Some Parks Have it All – Lassen Volcanic National Park, California

We spent time in dozens of national parks as we traveled through the United States so we can say with some degree of expertise that all of them are amazing in their own unique ways—Yellowstone has geothermal marvels, Denali delivers epic peaks, Crater Lake shows off the power of volcanoes. Then there are national parks that have it all, like Lassen Volcanic National Park in California, which was founded on August 9, 1916 and celebrates its 97th birthday today.

Lassen Peak Helen Lake Reflection California

Lassen Peak seen from Helen Lake in Lassen Volcanic National Park in California.

Within its 106,452 acre (43,080 ha) domain Lassen packs in geothermals and summits plus all four types of volcanoes. Over three days of utterly perfect temperatures we manage to explore most of this diverse park from our base in the Summit Lake North Campground.

Meadow view Lassen Volcanic National Park, California

Lassen Peak seen from a bucolic meadow in Lassen Volcanic National Park in California.

Warming up on the Cinder Cone Trail

As a warm up before tackling 10,457 foot (3,187 meter) Lassen Peak, we decided to climb up Cinder Cone. During the drive to the trailhead we spotted a honey colored black bear a few hundred feet off the road. It was busy ripping apart dead tree trunks in search of a snack and hardly notices us as we passed by.

Brown colored California Black Bear - Lassen Volcanic National Park

This bear was hunting for food inside rotting logs near the road that leads to Cinder Cone in Lassen Volcanic National Park in California.

The Cinder Cone trail starts off pleasantly enough (except for the disturbing signs warning visitors about river otter attacks in the area), however, the route becomes very steep and very exposed at the base of the Cinder Cone itself.

Climbing Cinder Cone volcanic Crater - Lassen National Park, California

Karen on the Cinder Cone trail in Lassen Volcanic National Park in California.

To make matters tougher, the trail runs through deep black cinders, which makes it feel like you’re walking through sand as you inch our way up the side of the dormant cone (two steps forward, one sliding step back, etc.). As usual, the harder the walk the greater the reward and at the top Cinder Cone lies a classic deep crater with a trail right down into it and a lovely path around the rim.

Cinder Cone volcanic Crater - Lassen National Park

Reach the top of Cinder Cone trail and your hike still isn’t through. This loop trail takes you around and into the crater itself.

Cinder Cone Panorama - Lassen Volcanic National Park California

Panoramic view from the top of the Cinder Cone trail in Lassen Volcanic National Park in California. See a larger version of this photo.

Ready for Lassen Peak?

The next morning it was time for Lassen Peak. The five mile (eight kilometer) round trip trail was busy but not packed–we saw maybe 40 other hikers—and, it must be said, it was an easier walk than we’d anticipated, perhaps because Cinder Cone was so much tougher than we’d expected.

Climbing Lassen Peak - Lassen National Park California

A stretch of trail about half way up Lassen Peak.

At the top we found a couple of flat rocks, the perfect place to break out our gourmet picnic of bbq pork sandwiches on onion rolls, grilled corn on the cob and boiled then grilled red potatoes leftover from our campsite dinner the night before.

Summit of Lassen Peak - Lassen National Park California

The summit of Lassen Peak.

As we ate, thousands of butterflies appeared all of them flying around the peak in the same clockwise direction. It was something we’d never seen before and it reminded us of what it feels like when we’re SCUBA diving in a swirling school of barracuda—lucky and bewildered. Less surprising were the swarms of chipmunk beggars who had clearly been spoiled by far too many human handouts.

View from Lassen Peak - Lassen National Park California

A view from the trail up Lassen Peak.

On the way down the Lassen Peak trail a doe and two frisky fawns crossed the trail right behind us before scampering off into a small meadow with mom in perpetual pursuit of her two energetic wanderers.

Lassen Volcanic National Park, California

Lassen Peak dominating the skyline in Lassen Volcanic National Park in California.

Welcome to Bumpass Hell

Our final day in Lassen was reserved for the Bumpass Hell trail where we learned that there really was a Mr. Bumpass (we presume he pronounced it Bum Pass) who used to guide visitors among the area’s sprawling fumaroles and boiling pots until he broke through the crust one day and fell into a scalding thermal feature burning his leg so badly that they had to cut it off, hence, the “Hell” part of the trail name.

