Day 2 in Yellowstone: Geysers! Bison! Bears! Oh my!
This is the third installment in our series “Four Days in Yellowstone”
When I threw open the hotel room curtains, the sunlight poured in and the sight took my breath away. Rows and rows of pine trees stood at attention in all directions, tall, and lush with green. The pines were held up with with thick brown trunks and branches that have seen more summers and winters than I have. An impossibly blue sky was reflected on the flat water of the giant Lake Yellowstone while the morning sun cast an optimistic yellow glow over everything.
“Look at this gorgeous view!” I said.
Charla, still recovering from her nightmare about a giant moose chasing her, buried her head under the pillow. I sighed. Time for coffee.
The main lobby of the Lake Yellowstone Hotel was a newly-remodeled wonderland of inviting couches and chairs, a huge grand piano, and wall-hanging lamps. Guests were walking around the lobby or lounging in the couches while easing into their first food coma of the day after a big breakfast at the hotel restaurant. The whole length of the lobby was lined with picture windows which the night before had been shrouded in darkness but in the morning revealed the same view of lake, trees, birds, people, ducks, and sky. Lots of sky.
Getting to know Yellowstone driving the loop
Today’s plan was to catch the highlights of the park as we drove in a loop along the main road. It would be impossible to see and experience all of the park in just one or two days. This national treasure is one of those places that slowly introduces itself to you over time and reveals its wonders and quirks, much like a large European city or a new relationship.
Our car carried us through endless pine groves sliced by a river rushing past as it drained from the lake and toward the giant Yellowstone waterfall, a spectacular display of nature’s violence and persistence as thousands of gallons a minute poured over the falls like an endless speeding freight train.
Still, the first thing you see is sky. Lots of sky. This is the moment where every visitor from Southern California understands why this part of Wyoming and Montana is called Big Sky Country. Underneath that sky the trees frequently gave way to vast meadows carpeted with rich green grasses over gentle rolling hills.
“This makes me want to frolic!” Charla said, gripping her camera tighter.
We hit the first bison-jam of the day as a row of 20 cars and campers stopped on the road and tourist jumped out or leaned out of their cars to photograph and watch small herds of bison grazing or just lounging around, indifferent to the humans nearby. Despite official warnings to keep distance from wild animals, the occasional tourist would wander a little too close or dangle off an unstable pile of rocks just to get the right picture.
Rangers and Bears
It must take a special dedication, love of nature, and patience to be a park ranger in Yellowstone. The job requires them to be caretakers, fire fighters, good cops, bad cops, crossing guards, teachers, biologists, therapists, bear protectors and more.
At one stop we saw a ranger pick up a cigarette butt that a man had carelessly tossed on the ground, indifferent to the beauty around him. “Excuse me, sir!” the ranger called out as he scooped up the butt and handed it back to him. “Over there,” he snarled, pointing to the trash can. We cheered quietly as the chastened fellow slinked over to the can.
Bears are a common occurrence here and are less tolerant of humans than bison are. They are more solitary and more aggressive. Warnings are posted everywhere about how to avoid bears and what to do if you come across one. If a bear can rip the doors off a car, then it seems wise to follow the rules.
Sometimes the cars stop on the road not for bison but for bears. With every rumored sighting of a bear, park rangers seem to materialize out of nowhere as tourists strain to find the bear hiding in the brush. The rangers are there to guide traffic, prevent people from doing things they shouldn’t and protect the bears too.
We rolled slowly through a traffic jam while a harried ranger helped a carload of French tourists park their rented car on the shoulder, almost hitting a family walking by. “There’s a bear down there,” said the ranger pointing several hundred feet down the hill. “You can’t see it in the trees, so just go get some ice cream and come back later.”
We chuckled at his sarcasm and drove on. We never did see the bear.top