As you drive around Yellowstone, there is a good chance to see a great variety of wildlife directly from your window.
We were fortunate one day to see a grizzly bear couple running around chasing each other. They crossed the road from the side of Hayden Valley, then leaped right into the ice-cold Yellowstone river, swam across fighting the strong current, and continued down into the forest. It was truly an unforgettable sight!
The park was open only for daytime visiting and wasn’t issuing any backcountry permits because of COVID-19. We camped in nearby Shoshone National Forest and would spend around 1.5 hrs driving in and out every day.
Our camping spot was absolutely beautiful, a gem with a fascinating mountain view on top of a hill amid yellow mountain wildflowers. The air in the mornings was incredibly crisp; and one day we were surprised to wake up with a layer of ice on top of our tent – it was the beginning of June!
On our first morning in Shoshone we were visited by the majestic Mr. Bison. What an introduction! He was grazing some 150ft from us, slowly coming closer and closer, rubbing his huge head off the small pine trees. We stood still, fascinated. He just kept slowly moving closer. At some point we found ourselves 30ft away from the visitor, but he acted absolutely calm and indifferent to our presence. We took some photos, respectfully keeping our distance, and everyone was left happy and undisturbed. The sole visitor continued along his path, past our camp and car. Below are some photos from this magical encounter.
To enforce order and protect fragile nature, the park was swarmed with the police. Rangers were passing by every 5 minutes, seen at every location and every spot. No other National Park has been policed as heavily, as far as we’ve seen.
Of course, there is reasoning behind it – the geothermal features of the park are very delicate. A mark of someone’s name (Malachi) left on the algae at Grand Prismatic (the world’s largest hot spring) would take hundreds of years to disappear and the park staff would have to clean off all microorganisms surrounding the spot as well. Immense fines are imposed on the offenders, if caught (we heard of $5K for approaching the wildlife, $10K for messing with hot springs and geysers).
We had our own unfortunate encounter with a ranger, which ended up with a $260 collective fine for trespassing. Driven by a desire to find a hiking trail that would take us away from the beaten path, we accidentally entered an unmarked restricted area, which turned out to be a wolf sanctuary. Having wondered in search of the trail for some time, we turned back, only to be met by an uncompromising and serious lady, who refused to show any empathy toward us.
UPD: This $260 fine didn’t seem fair us, so we decided to contest it in court. Thanks to the pandemic (!), we were able to request a teleconference hearing, which was held on August 3rd and resulted in US government dropping all charges. The judge was unaware that the area in question has been restricted at any point.
This was our experience in Yellowstone… We were a little worried whether the rest of the parks would be as overflown with the police, and offer limited adventure time, but we couldn’t imagine what was waiting for us next. We kept on driving.