Day 3 of the trip marked a change of venue. We left the Lake area and headed west to the West Thumb Basin. It is another thermal zone on the west edge of the lake. It’s pretty amazing to think about all the thermal features that are underwater.
Here is one of the geysers (or hot springs) that is on the edge of the water. It looks really strange.
We only spent about an hour in the West Thumb area. The thermal features were cool, yeah, but once you see a couple dozen springs and geysers, it gets a little boring.
Boring might be the wrong word, but it is less exciting than …
The Grand Tetons
It really looked like that except more amazing. These mountains are jagged and seem to come out of nowhere.We stayed at the Jackson Lake Lodge and it is a great facility. The main lodge has a great room/lobby with massive windows as you can see below. There were a couple restaurants, a bar, and a cafe. You could even sit outside and drink a beer. It turns out that the sun was VERY intense, bright, and hot so sitting outside was unpleasant unless you are in the shade. Sitting inside was fine though.
We were able to get out there pretty early in the morning since we were on site. Most people must’ve slept in because we were the only people out there for a bit. That was surprising since the courtyard and lobby are filled up, crowded with tourists.
Brodie looks tame there, but looks are misleading.
The 3 of us were walking down the street, from our room to the main lodge, and there are just a few other people walking around too. Not very many.
We see about 4 or 5 crows on the ground next to the road. There are some shrubs and tall grasses and weeds and the crows are walking around doing crow things. They are cawing a bit and most of them are moving away from us as we get closer to them. Brodie locks on to them, but looks away after an instant.
At least his head is facing forward, not towards the crows. However, his eyes are looking in their direction, fixed on the 1 crow that isn’t moving away from us.
Brodie pounced onto the crow. The crow was pinned between Brodie’s front legs and mouth. The other crows were squawking and cawing like crazy. We were worried because we recently watched the Hitchcock classic, The Birds.
We commanded Brodie to release the crow and he did. The murder flew away quickly – the crow was unharmed.
We quickly put the leash on Brodie and left the area, fast.
Back Home to Bozeman
We drove out the south side of the park so we could see some other areas around both Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks. The views were really amazing and peaceful.
We woke up really early to see the sunrise. It was colder than you’d expect in the middle of the summer, but the elevation in the lake area is about 7,800 feet. It gets pretty cool at night even in July.
It was worth it to get up a little bit early. The sunrise is slow and gradual compared to places that are further south. This sunrise was way more interesting than the sunset.
We had another reason to get up early too…
Private Boat Tour
Not that boat though. That’s just a little one.
We booked a boat that can hold 6 people, plus the captain and fishing gear. We didn’t have any interest in fishing, which surprised most all of the people that we talked to. We got used to telling people that we just wanted to sightsee and get a good look at the lake from a boat.
It was pretty awesome – a great way to see the lake in a way that most people never will. The hotel was actually designed to be observed from the water. That’s a little silly since most people drive in…
Anyway, our captain was a 19 year old college student that lucked into one of the most interesting, sought-after jobs in the park: Fishing Boat Guide. She didn’t even have much of an interest in fishing or boating…they just needed to have the position filled and her application was on top.
She had about a month of training before the season started and she does it everyday.
Have you ever tried to do the right thing, and it just didn’t work out? Well, we almost got run down by a couple angry, ginormous bison while we were innocently walking Brodie one morning near Yellowstone Lake.
Bison have been getting some bad press this year after goring several people. There are sign everywhere stating that you should NOT get close to the wildlife. I want to say all the people in that situation are just stupid, and most of them are. But, maybe some of them were trying to do the right thing.
There are some cases where it sounds like the people aren’t really trying to get close to the bison. You see, sometimes the bison are right near walk ways or trails and you can’t walk anywhere else. Most of the time, people are just being dumb and get WAY too close to these animals.
Our story is a little bit like that… We really tried to do the right thing.
Bison are one of the major attractions at Yellowstone, and you’re almost sure to see a herd if you spend any time in the park. There are about 5,000 in the park, making up the largest herd on public land.
We took this video right next to our cabin. The bison are everywhere!
There is a section of the park called The Fishing Bridge near the Lake. Back in the day, people used to fish off the bridge for cutthroat trout. The population of cutthroat is in danger nowadays and invasive species are threaten them so you can’t fish of the bridge anymore.
