Always wanting to take an “Out West Adventure”, we decided to take a trip to Yellowstone National Park with “Nana” and our five children (ages 2-8). After landing in Billings, Montana, we pointed our wagon… er… Suburban… West! That day just happened to be the first day of the season that the Beartooth Pass was open for travel. This highway crosses the Aboraska Mountains and reaches 10,947′ in elevation. Being there on the first day of the season felt like we had this special place to ourselves. As we drove through 10′ high snow drifts where the massive snow blowers just cut a path, we gained a new appreciation for the alpine work crew that clears the highway.My, what a view…
The view of the Aboraska Mountains from the Beartooth Pass is unbeatable! Aside from a bit of sleet/snow in the alpine area, which was totally terrifying, we had a safe drive over the pass and through the Northeast Entrance of Yellowstone on our way to Gardner, Montana. Along the 3 hour drive, we were amazed by the vast open space, the smell of the pine forests and sagebrush, and the incredible wildlife! The birding highlight of the day was a great-grey owl hunting voles in a meadow just off of the road.
He was so much larger than even the great-horned owls we see at home! I’m not sure who was more surprised when a marmot ran out in front of us on the road… us or the marmot… He acted like he hadn’t seen a car in months….probably because he hadn’t. And, Nana and the kids acted like they had never seen a marmot before…probably because they hadn’t!
What are those white dots?
After entering the park, we found a good vantage point to stop and scan for mountain goats. The kids had a hard time picking them out with the binoculars, but when instructed to look for “little white dots that are moving” they were able to see the mountain goats way across the valley on a steep cliff. Although they are not native to Yellowstone’s ecosystem, mountain goats were introduced to Montana in the 1940s and 50s and became established in the park in the 1990s. The kids were much more impressed when they saw their first moose, a cow and her calf, grazing along the edge of a bog. The Northeast Entrance Road of Yellowstone is known as the best part of the park to see moose and it didn’t disappoint!
Crossing the Lamar Valley, and closer to our accommodations in Gardner, we hit a major traffic hurdle. A herd of at least 150 American bison were lackadaisically roaming about, and completely holding up traffic… This was by far the best traffic jam of our life! Nothing stops traffic and gets the kids charged up like a bison deciding to lay down in the middle of the road. This made for exquisite photo opps! It was great to see this iconic species, brought back from the brink of extinction, absolutely thriving. In that place, the past comes alive and we felt like we were seeing the frontier.
Krista S. Clauser and Aaron S. Clauser, PhD own and consult for Clauser Environmental, LLC in Eastern Pennsylvania. When Aaron and Krista aren’t working as environmental scientists at home, they travel the world with their five children to share environmental and cultural knowledge. If you enjoyed this post, follow our blog at www.clauserenvironmental.com or www.facebook.com/ClauserEnvironmental.