There will be more pictures, I promise. First a few words.
We were blessed with gorgeous weather for our week in Yellowstone - sunny, clear skies, warm, but not hot. And as we were visiting in early May before the summer season had really got going, it was quite quiet. It is clear from the scale of operations in the park - the size of the resorts and restaurants, even the frequency and size of the pullouts on the road - that this place gets much busier. Still there were plenty of visitors usually well equipped with huge binoculars, camera lenses or telescopes, watching out for animals. You can spot animals most easily by following the people - especially for the "exciting" animals. It's not that Bison aren't exciting but they are numerous and not shy like wolves or bears so after a bit you get a bit blasé.
We didn't see any wolves. I'm pretty sure we twice saw wolf kills - lots of carrion birds in the distance on something recently dead - but we never got to see the actual wolves. It's all a bit like a safari. You drive around and then pull over impulsively to scan the horizon or try to work out what everyone else is squinting at. In the case of our grizzly encounter (see Millie and Lottie's blog for details and pictures), it was a strange moment of two worlds meeting a little too close and I think the bear came off with a great deal more dignity than the people scrabbling for pictures, or trying to find the best parking space with a vantage point. It is a natural environment, and the animals are wild but they are also used to having their picture taken.
Of course that isn't all there is to Yellowstone. It is a breathtakingly beautiful and strange world of seething volcanic activity visible not just at large and famous places like Mammoth Hot Springs or by Old Faithful but all over the place. We went for a walk along a ridge overlooking the Yellowstone River in the north east of the park and after a whiff of sulphur looked down on steaming fumeroles in the canyon. Tom spent most of the week reading out from a book on the super volcano - terrifying, awe inspiring, just bloody huge! Makes Rainier, Mount St Helens and the rest of the Cascades look like minor puffs of smoke by comparison.
Yellowstone is extraordinary (too many superlatives in this post but that is what it is like) and we had an amazing time. A bit of a nervous time too, once I caught my first glimpse of bear and worked out that they are there in quantity and they are big and I remembered the claws from close up in Seattle zoo. But I can imagine it is a strange mix of wilderness and tourist hell in the busier summer months. So glad we got there in a week of great weather off season. Tom and I are already planning a grand tour in a shiny Airstream for when the kids have left home, and Yellowstone is definitely on the route.