A Tale to Two Parks – Camping Yellowstone and Glacier #TBT
As part of a longer road trip in September 2014, we camped for a few days in Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks, where the weather was much colder than we had anticipated. When we arrived in Jackson, WY – our last stop before Yellowstone – the projected weather for the park was 18 degrees. Our summer weight sleeping bags (rated to 45 degrees) were absolutely not going to cut it. We briefly discussed abandoning the camping plans, but decided to stick with it (once we had acquired bags rated for 0 degree weather).
Yellowstone National Park
Dmitry visited Yellowstone as a kid, but I had never been to either park. Growing up on Yogi Bear cartoons, Yellowstone was my ur-park – with geysers, bears, and pic-a-nic baskets. The reality – though very beautiful – did not live up to my childhood imaginings.
We visited after Labor Day but the park still felt very crowded. A steady stream of RVs and tour buses passing by definitely dampened my appreciation of majesty and wonder at the nature around me. I began to suspect that this wasn’t “my kind of park” when a group of tourists physically pushed me out of the way so that they could get photos of the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone (during a two minute stop there before hustling back onto a tour bus). That’s not to say that we couldn’t have found places in Yellowstone that were farther off the beaten track – we could, and sometimes we did. But most of the classic sites at Yellowstone, particularly the geological features that the park is known for, are along the main road with effectively no barrier to entry. This is a huge boon if you are mobility impaired, or if you are on a huge tour of the US and can only spend less than five minutes at each site. But it kind of sucks if you want to sit and meditate on the view without feeling surrounded by other people (who might push you out of the way using an iPad).
The weather was as cold as predicted, which made camping more exciting. At bedtime I put on a hat, two pairs of wool socks, and several layers of merino before slipping into a “matryoshka” of sleeping bags – the summer weight inside the winter weight bag. We woke up our second morning in camp to a fresh layer of snow covering our tent – and the rest of the park. By chance, that was the morning we had scheduled a dawn animal-spotting tour. The park looked amazing under a light coating of snow, like it had been dipped in whitewash overnight. We didn’t see any bears or wolves on the animal tour, only bison and elk, but I can’t complain – the bison were pretty great.
Glacier National Park
Glacier, on the other hand, was exactly what I was hoping for in a park. Spectacular scenery, amazing hikes, and only one main road that crosses the park east-west. And the animals! Oh the animals.
When we were in Yellowstone, I asked Dmitry what he most wanted to see in the park. He replied: “a bear cub in a tree.” [Dmitry: I didn’t really think I’d see a bear cub in a tree – I was just trying to imagine the best thing I could possibly see ever.] I was trying to be practical, so I was hoping to see a moose. We had seen zero moose and zero bears in Yellowstone. But our very first evening in Glacier, we saw a mama moose and her calf hanging out at Fishercap Lake, and then we saw a bull moose during a hike, walking a few feet away from us along the path and grazing. On the second day, against all possible odds, we saw two bear cubs in a tree.
Moose are great and all, but I definitely felt like I had wasted my wish. I should have asked for a wolf cub riding a bear! Or a grizzly on a bicycle! My regret caused Dmitry to compose this limerick:
This National Park is enchanted
One animal wish will be granted
Here’s a tip of some use: don’t wish for a moose
You’ll get three and you’ll wish you’d recanted
We saw a number of cyclists along the Going to the Sun Road (including a guy who tours the world on a penny farthing). We got really excited when we saw a cycle path through the forest, so we unfolded and took off. It was pretty short, but the ride was gorgeous.
Dmitry also composed this admonitory limerick while we were hiking – can you tell we were a little preoccupied by bears?
A hiker in Glacier prepared well.
He was sure to take with him a bear bell.
The plan wasn’t a winner; He called grizzly to dinner.
With salmon and berries he paired well.