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Trip Report 4/28-5/8 2018

Newport, Oregon
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Trip Report 4/28-5/8 2018

I frequently lurk on this board but seldom post and have wrestled with whether I should do a TR or not as we go almost every year so don't hit all the popular spots and our way of doing Yellowstone isn't what's always recommended but then I thought that's exactly why I should do one so here I go!

Traveling were my mom (Ma) and two daughters - K8 and B7, making our way to Yellowstone from our homes on the Oregon coast.

Day 1 4/28

Departure day! We were all pumped and ready to go, got off to a little bit of a late start as Ma is now retired and is used to a life of leisure (ha!) so were on the road by 9:00am. Usually we drive through Oregon in day and stop at Ontario for the night and then go on through Idaho to Yellowstone the next day but because I'm cheap and could get a better hotel rate in Boise this trip we stayed in Boise our first night. The drive was pretty uneventful, girls played on their tablets most of the way, in our normal world we limit screen time but since this was a long day in the car I let them have at it plus they help keep the in car bickering down so much! We saw some deer outside of Bend (we drove hwy 20 over the mountains and through the high desert) where we stopped for lunch. Refreshed we headed out and through my favorite part of the road, I know it seems crazy because it's a pretty empty drive but I love it! Coming from the Oregon coast where we have gorgeous trees and lush fauna everywhere the high desert is so different, it just captures my attention! We saw some antelope between Bend and Burns along with some magpies, hawks and assorted other small birds before stopping in Ontario for a quick dinner and then on to Boise. Stayed at a Best Western for the night where we let the girls swim to expend some energy and then bed.

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Spery, Iowa
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1. Re: Trip Report 4/28-5/8 2018

Oh, I love trip reports, I am so glad you are doing this!

Newport, Oregon
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2. Re: Trip Report 4/28-5/8 2018

Day 2 - 4/29

I was up around 7:30am and took a shower, everyone else had showered the night before so they slept until a little after 8:00am. We had breakfast at the hotel - pretty good for a free breakfast and got on the road. We saw more antelope and a coyote along the road. We stopped at it seemed like every rest area on 1-84, not one of was on the same potty schedule but worked out alright cause we also strolled around and got to stretch our legs frequently. We stopped at Costco in Idaho Falls to pick up some groceries, we had planned to also get lunch somewhere but thanks to the many delicious samples Costco was offering there was no need lol. We rolled into West Yellowstone around 4:00ish and checked into our accommodation for the week at the Worldmark condos. This is one area where we go against most suggestions of "stay in the park". Usually we bookend our trip with a couple of nights at one of the lodges/cabins but due to limited vacation time (wah!!) we only had time for a week at the condo. I like both and see pros/cons to both, for us it works because we save money on meals by doing most of our cooking, plus allows my girls to swim and play at the little playground, also we like the space - for us after being in the car together most of the day to all go our own corners and relax on our own is priceless lol. I know some don't like the drive time but we're so used to it (we come to Yellowstone once a year) it doesn't bother us at all. Sometimes the drive from the Madison can be boring and you see nothing or are in a huge line of slow moving cars but others it's amazing; we've had a bald eagle fly over us on Riverside drive and then perch in a tree right above our heads "talking to us", saw a wolf chase a herd of elk into the Madison river, one of our only jackrabbit sightings in all our trips was along the Madison road but then again that's the magic of Yellowstone right? Something new, different and exciting every trip and why we love it so much.

We dumped our stuff and relaxed for a bit before we decided we needed to head into the park. First we stopped at the "most expensive McDonalds ever" (I laugh every time I read that on this board, so true!) and got drive through and then were into the park. We literally saw nothing on the drive to the Madison junction (see paragraph above lol), nothing, not one squirrel or buffalo. Nothing. At the junction I asked Ma, left or right? She said left so towards Norris we went and boy were we glad we went that way! Maybe 5 miles up the road we saw a ton of cars pulled over and as we drove by slowly we saw what they were all looking at - grizzly! Thankfully there was a spot in the next pullout so we parked and walked back and got to watch a nice sized boar (according to a photographer there) feeding on a buffalo carcass from a safe distance. We stayed for quite a while before deciding to move on. We drove up to Norris junction but didn't see anything except some buffalo far off and turned back around. A little up the road from where we had seen the grizzly we saw people now pulled over so joined them at a pullout, they were watching the same grizzly who had moved on from the carcass and was making his way up along the Gibbon river (on the opposite side from the road). We only saw him for a second as he was making pretty good speed. We then headed back towards our condo seeing nothing on the way.

Back at the condo it was relax and facetime the husband time (he couldn't make it due to work commitments) and then bed - we were all so excited from seeing a bear on our first 1/4 day we couldn't wait to see what our first full day would bring!

