|The moon riding high above the Badlands Sunday morning. (iPhone panoramic)|
Our goal for the day was to cross Wyoming, ending up at Buffalo Bill State Park, about a half hour from the Yellowstone border. We would then get up early the next morning and drive into YNP, and secure a campsite somewhere. We were aware that all of the campgrounds that were still open (I think two had closed for the season, and the Slough Creek was closed because of the Buffalo Creek fire) were filling by around 11 am, and so we needed to get in as soon as possible.
People talk about the Plains and Upper Midwest to be flat, barren wastelands. I had not found that to be the case in my travels through the Dakotas, Iowa, Kansas and Oklahoma. Of course, we had been in the eastern half of those states. All that changes when you hit the arid steppes of Wyoming. The rolling terrain gradually gains elevation, and the sagebrush steppes are virtually empty save for pronghorn and oil wells. Of course, that's all you see at 70-80 mph down the highway--there are lots of animals that call this place home, but for a Michigander who has spent her life surrounded by trees, this was a truly alien landscape.
|The treeless sagebrush steppes of central Wyoming, with the Bighorn Mountains in the distance.|
We had several options for getting to Yellowstone's border. One was to take I-90 up to Billings, then come down the Bear Tooth Highway and into the park at the Northeast Entrance. But that seemed really out of the way, and the Bear Tooth Pass freaked me out--I'd never pulled a camper through the mountains, and wasn't sure I was ready to tackle that. It had already been closed twice this year because of snow. The other options then were to go through the Bighorn Mountains, either on US 14 to the north, or US 16 to the south. In Buffalo we saw signs saying it was an easier drive to take US 16, and we decided to trust them and go that route. It was a beautiful drive, and we got our first taste of the golden hues of aspen and willow as they began to change into their autumn colors. The van did pretty well chugging up the mountains, but I couldn't look around much. When I came to an empty pull-out on the downside I stopped to stretch and take a few photos.
|Bighorn Mountains along US 16|
From the Bighorns it's another 1.5 hours or so to Cody. We didn't have time to linger there, though it looked like a really neat town. We needed to get to Buffalo Bill and get a campsite before dark, which we only JUST managed to do. There was weather in the area, rain to the south and snow to the north over the Absarokas, but it didn't rain on us until well after dark. While we didn't have time to explore the park, we did make it in time to stroll along the banks of the reservoir, and watch the sun set.
|Snow in the distance did not reach us here at Buffalo Bill State Park|
|Wild sunflowers on the beach|
|Looking east along the Buffalo Bill Reservoir|
We were up before sunrise and ready to go as the sun painted the hills gold and red. But before we could reach the park entrance, we had our second wildlife close encounter.
|Sunrise on the buttes in western Wyoming|
As we made our way east towards the East Entrance of Yellowstone, we came across a few cars pulled over on the shoulder. There was room for us so I stopped too. Lisa got out to investigate, and she thought at first there was a moose in the shrubs along the road. But then she jumped back in the van, slamming the door, and said, "Oh my God, it's a bear!" So I, of course, jumped out.
Standing up against the back corner of the camper, I watched as this magnificent creature browsed its way through the shrubbery. Not even to Yellowstone and we had us a grizzly encounter!
|A big griz grazing on berries along US 14 in the Shoshone National Forest, just outside YNP.|
The bear wasn't interested in us in the least. I wish I had grabbed my other (better) camera with the other (better) lens, but it was buried somewhere and I didn't want to chance not getting any photos while I searched for my gear. I also didn't dare get any closer. There were other cars closer to the bear, but the folks had enough sense to shoot from their vehicles. I felt confident that if the bear started coming my way I could get back into the van quickly. But I needn't have worried--the bear was only interested in eating fruit.
|Oh sweet face!|
The bear eventually emerged from the shrubs to feed some more...
...then turned and headed around the far side. What I wouldn't give to have been on the other side of this image!
Thanks to the bear jam, we were a little later getting to into the park than we had planned. Once inside the park we still had an hour or two to drive before arriving at an open campground. Would we find a place to camp? Hmmm...
|Requisite selfie at the entrance sign--Lisa, Lori and me.|