Day Trip to Yellowstone National Park

Monday morning…Connie had a nail appointment downtown so off she went while Neil stayed home and did laundry. While he was doing that…he got a call from the urologist’s office. They told him he’s now “free to move about the country” and asked if he would bring in the kidney stone pieces he’s been collecting so they can send them off for analysis. He also needs no further followup treatment or appointments…so he’s done. So we did that in the afternoon, picked up a copy of all of his records from them for our files…then went out to a local German restaurant for dinner…schnitzel…ummm good. Not quite as good as some we’ve had but pretty tasty.

With no more kidney stone stuff required…we decided to head off Tuesday for a trip over to Yellowstone NP…we’ve been here several times before but always stayed in the western half of the park…we had never been east of Canyon Village located just east of dead center nor had we been to the Lamar valley in the northeast portion. Our original plan was to head west from Cody and enter the eastern gate than go north through the park and out the northeast gate before heading back. However…Neil met a lady from the eastern shore of MD just about 50 miles from Fairfax where we used to live and she told us that the wildlife was concentrated on this side in the Lamar valley. Since wildlife is best early in the morning…we changed our mind and decided to reverse that route…although that came with a slightly earlier…well much earlier actually…alarm time for the drive. From Cody to the eastern entrance is only about 55 minutes…but it’s 2 hours and 10 minutes to the northeast gate and then another 20 miles or so to the Lamar valley from there. With sunrise being about 0630 this time of year…we set our clock for 0400, bought some scones from Albertsons for breakfast the night before after eating at the German restaurant (although to be honest we did that before we set our alarm), and were out the door by 0430. We made a quick stop at the Mavericks for coffee…Pro Tip…wait until the fresh coffee brews because at 0430 the dregs in the pot are (a) burnt and (b) taste really bad…and then headed out. The route from Cody to the northeast gate is up the Chief Joseph Byway to the Beartooth Highway then west into the park through Cooke City. Since it would be in the dark…with the possibility of deer wandering into the road as it got closer to dawn…we were slightly concerned that visibility on the Chief Joseph would be bad…but as it turned out it’s actually very well marked for night time travel. Lots of reflectors to mark both shoulders and curves, and just about every cure had the yellow arrow signs…so we pretty much did the speed limit all the way up it. Coming down off of Dead Indian Pass there are some switchbacks for 9 miles or so…but again well marked and easy to negotiate even in the dark. In 44 miles up the Chief Joseph…we saw 1 work truck going the other way and a single car which remained 2 or 3 miles behind us the entire way. Turning onto the Beartooth headed west…it was much less well marked but by that time it was twilight so no real worries there.

We got to the northeast gate…nobody there…and headed on into the park. After a couple of stops for coffee recycling and early morning photo opportunities…we arrived at the north end of the Lamar valley and Neil got out for some bison shots…they were pretty far out but we decided to shoot them anyway as insurance shots.

Barronette Peak just after we entered the park.

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Early morning stream view at the coffee recycling location.

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North end of the Lamar valley where we spotted our first bison. Connie got these shots including the sun coming up over the mountains to the east while Neil hiked about 400 yards to the bluff overlooking the Lamar River to get as close to the bison as he could. If you’ve been monitoring the news this summer…you’ve seen how at least 2 idiots had been tossed into the air by bison that they walked right up to so that they could get a selfie of themselves with their phone…and the bison took exception to that. Even at the bluff over the river…these bison were still at least 1/4 mile away and across the river…but we wanted to make sure we didn’t get skunked on photos. Neil was pretty sure we would not be…but like carrying an umbrella prevents it from raining taking insurance shots make sure that you will get better ones later.

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These were shot at max zoom on his 150-600mm lens…and then cropped to about half of the frame…they were way, way out there.

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Probably 200 or 300 bison in this herd.

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As he was walking back…a lady in the parking lot told him that a couple miles further into the park there was a dead bison being eaten by grizzly bears and wolves…so with no more ado we headed that way hoping for some shots.