Before we even reached the geothermal area we could hear the action—a kind of airport runway jet engine roar and hiss that seemed to be coming from all directions at once. After a few minutes of stupidly looking up at the sky trying to spot the planes that must be making all that racket we finally figure it out: we should be looking down.

Bumpass Hell Lassen Volcanic National Park California

The trail network through the geothermal areas of Bumpass Hell.

The Bumpass Hell area is made up of an array of steam vents and patches of bright yellow sulphur and boiling pools full of colorful water and putty-colored mud. It’s every bit as impressive as what we’ve seen in Yellowstone National Park (minus the bison and the elk, of course). Plentiful and blunt warning signs made it clear that if we didn’t watch our step and stay on the trail we could end up just like Mr. Bumpass.

Bumpass Hell geothermal area - Lassen National Park

Fumaroles in the geothermal Bumpass Hell area of Lassen Volcanic National Park.

Bumpass Hell geothermal Lassen Volcanic National Park California

Boiling mud pots in the Bumpass Hell area of Lassen Volcanic National Park.


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The Newest National Park in the United States – Pinnacles National Park, California

In January of 2013 Pinnacles National Monument, a well-kept California secret, was upgraded to national park status making Pinnacles National Park the newest national park in the United States. Now’s the time to travel to this park before word spreads about its caves, rock climbing, precipitous trails, campground with a swimming pool and population of endangered California condors.

Pinnacles National Monument , California

Pinnacles National Monument in California was upgraded to national park status in January of 2013. We hope their new sign is in place by now!

Rock formations Pinnacles National Park, California

Just a few of the rock formations which give Pinnacles National Park in California its name.

A tentative comeback for the California condor

They’ve got a wingspan of nearly 10 feet (three meters). They can fly up to 55 miles (90 kilometers) per hour. They can live for more than 60 years. Yet they’re critically endangered. In 1987 experts estimated that there were only 22 California condors left in the world and those were summarily rounded up and protected in breeding programs.

These massive birds, the largest land birds in North America, may not win any beauty pageants (picture a vulture the size of a Smart Car) but they are a crucial part of the local ecological balance and they used to thrive in the Pinnacles National Park area before habitat loss and lead poisoning from bullets these scavengers ingest while eating carrion left over from hunters.

Now Pinnacles is an important release site for condors raised in captivity or rescued after injury and there are currently around 30 of the birds living in Pinnacles National Park.

When we visited a ranger helped us spot three California condors perched in a tree on the hillside above the ranger station parking lot. If you want to keep an eye on the park’s population of endangered California condors, check in on images gathered by the Pinnacles National Park Condor Cam set up near a feeding station.

Exploring the rocks of Pinnacles National Park

Anxious to see some more of these huge birds and explore the rocks and rock formations left over as a volcano slowly erodes, giving Pinnacles National Park its name, we headed out on the 5.5 mile (eight kilometer) round trip Condor Valley/High Peaks Loop trail.

Condor Valley/High Peaks trail - Pinnacles National Park

Karen on the Condor Valley/High Peaks trail in Pinnacles National Park.

It was a blazing hot day and we literally dragged ourselves up the first section of trail to the highest point on the route which delivered us into the pinnacles themselves. The area is pockmarked with caves and many of the smooth spires are used by rock climbers. The only climbing we did was on the trail as it negotiated its way over enormous rocks via a series of steep and narrow stairs carved out of solid stone.

High Peaks Pinnacles National Park, California

Rock formations like these make Pinnacles National Park in California a favorite of rock climbers and endangered California condors.

Hiking the High Peaks trail, Pinnacles National Park

Karen on a stretch of the High Peaks trail that’s literally been chiseled out of a rock face.

We passed under low rock overhangs and slogged up inclines so steep that the park put in hand rails (thanks for that, by the way). It’s a unique trail through even more unique terrain (there’s even a short tunnel through a huge rock), but we didn’t see a single condor while hiking.

Rock formations Pinnacles National Park, California

A ranger showed us some endangered California condors near the visitor center at Pinnacles National Park but we were also hoping to spot them soaring above us as we hiked the park’s dramatic High Peaks trail.

Newest National Park Pinnacles NP, California

A typical vista in Pinnacles National Park in California.

Pinnacles National Park Travel Tip

The park’s wild flowers are in full bloom and temperatures are most mild in the spring. Also, the campground at Pinnacles National Park has a swimming pool which is usually open from mid May to mid September.

