Yellowstone June 2013 Trip, Part 1

10 days in Yellowstone National Park, on my own and in my tent, were on tap for June 2013.  Friday, June 6 was my son’s last day of the school year, with 11:30 dismissal.  While he was at school, I loaded up the car with gear and supplies, hoping I’d have room for him and the things he would take with him to Anaconda, where he would spend the week with his grandparents, aunt and cousin..  It was a tight fit, but it worked out.  When my son got home, we hit the road for Anaconda directly.  I dropped him off in Anaconda, visited briefly with the family and then got back on the road.

I had forgotten that several campgrounds were opening later in the season than usual, thanks to sequestration and cuts to the NPS budget. Grrr….!!!  So, upon arrival at the Park, I was disappointed to see that my campground options were pretty limited, but at least sites were, at that time, still available at the Norris CG.  So, there I headed.  Along the way, I saw a grizzly sow with three cubs-of-the-year that has been frequenting the area along Obsidian Creek for a couple months.  They were at a distance from the road at that time, and I didn’t want to risk not getting a campsite, so I continued on to Norris CG, claimed a site, left behind my rubber box of fire materials to mark the site as occupied, and returned to the Grizzly Lake Trailhead, from where the grizzly family could be viewed.  They were beyond the range of my lens and the evening light was fading fast, but I got out the camera to scratch the itch in my shutter finger.  There were quite a number of kids there, so I got out my scope and set the tripod for it at kid height (making the adults who used it bend over).  Several kids put their camera phone lenses up to the scope and were thus able to take home some pictures of their first grizzly bear(s).  The trip was off to a good start!

grizzly bear sow mother with three cubs of the year

After a couple hours of watching the antics of the triplets, I returned to the Norris CG to make camp.   Before driving back to camp, I put a frozen breaded chicken cordon bleu and a foil pack of bell peppers, red onion and mushrooms into my RoadPro Portable Stove, a new addition to my “kit.”  Dinner was ready when I arrived at Norris.  The skeeters that I am usually spared on May and September camping trips inspired donning more clothes, though the night was warm and pleasant in a tank top and capris.

On Day 2 of this trip (first morning in the Park), I headed north, keeping an eye out for the grizzly family.  I drove back and forth through the stretch the grizzly family has been frequenting twice before continuing on to Mammoth, with a stop at Swan Lake Flats, where Electric Peak was looking particularly beautiful, reflected in a a seasonal pond on this crystal clear morning.

Electric Peak of Yellowstone National Park reflected in a seasonal pond on a clear morning

From there, I continued north, then east as far as Pebble Creek before parking at the Trout Lake Trailhead.  I walked in to Trout Lake and spent nine hours there waiting and hoping on otters.  No such luck, as far as that is concerned, as all I got was a .5 second glimpse of an otter head briefly breaking the surface of the water.  However, there are far worse ways to spend a day than enjoying a beautiful day at Trout Lake.

Trout Lake, and it's inlet, in Yellowstone National Park

I enjoyed the abundant wildflowers, including sugar bowls.

A trio of sugar bowl wild flowers

I was pleasantly surprised when this pair of Barrow’s goldeneyes came over to rest on this log, quite closer than they are prone to getting.

pair of Barrow's goldeneyes - male and female - on a log in a lake

I spent most of that time at the inlet end of the lake, where I could see trout swimming back and forth along the log which the Trout Lake otters frequently use as a dining table, but there were none, as yet, in the inlet.

log in Yellowstone National Park's Trout Lake

I spent only a short time at the opposite end of the lake, where the otters seem to den.  However, I was delighted to find this trio of calypso orchids near the grassy log that the otters frequent.

Calypso orchids growing at Trout Lake in Yellowstone National Park

Heading back west, I enjoyed seeing a black bear sow with two second year cinnamon cubs at Petrified Tree.  The same family, I’m sure, that I enjoyed watching romp and play and play there last May.  It’s wonderful to watch them grow up!

Black bear sow mother with two second year cinnamon cubs

Two second year cinnamon colored black bear cubs on/around a fallen log

I stopped on my way back to camp to wrap up a fresh bacon wrapped & mushroom stuffed chicken breast in aluminum foil, twisting the ends like a Tootsie roll, and putting it in the RoadPro Stove to cook for dinner.  I ate it with a broccoli salad with cranberries, bacon and pine nuts.  What a dinner!  Yum!  I won’t always report my meals, but at this point, I was so happy with how things are working out with the new addition to my gear…

Day 3, I awoke to a migraine.  It’s inevitable that I have at least one on a trip, I guess.  Fortunately, I was able to address it soon enough for meds to be effective.  I broke camp and loaded my gear into the car, with the intention of moving camp to the Lewis Lake CG and spending a couple days in the Tetons and the southern section of Yellowstone.  I detoured out the East Entrance Road as far as Sylvan Lake and made a stop at Lake Butte Overlook.  It was a crystal clear day and the Teton Range was beautifully visible across the sapphire blue water of Yellowstone Lake.

Teton Range as viewed over Yellowstone Lake from Lake Butte Overlook on a clear day

I had proceeded about as far south as West Thumb when I received a text message from my dad informing me that the Lewis Lake CG wasn’t scheduled to open for several days.  Darn!  Back to the Norris CG I went, and made camp all over again.

I next visited a location which was good for pika and weasels in both May and September of last year.  It was mid-day by this time, and HOT.  Furthermore, a red-tailed hawk was circling and crying over Pikaville, and I’ve observed that pika wisely hole up when raptors are overhead.  The odds, then, of seeing pika and/or weasels hunting pika seemed slim, so I didn’t linger overlong before departing.

I headed to the Upper Geyser Basin and pulled in to use the 3G Verizon service available there to pull up the website and check geyser eruption predictions.  Well, none of the predictable geysers, except for Great Fountain (which is on the Firehole Lake Drive) were coming up soon (and that predicted for several hours out), so I headed over toward Great Fountain to take a nap and sleep off the lingering effects of the migraine.  Predictions for Great Fountain are posted with a +/- 2 hour either direction prediction window.  Well, the end of the prediction window would coincide with sunset.  I crossed my fingers for a late eruption but set my alarm for the beginning of the eruption window.  When the alarm went off, I got out of the car to check it out.  I could see, by the full pool and water trickling over the terraces, that the eruption would be at the beginning of the eruption window.  Other visitors, who were debating waiting (not wanting to wait the possible 4 hours posted on the sign), were glad I voiced my observations and prediction that eruption would occur within 30 minutes.

Afternoon eruption of Great Fountain Geyser on a sunny day

Following the eruption, I slowly made my way back to the Norris CG to have some dinner (chili dogs cooked on the Coleman propane stove this time) and download and backup photos.

While doing so, I kept my eye on three ornery bull bison who were snorting, pawing the ground, gurgling, and wallowing at the edge of the campground.  Their behavior kept me alert.  Then, they charged through the CG, shredding trees with their horns, pawing the ground, roaring, huffing, and menacing tents.  Campers around campfires scurried for vehicles, except for one man, who cautiously, closely watching the closest bull, went to his tent, insanely close to a bison with tail raised.  I thought he was nuts.  He emerged from the tent with a sleeping infant and hustled to his family’s van.  Whoa!!!  I almost had a heart attack and it wasn’t my baby!  The bison pawed the ground and stood near their now-empty tent for several minutes.

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