Sunday, August 3, 2008

Yellowstone: Alternatives
to the geothermal whoopla

Yeah, we really did go there. It's just taken me a while to get through the heaps of digital photos we took. In that heap you'd think we'd have a picture of the Figs standing in front of Old Faithful. But, no. We arrived just after it had gone off and as hundreds of people were streaming through the parking lot to their cars because if it's not going off, there's nothing to see, right? And no, we didn't stay for the next blast off.

I have a very un-Yellowstone-like confession: Other than learning about how the park was formed and understanding the geological significance of the geothermal activity, I'm just not that interested in what are considered the big ticket items of Yellowstone. Don't get me wrong: It's some fun stuff.

We hopped out of the car to look at a few mudpots, steaming ponds, and the like and rode our bikes a few miles to see the Lonestar Geyser (which did go off when we were there—I explained to Sophie that Old Faithful is just like that, only bigger), but I have about half a day of tolerance for it all. Part of it's the crowds; part is the pavement paths you walk over to get to it all.

What we wanted was this:

However, we spent the first night camping at the ghastly Grant Village, which is pretty much like you're camping in a dirt parking lot with some trees. This is one of about half the campgrounds in the part operated by a private concession, where they assign you a site based on personal data entered into a computer (number in party; pet yes/no; size of tent; etc.). We settled for a night there so we could spend our first day seeing some sites without worrying about securing a place to sleep.

The next morning we hightailed it up to the campground I had selected through my exhaustive internet research: Slough Creek. It's off the beaten path, up a two-mile dirt road in the northeastern part of the park.

No electricity, no flushers, RVs ok but no generators. And my dad remembered backpacking there as a kid from their family summer cabin in Montana, due north of Slough Creek by not too much. All good reasons to make it our Yellowstone home.

Because it was off the beaten path, it did mean that we spent a little more time than we would have liked touring around in our car. We were particularly glad though to have our bikes with us, which allowed us to cover more ground.

In addition to our Lonestar Geyser ride, we also rode out to Artists Point for good views of the falls through the canyon known as the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone.

Back in our own neighborhood, we enjoyed a hike up the Slough Creek Trail,

where we saw many interesting things, including

a cabin in which we would like to live and

the remains of an elk who probably had a run-in with a grizzly or grey wolf (these things happen, you know).

Here's pictures of a few other things around the park we liked.

Did you know that twenty years ago the whole damned thing almost burned down? But that's sort of a good thing. We learned in one of the nature centers that the seeds in the cones of lodgepole pines can only be released by fire, since it takes lots of heat to melt the glue that holds them in there. Interesting, huh?

We were really excited to see this handsome bison. Can you imagine how excited we were the next day to see a herd of over a hundred of them?

And there were flowers. Not everywhere since many parts of the park are fairly arid. But there were lots right where I wanted them most: outside the door of my tent.

And of course we were very excited when Sophie earned her second junior ranger patch of the summer, making her a triple-threat ranger (Denali, Tetons, Yellowstone).

But a post on Yellowstone would be incomplete without mention of bears. Leading up to this trip I had spent months worrying about bears. So I bought some of this:

Husband thought I was a complete idiot, but I felt better rolling over in my sleeping bag in the middle of the night and seeing its little glow-in-the-dark release tab. I explained to Sophie that it is something you hope you never need to use because if you find yourself in the position where it looks like a good idea, you're already pretty fucked.

Slough Creek is known as the grizzly area of the park, and a few weeks before there had been a grizzly who tore open a couple of tents when people were out of camp. We didn't see any there but were plenty of motivated to follow the guidelines for camping with bears, which included putting away everything—food, cosmetics, dishes (even clean ones), water buckets, stoves, etc.—in a bear box or locked car every time you went to bed or left camp. We had had to do the same thing in Tetons, so after a week and a half I was more annoyed with bears than afraid of them. Other wild life was a evidence though. We had coyotes run across the road in front of our car a few times, and we listened to the wolves howling at dawn, Slough Creek being the only place in the park where you can hear them.

Husband and I tried to explain to Sophie that when we were kids there was a cartoon show based on Yellowstone and the bears. Yogi Bear and his sidekick BooBoo, inhabitants of Jellystone Park, spent their days in search of picinick baskets, with that poor outsmarted Mr. Ranger hot on their heels. She asked "Well, what else happened in the show?" "Nothing!" we explained. "Just picnic baskets?" "Yes! With BooBoo! And Mr. Ranger!" It's hard to explain.


Sabina said...

