A Summer in Yellowstone National Park

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Several weeks ago I started a blog article on our adventures in Yellowstone National Park. As I was writing I came to the realization that a lot of what I was writing I had written two years ago while we toured this vast treasure. With the article nearly written I decided to take a look at which photos I would associate with the piece and I lost my opportunity to get it all together and published in a timely fashion. I will explain this point a bit more later. As the days and then weeks went by without my publishing a single word or image I began to rethink my approach to this experience.

I was certain that if I were to write about our daily adventures as has been my pattern in the past, the blog would certainly become stale as we tend to go back to the same places over and over looking to see what is different from one time to another. Our work routine is just that routine with the occasional very different sort of event to keep us on our toes. Even those events would not generally deserve mention in this forum.

So, I have decided that it is more important to share the rare events and the images and leave out the lengthy discussions of our day to day lives. So, I hope to write a little less and therefore keep the interest level up.

Connie and I were fortunate to get a volunteer position as campground hosts at one of the most beautiful campgrounds in Yellowstone National Park, Indian Creek Campground. Getting here was part of the adventure because we arrived in the first week of June of a year with near record snowfall and therefore sort of questionable road conditions for parts of the park. For travelers entering the park via the North Entrance there were no problems. However, we were coming from Texas making the North Entrance the very last choice. I had wanted to visit some of my family along the way, so we were pretty well set up for entering via either the East Entrance or the Northeast Entrance. The Northeast Entrance was out of the question as the road leading to it was closed. The East Entrance had some road concerns as well. There was a very high risk of avalanche several miles into the park from that entrance. The road was open from 6 PM to 10 AM allowing travel during the coldest part of the day/night when the risk was more minimal.

That was the route we chose and we were very happy we did. The scenery was just wonderful. We stopped for a few photos along the way and I have included them in the photo album that is linked below.

It didn’t take long after our arrival at Indian Creek to get settled on our site and start getting familiar with the campground and our responsibilities. It also didn’t take us long to realize we would not have continuous access to the web nor would our phones work. I installed our trucker antenna in hopes we would be able to find a signal. No luck on the first attempt when I put it in the same place we had it in Texas. I later mounted it on the top of my telescoping flagpole and raised it as high as it would go. While I was standing on the roof holding the flagpole Connie was able to call me on my phone. However when I installed the pole in its mount on the roof ladder the antenna was lowered about four feet and I was some 25 feet from where I had been standing while testing the setup. From this position we are sometimes able to receive data, but no voice. The data reception is poor enough that our Mifi card just laughs rather than giving us access to any web sites. Our smart phones do bring in e-mail, but not with anything that resembles consistency. So, we have learned to live without this modern convenience while we are at home and quite frankly for most of our time wandering around the park.

One or two days out of a normal six day rotation we spend a good bit of time in the Map Room of the Mammoth Hotel trying to catch up. If we travel outside the park, which we have done on several occasions we always carry our computers and try to get some time on line wherever we can.

I mentioned the six day rotations. Let me explain. We work two days and then have four days off. The on days are long, generally in the 11 to 13 hour range. For the most part they are fun days as we get to share our experiences and expertise with many a visitor to the park. We spend a considerable amount of time educating people on bear safety and camper etiquette. Sometimes that is challenging because there are many international visitors who have very limited understanding of English. Just yesterday Connie and I were commenting on how we must have looked to the locals in the many countries we have visited where English was not the language of the populous. Knowing how we struggled to get along in Europe and Asia has helped improve our patience when trying to explain fairly complex rules to our foreign visitors. Those same experiences have also helped us to react a little differently to violations of the rules than we might with Americans. I know I have cut many a French speaking person a bit of slack for leaving a water bottle on a picnic table than I have for a twenty-something year old American man who assured me he understood the rules. As it has turned out so far, the worst violation of the rules was committed by the family of a retired Rear Admiral, U S Navy. The violation was so egregious that I called for a ranger and suggested that a ticket be written rather than a verbal warning. When the ranger saw all the stuff I had confiscated he agreed that this family just didn’t get it. A ticket was issued. The family stayed several more days and I did not see even a water bottle out of place after the initial incident. For those who may be wondering, I didn’t know the camper was a retired Rear Admiral until after I called for assistance. I was pretty embarrassed when I saw the star on his windshield, but I think he was more embarrassed than I. And, yes, I would have handled the situation the same way had I known in advance of his rank. It was a really bad violation of the rules that could have easily resulted in a bear getting into trouble.

We were very happy and fortunate to be able to host our very good friends and my former co-worker Pat and Marty Riordan for the better part of four days in June. I had suggested to Pat that she try to get out here while we were here and she made it happen. For most of their visit they stayed outside the park in a condominium in Big Sky, Montana. We spent their first night in the condo with them. That gave us a chance to catch up on our respective lives since we last saw them not quite a year ago. We spent the next three days touring the park together and sharing some wonderful experiences. On the third night they stayed with us so we could get an early start for a visit to the Lamar Valley the next morning. For anyone keeping track, Pat and Marty are the first couple to spend a night with us in the motorhome. Of course having a couple aboard is not that much harder than a single person, but none the less it is a milestone.

