[Note – This is the second of five posts describing my 2010 Road Trip]
Arriving at the East Entrance to Yellowstone National Park we observed a common sight– bison crossing the road near the Pelican Creek Bridge, or wallowing in the Creek just north of the bridge. Additionally, within the past decade there have been some significant forest fires along the Eastern Entrance roadways, much of it taking place in areas with diseased and dead pines. While the area is greening up, visible sign of the fires is evident.
Yellowstone was established as the world’s first national park in 1872. Most folks think of hot springs and geysers, and roaming bison when thinking of Yellowstone. In addition to the bison, Yellowstone is home to wolves, elk, mountain lions, black bear and grizzly bears, to mention but a few of the animals living in the Park.
I was in Yellowstone a year earlier (’09) with my wife, and had a good feel for where things were located, which made navigating and avoiding heavy Park traffic easier for Jon and me. During the busy summer tourist season, it can be a hectic place to visit, with busy traffic on all major roadways in the Park.
We headed directly to Lake Lodge on the north end of Yellowstone Lake for a quick lunch. The Lodge has a cafeteria offering three meals a day, and there is also a formal dining area and spacious lounge area with a full bar. There are also dozens of cabins within walking distance nearby. This is pretty much the situation at all Lodges in the Park. We had a late lunch and headed out to find a campground/campsite.
I’d made a list of about ten campgrounds in the Park and prioritized them as to my perceived desirability, but we had no reservations. First on the list was the Lewis Lake Campground on the South Entrance Road. We were a bit concerned about finding a campsite this time of year, but lucked out and got a site on our first try! And, there were no other campers near us, which made us the proverbial ‘happy campers.’ We set up our tents, then drove back to the north end of Lewis Lake to check out a hike for the next day, at the Dogshead Trailhead.
So far on this trip we had car-camped everywhere, parking our vehicle at the campsites. We usually had water available nearby (but not always) and a picnic table (but not always). Usually there was a lake, river or stream nearby and we could filter fresh water as we needed it (but not always). Some campgrounds had a well. We both had small backpacking tents for backpacking, but we each also had larger two-person tents for car-camping. Some sites had bear boxes to store food, if not we just kept it locked in the vehicle, and out of sight. It was pretty ‘lush living’ when compared with ‘minimalist backpacking’ standards! But we ate up this ‘lush lifestyle,’ knowing before long we’d be backpacking and humping heavy loads on the trail everyday for over a week.
Next morning we grabbed a quick but delicious breakfast at the Lodge, then proceeded to the Dogshead Trailhead. Day-packs with water, snacks, first-aid kit, knife, rain-gear and our cameras were all we needed; we would travel light on the 10+ mile hike, and enjoy the scenery. I also carried a canister of bear spray.
We continued hiking northwesterly toward Shoshone Lake. Almost the entire length of the trail we saw an extensive burn area from a fire several years ago, possibly a couple of fires, given the varied amount of new under-growth. When we reached Shoshone Lake we took a break and had energy bars washed down with filtered, cold, fresh water! The return trail took us along the shores of Lewis Channel (sometimes marked Lewis River), a beautiful shallow stream/channel where we saw several canoes along he way.
The trail took us back to the north-east shoreline of Lewis Lake, where we could look south across the Lake to where our campsite was located. The trail then took us east around the north shore and back to the trailhead where we’d started the hike. Note the Tetons in the distance. It’s a small world.
Arriving back at the Dogshead Trailhead, we got our vehicle and drove south, past Lewis Lake and our campsite, to find Lewis Falls, where the Lewis River begins it’s flow south to join the Snake River near the south-border of the Park. As the Lewis flowed south, other tributaries made the River flow faster and deeper. After a couple of miles the Lewis Canyon became pretty impressive, and then even more so, after it joined the Snake River.
We returned to camp and cooked up some dehydrated Beef stew and Chicken with rice for dinner, again washing it down with fresh-filtered water, and a delicious energy bar for desert. We built a small campfire as the sun went down, then hit the sac about an hour later. We planned an early start the next morning.
