Posts Tagged ‘bears’

We made it to Fairbanks.  In fact, we’re about to leave again after a busy 36 hours.  Dad has the boys downstairs in the hotel pool while I scrape together a quick update.  It’s funny how quickly the time seems to go up here, even when the daylight lasts forever, as you’re tempted to keep cramming in activities and stay on the move.  Following dinner last night, we left my brother’s apartment at nearly eleven with the sun still up and would have probably stayed there and kept talking until the wee hours had the boys not kept us honest by looking tired.

The Alaska Highway took us a leisurely four days, and I might have a lot to say about the drive if I had more time.  On the other hand, how much is there to say, really, about a drive?  In general, the road was emptier and prettier and in better condition than I expected once we got beyond the surprisingly busy and refined Dawson Creek and Fort St. John area.  Our campsite at Muncho Lake will undoubtedly be a highlight of the trip.

Every chance they got in this campsite, the boys would say “You know where we’ll be” and disappear to the lakeshore to journal, skip rocks, and fish. The boys have now fished unsuccessfully in Wyoming, British Columbia, and the Yukon Territory.

We saw lots of wildlife, including this black bear right at the side of the road who probably would have let us hang out with him all afternoon.

Hey, BooBoo.  Let’s go get us some motorhome tourists!

On all accounts, the drive out went astonishingly well.

So now we begin the slow road back.  We’re heading toward Denali and will then take a few days to reach Haines.  From there,  several short ferry hops through the southeast islands will take us to Prince Rupert, BC.  On the 12th, Belinda will meet us in Vancouver and I’ll kick my Dad out of the car so she can travel with us for a week or so.


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Well, from this point, the tenor of the trip has changed a bit.  On Wednesday afternoon, I shipped home much of our camping gear from Jackson before going to the airport to pick up Belinda.  We’ve become a foursome.  And I sit right now in the lobby of the Old Faithful Inn . . . extra luxurious accommodations compared to what we’ve been used to.

(BTW, we shipped via UPS.  Why is it so easy to find a UPS Store but not see UPS trucks on the road?  FedEx trucks continue to be everywhere.)

Backtracking a bit, here are the past couple of days in pictures.

Monday: From Swan Laundry in West Yellowstone, my last post location, we drove back into the park and on to Upper Geyser Basin, where we walked out onto the boardwalk just in time to see Castle Geyser erupt in the distance.  Castle has become perhaps my favorite Yellowstone geyser; it only goes a couple of times a day, but it’s relatively predictable and very impressive.  Castle’s eruptions last much longer than those of Old Faithful, and they’re followed by an impressive roaring steam phase, which was still in full force when we got this close.

Daaad, will the stinky steam get us?

We wandered the area for an hour or so, waiting for Old Faithful’s next eruption.

If possible, visit Upper Geyser Basin after dinner, when you can have it (relatively speaking) to yourself.

My favorite vantage point for watching Old Faithful is on the backside, away from the buildings and the crowds on the main boardwalk.  Plus, you can sit right over the outflow stream where it drops into the Firehole River.

The boys both say that “tasting Old Faithful” has been one of their favorite things so far.  Funny what resonates with them.

We ate dinner at the lodge, watched the sun go down, and saw Old Faithful go again (a much longer and more impressive show this time).

Never in a million years did I think this picture would turn out.

A personal rule: on any given visit, give Upper Geyser Basin a long enough visit to see two eruptions.

Despite all lodgings in Yellowstone having been booked solid months in advance, we hit the cancellation jackpot for the first time on Monday night and ended up staying in Grant Village.  We had lingered so long and so late at Upper Geyser Basin, that this was a real stroke of luck.  At the same time, I secure a cancelled room at the Old Faithful Inn for Thursday, knowing Belinda will be thrilled (I understand these rooms can book a year in advance).

Tuesday: Driving south to the Tetons, we tried and failed to snag a campsite at Jenny Lake (10:30 AM is not early enough!) before backtracking and establishing camp at Lizard Creek.  We then drove south again to spend the afternoon and evening at String Lake.

No swimming pools like this at home!

In fact, there’s no natural swimming hole I can think of within an hour and a half of home that’s clean enough to let the boys wade around in.  Certainly not going to let them do this in the Hooch!  What a shame . . . no wonder modern kids suffer from Nature Deficit Disorder.

Will happily cooperates while I experiment with backlighting and shutter speed.

Returning to camp, we learn two things: 1) our campground hosts know exactly where we live (their son lives in our neighborhood) and 2) a black bear has been nosing around our camp.

