On the road again.....

Trip Start Apr 20, 2012
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Trip End Sep 01, 2012


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What I did
Animals like never before

Flag of United States  , Wyoming
Tuesday, July 17, 2012

We woke up early in order to say goodbye to Uncle Pete before he went to work and in order for Pete and Lily to complete a very special errand. Way back in April when the trip started, Lily had overheard Jess and Tim talking about the finances for the trip and seemed to become worried and she wanted to contribute and offered for several days in a row to buy morning tea as her contribution. This, of course, we refused  and in the end the only way to stop her from worrying and nagging was to promise her an arbitrary date in the future when it would be 'her shout' for morning tea. The date we picked all the way back in April, actually we randomly plucked the date as really far in the future, was 17th July. Lily, being Lily, never forgot, and since today was the day, she and Uncle Pete went to Granny's Homemade Donuts and came back with a dozen fresh baked cinnamon sugar, old fashioned donuts, yummy!!!! Then Uncle Pete went off to work, we finished loading Odie, got the last couple of items from the grocery store and headed out to Yellowstone National Park, the first National Park in the USA, thank you Teddy Roosevelt. The plan was for us to stakeout a campsite, pitch the tent, text Uncle Pete to tell him where we were staying as he hoped to join us for the night after he finished work, and then head out to explore this large, famous and wildlife filled park!
Just after we entered the park, the Yellowstone principle swung into effect and when we saw cars stopped, so did we and we were treated to the sight of multiple bighorn sheep grazing, climbing and traveling on the rocks far above the road. Although we have seen bighorn sheep before, this was the first time we saw such a large mob in action high up on the rock faces. What a great and auspicious start to our day. We then found a campsite at Mammoth Hot Springs campground, returned nearly to the park entrance to ring Uncle Pete and tell him where we were staying and then we were off to explore as much of the park as we possibly could by 6pm.
We had been told several times about heading to the Lamarr Valley as that is where the wolves tend to hang out . The reintroduction/experiment of returning wolves to Yellowstone has been a stunning and well-documented success. I won't quite get all the details and number correct, but as I understand it, wolves were reintroduced in 1999 and since then their population has steadily grown and now they number over 200 and there are several packs operating throughout the park. As a result, the herds of elk and buffalo are much healthier as weaker animals have been predated by the wolves (and occasional grizzly bear).Even though it was the middle of the day, we intended to make this our first stop after setting up camp just on the off chance they might be out and about. On the way we had a couple of interesting 'wildlife jam' experiences. The first was a whole bunch of cars pulled over and pointing across the valley floor. There was a large, adult  grizzly bear grazing on the grass and slowly but steadily decreasing his distance to the road. He was a couple of hundred meters away, but there were still several groups of people not just out of their cars, but also walking across the meadow to get closer for photographs. It took a Park Ranger tooting on his siren and waving them back before it occurred to them that this might not be such a good idea.  Around the next corner we saw a lone buffalo (bison is the same animal) in the distance. Excitedly we stopped and took some long range pictures and congratulated ourselves for spotting another large animal. Then, as we drove around the corner, we found to our great delight and amusement a herd of 40+ buffalo grazing on both sides of the road and crossing it in front of the parked cars. Several photos were taken and we were taken back by the sheer size and obvious power of these large grazers. They apparently have such large heads, shoulders and necks in order to use their heads/faces as shovels in the winter to move deep snow in order to find grass beneath. We took our time in this spot and enjoyed the sights. 
Just around the next corner was the largest wildlife jam we had yet seen, binoculars and spotting scopes were set up along the side of the road and there was a barely concealed sense/buzz of excitement as we heard the word 'wolf' whispered several times. We duly parked about a half a mile up the road and then hiked back to the phalanx of observers. Having children at this point was a major advantage as Tim was able to sidle up to an older gentleman and ask quietly, "might my kids please have a look through your spotting scope?" We all got several looks through and sure enough there were two wolves still actively feeding on an elk carcass that had recently been brought down. These wolves are well-tracked and studied and the story that came out was that they had been chasing this elk for most of the night and when the elk tired out, it sought refuge in the swift flowing (and very cold) river. The wolves patiently waited until the elk got so cold that it had to make a run for it, and of course its cold muscles failed it and they were able to bring it down. We, had arrived on the scene much later and only got to see the remaining two (of 6) wolves finishing their meal. Nevertheless, we were so chuffed as these magnificent animals were certainly on the top of all of our wish lists and we had succeeded!!!
We spent the rest of the day driving a large loop through the northern half of Yellowstone. At times this travel was extremely frustrating as we got stuck in long traffic jams which often had to do with nothing more than an RV at the front of a queue of 50 cars, stopping in the middle of the road to take a picture of an elk or bison and then staring for another minute before moving on. However, the rest of our drive resulted in many more wildlife sightings and before we share the geothermal wonders that we saw, here is the list that Lily compiled (verbatim) on what we viewed in one day in Yellowstone: Bighorn sheep (mob), Grizzly bear 1x, Elk (heaps), Pronghorn Antelope (20), Bison (heaps),(3 big herds and lots of baby bison), 2 wolfs, 1 Osprey, Canada Geese (heaps).
Yellowstone is also on top of an active volcano and as a result there are stunning geothermal features throughout the park, from bubbling mud pools, to sulphur caldrons and from geysers to hot spring terraces; like those that used to be found in Rotorua. There were so many options about where to stop, stare (and try not to smell the sulphur), photograph and wander amongst. Some of the highlights were the sulphur cauldron; a yellow bubbling and steaming pool, the bubbling mud pools (see the videos we posted) and The Dragon's Mouth which roars due to the explosion of heat and gases from within the cave. Too soon we had to wind our way back towards our tent in order to cook tea and hope that Uncle Pete was going to be able to get away and join us camping. Sure enough, he showed up before 7:30 and bearing (as he put it - "the perfect things to contribute) two bags of ice and a bottle of bourbon (Tim's favorite - Maker's Mark). We had a great dinner of spinach,lemon couscous and wood roasted pork tenderloin. We all hung out and had a grand night. Tim's favorite moment was when Uncle Pete crawled into the tent to tuck in the kids and lay with them for about half an hour talking about the park, horses, being a vet and anything else that came to the kids' minds. We simply relaxed and enjoyed the time the kids got to spend with Tim's brother. It is quite clear that on the back of Pete's visit to NZ this past Christmas and the week we spent in Bozeman, that he and the kids are forming a strong bond and special relationships. Maybe when they turn 14-17 we can farm them out to Montana and Uncle Pete?!?!?!?! It was  perfect day and too soon the fire had died down, the kids were sound asleep and with the cooling temperatures it was time to crawl into our sleeping bags.
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