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Yellowstone a year later.

Headlines last summer were grim: "Fire storms blacken Yellowstone." "Old Faithful Threatened." "Park Headquarters Evacuated." TV news coverage was even grimmer, with footage of blazing forests, burned-out buildings, and blackened devastation. One politician compared the park to the bottom of a barbecue pit. The nation's first national park was on fire and, according to most reports, burning out of control. Out of control, and beyond hope.

How bad was it, really? Did Yellowstone and its wildlife survive the summer of 1988?

Late last September, after early snows had contained most of the fires, a team of Sunset editors returned to Yellowstone (our fourth trip of the season) and surveyed the entire park-from the air and on the ground. We found that, though nearly a million of the park's 2.2 million acres of forest and meadows were affected, the major attractions were untouched. Geyser basins and waterfalls, lodging facilities and campgrounds-all were spared, and wildlife was abundantly evident.

There's no denying the park's look has changed. Huge forests of once-verdant lodgepole pine are now bleak stands of charred trunks. But even the burnt expanses have their own drama, and there are already many burns you can safely explore on foot.

What will Yellowstone be like this summer and in the years to come? Should you plan a visit now, or wait? We think Yellowstone is going to be more interesting in 1989 than ever. Here and on the following pages, we report on what thefires really did and how to look for nature's recovery. And our vacation planner gives latest details on summer travel.

After the fires: a giant jigsaw puzzle

What we saw from the air last autumn was certainly sobering: hundreds of thousands of acres of blackened and still-burning forest and meadows were ashen sears stretched across the park. However, many maps of the fires' perimeters exaggerated the extent of the blazes. The actual burn pattern was often a mosaic of blacks, greens, and browns. (Good places to see the pattern from the road include the Dunraven Pass area just north of Mount Washburn and canyons along the Madison and Gibbon rivers between West Yellowstone and Norris, especially the hillside behind Gibbon Falls.)

Until new maps are completed next summer, no one will know for certain how much really burned. But surveys available at our deadline showed that eight major fire complexes affected 45 percent (988,925 acres) of the park.

This summer, all park roads will be open; however, check times of temporary closures over Craig Pass for scheduled road construction. Some 19 structures were lost or damaged, but no major park hotels, visitor complexes, picnic areas, or campgrounds were destroyed. Timber burned around most of the Old Faithful-area geysers and in Norris Geyser Basin, but the park's thermal features remain unchanged.

Still, it does look different-especially along roads into the park from the west and south entrances (see map, page 119), the handiest gateways for travelers from most Western states.

The fire's immensity, and its aftermath

For pure shock value, try the most popular entrance, at West Yellowstone. But start early: midsummer traffic delays at this gate can be up to half an hour by late morning, In less than a mile, you enter the perimeter of the North Fork fire, which you leave briefly-only once on the 30-mile drive to Old Faithful. The North Fork was probably the most devastating of the eight major fires. Woodcutters accidentally started it on July 22 in neighboring Targhee National Forest in Idaho. By August 15, it had crossed the road along the Madison River; by September 7, the Old Faithful area had to be evacuated.

Driving through this burn is the best way to imagine the immensity of the inferno: a fire storm of 200-foot-tall flames powerful enough to leap both river and road, voracious enough to burn back through itself several times. The fires were so huge they created their own weather; last August, from Midway Geyser Basin, you could see a column of smoke rising so high that clouds formed at the apex (smoke from the fires rose to 30,000 feet and drifted hundreds of miles).

While all burns look bad at first, the answers to two questions help determine how much damage each fire really did: Did flames burn the trees' green canopies? Was the fire hot enough to sterilize the ground more than an inch below the surface?

Driving up the Madison River from the West Entrance, you'll see evidence of fires that burned with different intensities. Here are the major categories to look for:

Meadow and sage fires. Similar in nature to fires farmers set to clear fields, these were the least extensive burns in the park, sweeping across 54,225 acres of meadow and sage grasslands. Because ash contains plant nutrients that are quickly released into the soil, about the only evidence of meadow fires you'll see this summer is grass that is lusher and greener than grass in unburned areas. Sage benches will also be lusher, though the sage itself will take 20 to 30 years to regenerate completely. Mid-July through August, in burned areas along the river roughly 10 miles from the entrance, you'll see grasses, sedges, cinquefoil, penstemon, and sticky geranium.

Surface fires. Generally hotter in spots than meadow fires, these blazes swept through forest understory, occasionally leaping into the treetops but burning less than 10 percent of the trees within each area. An estimated 372,350 acres were singed this way, though some spots burned at lesserintensities and will recover differently. Along with lush patches of grass in more open areas, look for fireweed, glacier lily, and heart-leafed arnica sprouting from rhizomes early this summer; leafy aster and groundsel may appear by August.

Canopy fires. These were the hottest and most spectacular blazes, with fire storms racing through treetops to leave a barren landscape of charred trunks. The most intense of these fires tended to be in the oldest stands of lodgepole, where dead trees and ti nder-dry downed limbs provided ample fuel. Because so much of Yellowstone was aging lodgepole forest, these were also the most extensive burns, torching approximately 562,350 acres. Depending on heat intensity, ground cover recovery here may be slower than in other areas this year, with grasses and patches of fireweed dominating. But over the next few years, these newly open areas should offer spectacular wildflower displays and good opportunities for birding. Within 10 years, new lodgepole pines should begin to reclaim hillsides; within 50 years, they'll be tall enough to walk under.

At our deadline, the Park Service was working on a major exhibit for permanent display in the Grant Village Visitor Center. It should open by mid-June, with interactive computer and graphic displays on the fires' progress, exhibits on firefighting, and examples of the succession of plants and animals important in the post-fire recovery.