Fresh claw marks . . . the bear was up in this tree when our campsite neighbors came back for the evening.  Daddy Hoot, them Park Rangers aren’t just trying to be annoying with those pesky food storage rules!  This bear got no joy in our campsite.

Wednesday: Lingered late in camp while Will played with the ten-year old girl from the next campsite and I talked with our campground host.  Poor Andrew . . . this is the second time that Will has found a campground friend, and Andrew has ended up feeling pretty left out.  Will tries conscientiously to include him, but he just doesn’t quite know how to hang with older kids and ends up coming back to where I am and moons around.

Leaving camp, we spend the afternoon getting ready for Mommy . . . showering, doing laundry (again!), cleaning out and organizing the car, shipping stuff home so she has room to sit.

Belinda arrives on schedule, we eat dinner at Dornan’s in Moose (cowboy-style Dutch-oven cooking–highly recommended), and then drive to Jackson Lake Lodge for the night (yet another cancellation jackpot).  Happy that Mommy is with us, the boys stay up too late.  In his fatigue, Will gets all weepy and emotional.  Our dynamic is definitely different . . . no more Team Testosterone.

Thursday: Why the hell does housekeeping begin knocking on doors at 8:00 AM?  And why knock when you don’t really listen to the people inside yelling “We’re still in here”?  Just a question.

But we slept late anyway before heading to Jenny Lake, where we join the tourist masses for the boat shuttle and the subsequent hike to Hidden Falls and then Inspiration Point.  Will misunderstands me when I say that the trail into Cascade Canyon is flat once you get beyond Inspiration Point, and at one point he turns and yells “Daaad, you were wrong; this trail isn’t flat!”  Another dad going the other way with teenagers in tow comments grimly “He’ll never believe you again.”

I haven’t loaded my pictures of the hike onto the computer yet. but I’m not sure they’ll be that good anyway, the mid-afternoon light being far too harsh (it was flat-out hot today).

Now, we’re backtracking through Yellowstone with Belinda along.  Tonight at Old Faithful, tomorrow night probably in Cooke City again before turning south towards Denver, where she’ll fly home with the boys and I’ll turn the Outback eastward to finish the circuit.

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Without a doubt, the most beautiful seven words right now in the English language are “Will, take your brother to the bathroom.”

As I dreamed about and then planned this trip, I had any number of people ask “are you going to be able to handle those two by yourself for all that time” with the same disbelieving tone they might use while asking  “Are you sure bison-tipping is a good idea?”  I had every confidence in the world that I could—my boys are good travelers, and our agenda was loose enough as to be functionally non-existent if need be.  At least that’s what I hoped.

And they have been good travelers, mind-blowingly good travelers, even better than I expected.  I’ll give you a for-instance: this morning I dragged them from their sleeping bags to go wolf watching in Yellowstone’s Lamar Valley, revisiting the central point of wildlife watching etiquette as we drove—no loud noises of any kind (you even close your car door witha gentle shove of the hip).  The hard-core wolf-watching regulars with their spotting scopes and two-way radios are unfailingly warm and friendly with the casual tourists, but then again I wanted to be accepted by the inner circle (or should I say “pack”), and most parents with six and four-year olds don’t hang around for two hours at a stretch.

Anyway, they did me proud and then some, hanging around in the car and entertaining themselves for long periods when there was no action and getting out quietly and eagerly when I knocked gently on the window.  And then when Will stepped down from a wolf-watcher’s spotting scope, took out pen and paper and began earnestly drawing what he had seen without any prompting whatsoever, I thought my heart would just explode.  (More on wolf watching—our Sunday morning church service—later in this post.)  Needless to say, the pack approved.

As good as they have been, as regularly as my heart has wanted to explode with gratitude and pride, this has still been tough going for a lone parent.  Someone always has to go to the bathroom or needs to be buckled in or wants something to drink or needs his pancake cut or simply wants a response to a “Dad?” call before asking another question.  I have to laugh at myself for packing my usual traveling library of field guides and tree-hugging literature; I think I’ve read one chapter of Scott Russell Sanders and opened my bird field guide once.  I’m surprised I’ve done as well as I have with taking pictures; every time the camera comes out they start asking to take turns, no longer satisfied with having little disposables of their own.  Will and I have had some earnest discussions about the meaning of the word “pester.”

A very typical Andrew pose.  “Daaad, I caan’t hold it!”