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Madison
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Devizes, United...
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3. Re: Trip Report 4/28-5/8 2018

Excellent, so glad you decided to do a report. It is fab to get lots of different perspectives on what can work. Thanks for all the details so it is like being there with you. Can’t wait for more instalments

Frances

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4. Re: Trip Report 4/28-5/8 2018

Nice report. Looking forward to the rest of it.

Thanks for sharing!

Newport, Oregon
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5. Re: Trip Report 4/28-5/8 2018

Day 3 - 4/30

We were up around 7ish, ate breakfast and took the girls to the pool for a while, then back to the room to shower, dress and make our dinner. We ate lunch in West Yellowstone at our favorite place, Running Bear Pancake House and headed into the park.

The above is a major difference in our routine from most people's when they visit Yellowstone. Two years ago we made our first visit in a while in the middle of Summer and decided to reverse our routine and swim in the am, eat lunch out instead of dinner and head to the park in the afternoon hoping to cut down on crowds both in the park and at the pool and found we really like doing things this way. We do have to be super careful about timing heading back towards West Yellowstone so we're not driving in the dark but other than that we really like our reversed routine.

In the park the first thing we saw was a really good looking coyote hanging around one of the pullouts along the west entrance road. We stayed in our car because he was so close and it worked out perfectly as he ended up trotting right by. My girls were so excited to get such a good, close photo opportunity. Before this trip I bought them each a little inexpensive point and shoot camera which they loved and I can't wait to see the photos they took. We drove on and up to Mammoth Hot Springs stopping at the Visitor's Center for Junior Ranger books and a bathroom break and then headed for Lamar valley.

Approaching the bridge over the Lamar river we saw a bunch of cars pulled over, on the west side were a bunch of buffalo on the hill people were watching but no place to park so we crossed the bridge and pulled over on the east side and realized the people on that side were watching a black bear mom and cub! We excitedly started taking photos and cooing over the baby when I hear one of the photographers there say something about how we probably should be moving and don't want to stay on the bridge. I turned my head and see the buffalo that were on the other side of the bridge on the hill have now started trotting up the bridge straight towards us, gulp! I grabbed my girls hands and we trotted, ok ran, back to our van, which was thankfully not too far away and got in and shut the doors. The buffalo crossed the bride and initially the first few headed right over the side and down towards where mamma and baby were but must have gotten a good whiff of bear because like a shot they were back up on the road and across up another hill and out of sight.One brave (or foolish) photographer actually stayed on the end of the bridge with the buffalo trotting right by him; he made a very good example for me to point out to my girls what not to do! We waited in the car for a bit to make sure all the buffalo were really gone (or at least no longer trotting at us) and got back out to watch mamma and baby more; in all the chaos of buffalo mamma had shooed baby up a tree where he stayed for a bit before climbing down. We stayed for a bit longer before heading down the road.

In Lamar we saw buffalo and antelope and then close to the Hitching Post we saw a herd of bighorn rams on a hill right below a pullout so stopped to get some photos as we've only seen ewes before. We went as far as Pebble Creek before turning around. On our way back through there were cars pulled over around Buffalo Ranch so we stopped to see what they were looking at - wolves! They were very far off and could only be seen by binocular or scope but still so awesome to see! There were two wolves and they were harassing a buffalo. One of the scopers said they were trying to get the buffalos baby but my mom and I never saw a baby just the adult buffalo. We watched for a while as the wolves would circle and nip (for lack of a better term) at the buffalo and then back off for a bit and then start up again but eventually needed to start our trip back to West Yellowstone so headed out.

On the way back we saw more antelope, buffalo and elk but no more bear or wolf sightings (see how spoiled we became after our first day lol). As we got closer to West Yellowstone we hit fresh snow on the road and sides of the roads but thankfully drove through fine (another chance we take by coming into the park in the off-ish season - weather) to the condo where it was relax and bed time.

Thank you for reading and being supportive! I'll try to get at least another day posted today.

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6. Re: Trip Report 4/28-5/8 2018

Sounds great. We love Running Bear Pancake House also.

Devizes, United...
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7. Re: Trip Report 4/28-5/8 2018

So interesting to hear how you plan your day so differently, sounds like such a wise way to do it with kids. And great wildlife sightings ( but scary to be out in the open with bison converging.....)

Thanks again for posting, looking forward to more instalments ( hint, hint!)

