Yellowstone is something unique. It is the combination of many things, the wildlife, the thermal activity, the wild rivers and canyons, the patches of grass left fallow for the animals that you find alongside the road. Then there is the snow that sits seemingly idle in the high places, even in summer. It is all these things and more.
Easy to negotiate, the trail around the park forms a figure 8. There are five main entrances into the park with campgrounds scattered throughout, some more remote than others. Americans love their big Mobile Mac’mansions on wheels and they crowd the campsites and roadways like monsters. They also seem to mostly stay in RV parks which is a good thing as these monsters would not fit well in a bush setting. They struggle with the forestry parks and reserves where you can also camp out.
Freecamps are few and far between, though they do exist. Old timers will tell you that once you could camp off road, down side tracks and the like but now… there is simply no “free” land left in the US for the seeker of freecamps… that glorious condition where you are living as one with wild things.
Our time in Yellowstone was a true delight however. There are the formal RV and camper sites scattered throughout the park and at times they fill up quickly, such as when there is an unexpected road closure due to accident, road conditions deteriorating or for animal protection. This happened to us on our first night in Yellowstone.
We had planned on a campsite and had a good idea of what we wanted to do and see first. This all went out the window when there was a very serious accident on one of the ring roads of the 8 configuration around the park. This happens regularly as people are easily distracted in Yellowstone and so they closed the road.
Next was a mad rush to access the campsites available. By the time we arrived at the campsite we had thought would be our best chance… the camp was full and brimming. So doing what Aussies do… we headed bush. It was a beautiful and delightful freecamp… totally illegal and totally wild. I kid myself that the authorities turned a blind eye perhaps but you couldn’t fault the scenery and we were living outa the car at the time. There was no trailer, no monster Mac’mansion to give us away and it was a quiet and very sweet night tucked up in the side tracks.
Back to Yellowstone itself though. What makes Yellowstone such a wonderful place is the combination of all the things that are what they are. All these things mentioned above are bought together in one wonderful experience and the scenery… well the scenery is just breathtaking at every turn.
We wanted to experience Yellowstone for a few reasons, the least of which was the scenery and the geothermal activity. Primarily though it was the animals still roaming wild and we saw our fill of this wonderful reality. High on our list of ‘gotta see’ was the bears… yes! The small creatures… yes. The birds… yes and the bison… yes.
I had the privilege of being chastised by a bison mum who wandered behind our car and up the passenger window in alarm when her baby calf wandered from her sight and took the route in front of the car.
We spent a few nervous moments while she stood at my window and voiced her objection, scaring the crap out of me… she could have almost sat on the vehicle and made our trip a nightmare. When bub popped safely around the front she decided to let us go and went on her merry way. Life on the wild side comes to mind.
The teddy bears are also a big attraction and the reason why many venture to the park. Though one does not equate the experience with cuddly teddy bear when it happens to you. I can see now why so many people relate to the koala as a teddy bear… even though it isn’t even a bear.
The grizzly is the prize but we didn’t pull off the rare jackpot there. It was enough though, the experience we had. Our first bear was a cinnamon black bear off in the distance and you can always tell when there is a bear sighting… the traffic comes to a standstill literally. Normally rational people become irrational and very excited but most take the shots they want and move of for the next person to enjoy the experience. It was a satisfying experience and we came away happy with distant shots and smiley faces. Our next meeting was more unexpected.
We ran into the building roadblock early in its event. You just never know what is causing a road block within Yellowstone, but there is no getting around them as the roads are relatively narrow and the verge often non-existent. It is straight through or nothing and if it’s a biggie… chances are it’s a bear. The Man was able to pull over to the side relatively easy and I grabbed the camera and headed to the gathering crowd who were pointing excitedly into the forest.
When I got there it was a small clearing and it took two seconds to realize I was about 20 feet from the black bear who was lazily lunching on the daisies. He was observing the odd events of a few yards away with interest and indulgence at the time. It took another two seconds to aim and shoot the shots I wanted and get all excited before rationale kicked in… 20 feet is about 3 seconds from a fast moving bear even given the bracken. Bobo licked his lips and I took off, I only had to be faster than the guy next to me I figured. When I reached the car all excited, thrilled beyond belief The Man was in the ready to move on for the next ‘snack pack’ to find parking.
Moments later we passed the fast moving rangers van headed to the roadblock knowing that he was gunna move everyone on for their own safety (and the bears, if he mauls someone… it is death row). He was moving fast to try and keep everyone safely in their cars and to control the gridlock. Bears can’t operate can openers I believe. What a wonderful afternoon!
Yellowstone… an adventure full of never to be forgotten moments experiencing wild things and things free ($ – or nearly).
Jan is an Australian author and writer. You can find our more about her publications at her official web site. Be sure to check out the reader discounts there.
Read the full travelogue of Jans adventures in the e-book ‘The Rockies and the Greater NW USA’ now available at Amazon for just $US1.99