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Disappearing Glaciers and Emerging Grizzlies – Glacier National Park, Montana

There are a lot of unique reasons to travel to Glacier National Park, which celebrates its 103rd birthday this year, including international relations, grizzlies and the last of those namesake glaciers.

World’s first International Peace Park

In 1932, Glacier National Park in the US and Waterton Lakes National Park in Canada became the world’s first International Peace Park when they joined forces across the international border they share between Montana and British Columbia.

 Mountain reflection Swiftcurrent Lake- Glacier National Park

Soaring glacier-sculpted peaks reflected in Swiftcurrent Lake in Glacier National Park.

Clements Mountain Logan Pass- Glacier National Park

Clements Mountain as seen from Logan Pass, the summit of the Going to the Sun Road in Glacier National Park.

Disappearing glaciers

In the mid 19th century there were an estimated 150 active glaciers within the park’s 1,000,000 acre (405,000 hectare) boundaries. Today fewer than 30 active glaciers remain. Some scientists believe they could all be gone by 2020, so don’t just sit there.

Many Glaciers Hotel, a classic wooden lodge inside the park, is a comfortable, atmospheric and enormous place overlooking lovely Swiftcurrent Lake. But why do so many of our national park hotels make us think of The Shining?

Many Glaciers Hotel- Glacier National Park

Many Glaciers Hotel in Glacier National Park where, sadly, there are fewer and fewer glaciers.

Rowboat Swiftcurrent Lake -Glacier National Park

An aptly-named row boat on Swiftcurrent Lake in Glacier National Park.

Grinell Mountain Swiftcurrent Lake -Glacier National Park

Grinnell Mountain looming large behind Swiftcurrent Lake in Glacier National Park.

Minerals and sediment in the water that melts from the active glaciers that remain in the park still manage to turn the many mountain lakes an eerie milky turquoise color.

Turquoise Grinnell Lake -Glacier National Park

The distinctive milky turquoise color of Grinnell Lake is caused by melt water from Grinnell Glacier in Glacier National Park.

Grizzlies galore

In 2010, TV animal guy Jack Hanna used pepper spray to fend off a grizzly cub in Glacier National Park while hiking on the Grinnell Glacier trail. Though Hanna says he’s been carrying pepper spray on hikes for nearly two decades, that was the first time he’d ever used it.

According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, in 2011 17 people were charged by grizzlies in Glacier National Park. We were certainly on the lookout for them when we hiked the popular Grinnel Glacier trail.

 Grinnell Glacier trail -Glacier National Park

Karen heading up Grinnell Glacier Trail in Glacier National Park, an area also frequented by grizzlies.

As the steep trail curved and ascended up, up, up (it was extreme enough to inspire a bit of muscle-memory of our best treks in Nepal), we kept our eyes and ears open and one hand on our pepper spray.

Melting Grinnell Glacier  -Glacier National Park

Grinnell Glacier in Glacier National Park.

Glacier National Park

You can view a larger version of this panorama of Grinnell Glacier here

Waterfall Grinnell Glacier trail -Glacier National Park

Eric cooling off in cascading glacial melt during our hike up and down the Grinnell Glacier Trail in Glacier National Park.

It wasn’t until we returned to the Many Glaciers Hotel and flopped down on the big patio that we saw a lone grizzly slowly munching her/his way across a hillside about 300 yards away from us. As happens when the word grizzly gets whispered, a crowd soon gathered.

Grizzly Bear Glacier National Park

A grizzly bear searching for food on a hillside very near Many Glaciers Hotel in Glacier National Park.

Sunset color, Ptarmigan WallGlacier National Park

Sunset over Ptarmigan Wall as seen from Many Glaciers Hotel in Glacier National Park.

It’s not a road, it’s an experience

Glacier National Park is also home to one of the most amazingly-engineered and romantically-named roads. The 50 mile (80 kilometer) Going to the Sun Road hugs the mountains, winds through tunnels and tops out at 6,646 foot 2,000 meter) Logan Pass, as it crosses the Continental Divide. It’s all even more spectacular when you realize that it was built, largely by hand, more than 75 years ago.

Sunset view Going to the Sun road  -Glacier National Park

Going to the Sun road in Glacier National Park is a thrill ride carved out by hand more than 75 years ago.