I drove across country the summer of that fire, and could smell it about 200 miles east of Yellowstone on I-90, all the way to the Bay Area. I was soooo disappointed that I missed my chance to explore. I did see a magazine spread a year or 2 afterwards that highlighted the beauty born from a proper burn. I imagine 20 years is adequate time to soften the black char to gray. Lucky you reaping the benefit. Did you bring that elk skull home?? Sasha would certainly love that one.

Anonymous said...

The photos are BEAUTIFUL!!!
Way to go Jr. Ranger Sophie!

Anonymous said...

Looks like a great trip - I want to hike Slough Creek Trail - it looks right up our alley. Yellowstone is one of the few parks out west that we haven't hit and is known in our house as: "the place where Papa saw the moose."

Sophie's hair looks very cute cut short, btw.

Mom on the Run said...

My aunt and uncle live in Cody, WY, so we'd been there before, but this time we just chilled and checked out Firehole Canyon for awhile then on to Lake Yellowstone. Gorgeous and HUGE lake--I forgot how big it was.

Deb said...

Gorgeous pictures!! I've always wanted to go there.

I totally forgot about Yogi Bear. It was a great show.

Jen Yu said...

Oh, I have similar feelings to Y-stone. Except that geologically it is such a kick ass place!! :) But what I've found is that for every national park we visit, there is always the recon: see the major sights and schlep through the "village". After recon which has now been reduced to one afternoon - we backpack or hike to see the more pristine parts. Night and day, lemme tell ya...

And fwiw, cars are no obstacles to hungry or curious bears. Have you seen the claws on even a piddly little black bear? HUGE! They rip cars open the way you could rip open a bag of potato chips. Ouchie! We chase black bears off. We shit pants around brown bears (species, not color). ha ha ha! *snort*

Sophie is a studette. Glad you guys had a good time off the beaten path. Good on' ya, hon! Sophie needs that Rocky Mountain NP badge. We are here... 1 hour down the road from The Park (as it is known in these parts). Come stay in our fancy tent (house). Or perhaps you would prefer to ski? ;)

Jennifer H said...

I haven't been to Yellowstone, though I wish I had made a sidetrip when I visited Glacier NP.

Your pictures are beautiful! Your kids will never forget this trip.a

Tres Poshe Preppy said...

Gorgeous photos! You took me back to my trip there, MANY years ago!

The Mrs. said...

YOu are hysterical! I would bring the bear repellent too! I am soooo not outdoorsy but I know we'll be bringing landon there one day!!!

Broady said...

Have you seen the video someone took recently of the grizzly attacking a moose? It definitely makes you respect the amazing strength and even grace that bears possess.

I'm with you on that bear deterrent... I'd be clutching it in my sleeping bag all night.

Angelina said...

I'm very scared of the bears.

It all looks so beautiful though!

steven said...

question - cana van make it up th dirt road to slough creek?

Cindy said...

steven: Absolutely. It's a packed gravel road.

M said...

Great trip! We plan to stay there too. Wanting to know what time to arrive at slough creek to get a tree covered site? We plan to arrive 3rd week of July on a sunday afternoon/night (stay in reserved campground as you did) or early Monday morning. Was the campground full? great pics!

Cindy said...

M: We stayed at Grant's Pass the night before and got up fairly, but not ridiculously early to get to Slough Creek. Seems we got there about 9:30 or so. It wasn't full then but it was by noon. The spots by the river were taken by people who had been there a while (a lot of fishers go up there and spend a week or so), but we got a nice tree-covered spot fairly near (but not too near) the restroom (there is only one).

Take lots of bug spray! Slough Creek is reputed to be the only place in the park where you can hear the wolves. Listen early in the morning at dawn. I'm so glad you're going--it is by far the best of Yellowstone. Let me know if you have other questions, and let me know how you like it when you get back!

M said...

Thanks Cindy! That gives me a better idea. I will definitely remember the bug spray and give you a report. It's our first time and we are anxiously awaiting the trip. Look forward to listening for the wolves.

M said...

Hey Cindy: Thanks again for the tips. We stayed the 1st night in Mammoth (think dirt parking lot). But thankfully found camp #27 (end of the road) open at about 8:30am the following morning. There was a thunderstorm rolling through and we lucked out by getting that spot.

We were pretty secluded which is a plus for 3 loud boys. Saw a bear wander through the site, thankfully we were just coming back from Lamar Valley animal viewing so we were still in car. He was a little black bear just checking things out.

Lamar Valley is awesome. We got to experience almost every animal Yellowstone had to offer. My favorite were the small wolf cubs playing not to far from the road. A bison carcass also helped to draw bear and coyote closer to the road and give great views of feeding. We definitely plan to make Yellowstone a regular trip for our family. Thanks for all your help!