After breakfast, we headed over to the bridge area with Brodie for a morning walk. It was pretty early so the crowds and traffic were light. We got out of the car and started walking across the bridge. We noticed 2 bison on the other side of the bridge laying on a hillside.
Then they got up.
We were on the sidewalk on the side of the road, to the left on the guard poles in the image above. The bison seem to use the road often (as you can see from the “Share the Road” PSA). We were about halfway across the bridge when the bison started to head over.
The decision was quickly made to head back towards the car. We have seen the bison walk along the roads a lot.
The cars just go slower and give the bison the right of way.
These bison hopped in the right lane and headed in our direction with a line of cars behind them.
We got to the other side of the bridge, then decided to head down a trail to the right of the road, right next to the river. At that time, the bison were midway across the bridge, moving fairly fast, and they were 200 feet away. We were at a safe distance and I was able to take a some great pictures of the bison crossing the bridge.
Look! There is a bird on his back!
We were still standing by the river with Brodie when the bison got to the other side of the bridge. We expected them to keep on going straight…
Why? I am not sure. He was in the right hand lane and cars were behind him. I guess he didn’t follow the rules of the road.
We had a problem. He stopped and turned our way.
He looked even harder with his buggy, predatory eyes. He turned his head and body.
We saw both bison were sort of looking our way. We were looking right back – starting to panic.
Then, it hit me! Bison aren’t predators!
Bison are prey.
Wolves are predators and Brodie looks like a mini wolf. Brodie has been staring them down for a minute – The bison knew it.
I asked Elizabeth if she could scramble up the hillside behind us. She didn’t understand at first, but realized she had to go NOW. The hillside is dotted with trees and provided some cover and that’s what I wanted. Of course, the bison could simply run up the hill like it was nothing, but the trees would provide some obstacles for them and cover for us.
They were still staring at us when we were heading 30 feet up the hill. It was sandy, rocky, and the footing was terrible. Brodie was confused since he wanted to watch the bison more. We finally got to a spot that had several trees so we stopped.
We made it out alive…
Right then, the bison ran across the street in the other direction! The ran up the opposite hill on the other side of the road! They were FAST and didn’t even slow down as they scaled the hill.
After we talked about it, we decided that the bison probably thought Brodie was a threat, like a wolf. They are natural enemies. (Check out this video on YouTube. Beware it is really graphic.) It escalated when we sat there and stared at the bison when they looked down our path.
The bison left and we went to check out the bridge again.
Here are a couple bald eagles chowing down on a fish.
The Bison Retreated
While we were on the bridge, the bison came back down the hill, crossed the road, and went over to the hill where we took cover.
If you have a dog, don’t let it look bison in the eye. The bison don’t like it very much!
Here is a clip from a documentary I watched earlier this year, and it’s the reason I thought Brodie made the bison take note of us.
We also had plans to stop at the scenic features along the East side of Yellowstone, but we ran out of steam and had to skip the Canyon area. There was quite a bit of traffic and plenty of people in all those cars and buses. It was a good move because all those people would have been a little annoying!
We had dinner plans for the evening at the Lake Hotel Dining Room – I made reservations months ahead of time. We got a charcuterie platter that was great, but WAY too much. It was enough for at least 6 people. Luckily, we were smart enough to share a burger and fries.
After dinner we headed to a little mountain next to the lake, called Lake Butte. We heard about it as an excursion that is offered, and I tried to book it, but it full months ahead of time. I read the description and it sounded like they just drove you to the viewing area (a parking lot).
So, I took a look at the map and figured we could just drive up there on our own. We saved $35 a piece! And, we didn’t have to ride on a bus with a bunch of other people.
While we were on the way we saw this guy on the road. He stayed in his lane and never exceeded the speed limit.
The Mountain Chicken (aka Rock Ptarmigan)
As soon as we got out of the car, there was a small family taking pictures of a bird, a Ptarmigan. Elizabeth asked me what it was so I said it was a ptarmigan, stumbling over the pronunciation like normal. Then, I followed up by saying, “it is like a mountain chicken.”