Waterfall dropping from Logan Pass -Glacier National Park

A waterfall dropping dramatically from Logan Pass is just one of the gorgeous vistas along the Going to the Sun Road in Glacier National Park.

Over the years the Going to the Sun Road has taken a beating from traffic and the harsh weather conditions. It’s now in the midst of a multi-year upgrade which has created closures, delays and some missing pavement, though the park hopes the full length of this spectacular road will be fully open for the busy summer season by June this year. For current road conditions and closures check out these real time road status updates.

Saint Mary Lake -Glacier National Park

Saint Mary Lake as seen from Going to the Sun Road in Glacier National Park.

Hidden Lakes trail, Logan Pass -Glacier National Park

Hidden Lakes Trail at Logan Pass, the high point of the spectacular Going to the Sun Road in Glacier National Park.

Flower meadow, Logan Pass -Glacier National Park

Logan Pass in full bloom in Glacier National Park.

Speaking of upgrades, this year park officials announced that their fleet of 33 iconic red buses with 1930s styling on modern chassis, which were last upgraded by Ford in 2002, would remain on the road for those visitors who don’t want to drive the road themselves.


The grizzlies are emerging from their winter dens right about now (April/May) so make plenty of noise as you hike. A startled bear is a cranky bear.


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Wild Animal Encounters

Spotting critters is a big goal and a definite highlight of our Trans-Americas Journey and we’ve had some amazing wild animal encounters as we’ve traveled through The Americas. Back in 2010 we put together a list of our top wild animal encounters to that point which included grizzlies in Alaska, scarlet macaws in Mexico and (almost wild) jaguars in Belize. On the eve of Earth Day we thought it was high time we updated that list to include the whale sharks, resplendent quetzal birds, hammerheads, turtles and so much more that we’ve seen since.

Red eyed Tree frog Costa Rica

One of many red-eyed tree frogs that stared us down in Costa Rica.

See more of this adorable little guy and his other rainforest friends in our post from Rainforest Adventures in Costa Rica.

School of Hammerhead sharks

We were surrounded by hammerheads (and loved it) while scuba diving around Cocos Island in Costa Rica. Photo courtesy of the Undersea Hunter Group.

Hammerheads were just the beginning of our underwater wild animal encounters. Get the full sharky story in our Cocos Island post.

Quetzal at Chelemha Cloud Forest Lodge

This male quetzal emerged from its nest inside a hollow tree trunk and posed for us on a nearby branch in the Chelemhá Cloud Forest Reserve in Guatemala.

Learn how you can visit this wonderful protected forest and lodge and bag your own quetzal sighting in our post from Chelemhá Cloud Forest Reserve in Guatemala.

Gentoo Penguins Port Lockroy Antarcica

Gentoo penguins proved they are even more adorable in person when we visited Antarctica.

We also sighted killer whales, chin strap penguins and crabeater seals in Antarctica. See them all in our photo-filled posts from Antarctica.

Swimming with Whale Sharks Isla Mujeres, Mexico

Small snorkeler with massive whale shark in the waters between Isla Mujeres and Isla Holbox off Cancun in Mexico where we also got in the water with these giants. Photo courtesy of Solo Buceo.

More whale shark details, including how to make sure sea sickness doesn’t ruin your encounter, are in our post about snorkeling with whale sharks near Cancun.

A herd of buffalo literally roamed through our campground in Badlands National Park.

Find out which campground and more in our Badlands National Park post.

Baby sea turtles El Salvador

We held life in the palms of our hands when we helped release baby olive ridley turtles near Barra de Santiago in El Salvador.

Watch these hatchlings scramble to the sea in our post from Barra de Santiago, El Slavador.

Black bear and cub Yellowstone National Park

A black bear and her cub explored downed trees in Yellowstone National Park.

See more bears and learn about the park’s wolf population too in our Yellowstone National Park post.

Hummingbirds - Giatemala

Hungry hummingbirds barely noticed we were there on a porch in Guatemala.

More amazing shots of these tiny stunners are in our photo essay of hummingbirds from Guatemala.

This young wolf seemed as curious about us as we were about it when our paths crossed on the Gunflint Trail in Minnesota.

See more in our Minnesota North Shore photo gallery. Read more in our Minnesota North Shore travel journals part 1 and part 2.

Harris Hawk Chucky - El Salvador Falconry

We had a wild animal encounter of a totally different kind when guide Roy Beers of Cadejo Adventures took us falconing with his Harris hawk, Chucky, in El Salvador.

