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Bozeman, MT and Yellowstone National Park - Part I
September-October 2021

For our second pandemic getaway, we took a road trip to Bozeman, MT and Yellowstone National Park. It was a trip we've been saying we'd do again for the past 5 years (our last trip to Yellowstone was in 2010). Given the state and safety of travel during these times, this trip became a no-brainer, must-do. It was also on the top of the list for everyone else in the country as they had the same idea. This year Yellowstone kept breaking attendance records over the summer and into early fall. We were lucky to score campsite reservations at the park a couple of months before our trip.

During the 11-hour drive to Bozeman, we started listening to the book Death in Yellowstone, by Lee H Whittlesey, the second version (because people continued to die in Yellowstone or old deaths were uncovered). It was an appropriate book in preparation for our visit as I knew we'd see a lot of people doing stupid things in Yellowstone. It's a wonder more Yellowstone tourists don't die or get hurt. If people want to know what the hot springs and geysers feel like, bring a pot of water to a boil then stick a hand in it. It will feel like that. The book can be summed up to: nature isn't tame and common sense will keep you alive (there are a few exceptions of freak accidents in the book, but mostly, don't do stupid shit or else you'll get hurt or worse die).

We stayed with our friends in Bozeman, MT, who with full hospitality, let us crash there while we relaxed and hiked a few trails in the area. The weather during our visit was atypically hot (80s!) for fall. Fall was still evident: the aspens were bright golden and Rocky Mountain maples a deep burgundy.  Just staying around our friends' house was a treat. Each morning we woke up to a valley of fall colors and lush conifers. Moose grazed along the creeks and elk in the yellowing mountain meadows. Herds of mule deer visited the yard at night. Canada Jays and Mountain Chickadees came in to snack on suet. What is mundane and day-to-day for them was special for us to see. 

While in Bozeman, we hiked up the Bridger Bowl ski area to Bridger Ridge. The trail up was converted into a social trail, which was steep without switchbacks. The original trail was overgrown and reverted to the meadows. It was quite a huff getting up the ridge without more enjoyable switchbacks to take. On the top of the ridge, volunteers were set up for the hawkwatch to count all raptors that soared along the north to south ridgeline. We hiked a short distance on the ridge trail and decided to watch for hawks as well. We settled down (uncomfortably) among the rocks and scree. It didn't take long to spot the first raptor - a Golden Eagle soaring along the west side of the ridge. During our brief couple of hours sitting on the ridge, we also spotted Cooper's, Red-tailed, and a Ferruginous Hawk. I spotted an unexpected Rock Wren among the mountain scree. Raptors weren't the only type of bird migrating that day. While it was enjoyable watching for the migrating raptors, our butts could only withstand sitting on loose rocks for so long. For the next hawkwatch, we'll be sure to pack more comfortable seats.

We also hiked to Fairy Lake, which was a much shorter hike, but very beautiful. The fall colors reflected off the calm waters of Fairy Lake. An American Dipper sang its warbled song from the lake edge. A Three-toed Woodpecker flaked bark from a dying Douglas Fir. Scores of Boreal toadpoles gathered in the shallow clear waters at the edge of the lake. This hike is very popular with the tourists and locals as it's short, accessible, and rewarding. Early mornings on the weekday seemed to be the key to finding peace at this beautiful lake.

After a wonderful and relaxing stay with our friends, we left for Yellowstone National Park. We had reservations for the first 2 nights at Madison Campground, which is located close to the geyser basins (aka the most touristy part of the park). The campground has over 200 sites, so finding peace or seeking a place to unwind in the evenings weren't our reasons for camping here. We stayed at Madison solely for a place to stake our tent for the nights. We ended up with a campsite (we didn't get to choose) right next to the bathroom, which cast an eerie yellowish light on our tent all night long.

At the south/west end of the park, we visited the major geyser attractions in the area. We watched Old Faithful go off (30 minutes late, which is becoming steadily more unreliable because of human-caused climate change). We were lucky to walk by as Grotto and Riverside Geysers were erupting. Touring Norris, Black Sands, Midway, Upper and Lower Geyser Basins, we couldn't help but think of the people who were foolish enough to go into similar hot pools of water to literally cook themselves alive. The pools are beautiful, but so deadly. 

The nights at Madison were very cold - likely dropping 10 degrees below freezing. One early morning we drove over to the Hayden Valley and watched the sun rise over the frost-coated meadows. Steam rose from the Yellowstone River coating the trees in a thick layer of ice crystals that sparkled like gems in the dawn light. Herds of elk and bison grazed in the meadows as a Bald Eagle sat in the dawn light. Once the sun rose, it quickly melted the frost, though it took longer for it to warm me up. At the Mud Volcano area, thick clouds of steam billowed from the pools and springs. While dramatic and beautiful as it was to see the steam rising from the ground, it also made it much harder to enjoy the colors of the pools. The two things we learned about geyser viewing on this trip: cold temperatures make it hard to view pools and sunlight is also essential for viewing the colors (dusk is not a good time).

Continue to Part II of Yellowstone 2021


Pictures (click on thumbnail to enlarge)


Continue to Part II of Yellowstone 2021

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page updated: 10/17/21