So despite predictions of snow, rain and cloud, we had perfect sunshine with interesting cloud formations for the entire day. And the day was AMAZING!
We had stayed in Gardiner the night before and made a relatively early start, at least for us, having packed a lunch and got the car washed. Gardiner is right at the north entrance and we passed under the Roosevelt arch, paid our $25 and headed south into the park. First stop was Mammoth Hot Springs. We couldn't take Hopi on any of the boardwalks and so I made a mini excursion myself as Ginnie watched the bubbling cauldrons from the car. The smell of sulphur is almost overpowering but the colors of the lava against the blue sky with the resulting steam from the boiling water that is erupting from the bowels of the earth are amazing.
On we drove towards Old Faithful. Some of the scenery on the way was beautiful and some of it was frankly quite unremarkable. There are areas that have been ravaged by wildfires that are not pretty and some boring areas with just lots of pine trees. But the beautiful areas, along the rivers and across valleys are simply stunning. We stopped for lunch by the Yellowstone River and then headed to Old Faithful. We managed to time it perfectly, able to use restrooms and do a little shopping before the eruption which is very impressive. We have not been able to visit any Montana Wineries (the few that exist were not on our route without a very long detour) but I was able to purchase a bottle in the Old Faithful Store that was made at Ten Spoons Winery near Missoula that I will sample and report back on.
Old Faithful did her thing and we headed on. We knew that the East Entrance to the park was closed which would have been our best route to Cody Wyoming, so we had to make a detour and head back north and out of the North east Entrance. It turns out that it was fortuitous that this was the case, as while we were on the northbound road, we saw stopped cars and a Park Ranger directing folks. Yes, there was a grizzly bear less than 100 yards away. Excited, we pulled in and joined the throng. Ginnie had the binoculars and I had the 70-200mm zoom already on the camera as I had been using it to photograph many other amazing features of the park earlier, including geysers and bubbling mud holes near the Yelowstone Lake which is still completely frozen over.
With the long lens, I was able to see the bear clearly. She was completely undeterred by the audience but the ranger was being cautious. They can run at 35 mph and could be with us very quickly if she wanted to. But he has worked with these bears for over ten years and knows the signs. After gobbling at whatever she could find in the mud between snow banks, the sow finally ambled away, and the crowd left with huge smiles on our faces.
We also saw a lot of bison some with their young, an elk having a wander in the the river, some beautiful birds and the telltale signs of other bears. Apparently there was a coyote hiding behind a restroom too, and Ginnie was warned not to take Hopi near there!
As we left the park, we had a rather long drive to Cody, but the views were just as impressive as in the park. We arrived late and tired at our Cody hotel (The Cody), picked up a pizza, downloaded hundreds of photos and went to bed at 1:00am! Too late to do a blog, but it was an incredible day that will live in our memories and on our computer screens for a long time!