I awoke early and got up to explore the immediate surroundings a bit. The terrain was rolling hills with a lot of dead-fall from past fires and disease. As I left camp and began to climb the surrounding hills, I thought it best to take a compass bearing just in case I got turned around. It was also a sunny day, which always makes it easier to find direction. After walking around for half an hour it was easy to see how someone could get lost in this terrain on a cloudy day- everything looked the same in all directions (unless you could see the lake). Always carry a compass and map, even for a short walk.
I returned to camp and found Jon up and looking for me. I apologized for disappearing and we packed up our gear and loaded the car to start our day. We were headed to Old Faithful Inn for hot coffee and a nice morning view of Old Faithful. It was about a half-hour drive early in the morning.
After our coffee and a couple of eruptions from the geyser, we headed for the South Exit of the Park, and the Tetons to the south.
It wasn’t long before we got a nice glimpse of the Tetons where the Snake River widens and flows into Jackson Lake. Another beautiful day!
We stopped to visit the National Museum of Wildlife Art, on our way into Jackson and spent a couple of hours there– an amazing stop! It’s located right off the highway (west side) and you really can’t miss it. The architecture is amazing as is the collection. There is even wildlife art outside the museum (below). And just across the highway is the 25,000 acre National Elk Refuge.
After leaving the museum, we headed for the Signal Mountain Campground, 6,700′. We found it was packed with mostly steel-shell campers, very few tents. There were three loops and we found an empty campsite in the last loop at the end of the Campground. I think we were the only tent in he loop, everyone was in campers. The Campground is located right on Jackson Lake which explains it’s popularity.
The weather had turned and it had raining lightly, off and on for the past hour. We set up our tents and went to the restaurant for dinner. After a nice meal we returned to the campground and decided to sit at the picnic table and enjoy a cold beer and a cigar, and maybe a fire if the rain would hold off.
There was a light drizzle, so we put on our rain-gear and got a fire started. Everyone else was in their campers staying warm and dry, and we had the only fire we could see in the entire loop. It was like we had the place to ourselves! Suddenly, about 20-30 yards away I spotted a grizzly bear walking slowly right through the loop. I could easily see the raised shoulder/large neck shoulder muscle, that so easily distinguishes them from black bears. He didn’t stop, and just walked right through the campground and out into the darkness.
The rain had stopped and the fellow from the camper next to us stepped out and we chatted a bit. He and his wife were from Sweden. I asked him if they’d seen the grizzly walk through, but they hadn’t. Pointing to our tents, he asked if we weren’t afraid sleeping out in a tent like we were, to which I replied, “No, but if you hear us start screaming in the middle of the night… don’t come out of your trailer!” He laughed, loudly, thinking it pretty funny. But I wasn’t joking! 😉 We finished our cigar and beer and hit the sac.
We started the next day with a quick breakfast, then found the Signal Mountain Trailhead and began our hike toward the mountain.
We began climbing and immediately found a black bear ahead of us on the trail, and it quickly scampered away. Now we entered a hardwood forest as we climbed.
We came upon an elk cow browsing along the trail, then the trail wrapped around and came very close to her as she watched us. It was pretty amazing and we walked very slowly and quietly trying not to spook her. We continued walking and she watched us as we disappeared up the trail.
Arriving on top of Signal Mountain, we found people milling around drinking coffee from Styrofoam cups, near a parking lot. Turns out there was a road up the backside of the mountain. Some of the Japanese tourists looked surprised as they pointed at the .357 revolver on my hip, but I couldn’t understand what they were saying, as I smiled back at them. Yes, this was Wyoming, part of the American Old Wild West, and a grizzly had walked through our camp the night before! I’m convinced our hike up the mountain was better that their drive up!
We descended, had a late lunch and drove over to visit the Jenny Lake area, a popular tourist spot. It was very scenic and very crowded.
We departed Jackson following the Snake River south, then west and northwesterly into Idaho. Quite the trip so far, and only going to get better!