked along the North Rim Trail (seeing Crystal Falls on the way) to the Brink of the Upper Falls. 

The "brink" of the lower falls (meaning we were standing right next to where the lower falls actually starting falling).

We couldn't get too close to Crystal Falls, but it was still pretty awesome. 

The "brink" of the upper falls (meaning we were standing right next to where the upper falls actually starting falling).

In total the hike was about 2.5 miles and we probably only saw about 5 people on the trail (the only other "crazies" willing to brave the weather to enjoy God's creation). Although we were able to see the falls we were walking right next to, it was difficult (if not near impossible) to see the grandness of the scenery so I asked the hubby if we had time later in the week (and the visibility was better) if we could come back to a few of the lookouts to take in the sights and sounds again.

We did drive to and stop at a few more of the lookouts. Most we stopped, popped out, couldn't see much and jumped back into the car (the weather was definitely hampering our experience). We got out at Uncle Tom's Point and hiked for another 1.5 miles or so. We checked out another view of the Upper Falls, which was cool after being right next to it.

Upper Falls from across the canyon.

Trying to be a little artsy ;)

Originally we were hoping to to hike down the 328 stairs at Uncle Tom's Point that descend part way into the canyon to the bottom of the Lower Falls (which you can see from the Brink of the Lower Falls), but they were closed for renovations {from AllTrails it appears the steps down have been closed since the fall of 2019 and haven't been fixed/ reopened yet}.

We drove down to Artist Point and although it wasn't visible in all its glory, we did get out to see what we could see. 

Did a little tilt shift on the picture where the Upper Falls are so it was the only thing in focus down the canyon.

You can see Upper Falls between the two of us. 

And a little panoramic shot to see more of the views.

8. Inspiration Point *Plan to return when weather is better

By the time we got here (like the rest of the Grand Canyon area) the visibility was shot to see anything. Thankfully there were a few spots in our itinerary left open so I was hoping we'd be able to return and the weather would give us a break.

I know the pictures might not reflect the true weather outside (sitting in the backseat of a rental car wasn't super conducive to taking pictures of the storm around us and at most stops people didn't want to dilly-dally in the weather to truly capture it), but trust me when I say it was bad. If it was bad enough that they closed roads in the park and that we were stranded at multiple points during the day waiting for said roads to open, it wasn't just a light dusting. Thankfully it had cleared up enough and the park was able to get some snow plows out that we could head back to the campground (we were chatting about options if the roads didn't reopen and figured we'd either have to get a hotel room outside of the north gate of the park or take a big detour [like 6-8 hours] around the outside of the park to get to the west entrance to try and get back to the campsite). Throughout the day, whenever there were bison near the road, the hubby pulled over (or asked his dad to pull over if he wasn't in the driver's seat) so we could watch them. I'd say within the first 30 minutes of being in the park the hubby's favorite animal had changed from polar bear to bison and we stopped for what felt like all of them ;)

If you know me, you know I am very much a planner. I am Type A to the max. Normally I would have been pretty upset when the day didn't go to plan (especially after putting so much time and energy into putting everything together ), but I was extremely proud of myself for letting things roll of my back and do more things "on the fly". It probably helped that we didn't really have another option because the roads were closed and we literally weren't able to do some of the things that we wanted, so no use getting upset about it. Anywho, all that to say, we saw some pretty amazing things and I proved to myself that maybe this old dog can learn new tricks after all (or at least start to learn them if she's forced ;)).


Oh yeah, and by the time we got back to the campground of course the sky cleared up and it turned into a gorgeous day.

It looked like the campground got some rain, but was at a different elevation so the weather never turned to snow.

As day one drew to a close, it was a great reminder how weather in the mountains can change in an instant and you always need to be ready and expect the unexpected. Sure we were in a National Park, but nature (and wildlife) is unpredictable so you need to be aware, be prepared (or as prepared as possible) and stay safe wherever you are. 

Are you the type who prefers to stick to a plan or enjoys flying by the seat of your pants?

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