As an illustration of the fact that the bison here are wild animals and hence the prohibition on getting close to them to prevent tossing incidents like the idiots referred to above…turns out that a couple of days ago two bull bison got into a mating season fight…it’s that time of year here in Yellowstone…and while the victor of the fight went on to have his jollies servicing the ladies…the loser of the fight, rather than retreating to fight another year…well, he was dead, gored to death by the victor. This is the natural outcome…at least one of them…of fights between 2,000 pound beasts with sharp horns…but in the wild nothing goes to waste. Anything that dies serves as lunch for various other wildlife…starting with the apex predators like bears and cougars, then wolves, coyotes, smaller mammals, vultures, chipmunks and so on down to the mice, beetles and other insects finishing them off.

Sure enough…a couple miles down the road we spotted the bear jam. A bear jam is a large group of cars either pulled off the road to take photos or being blocked on the road by bison herds crossing the road…but they’re not always cause by bears. Bison, wolves, elk, moose, sheep, bears naturally…and pretty much any other form of wildlife you might think of can cause a bear jam.

So we pulled off at the bear jam, noticed the carcass out in the distance…probably 600 yards or more out there…and atypically…not one o the hundreds of folks gathered to watch was wandering out towards the carcass to get a close up or selfie…I guess they were intimidated by the quite large boar grizzly bear who was head deep into the remains. There were also wolves, about 8 or 10 in the pack nearby…and we think at least one coyote…in the vicinity but mostly they were all waiting on the bear to finish his meal and move on before coming in for their share.

Again…all of these were taken at max zoom and then considerably cropped…so there aren’t any real close up high detail shots…but then none of us were dumb enough to wander out there either.

Grizzly chowing down and the wolf wondering how he can get himself some of that.

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Guess I’ll lay down here and wait awhile.

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While my buddy sneaks in from the other side.

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There was also a sow grizzly and 3 cubs nearby…again obviously not going too close to the boar with her cubs in tow. We only ever saw 2 of the cubs with here but others in the photo taking group kept claiming there were 3…but then they also claimed there was a coyote even though all we ever saw were the members of the wolf pack.

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Finally the wolf laying down got brave enough to go in and grab a bite or two.

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But when his buddy came in there was a classic grizzly-gray wolf standoff. Would have been wonderful to get a close up of their facial expressions more obvious…but nah, not happenin’ today.

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We stayed there 30 or 40 minutes before deciding to move on. Another mile or two down the road…another bear jam…although this one was bison related. Why did the bison cross the road? To get to the other side obviously…along with a couple hundred of his closest friends. This is actually a pretty small number of cars and once we were able to move we pulled ahead and into the pullout you can see on the left side of the image for some closeup shots of the bison…by that time the herd had crossed the road and went down the embankment to the river bottom and were slowly crossing the river…distance to this herd was 50 yards to about 150 yards.

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Stayin’ close to mama.

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Crossing the river.

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Moving on from this herd…we stopped for a couple of nice views across the valley.

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Then Connie spotted this pretty majestic bull just striding along like he owns the joint.

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Close up of the massive shoulders and back muscles…useful for fighting…and killing…your mating foes.

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Continuing south…we crossed the Yellowstone River and then visited Tower Falls…Connie thought it was one we had not visited but it turned out we had…it was on the 10 miles or so of park road we were on today that we had been on in previous stays over in West Yellowstone. Neil thinks the water flow is less than our last trip…the falls are named for the towers on either side of the lip.

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Continuing south…we got some nice reflection shots over the Yellowstone River…amazing that it was this calm and slow flowing less than a half mile above the 109 foot tall Upper Yellowstone Falls…the first shot is looking downstream and the falls is just to the right around the bend at the top of the image. 

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And some trumpeter swans floating in the river.

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More views of the Yellowstone River as we headed up over the pass to Yellowstone Lake.

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We stopped at Canyon Village just north of the lake and bought ourselves a sandwich for lunch…then spent a half hour or so getting through the construction section on the eastern entrance road. Like Alaska…there are two seasons in Yellowstone…winter and construction…and the current eastern access road between Canyon Village and the edge of Yellowstone Lake is being rebuilt. Once through the construction we stopped by the picnic area on Steamboat Point for a nice lunch and views of the lake before continuing along.

