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Trip Report Our Grand Teton/Yellowstone trip in May 2010

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Sorry it's take me so long to submit this. It's very long, so I understand if you don't read it all. I just figured some of you may want all the gory details. When I upload the photos, I will post the website here.

Here goes:

Our (DH and I) trip to GTNP and Yellowstone was almost perfect. Our goal was to see grizzly bears and wolves. Everything else would be just a bonus, but we were on a quest. We went in May – the day the south entrance to YS opens. We have been before – a couple of years after the 1988 fires – and the damage from the fires was epic. The recovery of YS just 20 years later is astonishing!! It was a light snow season, so there was just a little. Lots of areas closed to allow the bears to do their thing when they come out of hibernation – eat everything they can find! So what we wanted to see was off limits!!

Warning – I just re-read my report and I’m a bit obsessed with coffee, so I mention it a lot. I sound like a nut!

Our trip started on a bad note – a problem with the flaps so our flight from Newark to SLC was cancelled. Terrible customer service resulted in us arriving at Jackson Hole at 9PM instead of our scheduled 12PM!! A whole day lost, but no worries. We picked up our rental car. Ordered a small SUV, wound up with a full size. Tried to exchange it, but the woman at the customer service desk had already left. So we were stuck with this mammoth, awful thing for the week. I drive a hybrid, so I was horrified. We went to the liquor store and grocery store in Jackson Hole, crept our way in the dark to Signal Mountain in GTNP and checked into this very nice facility. Our room overlooked the frozen Jackson Lake and the Tetons, although in the dark we had no idea. It had a full sized refrigerator, a small stove, micro and coffee maker (with free trade coffee – yeah!) and a few pots and utensils. We left the door to the bedroom open so we could see the windows and when we woke up - WOO HOO! Sunrise from bed over the Tetons! Absolutely gorgeous to wake up to in the AM. What a spectacular place. So many people just drive through on their way to YS and don’t give it the time it deserves. Signal Mountain’s restaurant was really the only game in town, and we loved the food and the service was really good. Lots of organic and sustainable food.

So we did the safari hours – up at dawn to find the animals, take siesta in the afternoon, and go back out in the late afternoon. We didn’t have much luck with animals in GTNP. Our favorite sightings were a fox (beautiful) and a coyote hunting in the snow. You might have seen this on Animal Planet – they pounce on the snow to try to get the rodent. It was great!! But GTNP is just so beautiful; it was just a pleasure to be there for a couple of days.

So on Friday we made our way up to YS. The road is under construction, so we had to wait about a half hour before we could continue through the mess. It will be that way all season. We stopped at West Thumb – it’s really a great spot to see thermals on the (frozen) Yellowstone Lake. IMHO just behind Black Sand Basin for the wacky stuff that bubbles. We had to get to Mammoth in the north end of the park so we wanted to avoid the construction between Norris and Madison, but somehow went the wrong way out of West Thumb (I forgot how to read signs, I guess) and got stuck in the traffic. Another half hour wait. This is quite a big road construction job – they are replacing a bridge, and all the while they have to make sure traffic can still get through. Yikes!!

Mammoth was fine – we had a Frontier Cabin and it was MUCH nicer than I expected. No coffee pot, tho, so getting up before the restaurants were open for coffee was awful! We had to eat at the Terrace Grill as nothing else was open and the service was horrible. It was so bad they had to buy us dinner one night. But up at dawn again and off we went to Lamar Valley. There were lots of people there doing the same as us – but they had HUGE scopes so they could tell that those little dots a couple of miles away were wolves or grizzlies or rocks. We only had a good camera and OK binoculars. So we were a bit frustrated. But hearing our first wolf was THRILLING!! We did get to see a mooselet (a young moose, but not a baby) at the turn off for Petrified Tree. He was in the creek downhill from the road. Great to see one as they have not recovered very well since the fires. We also saw a mommy black bear with a 1 year old and a small cub. Not a great view - behind some rocks, but cute.

We did that for a couple of days then made our way to Old Faithful. On our way we went tried to find bears and wolves in Hayden Valley. Same experience as in Lamar. Bummer. It was awesome to know they were out there, but we wanted to see a couple, not just dots. At OF, we had a room in the new wing and it was nice, too. We even had a bit of a view and a coffee maker! Dinner at the Inn – good food, great service (yeah!). Next day we again did the dawn animal thing, siesta, dusk animal thing. Same as before. We were getting a little discouraged – we only had one night left and we hadn’t seen as much as we had hoped.

