Bears, Bison and an Unexpected Snowstorm

October 23, 2020 485 views

Our luck was bound to run out at some point. And it ran out at Yellowstone National Park

Well well well. Yellowstone. We were so very much looking forward to visiting you!! We had no idea what you had in store for us.  Yellowstone, the World’s First National Park* ( 100% needs to be fact-checked) is filled with wildlife – Bison, Grizzly Bears, Wolves and Elk and has the majority of the world’s Geysers and Hot Springs. and it’s bloody big. We were not prepared for the scale of this park. Yellowstone encompasses more than 2.2 million acres. It is 146km from the North Entrance to the South Entrance which will take you a minimum of two hours. If you encounter a Bison en route, be prepared for at least x2 additional hours of traffic while everyone stops on the road to take photos.

In a nutshell, Yellowstone was like Disneyland, except without any of the toilet facilities or water fountain stations.

The day started GREAT. We found ourselves in Grand Teton (another National Park that you have to go through to access Yellowstone National Park) which was a surprising delight! With no foothills to obstruct your view, the jagged peaks and deep canyons of the Teton Range rise abruptly from the Jackson Hole valley and it’s quite a magical sight.

We drove through, checked out the landscape and made our way up to Yellowstone. First stop, Old Faithful. It was an hour from the Yellowstone National Park entrance to Old Faithful. It erupts every 90 minutes and we just missed it when we arrived, so we spent the rest of the time checking out the other geysers before returning to Old Faithful. The day started out cold but sunny. By the time we’d walked around the geysers and saw Old Faithful the weather had changed and we did a sneaky switch out of clothes in the car. I had two jumpers on and a jacket and we couldn’t get over how cold it was, after totally sweating out our guts the previous day when we had driven through Salt Lake City.

An unexpected three hours later, we were off to Norris Geyser Basin, Steamboat Geyser and Roaring Mountain. Each sight more impressive than the last. It was 5:30pm when we decided to squeeze in one last spot – Mammoth Hot Springs. We unfortunately were stuck in Bison traffic on the way up so added an extra 2.5 hours driving to Mammoth Hot Springs which was supposed to only take an hour. When we got there, we thought it was totally worth it, took a handful of photos and ran back to the car (as it was so freezing!) and decided to jet out of the park; it was time to head out.

It was 7:30pm when we left Mammoth Hot Springs for the East Exit. By this time, the sun had started to go down. There were other people making their way out of the park as well. Again, very much like Disneyland….long queues of cars. It started to snow, heavily, and the sun had set fast, it was pitch black. We made our last turn into the road that was to take us out of the park; it’s a bloody long road – 43km. Half way on this road, almost out of the park, a car started driving in our lane, towards us, flashing his lights. We eventually came to a point where we could stop, and the driver rolls down his window and tells us they’ve just shut the East Exit. He was an older Japanese guy with a van packed with his family, kids playing in the back. We thanked him and turned around. There were a heap of cars in front of us and behind us, but he only told us. We tried to flag down other drivers to let them know, but none stopped for us to tell them.

So what usually happens with road closures in National Parks, is that the Park Rangers block the roads off first (within the park) so all the drivers already on that road can get out, and then once everyone has left, the Rangers block the exit. Except Yellowstone National Park blocked the EXIT first and then trapped all the visitors in the park!  (????)

We started our journey back the other way, thought we’d re-group at Lake Village – just a little space with some street lights- and plan our escape. We had tuned into the emergency radio station that broadcasts road closures and emergency park updates, however it was broadcasting a piercing, clear and crisp static sound. We tried to call the road closure hotline that the park setup, but of course neither of us had cell service. So it was us, the Bison, the Bears the darkness and the snow storm.

We drove to Lake Village which was about an hour away. In the dark. In the snow storm. We tried desperately to tell other cars they were driving towards a dead-end, but we got nowhere. We landed at Lake Village and found our Mi-Fi device, switched it on and called the road closure hotline. We heard all the updates to the road closure due to the unexpected snow storm. We re-routed, and our new route, still trying to go in the direction of our road trip, was going to take us seven hours just to get out of the park. By this stage, we’d be getting to bed around 3am. That wasn’t going to work for us. NEW plan! North Exit. The North Exit would take us only three more hours to get out of the park. That was better than 7! We set off to the North Exit. On the way we ran into 3 more cars who stopped and asked for help trying to get out of the park. We gave them what we knew and offered one lone traveller to follow us out of the park. She had no map, no supplies, no cell service… and really barely strong enough headlights to see through the snow storm.

We had thought it through. If the North Exist was shut by the time we got there, would we sleep in the car? We’d contemplated it for sure. However as we were self-sufficient, we had all our food and supplies with us in the car and we didn’t like the idea of sleeping in a car full of food with bears and bison around! So we kept driving.

And we made it. I tell ya what, Yellowstone in a snowstorm at 1130pm at night, a certified dark spot, with bears, bison and wolves, is not fun. But we were super grateful to our Japanese dad who waved us down and gave us the heads up. We feel sorry for the suckers who continued down the 43km road without stopping for us to tell them the road was shut. That would have been a long, cold, lonely, scary night.

Our little mishap put us a few hours (so many hours) behind schedule and in a different state. So with a full day of 6 hours driving ahead, it was! at 12pm…. The cool thing was we got to check out Montana; and even on the state boarder lines, it was beautiful.

Weather took a turn

We finally made it out!

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