DAY 78: Gardiner, Montana
Miles traveled: 10,242
States visited: 25 (just added: Wyoming)
Weather: 65, cold & rainy
I finally made it to Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming. My first day there was one of the most full days I’ve ever had. I arrived at the park before 8 am and spent the next 14 hours sightseeing, hiking, and wildlife watching.
The two things I most wanted to see were a buffalo and a bear. The first wish was realized quickly. While driving down the road, I spotted a large brown object way back near the trees. I pulled over, took loads of pictures, zoomed in and confirmed it was a buffalo. This was an exhilarating sight, because I never expected to see a wild buffalo in my life.
Little did I know that before the day was through I would see more than 300 bison, including several within ten feet of my van. They cross the street whenever they please, and you’d better stop and wait. Sometimes it takes them 30 seconds to saunter across the road. But it does create great photo opportunities.
Say hi to my new friends!
While driving around I passed a trailhead for Mount Washburn with a summit of 10,200 feet. I had no plans to take this hike, but when I read that bighorn sheep may be spotted on the mountain, I grabbed my backpack and began the climb.
There was snow on the ground all around me. As I reached higher elevations it got really cold and then actually started to snow! Well, it was more like a combination of rain, sleet, and snow. A wintry mix, if you will. Snow in late June is pretty awesome if you ask me.
Eventually I started feeling a little lightheaded – I think the thin air was getting to me – so I headed back down without spotting any sheep. But the hike was worth it, because I set a new personal record for highest elevation I’ve ever reached – I think I got up to about 9,700 feet.
I tried to take pictures of me up there, but they came out blurry because the camera kept focusing on the wintry mix instead of me.
Then it was on to bear country. I didn’t see a bear. But I pulled into one of the turnouts where a bunch of people with binoculars and high-powered scopes had gathered. This was apparently a superb spot for wildlife watching. People were looking way off in the distance, where two wolves were feasting on a buffalo carcass. It was too far away to see with the naked eye, but someone let me see it through their scope. Wolves!
Shortly after that, two more wolves appeared at a much closer distance, ran towards a small creek, swam across it, and then raced out of sight into the forest. This was cool to witness, especially because Yellowstone only had 128 wolves at last count, so it’s a rare sight. These were close enough for me to get a low-quality picture. The speck in the middle is a wolf swimming, and his friend is on the shore to the right.
The park has lots of hot springs where water is boiling up out of the ground.
A couple of deer mosied about near one of the springs.
I also saw some elk, a few pronghorns, and possibly a small coyote – a small, white and grey cat-like object darted across the street in front of my van. It seemed too small to be a coyote, but I don’t know what else it might’ve been.
No bears yet, but I have two more days here!