The Good, The Bad And The Ugly

The Yellowstone Park is something absolutely unique in the world…This Park was created and is now administered for the benefit and enjoyment of the people…it is the property of Uncle Sam and therefore of us all. -Theodore Roosevelt

We left St. George, Utah and the diversity of Zion and Bryce canyons for the most technically challenging part of the trip, for Rich, the hard core mountain flying. Instead of a straight flight plan, it was riddled with zigs and zags to avoid mountains higher than we could fly over. A quick stop in Spanish Fork, near Provo, had us double checking the weather at our final destination as mountain conditions can be problematic and sketchy. Flying over The Great Salt Lake, we headed northeast and a 2pm landing had us headed for the first official National Park in the U.S. – Yellowstone!

Yellowstone is, in a word, big! I previously hadn’t done much reading about our route once inside the park boundaries and found myself with the map in my lap navigating along mountain and meadow roads trying to snake us to our final spot, Roosevelt Lodge and the Roughrider Cabins. With 56 miles to our destination, we were held up by construction (of course) and a large herd of buffalo right inside the gate.

The wildlife is abundant and we were treated to buffalo, elk, bear and fox within the first few days of our visit. Upon entering the park for the first time, the ranger asked us where we were headed. When we assured her we were not going south, she revealed that the road was temporarily closed because of a Life Flight needed to remove a park visitor who had been gored by a buffalo. She strongly cautioned us against trying to pet these mighty beasts. Good advice.

We woke up our first morning in the park to thunderstorms. *sigh*

We decided to go back to West Yellowstone (56 miles) to do laundry and grab some lunch. The Roosevelt Lodge is one of the oldest in the park that offers a cost friendly option for accommodations. At $69 a night, we had a small cabin (10×12) with no air conditioning, no phone, no tv, no cell reception, no internet, no bathroom, no shower and a small wood stove for heat. Yes, it was heaven! Visiting the ‘shower house’ brought me back to the days of camping as a kid and it was great. Unfortunately, our closest option for food was in the lodge dinning room where you could get several different options for each meal with prices that matched the grand scale of the park itself. We decided to side-step the second mortgage to feed ourselves for the next 5 days and visited the grocery store in West Yellowstone to prepare our own meals by using our camp cook stove. Ha! There’s more than one way to skin a buffalo!

Our first official hike was the Beaver Ponds trail. “5 miles of moderate trails with several active beaver ponds, birds and aquatic wildlife” the hiking guide said. Not quite. True, it was a nice hike and true there were birds and aquatic wildlife, but no beavers. Oh well, to me even a bad hike is a good day. Our second hike of the day was to Bunson Peak. A strenuous 1,200 ft. elevation gain and 4 mile trek had us perched atop the peak with expansive park views stretching all the way to Grand Tetons National Park to the south.

After a full day of hiking on sunday, we decided to take the ‘easy’ trails marked in the guide on monday. Avoiding the construction delays had us taking a southeastern route towards a new part of the park. A lazy 1 mile hike along Pelican Creek treated us to the local white pelican and Yellowstone lake and a stop at the mud volcanos had us marveling at the geothermal activity concentrated in this area of the park. We planed to hike the Natural Bridge next, but were turned away when the trail was closed due to bear taking advantage of the cutthroat trout spawning in the river we were to be hiking next to. So, our plan to take the easy paths ended up thwarted when we found ourselves hiking on the Continental Divide. A fairly strenuous one hour trek had us standing atop the Divide at 8,822 ft. a height that neither of us had been to before in the states. We had hiked over the divide in the Canadian Rockies outside of Banff, but this was our first footprints on it in the continental U.S.

Our last hike was the most hidden and the best of all that happened to be right in our own backyard. A 2 mile trek up the hill behind our cabin took us to Lost Falls and Lost Lake. What a serene spot. The 40 ft. falls tumbled down the hillside and continued on down the hill to ramble right next to our cabin. We ventured around to Lost Lake and had a small ‘siesta’ by the water’s edge complete with snacks and mosquitoes, of course.

No visit to Yellowstone would be complete without a visit to everyone’s favorite geyser, Old Faithful. We braved the crowds to sit and wait for it to erupt and were not disappointed. It can spew boiling water and steam up to 185 ft and can last from 1.5 to 5 minutes approximately every 90 minutes. Very impressive indeed.

For me, Yellowstone embodies the true essence of the National Park system. Land that rolls on acre after acre, unbridled wildlife and the freedom to enjoy and revel in every part of it. It’s diverse landscape and unique features can have you soaking it all in, or studying one aspect in minute detail. Please forgive the length of this post, but Yellowstone so eloquently deserves every approving adjective that exists in the English language and demands a wealth of commentary. The original archway to the north entrance stands as a testament to the sole purpose of every national park. It was erected in 1903 with Teddy Roosevelt’s words inscribed upon it from his dedication speech, ‘For the enjoyment and benefit of the people’. And so we did and so we shall be…

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