Bison and Bears - Oh My!
Hey everyone - Kylee here! The wife of the man behind Striped Moons Studios. I am taking over the blog for while during our trips but don't worry, Cameron's photographs will still be shared (he is my designated photographer after all).
We made it! As of this moment, we have sore feet, full stomachs and are sitting in our comfortable hotel room writing this post - but a lot...and I mean A LOT...has happened in these first three days since we entered this glorious region called Yellowstone National Park. From bears in trees to 35 degree nights to quite possibly getting chased by bison, we will share it all. This will be a long post covering the first three days so be prepared.
Did you know that the Billings Montana airport in tiny? Yeah, didn't know that either. But, that's where we met my dad (hi, Chuck!) and headed off to our amazing week long camping/hiking expidition throughout Yellowstone National Park. After about an hour drive, we hit Beartooth Scenic Byway and WOW...is it gorgeous. Now, you always hear people say these things and see photos but nothing does it justice until you see it for yourself (this will be a fact in everything that we speak and show you, so, sorry but not sorry). The winding 65 mile road is a breathtaking view of what our country has to offer and quite frankly, how quickly mother nature likes to change. Weaving back and forth through Montana and Wyoming, we experienced weather ranging from 75 degrees and sunny, high winds, rain, snow and even some sleet as you work your way up 10,947 feet.
After this already amazing landscape route, we entered the Northeast entrance of the park and we saw not only more beautiful landscapes but cue the wildlife. Now, we might be lucky because out of all of the most recognizable animals offered in Yellowstone, we have seen 7/11 of them. Not just far away on a mountain using binoculars, but right up next to us easily spotted. Amazing! Bison, pronghorn, elk, big-horn sheep, mountain goats, coyotes and black bears are all checked off our list. We are still looking for grizzly bears, wolves, moose, and bald eagles - cross your fingers.
Animal Highlight: BLACK BEARS. In a span of less than 24 hours, we saw 9 black bears. Did you know they can climb trees? No, not just climb up the trunk to the first branch but climb up to the top of a 40-50 foot tree. We didn't see this just once, or even twice, but THREE times. We hit a legendary Yellowstone traffic jam and this is what we stumbled upon. Whether it was a male or a cub climbing the tree, we discovered they were searching and eating pinecone seeds. We didn't find this out till later so at the time, we just thought they were having fun ripping down branches and throwing them. Very cool thing to see none the less. I mean, how cute are they?! Cute in the sense of stay in the tree while I look at you, cute.
We camped at a campsite the first night. Now, neither Cameron nor I have been camping since we were maybe 10 or 12 and by camping, I mean sleeping in a sleeping bag, in a tent, in the cold. But I thought to myself, "I was a girl scout - this would be easy!" Minus being a little too underprepared for the cold night, it was smooth sailing - and fun! But this was just a warm up for our actual back country camping night.
Elk bugles - This was our wake up call. This does not sound like the normal alarm clock or even a rooster crow. Very odd sound but Cameron got very excited. The more they did it, the more he get mad because they were "taunting him" - we couldn't actually see there for him to photograph. It was quite funny! We left the campsite and stopped at Gibbon Falls. This was a nice little waterfall on our way to Lamar Valley where we were going to park our car. The only thing this waterfalls was missing was an actual Gibbon (for all who don't know, I love monkeys - whichever kind they are). Obviously, we didn't see any of those.
We found the spot to park our car and got ready for the hike to our campsite. We made sure everything was packed and ready to go and of course, took our 'before' photo in which we were all smiles and geared up. Now, it was a measly 4 mile hike to our camp site. Seems like nothing, right? Well, add a 25-30 pound backpack to your back with everything from a tent, sleeping bag, clothes and essentials like food and water and it tends to get a little harder. Overall, it was a great hike being able to see things that are not seen from a car. Herds of bison and beautiful mountains were as far as the eye could see. We were even able to see a coyote pounce on its prey - pretty cool! The trail was a small 2 foot path winding, in our case, through the valley of mountains, over hills, and took us over a small river to our campsite. Going over the river, we tried to step on rocks to get across but it always seemed like too big of a leap to the next one so we ended up having wet feet until we got to camp. Eventually, dad found some great walking sticks which helped up immensely getting over the river the other times (thank you, dad).
