Lest my rant give the misimpression that my September 2016 trip to Yellowstone National Park was an exercise in tourist frustration, I enjoyed a quiet room at the new Canyon Lodge and some peaceful day hikes. Sometimes enjoying the best of Yellowstone happens when you park your car and use your feet.
On a lovely but cold morning, I drove Hayden Valley drinking hot coffee looking for wildlife while the sun rose. Many folks have clued into this: drive at dawn and dusk, watch for other cars stopped, and voila, wildlife. I stopped at a pullout for this lovely view of the river. Apologies to the gentleman taking pictures of a bald eagle. I have a nesting pair by my home, and while I don’t take them for granted, their Wyoming cousins don’t have the unique attraction of a pretty sunrise on a foggy river.
I decided to day hike to Sentinel Meadows after perusing the Jake Bramante map over morning coffee. It was a great choice for solitude. I veered off the common road to the Fairy Falls/Imperial Geyser trail, which everyone else was taking, and ended up with the place to myself.
The trail starts by a thermal, Ojo Caliente, which could be morphed into, “Oh no, super caliente!” if you were so foolish as to enter the steaming pool.
The trail leads past this thermal through wide meadows with fresh bison patties, wood debris and enough trees to provide perfect habitat for cavity nesting, insect eating mountain bluebirds. These busy little birds find perches in meadows to hunt, then dive to the ground to grab their meal. They also hover, which is fun to watch but hard to catch without a great camera.
The trail winds past the Queen’s Laundry, thermal features that apparently people- well, used for laundry at one time (doh!).
The trail climbs a small hill, winds around a corner through another small meadow, through some trees, and then drops into another meadow. In this case, a meadow filled with bison and thermal features.
There were lots of bison sacked out, and spread out over a wide area. A couple trailing groups approached them in a line. The orange trail markers indicated my trail crossed their path, so I sat on my pack to eat lunch and waited for them to cross. Or not.
Two cows suddenly felt the need for a siesta, and plopped down right by the trail. A giant bull stood sentinel over them, killing my plan to have a short lunch while the parade rear guard moseyed past. It was going to be a really long lunch, or a detour.
After awhile, I decided it was a detour. With the thermal features in the area, I was cautious about picking a route. There was a social path blocked by a tree limb that I used (sorry, YNP) to head down valley from the bison. I swung wide across the valley, watching for bison trails and picking a narrow part of the marshy stream to hop across. After the stream, I followed more bison paths back toward the trail.
The whole time I detoured, I kept an eye on the bull even though I was well distant from him and his girls. He turned his head a couple times, but never lifted his tail, so I figured I was paying appropriate respect.
The trail passed small thermal features before crossing a stream on limbs and entering a forest. Then it crossed back to a connector with Fairy Falls and the common gravel road again. I walked the road chatting with a couple from Seattle who had made a last minute decision to visit Yellowstone to hike since he was nursing a bad ankle. We passed one more group of bison on the way out, and then reached our cars for a cheery au revoir and off to our evening destination. All in all, a peaceful pleasant day in a super popular national park.