Friday, September 10, 2010


Busy parking lot at Norris Geyser Basin 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!

The Yellowstone CommuteThe West Yellowstone gate has one major drawback (I’m sure the other entrances have their own problems): wildlife!  It’s what we all want to see, and it is here in abundance. 

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.

Bison walking along the road A bison, a bull elk and a harem member

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.

Yellowstone snow 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.

Steam on a cold day in Yellowstone Bubbling pool along Firehold Lake Drive

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.  :)


  1. Yes, Yellowstone is aways worth the hassle of those crowds. The beauty there is unmatched any place else we've been to. Snow already? Yikes, that surprised me a bit. Enjoy and have fun you two!

  2. You guys must have gotten caught in the traffic jam my Mom talked about this morning--she and her husband work in Canyon Village and were heading to West Yellowstone this morning hoping to find a part for their motorhome kitchen sink faucet. But, still, isn't Yellowstone wonderful??

  3. Snow, beautiful snow. I just can't wait to see this place in person. K

  4. Wow! Snow already. What a beautiful place. Glad you have the patience to live with the traffic jams.

  5. Hi Laurie and Odel,
    If only I had been following your blog as we travelled I would have known that our paths crossed. We left Lee Vining, CA on Monday morning and, if my memory serves me right, we camped just north of West Yellowstone on the 8th.

    I was interested to read in your last post your impressions of Bozeman because that's exactly what we thought as we headed through. No time to stop this trip but maybe another time.

    If you don't have reservations for Idaho already I highly recommend the State Park at Henry's Lake, not too far from West Yellowstone. They have full hook ups, a great view and a really interesting nature walk. Plus they had the friendliest park staff I met on the whole trip.

  6. Gypsysmom, on our rainy, rainy, day, we drove over to Island Park to see Henry's Lake S.P. and visit friends in a commercial park. Looks like a nice area.

    We had a laugh at the park: as usual, we just pulled up to the kiosk, explained that we wanted to look at the campground, and wondered if we could take a drive through without paying the day use fee. The answer was "yes", and we were given a 5 minute free pass. I told Odel I didn't think we could get to and through the campground in five minutes without substantially exceeding the speed limit!

    Now that it is after Labor Day, we are traveling WITHOUT reservations. YAY! Heading closer to Grand Teton tomorrow.

  7. Enjoy is still one of our favorite states!..I do love the snow pictures..just don't care to shovel any if possible! Stay safe!

  8. Sometimes people in those buffalo jams are not very smart, but isn't it wonderful to see everyone so excited about the out of doors! :)

  9. Enjoy your blog....just wondering...we were in Baker's Hole C.G. last fall and on our exit with our 40' motorhome we scraped the side badly on the evergreens that were overhanging the road at the curve behind the big board as exiting. I wrote them and suggested they trim the shrubs back. Wondering if they did....we loved the campground and have been there a few times but the scrapes really upset us. Thinking back, we could have exited in front of the big board where you enter. Will do that next time if it looks like a problem. Safe travels.

  10. We were in West Yellowstone for the weeks before and after Labor Day last year. The traffic was actually worse after Labor Day than during Labor Day Weekend. I am convinced that there are 100s if not 1,000s of people sitting outside Yellowstone over Labor Day Weekend all saying the same thing “We will go to Yellowstone after Labor Day when the crowds thin out.”

  11. @Mary: no, the trees along the exit route still look frightening, and we've seen other big rigs scrape on the limbs. We're probably going to exit at the entrance, with me ahead on foot to motion Odel when the coast is clear. Don't know why they don't clear that exit when it is obvious they've designed the campground to handle big rigs.

    @Grant and Kathy: Too funny! I think you probably are right, because that is exactly what WE did!

    Oh, well - it spite of the things we would change if we could, Yellowstone is worth it all.

  12. Hope you get to Coulter Bay Village and get some of their chili. It's good. The campground is fun too.

  13. Love the snow on the pines! How beautiful.