Our time with Pat and Marty was really great fun and exhausting. Of course it was sandwiched between two work periods which by their very nature are exhausting. So, we rested a bit following our next two work days. Many of the images in the linked photo album were captured while we toured the park with the Riordans. We are hoping to include them in future adventures as they enjoy many of the same things that keep us on the move.

I have to mention our fellow campground hosts. We are working with two couples who have several years of experience at Indian Creek Campground. Pat and Jack Scullen worked here for four years in a row and then took a few years off thinking they would be able to spend more time with their grandchildren. Our ranger, Allan Bush, called them last winter and asked if they would consider coming back. They agreed and we are richer for that decision. Not only have they helped us to learn the ropes, they are a wonderful couple to spend time with. Jack refers to Connie and me as the nice hosts because we try to please everyone who drives into the campground. The other couple has worked here for at least the last three years. Donna and Rick Dumar arrived the day after us and we moved to the campground caravan style two days before opening day. We spent those first few days installing signs and getting the paperwork ready for the season. We learned all the basics from these folks. They have made our stay here a very positive one indeed. We are still learning and probably will until the day we give this up. We couldn’t have picked two better couples to work with. However, they both comment on how much time we spend away from the campground on our time off. We explained that we have not seen everything this wonderland has to offer and therefore will continue to roam while not at work.

Some of our roaming has taken us out of the park. One of those trips took us to my old stomping grounds, the Heart Six Guest Ranch at Moran, Wyoming. This was the place I spent my high school summers as a horse wrangler and float boat operator in the mid to late 1960’s. Driving into the ranch brought back many memories. When we walked into the lodge I was surprised at how little it had changed in all the years since I had worked there. We found a young woman who works there now and I told her my story. She allowed us to wander the property to our hearts’ content as there were no guests in residence. So wander we did. I was further shocked to see that the dining room furniture was the same as when I worked there. During my years on the ranch I was involved in cabin building, plumbing installation, electrical work and rock masonry as well as my regular jobs of wrangler or boatman. I also got my first shot at leadership as I supervised a crew of boatmen all who were three to six years my elder. The cabins looked every bit as fresh and clean as when we put them into service some forty five years ago. There have been some noticeable improvements to the grounds and the horse corral area, but for the most part it is the same wonderful place where I began the long process of growing up. I think the young woman we met was as excited for me as I was. The images we captured in digital form are merely modern versions of the images that I have carried in my head and heart all these years. I hope you enjoy them. By the way, the ranch remains a full service guest ranch. Guests arrive on Monday and leave on Saturday. On Saturday afternoon and Sunday the staff resets the rooms/cabins and prepares for the next set of arriving guests. There are optional events to participate in while staying there, but most events are included in the package and are hard scheduled by the day. That has to make life a bit easier for the staff than in the wild and wooly 60’s when we tried to do everything every day.

That same day we went on down to Jackson, Wyoming to visit Diana and John Ayres and their daughter, Aja. Diana worked with us at Balcones this past winter and spring. She and John are working as volunteers at the National Elk Refuge in Jackson. Aja is working in a local restaurant. We spent the afternoon with them at the refuge and then moved on up the road to Moose, Wyoming for dinner before Connie and I headed back to Yellowstone. That was one long day as we spent a lot more time at the Heart Six Guest Ranch than we had thought we would be able.

Another of those out of the park trips took us back to Sheridan, Wyoming where we attended the memorial and burial services for my sister, Holly, who passed away in May. Her family purposely delayed the burial until the majority of our extended family could be in attendance. While the reason for the gathering of nearly all my cousins was a sad one, the gathering was wonderful. Of course we all said we need to get together more often and for reasons other than funerals, but it is so hard because there are so many of us and we are spread all around the mountain west. My niece and brother-in-law did a great job on the arrangements for the memorial. My Aunt Rose Marie hosted a get together of the family at her home in Sheridan giving us a great opportunity to talk with so many of my cousins. I was so consumed by the events at hand that I never snapped a single photo while in Sheridan.

However, on the way over Connie and I drove across Beartooth Pass in Northwest Wyoming. For some reason I had never been on this road. My brother, John, had told us we had to drive it while we were here. He insisted it is one of the most beautiful drives in the country. We agree and given our foreign travel experience can add that it ranks really high on the best drives in the world. The images recorded on our cameras while pretty neat, do not do justice to the vastness of the area or the pitch of the slopes. I hope you enjoy them. I remember when we were at Denali National Park, Alaska commenting on how far you could see without seeing anything man-made except the road we were on. The Beartooth shares this distinction.

We will be here for a good bit longer and I am certain we will collect many more memories to share during that time. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy the photos I have selected for this article. As usual, just click on the photo below and you will be taken to the web album. Be sure to read the captions as they help to tell the story. I must warn you that I had literally hundreds of photos to choose from. There are some 90 plus images in this web album. Many have lengthy captions, so page through them slow enough to read my comments.

A Summer in Yellowstone National Park



1 thought on “A Summer in Yellowstone National Park”

  1. I’ve gotten the urge to roam north again. Need to see more of WY, ID and MT again after seeing those gorgeous photos. Fantastic. Thanks. Lauren

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