Well everyone has something different that they find relaxing and recreational. I speak to folks all the time regarding vacations versus retirement traveling versus recreational life styles.  Everyone seems to have different words and ideations on what is a vacation, how long they last, the difference between a weekend trip and a vacation ……..

So let’s get some definitions down just so everyone is on the same page.  Weekends are just that, 2 or 3 consecutive days of non-work time usually a result of working 4 or 5 consecutive days at some some compensated livelihood. Weekends do not have to fall on a Friday, Saturday and Sunday to be considered weekends.  When your work week is over the weekend starts, no matter what day of the week it is.  There are a scad of hybrid versions of the weekend so suffice it to say that if it is short it is a weekend. Whether it is one day or 4. Anything over 4 days I will consider to be a vacation even if it has some other fancy corporate speak name. It is vacation in my book so just relax and humor me by calling it vacation.  If it runs over 21 consecutive days it is a reeeeeeally long vacation.  However, and here comes the sticking point, if you are retired you can’t take vacation since there is nothing to vacate from.  So retired folks’ time away from their home base falls into the category of travel versus staying home and the length of time does not matter. One last point, if you have an alternate residence then going there and living is not going to suffice as vacation or usually even travel.  It is just going to your other place and living for a period of time. Lake houses, mountain cabins, hunting shacks, and the corner pub (although, remember if you stay at the pub for more than 4 days it is considered a vacation, a bender for sure, but a vacation) are in this category. Time shares and such are a hybrid of this category and I usually use the distance traveled to determine if this is vacation or just alternate living. Dave Letterman travels to Montana many weeks after taping of the show is complete and this falls in the category of alternate residence.

All righty then, with the definitions out of the way we move to what do you do with your spare time.  As you might guess from the earlier posts, my time is spent doing outdoor things. Before I get into that I want to really change the subject –

 I don’t know how many of you have followed the re-introduction of the wolf into the Yellowstone eco-system? I have spent the better part of 10 years following their every report.  Some of this is through the Internet, some through conventional print and video media and some through governmental publications, reports and the like.

Clearly a lot of the web related reporting is anecdotal and while well meant it has varying levels of veracity. Conventional media has a bad case of the squeaky wheel topic and slant and tends to be directed at which ever group has filed law suits against the established managers of the critters programs and they usually get there information from either folks that don’t know what the issues are and are running their own agenda, or governmental or pseudo-governmental organizations that either can’t, won’t and or don’t know what they are talking about either.  The message I keep coming away with is conventional media seldom gets the story right. The web may get it right but it is hard to know.  Documentaries and governmental publications are either so biased as to be laughable or so cluttered with gobble-de-gook that you can’t find the facts for the pseudo intellectual babble that often passes for “research.” So as a regular guy I need to go to the source and see it and experience it for myself and come to my own conclusions.  It is absolutely the case that my own conclusions are clouded with my own bias, misunderstandings and agenda but at least they are mine.

That said, I don’t have an agenda regarding the park and the wolves, unless you call letting the critters that were there return and let the chips fall where they may. I realize that ranchers and cattlemen have huge financial interests in making sure their beeves get to market and wolves stand in the way of that getting done. But with that said, I am usually a laissez-faire, free market kind of guy. There are all kinds of predators in this world and we can’t kill them all just because we are somewhere different on the food chain, so let’s find some better solutions. It can’t always be the best thing to do to modify the eco-system to satisfy our needs. I understand there are times this is the best solution but it can’t always be the solution, sometimes we need to modify our own systems to make it all work. Mother Nature is an amazing force in keeping lots of complex things in balance.

Anyway the wolves of Yellowstone.

 I am really nuts on the Yellowstone National Park.  For those who have never been, alas, what a shame.  For those who have been, good deal, when are you going back? If the trip was made with children, there is a whole different YNP than the one you saw while traveling (do I really mean vacationing?) with kids. There is no more wonderful experience than watching a child awaken to the wonder and beauty of nature in a place like YNP. But watching the kids enjoy nature is much different than seeing it for yourself without the diversion that children add. So if you have not been through the park without benefit of children then please return, and have a totally different experience.  Not better, just different. As an adult you will see the park through a very different set of senses.  The kinesthetic, auditory and visual stimulus will all be different when you can appreciate the park as a mature human with other mature humans. You will have a number of varied reactions and interactions with YNP. One consensual (I have yet to hear anyone who does not feel this way after a day or two) reaction is “I am shocked that YNP is actually one huge volcano!” Second, it is hard to imagine how large the park actually is. Going from Hayden Valley to Tower is pretty straight forward on the map but you will travel through some pretty divergent eco-systems to get from one to the other. Expect rushing waterways of epic movie beauty, high mountain passes of cold blowing snow (yes even in the summer), lush mountain valleys with roaring streams and rocky woodlands and in-between forest fire ravaged evergreen forests and breathtaking scenic vistas that leave you wanting more.  There is good news here, there is more, in fact lots more.  As Bachman Turner Overdrive said, you ain’t seen nothing yet, oh baby, you ain’t seen nothing yet. 

Hopefully the above few words have re-kindled the idea that, “hey, you know I always wanted to go to Yellowstone or I always said once the kids are grown we are going back to Yellowstone” so start making plans. The plans themselves usually take about 6 months for me from start to finish.

So lets take a quick run through the planning process and leave the critters for another days discussion.

