We came to Yellowstone after Labor Day, thinking the summer crowds would be gone. And, perhaps they are. But the post-Labor Day crowds are still here, and they, like us, seem to head to the park around 10 in the morning.
Now, if we were smart – and disciplined – we’d be up early, pack a lunch, and hit the West Yellowstone gate by 8 am, or even earlier. Instead, we lounge in our warm bed, make and drink our tea, check our email, have some breakfast, dress, make and pack our lunch, gather our maps, hats, coats, sunglasses, camera, cell phones… and hit the West Yellowstone gate by 10 am, along with thousands – maybe tens of thousands – of other slow starting visitors.
It’s commute time!
We’ve traveled the 14 miles from the West Yellowstone gate to the “Grand Loop” road three times, and each time we’ve seen bison and small herds of elk right along the roadway. The tipoff? Traffic slows to a crawl as tourists move their cars halfway off the road and park, then step out into oncoming traffic to photograph the nearest large mammal. It’s CRAZY!
Once past the snarl, we speed up to 13, 19, 23, 35 miles per hour. We’re a rocket – ZOOM! Then, up ahead… red brake lights. Slow down… 22, 14, 7, 3.5 mph. Three miles later, a lone bison saunters down the shoulder of the road.
It’s frustrating, and it’s delightful. It’s what we put up with for the opportunity to see wildlife in a natural environment, not a zoo, not a wildlife ranch. It’s Yellowstone.
After a cold, steady, soaking rain on Thursday, we got our usual 10 am start this morning and spent 45 minutes driving 14 miles from the gate to the Grand Loop. There we turned right, heading south to West Thumb to see the little thermal area on the edge of Yellowstone Lake. This route crosses the Continental Divide twice, near 8,300 ft. elevation both times.
Although dry, today was forecast to be cold, and that forecast was right on target. Up into last night’s fresh snow we climbed, then down to West Thumb. We got out of the car, crossed the parking lot, stopped and shivered. Went back for a layer of wind protection over our fleece, crossed the parking lot again, shivered again. Went back to the car and said “Yikes”!
Half an hour later, we were back in the lower elevations, exploring thermal areas at a lower – and barely warmer – altitude.
We’ve enjoyed our stay – and our site at Bakers Hole Campground – so much that we’ve extended it twice. Assuming that traffic in the park on Saturday would be even heavier than during the week, we’ll find something else to occupy us tomorrow, then head into Idaho on Sunday. Warm, sunny weather in the forecast. :)