Find out why hiking with a bird of prey is way cooler than normal hiking in our post about falconing in El Salvador.

A moose and her calf appeared around a bend during a hike in Grand Teton National Park.

See more in our Grand Teton National Park photo gallery.

We spent nearly an hour watching this female grizzly and her cub feast on blueberries in Denali National Park.

See more in our Denali National Park photo galleries – part 1, part 2, and part 3. Read more in our Denali National Park travel journals part 1, part 2 and part 3.

Muskox roamed the tundra on the North Slope in Alaska where we spotted them from a helicopter.

See more in our Deadhorse, Alaska photo gallery. Read more in our Deadhorse, Alaska travel journal.

This arctic fox already had its winter white coat on so it was easy to spot in the tundra of Alaska’s North Slope.

See more in our Dalton Highway photo gallery. Read more in our Dalton Highway travel journals part 1 and part 2.

Gray whales put on an impressive show for us in Baja.

We wandered among millions of migrating monarch butterflies near Valle de Bravo in Mexico.

See more from this epic annual migration in our monarch butterfly migration post.

Crocodiles of all sizes lazed near our boat as we traveled to La Tovara Springs in San Blas, Nayarit, Mexico.

See more in our San Blas, Mexico post.

Thousands of flamingos went about their strange pink business as we floated through the Rio Lagartos Biosphere Reserve in Mexico’s Yucatan State.

There are plenty more flamingo antics in our Rio Lagartos post.

We failed to find the whale sharks we were looking for during some scuba diving trips in Belize but a pod of bottlenose dolphins found us.

Learn more about our search for whale sharks in our post from Hopkins, Belize.

This spider monkey was just hanging out near Chan Chich Lodge in Gallon Jug, Belize.

See more in our post from Northern Belize.

A keel-billed toucan stayed put long enough for us to capture its impossibly long beak at La Milpa Field Station in Belize.

More toucans (and pygmy owls and laughing falcons and many other species) can be seen in our post about the birds of Belize.

Jaguar belize

Full disclosure: Tikatoo is not a wild jaguar but she is the closest we’ve come so far to seeing this elusive big cat in the jungle.

For more beauty shots of Tikatoo at her rescue home at Banana Bank Lodge check out our post from Belmopan, Belize.

A clan of howler monkeys befriended us while we camped at Las Guacamayas in Chiapas, Mexico.

Learn how you can have your own howler encounter in our full Las Guacamayas post.

Wild scarlet macaws gorged themselves in a tree above our tent at Las Guacamayas in Chiapas.

Want your own face time with macaws? Check out our full Las Guacamayas post.

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One Million Eyeballs!

We can hardly believe it but we just reached 500,000 views of the 202 travel videos we’ve shot, edited and uploaded to our Trans-Americas Journey YouTube channel. That’s one million eyeballs!

As you know, Eric is a photographer, not a videographer, but in the summer of 2008 he was sent a Flip Video camera (now defunct) and started shooting an occasional video or two.

These days Eric shoots video using our GoPro camera and the video function on his compact Canon S95. Basically, we wanted to be able to enhance our travel blog posts with video since so much of what we do and see and eat and survive is best explained in moving pictures.

While none of our videos have gone viral (could use your help with that), we’re quite pleased that these videos have been viewed more than half a million times. Though Eric still does not consider himself a videographer even he admits that his videos have gotten better over time (the earliest videos were pretty rough around the edges). At least now he’s figured out the basics of Adobe Premiere to edit his footage into what he hopes are more watchable and entertaining little packages with graphics and everything.

To celebrate the unexpected success of our travel videos, here’s some of our favorite and notable footage.


Our most watched travel video is also a personal favorite (you can’t beat pint-sized dancing cowboys):

This video has been watched more than 49,000 times. It was shot in May of 2009 when we were invited to the annual fiestas in a town in Mexico called Union de Tula. Wandering from neighborhood party to neighborhood party we came upon the La Loma neighborhood, got handed an adult beverage and sat down to enjoy this little kid putting us all to shame on the dance floor.


The first travel video we ever uploaded to YouTube:

Nearly four years ago, on April 25, 2009, we were on Lake Chapala, near Guadalajara in Mexico with our dearly missed friends Tom, Iliana, Cristina and David. We were all enjoying the Red Bull Air Force, Red Bull’s world famous aerial acrobatics team as they did some awesome aerial ballet over the lake. Eric filmed a bunch of clips and uploaded some of those unedited clips that very night.


