The sun comes up early and goes down later in Yellowstone as the summer solstice approaches. When camping, no alarm clock is needed. The sun nudges you out of bed. We enjoyed breakfast, made coffee, and headed out on our next adventure. My husband wanted to drive toward Roosevelt Lodge and Tower, then through the Lamar Valley to see more animals. We packed snacks and water, then headed out by 8 a.m. We were, remarkably, always the last people in our section of the campground to leave in the mornings.
We stopped at a lookout point on our drive, which slowly weaves up the mountain toward Dunraven Pass, a place Jeff had talked about the day before. Snow covered the summit and the temperature was definitely cooler there. The view was natural woods, mountains, and valleys forever, bare of all human building from this vantage point. We pulled into our first stop, Tower Falls, where a short hike takes you to the edge of a cliff where you can see the layers of millions of years of rock, evenly cut like layer cake, dropping hundreds of feet below to the river.
As we exited this area, people were gathering to look at an eagle’s nest with eggs in the top of a tree across the road and to observe a cub in a field near the parking lot. After enjoying these, we continued our drive only to stop a quarter mile down the road for another black bear sauntering down the side of the road.
We got to the ranger station at Tower and realized just how small and remote this part of the park really was. The ranger station was the size of a small bedroom and had standing room for a few people on the other side of the desk. The ranger advised us that if we wanted to find something for lunch, we should go to Roosevelt Lodge next door. We traveled down a dusty dirt road to the lodge dedicated to Teddy Roosevelt’s visit to the area.
There are rough cabins in rows near the lodge building. The outside of the lodge has rocking chairs, which we enjoyed, that look out to the mountains. Horse rides, wagon rides, and other equestrian activities originate here, as well as a restaurant that serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. It looked good, but we wanted something we could take with us into the Lamar valley.
We headed to The General Store onsite and got grab and go sandwiches and ice cream sandwiches (we had our cooler still full of ice) to take with us on our drive.
We continued to the Lamar Valley, stopping to take pictures. Bison were plentiful like cattle in Nebraska. Wide valleys with wild flowers, rivers, and hillsides dotted with boulders and trees were the norm.
Turning into a parking area and dirt road recommended by the ranger, we saw a group of people who were looking at a herd of elk that were across from a herd of bison, all perched near the river and seemingly unaware of the other due to trees in between.
We continued down this dirt road and found the trailhead for the Slough Creek Trail. Several cars were parked here and we got out for a hike.
This hike started up hill and continued as such for some time. My son was complaining that this was going to be “terrible” while he stopped to admire the pica on the trail or marvel at an old stump-turned-termite colony.
My husband and I were on the look-out for bears (we could see traces of them) and admired the view which continually got more breathtaking as we made it to the top of the trail. There were a handful of people on this trail, some with fishing gear coming back from a successful day at the lake, others who turned around to go back for lunch. But we generally felt we were hiking alone. We reached a plateau and decided to turn around. It was a marsh which we later discovered would soon become a lake. But we had to hike back down and we wanted to eat lunch. We were wary of bears, so we brought minimal food and left our sandwiches in the car.
On our return, we met a few more people, including a family heading up the mountain whose youngest daughter appeared to be in the same state our son was in on his hike up hill. They asked us how much farther to the lake and we had to tell them they were only 1/3 of the way there. When we got back down the mountain, we had a picnic in an area off the road in the shade.
We then continued through the valley to see more bison, now families of them, mixed with elk and a couple pronghorn. We turned around near the end of the valley (but before Montana), and headed back the way we came, this time with much more traffic coming into this region. As we passed Tower Falls again, we saw an overflowing parking lot and crowds of people watching the cub and the eagle (looking above them or behind them in the field). And then, a coyote trotted alongside our car, completely unseen by the massive crowds across the street.
We made it back to the campground while the Canyon Visitor’s Center was still open. They were doing an activity all afternoon and my son needed to complete it for his Junior Ranger badge, plus go through the visitor’s center to earn his Junior Scientist. This visitor’s center was now filled with people. The interactive displays were fascinating, including a map of how far the ash would fall if the Yellowstone volcano exploded today, seismic activity of the region, animals found in the area, and interesting geological wonders. A large topographical map (best viewed from upstairs) was a draw for adults and kids. We spent more than one hour here, going through the exhibits and enjoying the information provided. He then earned his badges.
After dinner, and because the showers were full (there was a line!), we decided to wait until later in the evening to shower and instead drove through the Hayden Valley once more. We would be leaving this section of the park tomorrow and, even though we had driven all day, people said dusk was a great time to see animals. We drove to an area not far from where we saw the wolf the day before and there were several cars stopped and numerous people with scopes. As Jeff our tour guide said, when you see the scopes and the people with antenna trucks, you should stop. We are glad we did. On the hillsides across the river, we witnessed an amazing scene. A heard of elk were separated by four black wolves and the wolves were able to successfully secure one of the elk for dinner. I have never seen anything like it.