First and foremost lets get the big question out of the way. How long can you stay? I always figure it takes 5 days to see the park from end to end.  It can take a lot longer but 5 days will give you enough time to stop at all of the attractions and take the required photos. You will definitely see a lot of wildlife and may even get a chance to see all of the common species.  Buffalo (found everywhere within the park), Elk (found in almost all of the park valleys but they are not as common during the warm months when they head up into the high country), Black Bears and Brown (Grizzly) Bears  (keep in mind bears hibernate from about November until April) also don’t be confused, bears come in every color variation you can imagine, Coyote (the open mountain valleys are all carrying significant numbers of coyotes right now), Mountain Goat (bring your binos and spotting scopes as these guys are going to be over 1/2 mile away), Mountain Sheep ( see explanation for goats), Wolves (commonly viewed in and around the Lamar Valley and several other key viewing locations (again the better the optics, the better the viewing of these wary creatures), Moose (seen frequently this year but I have seldom heard much talk of moose in past years but we saw them every trip this year), Mule Deer (almost anywhere), Antelope (surprisingly frequent viewings) and many more lesser sized critters including badger, marmot, pica, ground squirrels, voles, mice, and so many types of unique birds that I won’t try to mention them.  Notable are the Bald Eagles and the Golden Eagles that are often found around wolf and grizzly kills sites, So when a griz or wolf pack is seen guarding a kill keep you eyes open and you will see all types of other predators and scavengers appear for a free meal. Also keep in mind this is the real wildlife.  These critters are wild and see everything as a potential meal including human park visitors so be careful and do not confuse wild behaviors with zoo animals behaviors.  Zoos have cages and walls for a reason.  YNP does not have wall or cages and if you get too close you can become very involved in the feeding frenzy.  The other side is if we get too close too often they lose there natural fear of humans and once the fear is gone lots of bad things occur.  Back in the 60’s through the 80’s similar problems occurred with bears and many bears had to be destroyed because they became a threat to the tourists. Griz and wolves have a healthy instinct to avoid humans and let’s make sure it stays that way.

So we have looked at how long to stay. If you have 2 weeks don’t assume that is too long.  There are hundreds of day trips, hikes into the back country and trails leading to geysers and special scenic sites that can easily take up your time and you will never see the same thing twice. But my suggestion is if you have 10 days make two trips and stay 5 days each.  Come in the spring and the fall and see the park in two different seasons.

I can spend hours on the critters so suffice it to say that with the exception of mountain lions you can expect to see the majority of the listed critters with almost every trip,  The wolves are pretty hit and miss and I know folks that have made many trips to the YNP and have not seen a wolf.  I know others who see them regularly. I have been blessed with many viewings and some spectacular stories of kills and fights and playful dog behaviors that may end up on this page if there is time.

But more planning; 5 days, but what kind of physical condition are you in?  Don’t answer that just make it a consideration.  You are going to spend several days well over 1 mile above sea level.  Are you a smoker? It will take your breath away. Are you limited in your mobility or do you have a significant physical limitation? All of these things must be considered.  None of them will stop you from enjoying the park but they must be considered. How far and how long you can walk and at what speed make a difference as too how long you will be in the park and where you can go and what you can see and do. They may also dictate how you get through the park, there are professional guides that can show you the park for a day or longer, there are bus tours that make the visiting and viewing easy and provide a social aspect to the park as well, and of course personal vehicles. During the off season the roads get snow packed and there are several snow machine day trips and guided tours that provide a unique view of YNP as only winter can show.

So we can stay a week and will be driving our own vehicle, what else do we need to know.  Consider camping, hotels, motels (there are a few hotels in the park but they tend to be pricey), and RV parks. These all work great and depend on $$$, equipment, and your preferences. My wife says “life is too short to drink cheap beer” if we are going to see these places I want clean bed linens every night and someone else cooking my meals. We can afford it so that is the way we do it! Others will have different preferences. One thing to keep in mind is if you stay at facilities or motels outside the park there is that much more driving that must be done to get to where you want to go tomorrow.  From the northern entrance at Gardner to the Lamar Valley is a 1 hour drive so if you want to see the wolves at day break then you need to be in your car 1 1/4 hour before sunrise.  For most of us getting up at oh dark 30 is not something we like to do when we are on vacation, traveling or out for a weekend!  For others of us who duck hunt, being up at this hour is no problem.

The last thing you need to do is make up an itinerary.  Spend several weeks maybe even several months on the web researching the park and environs.  You will be over whelmed at first, but stay with it.  Print out a map of the park and start at one corner and move around the park clock-wise or counter-clockwise. There are not that many roads, so make it easy on yourself and just make a plan based on miles and figure it takes 30 minutes at any attraction and top speed in the park is 45 MPH! For example the upper and lower geyser basins can be done in one day if I am doing it.  I can see most of the famous geysers and Old Faithful Inn and the paint pots and make it back to Old Faithful Inn in time for a 6:30 dinner reservation. Keep in mind you won’t see all of the geysers erupt, as some have periodicity of several days or longer, but you can see what there is to see and the colors will be spectacular. Do your homework as some roads are closed at certain times in the park for animal protection or snow.  Also bear jams, buffalo jams and any other critter sightings can cause significant (read 15 minutes to 2 hours) of stand still traffic until the critter moves off or you finally get through. So be flexible in your travel scheduling.

Alright so we’re getting the planning under control.  I know it is a lot of work, I am in the planning phase for my next trip also (and have been for over one month) but it is the planning that makes it all work right.  Sort of, actually the planning gets the juices flowing and the plan will fall apart the second day when sprain your ankle and were planning to hike to the lower falls to be there for sunrise!

Hey you’re on vacation, traveling, or what ever you call it, relax and enjoy seeing YNP and try to imagine what this place was like when Teddy Roosevelt came through on horse back.