The big reason for our detour back into the U.S. is Yellowstone National Park. DH was eager to see how it matched up against her memories of the Saturday morning adventures of one of her favourite childhood heroes- Yogi Bear of "pic-a-nic basket" fame. The plot of most of Yogi's cartoons centered on his antics in the fictional Jellystone Park- a variant of the real Yellowstone National Park. Yogi, accompanied by his constant companion Boo-Boo Bear, would often try to steal picnic baskets from campers in the park, much to the displeasure of Park Ranger Smith. In the early history of the real park, visitors were allowed, and sometimes even encouraged, to feed the bears. Slightly stunned visitors welcomed the chance to get their pictures taken with the bears who had learned to beg for food. This led to numerous injuries to these deep thinkers each year. Although one could argue that this was an excellent form of natural selection, in 1970, park officials changed their policy and started a vigorous program to educate the public on the dangers of close contact with bears, and to try to eliminate opportunities for bears to find food in campgrounds and trash collection areas.
The real danger of Yellowstone these days isn't the bear bites or (for DH) the loss of a “pic-a-nic basket” but rather the thought that the park sits atop a volcanic hot spot- the Yellowstone Caldera is the largest volcanic system in North America measuring 45 X 30 miles. There are only 30 active super volcanos in the world and Yellowstone Park is one of them and the only one to be located on land. Parts of the park smoke more than Deb P after a good meal (…maybe not that much!!). Yellowstone National Park has approximately 2000 earthquakes yearly and more than 10,000 thermal features and 300 geysers (including the world famous Old Faithful which erupts every 91 minutes).
Less ominous signs of nature are well represented within the park as well- there are over 40 large waterfalls, twelve major rivers originate in the area, and it has the largest concentration of free roaming wildlife in all of the lower 48 states. Yellowstone is one of the few places in the United States where black bears can be seen coexisting with grizzly bears and when we were there, it seemed that the black, brown, and grizzly bears all had cubs in tow. We even got to see a black bear with a bison kill (along with a crowd of fifty dudes with heavy duty camera equipment which left DH thinking that my own equipment was woefully inadequate). Time to go find some easier-to-photograph buffalo (technically they are bison and not buffalo but it’s a bit late to try and correct that mistake).
At the first sighting of the bison/buffalo, I was out of the car and, once again, stretching the zoom lens on my camera to its very limits just to catch a couple of brown dots on the horizon. It wasn't long before we figured out that these critters wouldn't be that difficult to photograph- they are everywhere (largest number of free roaming bison left in North America), and aren't particularly bothered by gawking and squawking touristos so it wasn't unusual to find ourselves parked as a bison gang slowly sauntered across the road while giving off a whole lot of attitude. The wolves were yet another story- although still relatively small in number, these majestic creatures were recently reintroduced to the park and are descendants of a Canadian wolf pack. Assuming the neighbouring ranchers don't win the day and wipe them out again, the magic impact they have had on the park will continue (if you're interested watch this amazing video, http://www.collective-evolution.com/2014/10/03/video-wolves-brought-into-yellowstone-park-nobody-expected-this-would-be-the-outcome/ ). Always a little people-shy, the wolves were even harder to spot because they were protecting newly born pups- we did stumble across a group of wolf-whisperers who had set up super-zoom telescopes to watch the antics of a pack near their den on a faraway mountain. After a little flirting and some responding wolf whistles, DH was able to secure some viewing time through the telescopes and it was a special experience to watch, even briefly, their behaviours.
The behaviour that wasn't so special to see was that of the humanoid population (and you didn’t need telescopes for that). Despite abundant cautionary signage, wildlife sightings seemed to spark some folks into jumping out of their vehicle for a closer photo, or (even worse), a selfie with a big buffalo in the background. We saw one father-of-the-year candidate who, when confronted by a large male buffalo on the boardwalk, decided that pulling out his camera was a better idea than having his kids back away. Fortunately the buffalo was a little brighter than dad and decided to go around the family by getting off the boardwalk. Yellowstone was also one of the few stops on our world trip where I was hoping to be mistaken for an American. Just days before our arrival, a French Canadian couple spotted a bison calf near the road that appeared to be wet and shivering and, as you would, picked it up and loaded it into the back of their SUV, and drove it to the nearest Ranger station (the Rangers immediately drove it back but the calf unfortunately had imprinted on the humans and had to be put down). While we were there, a group of Canadian travel bloggers who pride themselves on their maverick approach to travel (ironically, just like every other off-the-beaten-track travel writer does) decided to post a video of themselves leaving a boardwalk and trampling a super-sensitive ecosystem surrounding the Grand Prismatic Spring (thanks to their video, stupidity was confirmed and charges were laid). We were one maple syrup food poisoning event away from being escorted back to the border.
Fortunately the big WOW that is Yellowstone was more than enough to overcome the foibles of some of the dimmer light bulbs out there. Given the number of photos attached to this blog you might have figured out that this was our favourite park on this roadtrip although we would really recommend a slightly off-season visit to avoid the big crowds.