4:45 AM for most people is a dreaded wake up time, especially while on vacation…, but as I peered out of my cabin’s window I saw a glimmer of first light rising over the mountains just east of Yellowstone. As I gazed out the window imagery of Old Faithful, Yellowstone Canyon, wild grizzly bears and herds of bison roaming the valleys suddenly popped into my mind. That imagery gave me all the inspiration I needed to forget how comfy my bed was and get right into the shower to start my day in Yellowstone National Park.
This was my first visit to Yellowstone. My expectations for the world renown park were rather high. I hoped to see plenty of wildlife, but as I was driving a found a wonderful location about 20 minutes north of Old Faith to watch the sunrise.
The skies that morning were clear as the sun illuminated a gentle river flowing nearby. The mountains in the distance embraced the sun by offering a soft red hue. As I warmed myself with a hot cup of green tea, two young elk appeared maybe 50 feet away. This was quite an incredible sighting, but for me, the best was there were no cars driving by, no people talking or taking selfies. Just nature; a welcomed bonus for getting up early.
The journey following the sunrise was met with a unique patchwork of boiling hot springs and steamy geysers dotted the surrounding hills and meadows. Everywhere I looked I could see steam coming out of the ground. The air often smelt of sulfur. The hydrothermal dynamics of the park came into full view on this part of the drive.
About 30 minutes after driving through the geysers I found my first trail of the day, the Cascade Lake Trail. The trail was pleasant and I was the only soul on it. I crossed small, yet overflowing creeks, ventured through forests of Douglas fir and assortment of spruces and pines, and meandered through grassy pastures nestled between the hills. The space here was incredible, fully allowing my soul to breath in the natural world around me.
I didn’t think the hike could get any better, but then off in the distance, about 300 yards or so, I saw three bisons grazing away! I set up my tripod and began to watch the bisons. I watched them long enough to realize that grazing was the only event on their schedule for morning, so I decided to pack up and continue the hike. Though it was not the most exciting encounter (hard to beat elephants while on foot), it was my first encounter with bison and that is still pretty special.
When I returned to the trail head I noticed it was only 9:30 – it felt more like mid afternoon. So far my expectations were well exceeded, but there was still so much of Yellowstone left to explore. As I journeyed from the southwestern section of the park to the northeastern section the road took me up and over Mt. Washburn. Elevated at 10,233 ft, the mountain provided some wide-sweeping views of Yellowstone.
As I descended Mt. Washburn views of my intended destination came into sight. On occasion I pulled off the road onto a widened shoulder of the road designated for viewing. On one such occasion I spotted two large herds of elks and several bisons grazing in the hills below! Little did I know that this awe-inspiring view was only an overture.
The road in the northeast section of Yellowstone meandered through the Lamar Valley. This area of the park’s wildlife inhabitants such as wolves and grizzly bears, lured me to explore it, but my hike and drive in this section yielded views of black bear in the distance and a massive herd of bisons; well over a 100. Yet sadly no wolves… However, as wonderful as those experiences were, the most incredible sighting happened as I was returning to my cabin.
While driving back to my cabin I noticed about 4 or 5 vehicles parked along the side of the road. Everyone was standing outside their vehicle scanning the hills to the north with their binos and cameras. Even though it was getting late I couldn’t resist the intrigue and pullover to see what the fuss was about. After scanning with my binos for moment I noticed, maybe about 400 yards away, two black bears! A mother and an older cub.
I wasn’t watching the two black bears for long when two coyotes seemingly came out of nowhere and started to harass the cub! It is not uncommon for predators, even small ones like coyotes, to attack the young of other predators as it decreases the competition for food sources. Although I was hoping that bad would come to the cub I was intent on watching this natural spectacle.
Then after a few heart wrenching moments the maternal instincts of the mother bear kicked as she began to lure the one of the coyotes away from her offspring. Eventually she managed to attract both coyotes away from her cub. The skirmish ensued and eventually subsided with the two coyotes moving off. All I keep thinking was, “What a smart and brave mother bear!”
The sighting between the black bears and coyotes was a prefect way to cap off my day in Yellowstone; it was exciting, yet relaxing and at all times unpredictable. Even as I drove back to the cabin I saw red fox, bison, pronghorn and elk. My expectations for Yellowstone were completely shattered and my experiences there only want to me return time and time again.