How We Got To This Point...
Long story short I was coming home to the USA from a year in South Korea. I had adopted Shamus while living in Korea which made shipping him home a bit of a mess. The international flights allowed up to 150 lbs for the pet plus the crate, however, domestic flights only allowed up to 100 lbs, which we would be over. Because my mom is used to long drives I asked her if she would come get me in Seattle. Previously they were stationed in Kansas for the Air Force which made traveling back and forth to Pennsylvania several times a typical drive for her. We made all of the arrangements such as getting my SUV inspected, I sent over some gas money, ect. We also figured a few stops on the way back to make the trip a little more memorable. Yellowstone being one of them!
On the road
After staying with one of my moms friends for a day in Idaho we continued our journey north east to hit the Yellowstone north gate. When we finally stoped for some breakfast we saw a sign for the "Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center" in West Yellowstone. I love wolves so I was particularly excited to see them. Overall the place was small but it was a nice experience and the animals were very well kept. The funny memory we have of this place is a story about how "Bubba," my little brother, was walking and the wolves ignored us but came around to the fence with head down and eyes wide open, looking at Bub, walking like they wanted him for lunch! They kept the dead stare on him the entire time. I'd love to go back one day and see what they've added. When we were there they were working on a huge expansion of the bear enclosure. PS: those things are HUGE! Would not want to be camping with one of those snooping around for food.
Continuing on we made a pit stop along one of the rivers where I took some photos of shamus....again....but we weren't too far from the gate.
Okay so when you roll up to the park gate and pay to enter, I won't lie, I got super excited. We drove down the road slow and looking in every direction and the landscape and hoping to see wildlife. The first thing we came across was a herd of antelope. Luckily there was a car pull off right there so I could get my DSLR out and take some images. We could see coyotes roaming the hillside hoping to get some diner. I swear that place is like the old movie "Wild America". I spent some time waiting to see what they would do and just observing the antelope but finally nothing was really happening so we took the car out of park and kept going down the road. Remember when you're driving these roads that wildlife is free to move about anywhere here, it's important not to speed and watch out for animals. Several times animals were crossing the road around a turn or snacking on vegetation right along the side. We saw various elk while driving up to the mammoth hot springs; A small herd was on top of a mountainous rock and more along the road. At the mammoth hot springs we had to park and get out to walk a wooden path up to the area. You can smell the sulfur but I personally don't mind it due to my previous trip to Iceland. I was just excited to see the calcium falls! The colors was beautiful and I just wanted to touch it as it was froze over for winter. We even walked up to the top where the sun was setting and the view was breathtaking featuring multiple colors and rolling mountains from all around us. As the sun set though I wanted to get out of there because we could see coyote or wolf tracks all around and we didn't have anything to use as protection. Had I had the time and money I would have done a two day tour since you can only access the other parts of the park during the winter by doing so. With that said though, we fully plan on taking another trip there during the summer.
That night we wanted to try the local food, so we searched for a restaurant we thought would be good in Gardner, MT, which is the small town right outside the north gate. What we take for granted these days are the number of places open late! (After 5pm) Mostly only bars were open but there was this ritzy restaurant, definitely out of budget, that I knew would have excellent food. While there I tried the buffalo burger and mom had the elk burger. It was pretty good and lean. I'd certainly get it again. She loved the elk as well! We stayed in a hotel right down the road that night so I could work from my laptop the next day which was Christmas Eve (the joy of being an adult!) There was a grocery store across the street that we got some food at to hold us over in the hotel room and also snacks for the road. The next day was Christmas. As I got up and went into the main area where breakfast was served, it was already snowing from the day before. It was so peaceful and felt great to finally have a white Christmas that I used to love growing up. No I wasn't home surrounded by family, but I had my mom and little brother at a beautiful park surrounded by god's creation, and that was good enough. After all that, we spent mostly all of our available time and money, so we decided to drive straight through the rest of the way home. The only thing I didn't get to do was Mount Rushmore which will just have to be another adventure.