Frances

Newport, Oregon
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8. Re: Trip Report 4/28-5/8 2018

Day 4 - 5/1

Up and about our normal am routine like normal except there was a lot more fresh snow on the ground outside our condo. We were extra leisurely getting around hoping for some melting to occur and headed into the park. Thankfully there was no snow on the roads and although the sky was gray it wasn't snowing or raining. Since we were in YNP at the end of April/start of May we were pretty limited in which way to go and since we love wildlife watching we spent almost all of our days in the North section of the park and today was no different. We saw some buffalo and things were fairly quiet until we hit the construction area and had to stop. To the left us was a meadow with a few tress and spots of snow, when we first parked I saw a brown lump but thought it was just a stump. A few minutes go by and Ma realized the brown lump was in fact a mamma grizzly with a baby! It was awesome viewing, we were stopped for probably 10 minutes watching a grizzly bear in a legal bear jam due to the construction lol. Sidenote - I love Yellowstone, it is my absolute favorite place but I don't think anyone could pay me enough to be a flagger in the middle of the park! If I were that flagger I would have been terrified but she kept it together and kept people in their cars and then traffic moving when the cars coming the opposite way came through and all wanted to stop in the middle of the road to bear watch.

After sitting in construction it was time for a real bathroom stop in Mammoth, walking towards the restrooms I thought I saw a flash of fur running behind the building so stopped to see a beautiful fox come out from behind the other side with what looked like a raven in his mouth! I managed to get a few pictures with my phone as he ran past and up into the hills to enjoy his dinner. Just a note that will become more interesting later in my long winded post, at the bathrooms it had now cleared a little and warmed up so I took my jacket off.

We got back on the road headed towards Lamar and where we stopped again at the bridge to see mamma and baby black bear but both were asleep so on we moved. We didn't see much in Lamar, buffalo, antelope and some elk on high hills. We did stop at the Buffalo Ranch and scope the hill we had seen yesterday's wolf/buffalo drama on but there was nothing up there. not wolf, not buffalo, not carcass so the wolves must have given up or chased the buffalo somewhere out of sight. We drove as far as Baronette Peak where there was way to much snow to see any mountain goats so turned around and headed on our long trip back to West Yellowstone.

Remember when I said I had taken my jacket off because the weather was so nice? Well as we headed lower(!) into Lamar it started snowing, but it's not sticking so no big deal right? Except the further west we went it was sticking everywhere, the roads, trees, grass. It literally looked like 5 minutes after we drove through in the sun the clouds followed us and dumped snow everywhere. Now we live on the Oregon Coast and if it snows everything is literally shut down; schools, offices, it doesn't matter if it's just a couple of inches, we shut the coast down lol so you can imagine I was far from thrilled. In front of me was a pick up truck and in front of them an rv so my plan was to stay close but not too close to the pick up in front of me, you know safety in numbers and all that. Somewhere along the road we saw another grizzly mamma and cub and pulled over but only because both our pace cars pulled over and I wasn't about to be the leader! We only watched for a few minutes before our little caravan pulled back on the roadway. I've heard of snow blindness before but had never experienced it before, dang! At times I felt dizzy and sometimes it was hard to focus through the the thick, big wet flakes that were coming down. It was beautiful and terrifying all at the same time. We stayed in our caravan until Mammoth where my girls had to use the restroom and I took a quick minute to take some pictures - quite a contrast between our earlier fox sighting in the exact location, we were now in a winter wonderland! We pulled back on the road without our caravan and I was slightly paranoid and afraid we wouldn't make it to West but we kept going slowly and carefully and were practically the only car on the road, a few went past us but no one was in front or behind us. I was really starting to worry as we headed through Golden Gate but to my surprise by the time we got to Swan Lake Flats the flakes were far smaller and there seemed to be less snow and by the time we hit the construction zone it had stopped altogether and in fact there was no new snow on the ground, road or trees. Thank heavens! Mamma grizzly and cub were still hanging out where we had seen them hours earlier so we stopped briefly to take some more photos, this time from a pullout and in our car but closer than we had been earlier. Than back on the road seeing nothing but buffalo between there and West where it was bed and relax time!

I think I wrote earlier that we prefer to visit in "off" seasons, this was the 2nd Spring in a row where we visited in late April/early May, we've also been in early October and never had weather issues until this trip. It definitely was an eye opener and made me glad we come prepared with flashlights, blankets, food, water, etc. I shudder to think about what would've happened if the roads had closed! Also this was probably partially my fault as I didn't check the weather at all which probably would've given us some kind of warning of the possibility of snow, lesson learned!

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Newport, Oregon
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9. Re: Trip Report 4/28-5/8 2018

Frances, I don't know if I would call it planning lol! We usually go wherever the wind blows on our trips. This one was limited because we were there so early in the season but usually our direction depends on whichever way we feel like going at the junctions. I'm a compulsive planner until I get to the park and then it's wandering and seeing what we see.

Georgia
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10. Re: Trip Report 4/28-5/8 2018

I agree with Frances, I love the start to your days!

Great trip report! Your condo stay sounds great. Wow, what a fabulous grizzly sighting! Can't wait to read more.

"I'm a compulsive planner until I get to the park and then it's wandering and seeing what we see."

We are kindred spirits! My favorite way to travel.

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