Saturday, July 1, 2023

Go West, Young Man: Trip to Yellowstone National Park


Here we go into Yellowstone [National] Park from the west entrance for the third time. Many adventures have occurred on [the days leading up to] our family adventures westward. I’ll fill [those] in as we traveled west in my next couple adventures. Here, we just went from Montana into Wyoming going into the park. We think we live in resort towns in the Adirondacks, but our motel (the Three Bears Inn) has more than four hundred units, which were all full.

[We started] west, traveling with my son Jason, his wife Kelly, and grandson Nathan. It took two days to reach our first stop, which was the Badlands in South Dakota. [It is] this unique natural wonder that just pops [up] out of miles of grasslands and cornfields across the Midwest, [and it] is certainly special. Stops throughout this national park were all different, some with just a short walk, others you could walk a longer distance and see many different rock formations and colors in the rocks. Of course, with me I was always watching the birds and wildlife that we might see along the way…and here it was no different. [I] had to learn some new bird songs and put the binoculars up for some long-distance views of wildlife. Sometimes you didn’t even need the binoculars, as you could touch some of this wildlife…if you dared.


There were some mosquitoes in places that you had to swat, but there were lots of swallows picking them off to feed their young. [At] one stop, there was a colony of cliff swallows with over one hundred nests that had young being fed within my reach. At the end of the hike to a lookout, we scanned the far ridges and there were a few Big Horned Sheep roaming around among the rock ledges. [I] even found a Say’s Phoebe nest right under the boardwalk. My grandson, Nathan, liked my camera with the long lens, and he was my cameraman. My little handheld pocket camera actually has more zoom than the big camera, but [it is] harder to hold. Everyone had a camera in their phone, but me. Well, mine has a camera, but [it has] never [been] used. Pictures were taken of everything, but you will only get to see a few of these over the next few weeks.


Bison. Photo by Kelly Lee.

We took lots of shots of the different rock formations, which changed at every turn in the road. [We also] had Canyon Wrens singing at every turn and Spotted Towhees were singing in most of the patches of junipers, which had an odor of their own. We spent a few hours walking some of the different trails that [led] to unique lookouts. From there, we traveled to [the] Mount Rushmore National Monument in time to see the light show at 9 p.m. when they light up the President’s faces. We had dinner there [while] waiting for the show, and [I] had to have a buffalo burger. Thunderstorms were looming, but the show went on. They just got them lit up and down it came, with lightning for a backdrop. [We had] very strong winds, but no hail, which had been predicted. We waited a short time, then made a dash for the car and didn’t get too wet.


Our third day started with a trip to [the] Devils Tower National Monument, which just pops out of the flat farmlands and dominates the landscape. We took the hike all the way around this very different natural feature of nature. There were some neat flowers and some birds. One [bird,] a Cordilleran Flycatcher, was a lifer for me, so I got hugs from Kelly. From there, we traveled further westward toward Yellowstone [National] Park, driving right through some very dark clouds with lightning to both sides of us. The weather forecast [called] for thunderstorms with ball-size hail, so I’m glad they missed us.

Bison from afar

Photo by Kelly Lee.

We got [into] the eastern gate of Yellowstone National Park late, and we had to travel across the park to our motel in West Yellowstone. Before we got into the park, Kelly yelled, “Moose!” and sure enough, there was a Moose feeding along a stream. We went back and got some good photos of this small bull. Just down the road, there were four more Moose and some Elk, and we weren’t even in the park yet. It was growing darker and once in the park, we saw lots of Bison (some right in the road) and in the dark…it was scary. One walked right down the shoulder, and you could have touched it out the window as it went by. We made it to West Yellowstone with no dents, but lots of encounters with Bison.


We’ve been here for three days, so lots of stories to tell about this beautiful park, but that’s another story. See ya.


Photo at top: Small bull moose. Photo by Kelly Lee. 