So on our last full day we were not sure of what to do. But we persevered. Wow are we glad we did!! We went to Fishing Bridge – it looked like a perfect spot for moose and bears. Nothing. So we stopped for coffee and them drove toward the east gate. We came upon a few cars stopped on the road – gotta stop!! Well, there he was - our grizzly bear!!!! He was pretty far away, so we got out of the car and walked about 50 yards off the road – he was still at least 200 yards away, so we were OK. Well, he started coming closer and closer – time to get back to the safety of the car. Come on hubby – he’s getting closer!! Well, we got to photograph this bear for about 1.5 hours from the road. He was at times within 15 yards from the road (no ranger came to chase us off, luckily) and it was thrilling for all of us who stayed with him. There were about 30 of us watching him from our cars and he was gorgeous.

So back to the Inn, did some more geyser and thermal looking and off we went again. We got stuck in a bison jam today – it was great. Hundreds of mommies and their babies walking right by us on the road through a narrow pass. Dinner at the cafeteria at Old Faithful due to waiting times at the restaurants. Not recommended, but we were hungry. In the off-season there are not many options.

So, last morning in Yellowstone. We had a 6PM flight from Idaho Falls so we wanted to leave a lot of time. The weather was changing pretty fast – cold, wind and snow on the way. We had this humungo SUV so if we got a flat we’d need some time to figure it out. We left after a late breakfast – giving us time to animal watch if we got lucky and still get to our flight. Well, this might be the best animal 24 hours of my life. We passed a road – Riverside Rd – and we noticed some cars, so U-turn!! We got down to the road and there he was. A WOLF!! He was feeding on a bison carcass that had either drowned in the river it was crossing or the pack took it down. I lost it (I was actually sobbing to be honest but I was in the car alone so it was OK) for a minute I was so excited. He was right across the river – about 75 yards away. It was amazing. We really didn’t think we’d ever get this lucky to see him so close. We also saw a large, collared wolf who was laying down near the carcass. I found out from a ranger that he was the alpha male of the pack. He had a broken foot. His future is definitely uncertain. Sad, but nothing is harder than being a male wild predator. The ranger was new to this part of the park so she didn’t know a lot of details about the pack, but the mom wolves had fed earlier on the carcass and headed south, crossed the river and were feeding their babies!!! I was over the moon – just thrilled to know they had puppies. So there had been 7 wolves from this pack that ate very well that day. We hung out for a couple of hours, the wolf left, the alpha male was still there, and it didn’t look like any more were going to feed, so we had to force ourselves to leave.

We got to Idaho Falls Airport in plenty of time, returned the car and used the free wi-fi (yeah for free wi-fi!!) to check my mail on my iPod Touch, and waited for our flight. DH was nervous about the flight as is was on a prop plane with Horizon air. Well, this was one of the most comfortable flights (in coach) we’ve ever had. Big enough seats and plenty of leg room! We were on our way to Portland, Oregon, and had a quick stop in Boise to pick up more passengers and off we went again. No issues. Easy.

Almost perfect trip.

A couple of trip notes –

We saw lots of wildlife, but we were on a bear/wolf tour. The birds, elk, pronghorn antelope and bison are just beautiful, and I shouldn’t take them for granted.

If you go to the national parks please make your cell calls in your closed car or your hotel room and turn them off. It was awful listening to people yelling into their phones and having them ring at Old Faithful. Not the place for that.

Dogs are allowed in the parks. They have to change the rules so that they all require their vaccinations. The wolves living in Yellowstone are getting distemper from our domestic dogs. I think everyone who loves their dogs enough to take them on vacation would be fine with it, but they have to tell us about it or we just wouldn’t think about it.

Our weather was amazing – we got very lucky. Sun, no wind, chilly in the morning, 60 – 75 every afternoon. I was not prepared. I guess I hadn’t really thought about it, but the lakes were all still frozen. It surprised us – I guess it shouldn’t have.

Our accommodations were better than expected. Signal Mt Lodge (and great food) with a view room was great, the Mammoth Frontier Rooms were clean and better then expected, OFI wing was new and nice (a little dirty, but OK). In the past we’d stayed at view rooms at Jackson Lake Lodge and they were beautiful too. If you are on a budget, the Lake cabins and Lake Lodge looked nice enough. Nothing was open, so couldn’t tell you about the food.

Take binoculars. Even when wildlife are close, it’s nice to see them through the binoculars.

The elevation makes it tough to hike. Be prepared if you live at sea level.

Please drive carefully and slow down. We are there to visit, not kill. We met someone who hit a bobcat (and she seemed a little proud of herself). Be careful. Plus, hitting a bison could kill you.


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