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Shortly after leaving our lunch site…heading down the east side of the lake Neil spotted some wildlife sitting on a log. We went a bit down the road to find a place to turn around and double back, then back almost to our lunch site to turn around to our original direction again and headed slowly along the shore until we spotted it again…a yellow-bellied marmot sitting on the log…we thought it was a beaver at first glance on our initial pass but saw that it was the marmot when we stopped. First shot…Connie took this one out the window of Li’l Red…Neil had to crop the passenger side mirror out of the image. Second image he snuck around and got it after it hopped off of the log.

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We stopped by the very pretty Sylvan Lake for a couple of shots…including this pano by Connie.

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She told him she had taken the shots for the panorama shot…and when questioned on her method she said “well, I’ve seen you take enough of them over the years so I guessed”. He was remarkably impressed by the results of her first attempt and the only things that he would have done differently she would not have been able to easily figure out by just watching him.

For those of you who wonder how to do pano shots it’s pretty simple. Put your camera in aperture priority rather than full auto so that the aperture remains the same from shot to shot. Shoot in portrait mode (long dimension vertical so camera turned on its side) as this gives a taller final result than landscape mode…other than pano sets almost always shoot in landscape as it looks better on the blog. Start at the far left and take images. Overlap each about 1/3 of the frame with a little more overlap if the background has few details in it as those are what the software uses to stitch the images together. As you rotate the camera for each successive shot…try to rotate your body around the camera instead of the camera around your body…essentially you want the camera to remain as fixed in one location as possible. This is so that the foreground doesn’t get curved too much by the stitching process. Take the number of photos you need to get everything you want in the final image. Neil has shot pano sets from 3 images total up to 11 or so…it just depends on how wide you want to go…but take into account that once you get to more than 5 or so the final image gets really wide compared to the height even with the portrait mode assist.

Pro tip…Neil has done pano sets even though he has a wider lens in the bag. Depending on how much “not wide enough” your currently mounted lens is…and on how lazy you’re feeling that day…even a set of 3 images wide shot in portrait mode might give you enough width to get what you want into the final image…and you can still crop it so that it doesn’t look like a pano at all once you’re done.

Once you get back home…assemble the images into your final image. Lightroom will do it easily as will Photoshop but if you’re using Apple’s Photo app, Photoshop Elements or most other consumer oriented software package most have this capability. Options range from free to cheap to expensive…and the more expensive packages don’t really do a better job than free to cheap options, they just have more options but if you’ve got the more expensive package already for other reasons then no reason to hunt any farther. There are even free web-based ways to do this if you want to. This set that Connie took is 8 frames wide…if she had used portrait orientation the same 8 images wide would have been sufficient but would have resulted in a final image about 50% taller and slightly easier to appreciate. An excellent first effort with no training nonetheless. 

We took a few more shots as we headed over the last pass of the day back down to the Bighorn Basin as we left the park…but no more wildlife.

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Sorry…no sheep, moose, or elk shots today…just didn’t see any. However…here are a couple shots…2 of the 3 at least…from our last visit here 2 years back. Still no moose though…we remain convinced that much like Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, Bigfoot, and the Yeti…moose are just mythological creatures and don’t actually exist. Despite being most of the places in North America where “there are moose everywhere” over the past 8 years…and despite asking locals where to go and what time to go…and despite following those recommendations…we’ve yet to spot a moose in a picture available scenario. We’ve seen a couple of moose butts disappearing into the weeds…and did spot up in Alaska early one morning a bull off in the distance in a bog with beautiful backlit sunrise behind him but absolutely no place to stop…but basically nada.

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We left the park and got back to Cody about 1345…almost 9 hours after leaving. We had a nice nap…well Neil did anyway…then went down to Cody and picked up a pizza from one of the brewpubs for dinner.

Interesting things found on the net.

Ran across this in my twitter feed…it does a far better job of explaining the basics of calculus than most modern textbooks do…and it is from 1910.


This just in…I wonder if Brexit will change this any?

European English






About Gunther

The full time RV travels and experiences of Gunther the Bear and Kara the Dog…along with their human staff neil and Connie.
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2 Responses to Day Trip to Yellowstone National Park

  1. Mj Trainor says:

    Just beautiful!

    • Neil Laubenthal says:

      The gapear/wolf stare down was the best part..just wish we had been a bit closer.


      The three kinds of stress…nuclear, cooking and a&&hole. Jello is the key to the relationship.


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