Yogi and Yellow: Trip to Yellowstone National Park a real treat
Trip to Yellowstone National Park a real treat
“Hello there, Mr. Ranger, sir,” I blurted out in my best Yogi Bear voice.
That’s all I could think of saying as I entered the Jellystone, er, Yellowstone National Park Visitor Center at Fishing Bridge.
Was this a joke? Was I living in a cartoon?
Numerous “Don’t Feed the Bears” signs pointed to evidence of Yogi and Boo Boo everywhere, and there were hundreds — no, thousands — of “pic-a-nic baskets.”
Yet, the cars looked modern, the tents and RVs in the campgrounds seemed real, and the smoke from 231 campsite fires in the Madison Campground confirmed to my lungs that we were, indeed, camping in the renowned park where Old Faithful spouted off every 90 minutes.
This is the home of black bear and grizzly, moose and wolf, free-ranging bison and elk. It’s where the majority of the world’s geysers and hot springs are located, and where centuries-old sites and historic buildings reflect the unique heritage of America’s first national park.
But, even after the summer crowds have all gone home, it’s still somewhat of a zoo. No wonder Hanna-Barbera Productions made fun of it with Yogi Bear and his antics in the late 1950s and early 1960s.
While brochures and park rangers tell people to watch wildlife from pullouts, they still insist on stopping in the middle of the road to get a photo from a smudgy cell-phone camera of a sickly coyote in the middle of a wide-open field in the middle of the day.
“Look honey, come quick. It’s a wolf!”
And how about those bison? They’re not hard to find as they slowly saunter down the center stripe of the paved road, never wavering.
People stop. People watch. People photograph. Bison saunter.
But here’s the deal: You will have the opportunity to view bison and elk and black bear and coyote and moose. If you’re really lucky, you may glimpse a wolf or grizzly bear, but odds are against that happening. Of course, two visitors were killed by bears inside the park last year. I guess you wouldn’t call them “lucky.”
You can certainly find thermal hot springs and geysers. They spout off all over the place. You can also fish some of the most renowned trout waters in the United States as they rush over waterfalls and meander through outstanding mountain wild lands, rivers like the Yellowstone, Madison, Firehole, Gibbon, Lamar and Gallitan.
You just have to accept the fact you’ll be communing with nature with a few thousand of your closest outdoor buddies. Also, remember this experience has been in the works for a long time. This year marks the 140th anniversary of Yellowstone’s founding as the world’s first national park on March 1, 1872.
Driving to Yellowstone from Grand Junction is another story. There is no traffic. There are no people. In fact, there are WAY more pronghorn antelope than humanoids between here and there, even counting all the people who live in Palisade, De Beque, Parachute, Rifle, Meeker and Craig. No sense counting the throngs who live in Baggs, Rawlins or Thermopolis, Wyo.
You’ll have ample time to ponder that fact on your 10.5-hour, 613-mile drive.
Before you leave for this trip, do your homework. While there are nine visitor centers, 12 major campgrounds and a handful of lodges within the park, most of the camping is on a first-come, first-served basis, and they fill early in the day. Most of the lodges are already full, so call ahead.
Campground rates run from $12 to $25, but it also costs:
■ $25 to enter the park ($80 for an annual NPS pass and $10 for seniors 62 years and up);
■ $18 for a three-day Yellowstone special-use fishing permit ($25 seven-day or $40 seasonal);
■ $30 to $45 for a can of bear spray (yes, you do need it if you hike or camp anywhere away from a main road);
■ $10 for a seven-day boating permit ($20 annual fee), whether you plan on using something motorized on the massive Yellowstone Lake, or you plan on using a belly boat in one of the smaller bodies of water;
■ $20 for a backcountry camping reservation fee;
■ and more, so you can sit in a bar in Cody, Wyo., and figure out how much it’ll all cost you.
Or, you can simply drive into the park and take a hike. After the first 20 steps, you’ll leave the crowds behind. Encompassing 2.2 million acres, most of the park is backcountry and managed as wilderness. More than 1,100 miles (1,770 kilometers) of trails are available for hiking.
Naturally, there are dangers inherent in this wilderness experience. Most notably, you’re not at the top of the food chain.
That’s OK — if you’re smarter than the average bear.