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Day 209 – Cody Country, July 13, 2011

For a rainy day spent mostly in VANilla, I couldn’t have
wished for anything better.  There had
been reports of a mama grizzly bear with two cubs roaming around the Jackson
Lake Lodge area.  On our way to our hike
yesterday, a handful of cars and rangers were camped out alongside the road, so
this morning around 7:45 I ventured to the same general area along with several
others.  I was willing to wait up to an
hour, but much to my pleasant surprise, I only had to wait about five
minutes.  During the next 15 minutes, I
think I took 83 shots.  Every now and
then, I just set the camera down and watched both the bears and the spectacle
of photographers.

The bears mostly rummaged around in the wild flowers that
seemed to be waist high on the cubs, though it could have been my angle and
while mostly oblivious to the line of parked cars, every once in a while a car
door closing or the blink of lights from the car alarm alerted them, one time
enough to send then romping through the field right past my line of sight!

There had to have been at least 50 cars with photographers
sporting tripods and three foot lenses while camped out on the roofs of their
SUVs.  I felt like such an amateur,
wondering if some of these folks were freelancers that sold their photos to
newspapers!

Once the bears moved into the next clump of bushes, I moved
on.  I suspect I could have stuck around
for some more photo opportunities, but there was more to see!  I turned VANilla around, passed by the
campgrounds at Colter Bay and headed north to the southeastern corner of
Yellowstone on my way to Cody.

The burnt forest with substantial regrowth in the southern
section of Yellowstone was quickly overtaken by a deep gorge carved by the
Lewis River, sandy shore lakes, and steaming hot springs as the stench of
sulphur lingered in the air.  On my way
to West Thumb, a village in the park, I noticed a white marmot on the side of
the road…or at least that is what it appeared to be.  All the marmots I spotted previously had been
brown, so I was somewhat dismayed.
Instead of claiming I saw a white marmot when it was an opossum, I
decided to check with the rangers at the visitor center.  They were intrigued by my discovery and
wanted to know where I saw it and asked if I would forward my pictures so they could
pass them along to their biologist.  How
cool is that!!  I was really looking for
a bull moose, but an unknown white marmot will suffice.

Upon reaching Lake Village, I turned east on Hwy 20 and just
after exiting through the east entrance station, I spotted (with the help of
ten other cars at a standstill in the road) another grizzly bear slumbering
through the woods in Shoshone National Forest.

Shortly thereafter, the cars in front of me stopped again as
we watched a bison leading a procession of cars in the opposing lane of
traffic.  A few impatient westbound
travelers blew their horns unsuccessfully as the eastbound traffic stopped to
snap a few photos of the bison lead parade.

VANilla weaved along the hilly terrain, chugging up the
steep grades and speeding down them past numerous waterfalls where we reached
Pahaska Tepee, a hunting lodge built by William Cody, alias Buffalo Bill.  We didn’t stop for a guided tour, but instead
continued past spires, pinnacles and other rock formations that were identified
by road signs including the time period in which they were formed.  I felt like I was in Utah again.  As we followed the Shoshone River through
meadows of wildflowers, we eventually reached the Buffalo Bill Dam.  The dam was the tallest in the world without any steel reinforcement when it
was constructed in 1910.

After passing through Cody, the road led us by pastures of
farmland before we again climbed into Shell Canyon past pink granite and rosy
sandstone where we stopped to enjoy Shell Falls just as the sprinkles dropped
on VANilla’s windshield.  The paved path
to the viewing platform was very short and dogs weren’t allowed, so Petey and I
continued along the undulating road in VANilla. As we reach one high point, a
white substance floated in gusting winds…at times it seemed like cottonwood and
at other times it seemed like snow, but it felt too hot outside.

Eventually the sprinkle turned into a drizzle with sporadic
moments of heavy rain which helped wash the red dirt from Utah off
VANilla.  As we rounded the bend, we came
across a moose grazing by the roadside that jumped at each passing vehicle and
periodically shook the rain off its scruffy coat.

After a day of driving I reached the Wal-Mart in Sheridan
around 5 pm.  I noticed I’ve been remiss
in mentioning deer, elk, and pronghorn…all wildlife I’ve spotted in the last
few days, though the grizzlies and moose have garnered my attention!  ETB

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