Dennis Lenzendorf opens the Yellowstone East Entrance on Friday for the first day of the 2012 summer season. (Ruffin Prevost/Yellowstone Gate – click to enlarge)
By Ruffin Prevost
YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK — There are few things in life that seem to be all things to all people, but Yellowstone National Park took on that role Friday, as everyone from lucky accidental tourists, faithful photographers, middle school students and hardcore snowboarders flocked to the park on the first day the Yellowstone East Entance was open for the 2012 summer season.
Local snowboarders Chay Donnelly and Brad Metzler were two of the early visitors spread among two dozen vehicles waiting for the Yellowstone East Entrance to open at 8 a.m. They joined wildlife photographers, nature lovers, office workers playing hooky and others anxious to get into Yellowstone at the earliest opportunity.
“I ride the stuff a lot of folks don’t ride,” said Donnelly, who was joining Metzler on a hike to one of the snow-topped peaks above 8,524-foot Sylvan Pass, just inside the East Gate.
Donnelly and Metzler figured it would take them two or three hours to hike to the top of Avalanche Peak or one of the other nearby mountains and ride about 2,500 vertical feet back down to their starting point.
The two plan to continue hiking and riding in the peaks around Yellowstone until the snow is gone, which could be well into June.
“Thank God for Wyoming,” Donnelly said.
A few cars ahead, a group of photographers were chatting along the bank of the North Fork of the Shoshone River as they waited for Yellowstone East Entrance Ranger Dennis Lenzendorf to open to morning traffic. The park’s west entrance opened in April, and the South Gate opens Friday, while its north and northeast entrances remain open year-round.
Many of those who ventured through the Yellowstone East Entrance on the first day it opened for the season are devoted visitors who see their trip as an annual rite of spring.
“It’s almost kind of a religion,” said Don Getty, who calls himself a “serious amateur photographer,” from Wapiti, Wyo.
“I love to get here before the tourists show up and start scaring all the critters,” said photographer Lynn Richardson. “When it gets busy, the animals get skittish, and people don’t respect the animals enough.”
Photographers especially cherish the early and late months of the summer season, when crowds are sparse and rangers are a bit less likely to be out in full force, giving shutterbugs a bit more freedom — real or perceived — throughout the park.
Wapiti photographer Mike Robinson kept his distance from a determined grizzly bear digging for roots and tubers along the road near Lake Butte Overlook, between the Yellowstone East Entrance and Fishing Bridge.
“We call this bear ‘the 45 mph bear,’ because he’s been right by this speed limit sign every spring for three years straight,” Robinson said.
A group of about eight onlookers watched as Robinson used a telephoto lens to snap close-up pictures of the bear, who rarely glanced over from his digging to check on the crowd, which would no doubt be five times larger if it were August.
The same was true throughout the park Friday, where a relatively small group of about three dozen people showed up for the 1 p.m. eruption of Old Faithful geyser.
Spring sees fewer visitors and wilder weather in Yellowstone, and Friday offered snow, sleet, rain and bright sunshine at various points during the day. Services are open mainly at Old Faithful and Mammoth until later in the season, but gas is available any time at most pumps through automated credit card sales systems.
Bertha and Mike Eubank were headed from Cody, Wyo. to the park on Thursday — one day before the Yellowstone East Entrance opened — when they saw a flashing roadside traffic sign that noted the road was closed at the Yellowstone East Entrance 50 miles ahead. They returned to Cody and decided to stay for at least two more days to see the park for the first time.
The couple had been on a road trip from their home in Crawfordsville, Ind. to South Dakota when they decided to extend their trip and take in Yellowstone.
“It’s just gorgeous. I’m ready to move out here,” Bertha Eubank said. “It has been a pleasant surprise.”
It was 80 degrees when the Eubanks left home, but snowing Friday morning at Artist Point, at the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone.
“I”m happy we brought the proper gear,” she said.
Some middle school students visiting Artist Point on a field trip had not brought the “proper gear,” or at least chose instead to sport lightweight attire ranging from T-shirts to pajama bottoms as they shuffled through light snowfall to take in views of the Lower Falls of the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone.
The students from Utah schools in Kamas and Coalville, east of Salt Lake City, were staying in Gardiner, Mont. and taking in the park’s wonders by bus.
“It’s not what I expected, but it’s better than I expected, really,” said first-time visitor Mindy Burgess, who listed bears and wolves as her favorite animals in the park.
Other students said they were surprised to learn how “smelly” some of the park’s thermal features are, and they were shocked to see two wolves feeding on a young bison.
Contact Ruffin Prevost at 307-213-9818 or [email protected].
Yellowstone East Entrance opening day photo gallery
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