The first travel video we ever shot:

Shortly after receiving our first Flip Video camera we were traveling through the Southwest of the US and received a coveted permit to hike “The Wave” in the North Coyotte Buttes area of the Paria Canyon Vermillion Cliffs Wilderness area in Arizona. On October 28, 2008 Eric shot this “Walk through the Wave”. Sadly that first Flip Video camera didn’t have any kind of image stabilization and walking with the camera lead to a very shaky video. That said, it still conveys the awesomeness of that spectacular location and it’s been viewed more than 23,000 times.


Obligatory funny animal video:

No teasing ‘talking’ dogs with bacon or cat videos videos here. While Eric hasn’t videoed many animals (he’s usually too busy talking photos of them), in Northern Belize we came across this male ocellated turkey strutting his stuff. Really, still photos can’t do justice to this over-the-top display.


Another personal favorite:

This one is called Beetle Ballet and it has nothing to do with insects. Mexico’s famous silver mining town of Taxco is a Colonial classic built in the hills. In  addition to silver, it’s famous for wonderful architecture and some of the narrowest, steepest streets in the world. When we were there in September of 2010 it was also one of the few remaining towns in Mexico that still used old VW Beetles as taxis. This video shows how crazy these streets are, even for little cars like the VW Beetle. As you watch, imagine the shenanigans we went through to navigate our full-size truck through this town.


Our most recent travel video:

The most recent video we’ve uploaded comes from our great experience at this years Carnival in  Las Tablas, Panama. On Tuesday, the final evening of Carnival, the ladies dress up in the beautiful and very expensive national dress of Panama. It’s called a pollera and this video shows Polleras on Parade in the towns of La Villa de Los Santos, Santo Domingo and Las Tablas.


Our deepest travel video:

This video was shot during one of the coolest things we’ve ever done: riding a submersible down to 1,000 feet below the surface of the ocean while we were exploring Cocos Island in Costa Rica.


Famous folks caught on film:

We had press credentials which got us into Mexico City’s Zocalo (main square) for the gigantic bicentennial celebrations in 2010. Not only were we directly beneath President Calderone as he shouted the traditional “Grito, we were also beneath several other Mexican icons who were sharing the balconies of the Presidential Palace during the speech including one of Mexico’s most legendary singers, Vincente Fernandez, lucha libre wrestling star Santo Jr. and the (then) newly crowned Miss Universe, Mexico’s Ximena Navarrete.


Why time-lapse is our friend:

We’ve used time-lapse a bit–for example, to produce videos shot with our GoPro camera mounted in the windshield of our truck to show you our driving route each month by compressing all of our  driving into a 10 minute video that shows you Where We’ve Been. This video from the Panama Canal uses time-lapse to take you from the Atlantic to the Pacific through all six of the amazingly simple yet sublime locks of this engineering marvel.


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One Lucky Wolf – Lamar Valley, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

We’ve been to Yellowstone National Park more than once but it’s an exciting arrival every time.  The park is enormous (Yellowstone is located primarily in Wyoming, but the park’s boundaries extend into parts of Montana and Idaho too) so there’s always a new nook or cranny to explore. Yellowstone is most famous for its thermal geysers and hot pools (think Old Faithful) but during a visit early in our Trans-Americas Journey we chose to focus on the west side of the park and the animal-rich Lamar Valley. As this iconic national park celebrates its 141st year (it was founded on March 1, 1872), here’s a look back at the Lamar Valley and the fortunes of one lucky wolf.

Bison in Lamar Valley - Yellowstone National Park

Bison roam the Lamar Valley in Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming.

Wolves on the rebound

As we entered the park (proudly flashing our annual National Parks Pass), a ranger told us that a pack of 11 wolves was being seen most mornings and evenings in the Lamar Valley. This was remarkable news given the fact that there were no wolves in Yellowstone in 1994. Wolves were reintroduced in 1995 and 1996 and park officials estimate there are now more than 300 wolves in the Greater Yellowstone Area.

Flowers - Blacktail Plateau, Yellowstone National Park

Early summer wildflowers in Yellowstone National Park.

