Since the park is so huge, it couldn't possibly fit into just one blog post.
I had read and heard that the best places for viewing wildlife in Yellowstone are Lamar Valley in the Northeast end of the park and Hayden Valley, just east of where we were staying. Sadly, for those of us who love sleeping-in on vacation, the best time to see said wildlife is sunrise. We agreed to meet Mark at 6:30 am in Hayden Valley by Alum creek. We drove out there in total darkness which is terrifying in that park since any number of beasties could run out onto the road (turns out only a porcupine actually did). We arrived when it was still pitch black, and I was convinced that we would be eaten by bears or trampled by an elk herd. I expected that at the crack of dawn, piles of different animals would emerge from the surrounding forests to have their morning baths and drinks and we would essentially witness the opening sequence from The Lion King. Dawn broke, light started to spread across the valley, and... there were no animals.
Mark showed up, it got lighter, we went to another overlook. From there we saw a herd of bison; which, not to be jaded, is kind of like seeing squirrels in Yellowstone. We saw a few elk cross the stream, and (the coolest part) heard the bull elk trumpet, which is an odd high pitched call that seemed to be saying to the other animals "hey, don't do the Lion King thing today, it's cold out". Still, it was pretty. Two of my goal animals to spot were River Otters and Moose. We went to a place called Otter Creek, but it turns out that the otters listened to the elk and stayed in too.
After breakfast, we went to the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone (literally that's what's on the signs), at an overlook called Artist's Point. It was pretty chilly and raining on and off, but beautiful. There are vivid colors all up and down the canyon and a waterfall at the end of it. There, we parted with Mark who had a long drive and a Packer game to get to back home.
We were planning a hike, but because of our LA aversion to weather, headed up to Mammoth. The road there was one of the most beautiful drives that I have ever been on. For one, there is a fantastic phenomenon in the park where if you see piles of cars stopped, it's generally because some wildlife has been spotted and everyone is observing it paparazzi style. On the way up, we saw one such jam and got out to see a black bear complete with cubs IN THE TREE. There was a ranger keeping people back at a safe distance, but we managed to see her walking around and her wittwle cubs in the tree snapping branches as they crawled around.
Back on the drive, the storms were contained in pockets around the park, and from the vantage point of the mountain road, you could see areas of storms adjacent to bright, sunny bits of perfect weather. Just to be even more epic, there were rainbows everywhere. That park really is nature and beauty dialed to 11.
In Mammoth, there are elk all around the little town. Most of which in places that are far closer than the recommended 25 yards away from people. Almost everyone we saw was respectful of them and kept their distance, but I did see a tourist or two get within five feet of the beasts and luckily these particular ones were so used to such things, they ignored it.
The Mammoth Hot Spring is really stunning, there are formations all around it made of things I didn't research and it just looks like another planet.
We made a few other stops on the way back including one called Dragon's Mouth which had a constant stream of steam and boiling churning water spitting out of it. It sounded angry and was growling. The light was beyond perfect there, the sun was streaming through pines on the hill and back lighting the steam. There were dark grey clouds behind us with the most vibrant rainbow I've ever seen against it - with (bonus) a double one over it.
We had walked 28,000 steps the day before and about 19,000 that day (thank you iphone pedometer). Coupled with our crack-of-dawn start time, we were pooped and went back to the cabin relatively early.
The next day there was our last, and we headed down to Grand Teton National Park. I had read that this was the place to see Moose, and (spoiler alert), it didn't disappoint.
The road south from Yellowstone to Teton was beautiful, there were flaming yellow Aspen coupled with long stretches that were charred from a fire that was blazing through there just last week. The first views of the mountains are incredible. Every turn seems to open to an even better view than the last.
We took a trail around Jenny Lake and an off shoot path to Moose Creek (?) I forget if that was its name). There were 2 lady moose chilling in a pond, and we got to walk around the perimeter observing them. They are absolutely grand beasts. You would think that we would be jaded after seeing bears and elk and bison, but we were both mesmerized. Seeing an animal that huge in its natural habitat is literally awesome.
The hike around the lake was another of the prettiest of my life. Everyone we passed was super friendly and happy as well, since that kind of environment puts everyone in a great mood. We passed some twenty-something boys who told us that there was a bear ahead. They said it was black not grizzly and was a baby. We half believed them because we are old and they aren't. However, we passed a couple in their 60's who warned us of the bear ahead as well. When they saw the panic on my face, they assured me that it was a good 100 yards across a gully and that it was a cub. To which my panicky thought was "where's the mom, then?" Sure enough, we made a turn and there were about a half dozen hikers gathered looking across the creek. There was what looked to me to be a very non-baby black bear crawling up a fallen tree. I did get a photo of it looking at me, but it looks a bit like a photo of Nessy. We stayed for a bit and then moseyed on, me singing at the top of my lungs again to alert momma bear to our presence.
We wrapped up Tetons with lunch at some bar and grill that overlooked the mountains and then headed back the 1,100 miles we had to get home. The whole trip, I never lost sight of the wonder of the places that we were seeing and the good fortune that we have to live within (long) driving distance of them. I truly wish that everyone could experience this first hand. You can't help but feel even more concerned for the preservation of the parks after seeing how epically beautiful they are in person, and how relatively unscathed they are by our existence. I am also so lucky to have a fella in Mike who enjoys exploring as much as I do and will tolerate my paranoid off-key hiking songs.