One of the kids in the family taking pictures heard me say that. The whole time we were there we heard that one boy mention the “mountain chicken” over and over again. In fact, he said it so much that I bet that will be a story that he keeps on telling… “That time at Yellowstone Lake when we saw the mountain chicken at sunset…”
It turned out to be a fairly clear evening with very few clouds. That actually made the sunset look a little less exciting. Now that I am looking at the pictures again, I see that it does look pretty cool. It seems pretty silly to complain about a sunset because it wasn’t cloudy enough! It was a fine sunset and we had a great time watching the daytime end.
On the way back to the Lake Hotel, we saw the nearly full moon. It looked pretty cool, but the most noticeable thing was the reflection in the very still lake.
Here is a bison we saw along the road near Lamar Valley. They are all over the valley and occasionally there will be one away from its herd.
It was a quiet little town with a main street lined with shops and restaurants. Apparently, the population in Cooke City was 140 back in 2000 and only 75 in 2010. We stopped at the Chamber of Commerce where there were picnic tables, a little museum, and bathrooms. We had a picnic lunch there and stretched our legs.
We made it to the park, drove past Lamar Valley to the Tower-Roosevelt Junction, and headed down the east side. Here is the general route:
We planned on stopping at all the cool sites along the way to the Lake where our cabin was located. First up was Tower Falls and the Calcite Columns along a nearby canyon.
You can see the hexagonal shaped columns neatly arranged along the top of the canyon.
Here is the Yellowstone River and part of the canyon that it flows through. Technically, this is not the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone as it’s called. That is further South and one of the main things that we wanted to check out.
The awesome views weren’t quite enough to keep us interested… Three things were getting us down:
The crowds of tourists.
We were tired.
We were hungry.
So, right after we saw Tower Falls, we made the decision to skip the Canyon for now. We would have other chances to see the Canyon later when we had more time and when there were fewer people.
There is always time for more pictures of Brodie laying in flowers.
We made it to a fork in the road, then head to the Lake Yellowstone Lake. I made the reservations 8 months earlier to get a pet friendly cabin. That was almost too late! People book very far in advance and getting a pet friendly cabin is even more in-demand.
The lake looks amazing – surrounded by mountains and at an elevation of 7,733 ft. It’s the second largest lake in the world over 7,000 ft.
The water temperature in the summer is about 45ºF. Most years there is still ice on the lake in late May or early June. The survival time is only about 15 minutes if you are submerged in the water at 45º. It doesn’t soundremarkable cold, but it is – it feels like ice. So, be careful and stay out of the water.
Seriously though. It really is dangerous and the winds can kick up 3 to 5 foot waves suddenly.
We checked into the hotel and check out our basic cabin. It was great – clean with just the bare minimum and no frills.
We took Brodie for a walk and saw a bison hanging out really close to the road and walking paths. You would almost miss it if it wasn’t so huge since it looks like a big brown bush. It turns out it had a friend nearby that we didn’t see. The brush just covered the other one up and we saw it on the way back.
This drive through the alpine on the Beartooth Highway marks the start of our July trip to Yellowstone. We started from Bozeman in the morning since it takes a few hours to take US Route 212 (aka the Beartooth Highway) through Red Lodge, Cooke City, and the Northeast Entrance into Yellowstone park.
The drive is widely accepted as “one of the most beautiful drives” in the world – and the summer wild flowers make it hard to argue with.
Wildflowers near the Montana & Wyoming state line.
The peak is at 10,947 ft – over two miles high – through the Beartooth Pass. It’s a drive that hugs the edge of the road most of the time, right next to dramatically steep cliffs. The do have some guard rails, which is nice. Regardless, you have to pay really close attention while you traverse the switchbacks and series of sharp, zig-zaggy turns.
You won’t be distracted by your smart phone on US 212 near the pass because the cell service is poor – no 4G or LTE service here!
You can see the snow fields in the background, and I believe that there is normally more snow up there in July. It’s been pretty dry in the region so the snow tends to melt away faster.
Everyone can enjoy the view.
When we got up to the top, it was wide open and there were rolling hills not peaks. However, there are 20 peaks over 12,000 ft around the drive.
It was reasonably warm at the top and the bright sun feels hot at that elevation. So we walked around for a little while and checked out the views and wild flowers.
One of the many ravens near the pass…
This picture was from one of the many pullouts and scenic viewing areas. I remember there were many obese chipmunks that found the high number of tourists friendly. They would come out and beg for food by looking very cute and standing on their hind legs.