We arrived in Yellowstone on Monday, July 29th from the Grand Tetons early afternoon and started looking for a campground. We knew it would be busy this time of the year, but didn’t expect it to be that hard to find a campsite in the park so we had not reserved anything. We tried at several campgrounds before getting “lucky” because a cancellation had just come in at the Madison campground. We had stayed at this campground before a few years ago and didn’t like it, but didn’t have a choice this time. We got assigned a “prime”site with a grand view of the bathrooms and the calming sound of the rushing waters within.
We decided to get up early the next day and get away from the crowds to the Lamar Valley which is the quieter & wilder side of the park. We had experienced it before in the fall and liked it very much. But it was relatively busy there too and we couldn’t find an open campsite after trying the Tower Falls campground as well as Slough and Pebble. To add to the frustration, we got stuck in road construction for over an hour. So we had to leave the park through the northeast entrance and got a site at the first campground we could find (just outside Cooke City). Little did we know, it was the infamous Soda Butte campground where a grizzly bear mauled and killed two tent campers a few years ago, therefore no tent camping is now allowed. Not to also mention the Cooke City cemetery is located at the entrance of the campground! It made for a nice sleepless night.
We only planned to stay one night of course, and since the weather had turned very stormy that afternoon, we decided to catch up on laundry.
We have quite a few quick-dry clothes that cannot be run through the dryer, so we had to make do and put up clothes lines in the car and at the same time reorganize it since we had to sleep in it for the night. Doesn’t it look like a gypsy van?
At this point we were really starting to think about leaving Yellowstone altogether and move on. We couldn’t get a good campsite in the park, the crowds were crazy, and hadn’t seen any wildlife since entering the park. Being determined, we decided to give it another chance, so we headed out really early to Slough Creek campground, our preferred spot, and got a premium site right by the creek. We even had a bison come right through the campground. We felt our luck was finally starting to turn.
We were greeted by a nice couple from southern California, Pam & Steve, who brought us hot cocoa as we were eating our breakfast. We also ended up getting their site (the premo site you see on the picture) since they had decided to leave that afternoon. Over the next few days we went on some beautiful hikes and drives in the Lamar Valley and finally spotted some wildlife.
Two of the hikes were memorable for different reasons. The Slough creek hike, where we hoping to see bears or large mammals of any kind, was not delivering so we were desperate to see anything. We let ourselves get pulled into a wild chase to photograph a sand crane that made us go off trail through swampy high brush mosquito area. We snapped the picture below but it cost us 50 mosquito bites each and lots of scrapes and pokes.
The second memorable hike was a hard climb from Warm Creek to Pebble Creek which passed through gorgeous meadows full of wild flowers. We were the only hikers on the trail. Because it is a known grizzly area, we were making a lot of noise while hiking and spooked what looked to be a huge bird. It flew a little ways and James spotted it perched in the tree where we were able to snap a few pictures: it was the great grey owl. What a treat!
During that hike, we heard loud crashing in the woods which had to be a bear but we did not see it and was OK with us since we were on foot.
Slough Creek is also famous for its pack of wolves and avid followers try to spot them every day in the early morning hours. One morning we got up really early (around 6am) and joined the group on a ridge. We watched through our binocs and a spotting scope that a couple shared with us, 3 adult wolves and 4 pups play on the river’s edge. They also treated us to a couple session of howling which sounded unreal….everybody was so quiet and mesmerized.
Another day was filled driving to Mammoth and hiking to Beaver Ponds. No beavers or wildlife was found on the trail but definitely in town.
It was a really hot day so we rewarded ourselves with ice cream. We have been treating ourselves (food wise) quite well.
Overall what started out as a chaotic and disastrous week turned out OK despite the fact that some of the wildlife was absent or hard to find (we have not seen any grizzly bears but we did see a badger and coyote but could not snap a picture in time). This time we did not hit some of the touristic spots (such as geysers, mud pots, canyon etc) since we had seen them before and it was really busy. Fall or Spring is definitely the better time to hit Yellowstone, but we will always have our owl and our sand crane 🙂