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Gary lives with his wife, Karen, at Eight Acre Wood in Inlet where he was the Forest Ranger for 35 years, working in the Moose River Wild Forest Recreation Area and West Canada Lakes Wilderness Area. Now retired, Gary works summers for the Adirondack Center for Loon Conservation, observing, catching and banding loons. The author of a column Daybreak to Twilight in local papers from 1986 to 2019, he now writes his Outdoor Adventures a weekly blog. In 2008, Gary coauthored a book with John M.C. “Mike” Peterson, "Adirondack Birding- 60 Great Places to Find Birds."

9 Responses

  1. Nathan says:

    Yellowstone is definitely one of the most spectatcular parks in america. Growing up in the Adirondacks, i was used to being in the woods and hiking. Going to Yellowstone the 1st time at 16 was awe inspiring. Huge pools of boiling water, buffalo, moose, elk, grizzly bears, ect. Back packing in many parts of Yellowstone is actually easier than the adirondacks, you can easily get 8 miles or more from a road and honestly the roads of the park are extremely crowded, traffic jams non-stop. Feels like a city traffic jam, BUT once you get back packing it transforms into pure nature, Ice cold lakes with amazing trout for dinner (definitely take a telescoping fishing pole and flies). the water is numbingly cold even in July, but there are spots where hot springs well up along the lakes and you can go bath at the end of the day in a juccuzzi type heat, walk out until you find the perfect temperature and just fish.
    You need to plan ahead, camp sites are limited and have to be reserved, itinerary, trails and stay overs listed with Park Rangers. But it is worth the hassle, the pictures and memories are a lifetime and like me you have to keep going back every once in awhile because there is pure magic to wake up in the morning and watch a moose as you stretch, or have a grizzly watching you from shore as you fish. Backpacking is also the cheapest way to see Yellowstone, i suggest a rope, tarp and hammock over bringing a tent, high altitude there is always a chilly night and wet morning, packing wet tent daily is not fun, you will likely have to cross very cold and heavy current streams, i suggest to pack a few 55 gallon bags and sleeping bag in one sealed, as a night in wet sleeping bag is pure hell, then entire backpack in another and 200 foot rope, tie across then go back for gear. If you love hiking ADK, then go Yellowstone!

    • Robert DiMarco says:

      Nice words. I spent 7 seasons working in our National Parks. All different parks and the first was Yellowstone. Sure had an impact on my life. Truly amazing how easy it was to get away from the crowds by just hiking a bit

  2. Alan Jones says:

    Gary, I wonder if we were in Yellowstone at the same time. We were there most of the day on Thursday, June 22. Below is a link to a video I took of Old Faithful showing, not only the eruption, but the huge crowds. Also got some good shots of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.

  3. Alan West says:

    Wonderful experiences. Enjoy.

  4. David Beardsley says:

    Gary, we (my wife Georgia & I) would like to sign on to go with you. The sooner the better. Let us know. [see our article in this same site under Sandra Hildreth’s name re a Lake she painted for us.}

  5. Boreas says:

    Thanks Gary! Yellowstone is a unique natural gem. I used to visit quite a bit when the cutthroat trout population was healthy. Looking forward to more reports! Plan a side-trip into the Beartooths!

  6. Duncan Mackey says:

    My wife and I just got back from our National Parks trip. Left central New York on May 15th. Visited the Badlands, spent time in Custer SD and took the Beartooth into the ne entrance. Really enjoyed the park and saw Earthquake Lake and Virginia City. Found Grand Teton to be very scenic but crowded and busy. Enjoy the rest of your trip.

  7. Caroline Booth Stafford says:

    I am a Plattsburgh kid, lots of time growing up on the Lake and the Adirondacks, now a transplant to SD. The Badlands is an hour’s drive from us, Devil’s Tower a bit farther and Mt. Rushmore is 20 minutes. Badlands NP and Custer SP are favorite day trips anytime of year. Sounds like you enjoyed your visit. =)

  8. Kraig Armstrong says:

    Gary- While you were enjoying your great western trip I was paddling my kayak on Oseetah lake off of lake Flower and came across my first ever pair of Sandhill Cranes what a thrilling surprise and I got good pictures to.

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