Have you even been so close to somewhere amazing but didn’t have the time to stop and enjoy it? This happened to us last summer which east bound on I-90. We needed to make it to Rapid City, SD by dinner time the next night in order to meet up with family for a surprise birthday party for our son. Our schedule was tight but not so tight that we couldn’t have a little fun. We had a handful of hours to spare and happen to be miles from the north entrance to Yellowstone. So, what did we do? We drove through, of course. Was it worth it? Yes!
We arrived at the entrance around dinner, ordered a pizza, walked around the village, and took the obligatory pictures by the Roosevelt Arch. We happened to head out on our drive through the park shortly before dusk. This was the beginning of our 2 hour Yellowstone tour. Here are a few reasons that these few hours were well spent!
As far as site seeing goes, this one is not overrated. After dinner and early in the season we were able to see everything we wanted to see without crowds or hassles. The kids were amazed, we were reminded about its simple beauty, and everyone was happy.
Gardiner is the type of cowboy town that kids love. Elk are everywhere. The Roosevelt Arch is welcoming. The take out pizza is great. Cold drinks are easy to find. I hope to spend a day or two there next time we travel through.
Our 2 hour driving tour went from Gardiner to Mammoth Hot Springs and on to Norris. From there, we headed east to Fishing Bridge and on to Cody, WY. Since we are not avid photographers and aren’t prone to taking wildlife tours, it was not immediately obvious to us that pretty much any drive through Yellowstone at dusk would offer a whole new perspective on wildlife viewing. The elk herds and black bears being pursued by tourists at the park entrance were no match for what we were about to see. (Please do not chase the wildlife by the way. We have seen this so many times and it is not appropriate! or safe.)
The street was lined with cars and spectators waiting for once in a lifetime experiences. We found ourselves being escorted by a herd of buffalo. Things changed from fun and interesting to amazing and unbelievable when the herd crossed the road and dropped down into a valley to swim across a fast moving river. The young buffalo were especially nerve racking to watch as I am not convinced that buffalo are not really built for swimming.
A few miles later we found the usual cars and spectators but the atmosphere had changed. Rather than sitting and looking, everyone was standing and pointing. Our van slowed to a crawl and we learned that a pack of wolves was up ahead. This was my first official wolf sighting and it was awesome! From our van, we saw a wolf running on the hill. With the help of a friendly bystander’s super powerful binoculars, I got a solid look at its face and body. I am sure it was looking at me!
We made it to Cody, WY in the dark but still in good time to sleep and get ready for another day on the road. Our spontaneous 2 hour tour of Yellowstone left us inspired and wanting more! Not only did the kids stamp their National Park Passport books but they also checked out a famous hot springs, saw young buffalo swim, watched tourists chase black bears around a ranger station, ate pizza next to a field of elk, and saw their first wolf. That’s not bad for a few hour side trip!
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