I told Belinda on the phone the other day that I was wrong when thought I’d be the one who most wanted to camp.  I figured the boys would push me to stay in hotels more often.  In fact, it’s been just the opposite—the boys love camping, are disappointed every time we head for town.  And why not?  Each campsite is a big playground for them.

The main attraction at Pebble Creek campground, our home in Yellowstone for three days.  Why am I not in this picture?  Well, I guess because I’m taking it, but in other circumstances it’d be because I’m too damn busy.

It’s just so much bloody work–unpacking the car, pitching the tent, inflating the mattresses, assembling the stove, cooking the food, cutting the food, washing the dishes, picking up and disposing bear-attracting scraps and so forth and so on.  All while “Daaad” rings out every three minutes.

And so there’s no way we could function without my giving them more and more responsibility and freedom.  That’s why the words “Will, take your brother to the bathroom” are the most beautiful in the English language.  Followed closely by “Andrew, ask your brother to help you.”  Or “You boys stay right here for two minutes and don’t move while I [go to the bathroom, run across the street to the ATM, whatever].”

And I have to say something about their ability to entertain themselves.  Right now I’m sitting in a restaurant in West Yellowstone, and Andrew is playing some sort of game with two pieces of silverware (in lieu of talking to Mommy on the telephone).  They’ve made up games using colored pencils, hotel room keys, sticks, rocks, empty water bottles—you name it.  Just before leaving home two weeks ago I decided not to let them pick out a couple of toys to take with them, and I’m frankly glad I did.  And this experience just reinforces my absolute refusal to ever buy a car with an onboard DVD system.

So what have we been up to?

Even the tortoise arrives at his destination eventually.

We entered the park on July 4th by the Northeast Entrance and made camp at Pebble Creek, a rather small and remote site, nothing like the industrial campgrounds at Canyon and Madison.  We drove up and down Lamar Valley and made a quick visit to the crowds at Tower Falls, but mostly we hung around camp and explored its immediate area before going back up the road to Cooke City for fireworks in the evening.  The fireworks were okay, about what you’d expect in a town of 140, but the way the big blasts echoed off the surrounding mountains for a full seven seconds was pretty impressive.  For his part, Andrew spent the whole time with his hands clamped firmly over his ears and asking to get back in the car . . . until they were over and he started talking about how great they were.

On Saturday, we drove toward Canyon, visited the super-cool new Visitor Center, checked out Upper Falls (but had to leave quickly because Andrew had to pee), had lunch by the Yellowstone River in Hayden Valley, and walked around the Mud Volcano thermal group.  Will and I are both big fans of the feature called Churning Cauldron.  Andrew isn’t real sure about the “stinky steam.”

Maybe we can catch a fish for lunch!

Will, I don’t want to go in the stinky steam!

But the big highlights for the day were the bears.  We saw four black bears, including a mother and cub, and three grizzlies, including one which we watched for a good thirty minutes from a distance of probably only 40 yards, a truly magical and bizarre experience, the bear being safely atop a thirty-foot roadcut cliff and being ogled by hundreds of tourists below.

No I don’t (yet) own a really big telephoto lens (I top out at 150mm).  He (she?) was really that close

The bear kept digging and eating, digging and eating.  Occasionally a rock would cut loose and roll down the slope, dropping off the roadcut and narrowly missing a tourist car parked below.

And then yesterday we had our wolf morning.  In the past, I have spent a lot of Westminster’s money, contracting with the Yellowstone Institute for their guides to take my courses wolf watching.  I’ve stood and shivered through a number of early mornings, waiting to see what might turn up in what were considered “sure-fire” locations.  And I had seen nothing.  So I debated trying again with the boys, but I’m thankful that I did.  Most of the pack stayed back in the trees, but we heard them howling a couple of times, and then one adult made a circuit all the way around our position, popping in and out of view for a half hour or so.  As wolf sightings go, I guess it was pretty ho-hum, if there is such a thing (yesterday in another part of the Park we just missed seeing one take an elk calf), but it totally made our morning.

We spent the afternoon hiking to Trout Lake, where the big attraction was watching the spawning Cutthroat Trout swim up the inlet stream.

Hiking through a garden of wildflowers . . .

. . . to a beautiful little lake.

They don’t really show in this picture, but there are at least a dozen big cutthroat in this riffle in front of Andrew.  He squeals with delight every time they give him a good splash.

Okay, that’s our progress so far.  If there are any typos, I’ll have to fix them later . . . our laundry is done and the boys are hungry.  This evening, we’re off to Old Faithful.

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