Wolves rebounded enough to be taken off the endangered species list a couple of years ago prompting the passage of a law legalizing hunting near park boundaries. Ranchers believe it’s necessary to keep wolf numbers low to prevent them from killing their livestock. However, in December of 2012, an alfa female known as 832F or Rock Star, which had been collared by Yellowstone researchers, was shot and killed when she wandered outside the park’s boundaries. Eight collared wolves from Yellowstone were among dozens of wolves shot near Yellowstone in 2012 and Montana has temporarily revoked the right to hunt them.

Bison Buffalo - Yellowstone National Park

While we didn’t see the packs of wolves that we were hoping for we did see plenty of these guys in the Lamar Valley area of Yellowstone National Park.

Meet the wolf geeks of Yellowstone

Even though we were visiting Yellowstone during peak tourist season we found a camp site at the Pebble Creek Campground less than half a mile from where the wolves had been rendezvousing regularly.

Black Bear Lamar Valley, Yellowstone National Park

A black bear on the move through the Lamar Valley in Yellowstone National Park.

Black Bear - Yellowstone National Park

A black bear in Wyoming’s Yellowstone National Park.

With camp set up and evening approaching we drove down the road to see what we could see. Almost immediately we spotted three bison and a black bear all happily eating away in their own separate areas of the Lamar Valley. Then we joined a group of vehicles parked along the road that runs along the valley and watched as drivers began setting up obviously expensive spotting scopes. Yellowstone’s wolf geeks had arrived.

One of them told us he’d been camped in the park for a month doing precious little besides watching wolves. Over the years, these wolf geeks have even become an important part of the park’s own wolf monitoring efforts by sharing sightings and other information with rangers and naturalists.

Joining the pack

They were just as willing to share their knowledge and their scopes with us. It turned out that the ranger at the entrance had the facts slightly wrong. There had been a pack of wolves in the valley but the group had moved off a day or two earlier leaving behind a pup. What the obviously concerned wolf geeks were hoping for was a sighting or a yelp to prove that the abandoned pup was still alive. We waited with them, straining our eyes and ears but none of us saw or heard anything. With hope fading and spirits dropping faster than the sun, we returned to camp. The next day we heard that the pup showed himself, briefly, about 20 minutes after we left, but he was still alone and still in a tremendous amount of danger.

 A lone abandoned pup

Worried about the wolf pup left behind by its pack, we got up at 5:15 and parked on the Lamar Valley road hoping for a sighting. The wolf geeks were there too and they told us that we’d just missed an amazing rescue. As the wolf geeks looked on through high powered scopes and slightly dewy eyes, a pair of female wolves returned to the Lamar Valley and collected the abandoned pup, which was now out of danger, but probably grounded for wandering away and scaring his mother like that.

Black bear and cub Yellowstone National Park

Seeing a wild bear is always exciting but the addition of a cub made this duo special.

With wolf worries off our minds, we had another stunning day in Yellowstone, sighting a black bear with a cub, our very first grizzly in the wild–way off across the valley on a hillside–and many, many elk.

Lower Yellowstone Falls and Canyon

Lower Yellowstone Falls tumbles through the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River in Yellowstone National Park.

Lower Yellowstone Falls

Lower Yellowstone Falls in Yellowstone  National Park in Wyoming.

Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone National Park

The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River in Yellowstone National Park cuts an impressive course through the landscape.

As we meandered out of the park we stopped at the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River and watched a bald eagle shade and fan her chicks with her enormous, elegant wings. It looked like she was doing ballet while perched high above the raging river.

Turquise pool hot springs Yellowstone National Park

The color and clarity of the geothermally-heated water in this natural pool in Yellowstone National Park is tempting but this is no Jacuzzi.

And, of course, we couldn’t resist a return visit to a few of the park’s amazing thermal formations which deposit minerals that make some of the land yellow, giving the park its name.

Colorful Hot Springs - Yellowstone National Park

Minerals in geothermally-heated water from deep inside the earth cause intense discoloration including the yellow tint for which Yellowstone National Park is named.

Mammoth Hot Springs formations - Yellowstone National Park

Mammoth Hot Springs formations and discoloration caused by centuries of mineral deposits left behind by tumbling water.

Mammoth Hot Springs - Yellowstone National Park

Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone National Park.

Boling mud pit hot springs Yellowstone National Park

Boiling mud pots are part of the geothermal features for which Yellowstone National Park is famous.

Read more about travel to US National Parks & Monuments



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