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I Watched For Eyeballs Shining

On July 5th the family vacation portion of our Yellowstone trip ended as my sister and her family headed back to Kansas City (more on this later).  Shelly and I decided to drive back to the Lamar Valley and leave the Park to travel the Beartooth Highway.  On July 4th we had seen this coyote circling a bison herd.

Lamar Valley

Coyote at the Lamar Valley

We hoped a return visit would yield similar remarkable results.  It did.

Just outside the Northeast Entrance of Yellowstone, we had the option to fork right on the Chief Joseph Scenic Byway (Wyoming 296).  It was tempting, but we were anxious to test the switchbacks of the Beartooth.

As we began to ascend the Beartooth Highway (US 212), the vistas were breathtaking.

Peaceful Beartooth Valley

High peaks dotted the landscape and several different mountain ranges were visible from the highway.

Yellowstone National Park

Looking Back Towards Yellowstone

At about 8000 feet we found  Beartooth Falls.  We could not see all of it from the road and estimated its total height at 300 feet.

Beartooth Falls

Beartooth Falls

There was still quite  bit of snow on the Beartooth.  The wildflowers seemed to be enjoying the early Summer moisture.

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As we reached the alpine landscape above the tree line it was about 4 PM.  Shelly told me several times that she wanted to get off the mountain before dark.  Critters, you know.  No problem, we still had 5 1/2 hours until dusk.

Beartooth Highway

Snow Above the Tree Line

The amount of snow on the Beartooth was really amazing.  I couldn’t resist a short hike along an alpine trail.  My lungs reminded me that I was at 10,000 feet.

Beartooth Highway

Playing in the Snow

We met a new friend at the summit.  We wanted to drive the more challenging portion of the road to the northeast, but it was a little late.  Time to head back to Yellowstone.

Beartooth Highway

Curious Marmot at 10,000 Feet

On the way back, we stopped for a few minutes to walk and photograph Beartooth Lake.

Beartooth Highway

Beartooth Lake

Driving back, the Chief Joseph sign beaconed us.  It was about 6 PM and the road led to Cody, Wyoming.  We decided to take the scenic route through Cody back to Yellowstone.

We were completely surprised by the beauty of this Scenic Byway.

Cheif Joseph Scenic Byway

Scene Along the Chief Joseph Scenic Byway

As with the Beartooth, Wyoming 296 offered a chance at every turn to grab the camera.

Chief Joseph Scenic Byway

Mountain Valley

The “dry” side of the drive leading to Cody had a familiar Old West look to it.

Chief Joseph Scenic Byway

Tilted Butte

Once in Cody, we stopped for a quick Mexican dinner.  When we left for the East Entrance of Yellowstone, we realized we would be arriving back in West Yellowstone after dark.  Would there be large critters waiting for us on the roads?

The drive from Cody to the East Entrance is just as scenic as the three drives we had already made that day.  We just drove and enjoyed the sights–no photos this time.

As we arrived in Yellowstone it was 9:15 PM.  Just inside the gate we were stopped by a “bear jam”.  Just off the road a Grizzly rooted along the hillside.  It was dark and this photo is a bit grainy but we wanted to share it anyway.

Grizzly Bear

Yellowstone Grizzly

We snapped a few photos of him and headed west into the sunset.

Yellowstone Sunset II

At 9:30 PM, we had an 83 mile drive back to camp in the Yellowstone darkness.  Our great day was dampened by our building paranoia about hitting a dear, elk or worse a bison.  Better drive slowly and watch for their eyes.  Near the Norris Junction a mature male bison suddenly appeared in our headlights.  I hit the brakes with authority and swerved hard right.  I missed him by two feet and managed to stay on the road.  Unperturbed, he snorted and went on his way (as did the two bison traveling with him).  No harm except for our frayed nerves.  We crawled back the final 28 miles to West Yellowstone.

Yellowstone National Park

Not What You Want on Your Front Bumper

We learned two lessons from our road trip.  First, the day trips around Yellowstone are not to be missed.  Second, as a friend told me, when driving in Yellowstone at night, watch for eyeballs shining.

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