We set up camp, settled in, and cooked a little dinner.
*Fun Fact: You have to be VERY careful with food because of the bears. You do NOT want bears coming around your campsite (duh - but they will). To do this, we had to put everything that had any sort of smell into a bear proof sac and hang it in a tree away from the trunk (because as we discovered before, bears can climb trees). This includes everything from food to cooking utensils to trash. Anything that has a smell. I was glad we didn't have to use our bear spray aka mega strong pepper spray (at least so far - fingers crossed).
After cooking up a little dinner, we headed off to find some wildlife to photograph and watch the sunset. The first really didn't happen - there wasn't much wildlife active but we did have a nice little hike. Back at camp, we hung out and waited till it got dark to look at the stars. They look a lot different than they do in Ohio. Not going to lie, I was so cold that while it was getting dark, I curled up in our tent and watched the Lion King while I waiting for the stars to come out. I know, lame, but at least the movie is a little fitting? Overall, we felt accomplished going to sleep that night...and cold.
Cold. That's what I thought when I woke up. Actually, I was pretty warm until you got to my toes. Those were cold. For Cameron, it was his fingers. Don't you hate when you just can't get them warm? After an overall restful night, we got up and relaxed with some coffee and hot chocolate. We chatted about what we wanted to do the rest of the day and started to get moving. We packed up our campsite and started heading back to the car using the 4 mile hike we did the day before. This time, it got interesting.
Remember those bison herds we saw on our way to the site? Well, now they were on our trail. Around 100 bison scattered exactly where our trail was and around. Crap. What do you do? Seeing how Cameron and I have never experienced something like this is Ohio and it has only happened to dad once, we had to maneuver around them...very cautiously. As you steadily walk past them about 25 yards away (way too close to comfort), they notice you. They know you are there and you are in their territory. At times, it was fine. They would star at you as you walked to makes sure you weren't trying something funny. But there were a few times where they would grunt as a warning to you and the other bison around so all of them knew you were there - scary. The bison could charge at any second if they feel you are threatening them. Luckily, this didn't happen or I probably wouldn't be writing this. Not only were some of the bison somewhat angry we were so close but there were two male pronghorns fighting right in front of us over territory - and boy can they run fast. It was a somewhat scary experience not knowing what will happen with this huge, possibly 1,000 pound animal. Something that not many people get to experience. Needless to say, it took us a little longer to get back and a little more than 4 miles.
Once we were back to the car, we drove out to Mammoth Hot Springs. It was not as flowing as we wanted (probably due to the time of year) but still cool to see. We walked along man-made walk ways to see the mineral deposits, such as calcium, that have built up over thousands of years which come from underground water sources. Close up, it looks very cool and abstract-like.
After that, we hit the Norris Geyser Basin (the water source for Mammoth Hot Springs). These were a bunch of geysers that were scattered throughout the area. Some were constantly bubbling from the heat below while some have not blown for decades or longer. Did you know that Yellowstone is one big volcano which last erupted 640,000 years ago? Cool, right? That's why there are so many different hot springs, geysers, and steam vents throughout the park.
Now that we were beat from a long day, we checked into our hotel for the rest of the trip and grabbed some dinner. On our way to the hotel, we actually saw a huge forest fire that happened to be a controlled fire that got out of hand. Oops. It has been an adventurous first three days and we are looking forward to the many days ahead.
Hopefully this was entertaining all while educational. Keep a look out for the next post coming soon! A big thanks for following along with us!
- C & K
*All Photos are currently unedited