Saturday, September 15, 2012

Yellowstone Road Trip - Day 17

“All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware.”  ~Martin Buber

After yesterday's bus tour of the upper loop of Yellowstone National Park, we were looking forward to today's tour of the lower loop. We hope we mentioned how pleased we were with the Buffalo Bus Touring Company. The day started out with great weather. Our guide for the day, Matt, picked us up in a medium-sized yellow bus and after one more stop the bus was full. We got a seat nearer to the front than yesterday which made it easier to get off and on for all the many photo and rest stops.

While Matt was a laugh a minute, he was also very knowledgeable and enthusiastic about the park. Matt's been doing tours for 10 years, but until the last two years, they have mostly been winter snowmobile and snowcoach tours. He promised to do his best to pull over for unscheduled photo opportunities of animal sightings whenever possible. Sometimes he just had to do what he called his cowboy move, that is, proceed in micro slow to give us a chance to take photos. "Micro slow" is just above the legal minimum speed limit so he doesn't get nailed by a park ranger.

Yellowstone was this country's first national park with good reason. It has so many unique features, that early on it was realized that it was well worth preserving. There are more geysers, hot springs, and other thermal features in Yellowstone Park than on the rest of the planet combined. There are pristine waters cascading in dazzling waterfalls, including one that is twice as high as Niagara Falls. Yesterday we saw the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone which is quite impressive and, like Arizona's Grand Canyon, it is hard to do it justice in photographs. There's Yellowstone Lake which is the largest lake above 7,000 feet in North or South America. The lake averages 100 feet in depth, and its deepest spot if something over 400 feet. It has the largest population of native cutthroat trout in North America. They are catch and release. At the lake is the Yellowstone Lake Lodge, a bright yellow building which is currently being repainted. We took advantage of the lodge's restroom facilities while we were there. All of the lodges in Yellowstone National Park are operated by the firm Xantrara. They operate the lodges in most of the National Parks, including Yosemite.

Then there's the variety animals. Today we saw more buffalo, more elk and another coyote. We had a very close and rare view of the Pine Martin which is a kind of weasel. It is really cute and supposedly very mean and viscious, being able to take down animals more than twice its size. It was up in a tree about 5 to 10 feet from where we were standing. This was the first Pine Martin our guide had ever seen in the 10 years he has been in the park. We saw a grizzly bear in a stream and were able to pull off and stay at a safe distance away while getting photographs and video. There are some rules in the park to protect visitors as well as the animals. You must remain at least 25 yards from a hooved animal and at least 100 yards from a bear. Not a bad idea keeping in mind that a buffalo can run 35mph. As our guide Matt said, when he goes hiking in the back country with his friend, he always carries a jar of jam. If a bear comes after them, his grand plan is to douse his friend with the jam, then saunter off. We remember that old saying about that situation...."I don't have to run faster than the bear, I just have to run faster than you!"

We overheard one of our tour bus companions comment on their $220 per night accomodations at the Best Western here in West Yellowstone. Now, our accomodations here at the Pony Express are not going to win any awards for being fancy or the most modern (seriously, we're talking knotty pine here), but they are clean and adequate for our needs (remember, we're only here in the evening to work on the travelogue and to sleep! Fannie Mae says the bed is plenty comfortable for her). And,it's only setting us back $79 per night!

All in all it was a very memorable day and we hope you enjoy the 86 images in today's photo gallery. You can view the photo gallery by clicking here.

John also shot video and you can check that out below.

Tomorrow we will be off on our own to explore some of the park that we want to explore further and some places that we have not been to yet.

We had dinner at the Geyser Grill. It's a small place on the outskirts of West Yellowstone but is rated very highly by locals and Tripadvisor. John had a club sandwich and Linda had trout. Both were very tasty and the service was quite good.

Happy trails!

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