All visitor centers will show a 20-minute film on the fires. Also slated for mid-June are at least a dozen interpretive signs at key roadside pull-outs.

Hiking trails: watch out for "widowmakers"

The best way to get a first-hand look at how much of the forest actually survived, and how the rest is already recovering, is on foot. The challenge this summer is finding safe trails. (Don't wear your newest hiking togs; clothes and shoes get sooty.)

For good reason, firefighters call standing dead trees "widowmakers." Fire-weakened root structures leave many trees precariously balanced. As dead roots decompose, eventually even the slightest breeze or careless nudge can topple trees.

The Park Service has given top priority to clearing widowmakers at roadsides and around picnic areas, campgrounds, and populated areas such as Old Faithful, Grant Village, and popular geyser basins. Problem trees are also being removed along the most-used hiking trails. Still, some traits will not have been cleared by this summer.

While the Park Service has no funds for interpretive trails this year, the following offer close-up tooks at a variety of burns, Fairy Falls Trail. Easy 6-mile loop begins on Fountain Flat Drive I mile south of the Firehole River bridge, near Goose Lake. Hike up Fairy Creek through canopy burn 2 1/2 miles to Imperial Geyser; it's 1/2 mile more to the picnic-perfect base of 200-foot-high falls (one of the park's tallest). Look for elk as you return to the road on the trail to Midway Geyser Basin.

Lake Overlook Trail. Gentle 2-mile loop ftom West Thumb leads through a variety of burns in spruce-fir forest, lodgepole forest (see large picture on pages 110 and 111), and open meadow with views of Yellowstone Lake. Get trailhead directions from Grant Village Visitor Center.

Mount Washburn Trail. Two steep 3-mile trails lead to a fire lookout atop 10,243-foot Mount Washburn and offer summer's best chance of seeing bighorn sheep. North trail through burn from Chittenden Road parking offers good comparative views of forest regrowth after 1981 Carnelian Creek fire to northwest. South trail from Dunraven Picnic area is prettier and untouched by fire. It's usually cold and windy at the summit.

600,000 years of dramatic-and violent-changes

The nature of the park's forests was transformed last summer by a process as inevitable and natural-as seasonal change. Huge fires have swept the land every century or two since the last ice age.

Yellowstone is a product of change, born in violence some 600,000 years ago, when the last in a series of powerful volcanic explosions left a giant, steaming, partially filled crater called the Yellowstone Caldera (the highway edging Yellowstone Lake just south of Steamboat Point is on its rim). Since then, glaciers have scoured the region. The last, which receded 17,000 years ago, gave Yellowstone Lake its final shape. Hot springs began forming Mammoth Terraces nearly 8,000 years ago, and Old Faithful started spouting about 300 years ago. Change is continuous here, though no single event since 1872, when Yellowstone became our first national park, has been as dramatic as last summer's conflagration.

Getting close to Yellowstone's geysers, falls, and fumaroles

Geyser basins (and geyser eruptions) look most spectacular in early morning, when crisp air (you're above 7,000 feet in most of the park) makes the steam billow. But confirmed geysergazers, who don't want steam to obscure the view of water patterns, prefer early afternoon.

Thin crusts in hydrothermal basins make ventures off marked trails or boardwalks extremely hazardous; keep a close eye on small children, eternally attracted to water and mud.

Mammoth Hot Springs. Although fires nearly surrounded this area, and park headquarters and hotels were evacuated, flames never came close to the delicate travertine terraces here. A bigger potential threat to the hot springs is the proposal of the Church Universal and Triumphant to drill a geothermal well near the park's northern boundary"Continuous water flow is what's critical," notes geyser expert Rick Hutchinson. "Diversion for even a few days will irreparably damage any geothermal feature."

Tower Fall The view here should be about the same this summer, even though the surface and canopy fires' effects are much in evidence along the road. The overlook gets crowded, but fewer brave the steep 1/2-mile trail to the fall's base.

Yellowstone River's canyon andfalls. Except for small meadow fires just along the road, this area was untouched, and its popularity will be undiminished. Midday, when sunlight fills the canyon, is best for pictures here, but in summer parking is difficult at popular overlooks such as Artist Point. The best (and least crowded) view points for both upper and lower falls and the river's canyon are trails along the north and south rims. You can hike the 3 miles of the North Rim Trail in sections between overlooks from Chittenden Bridge (on Artist Point Road) to Inspiration Point. The South Rim Trail from Chittenden Bridge is 1/4 mile longer, and not as close to the busy road.

Old Faithful/Upper Geyser Basin. It was touch and go last September as to whether any of the structures at Old Faithful, including the venerable timbered halls of the Old Faithful Inn, could be saved. You can see just how close fires came to the lodging complex: the forest burned on both sides of the road right up to the parking lot, and hills surrounding the geyser basin are black, with few streaks of green.

Still, because of the relatively flat terrain, there is very little sense of the fires as you walk the 1.4-mile paved trail through the basin from Old Faithful Geyser down to Morning Glory Pool. Come before breakfast, and you'll have Yellowstone's most famous geysers almost all to yourself. (Romantics should not miss Old Faithful gushing under a full moon.)

Midday traffic through the lower geyser basins along the Firehole River between Old Faithful and Madison Junction is about the worst in the park. Be prepared for frequent "elk jams," where traffic backs up behind rubberneckers stopped in the middle of the road.

Firehole River geyser basins. While fires edged right up to the Firehole River and to meadows on the west sides of all its geysers (and surrounded Midway Basin), you see minimal evidence of it from boardwalks in these areas. For a close look at the fire's aftermath, take Fairy Falls Trail from Fountain Flat Drive in Lower Geyser Basin (see page 112).

Norris Geyser Basin. Crown fires roared right through this popular area, charring trees on the Back Basin loop trail leading past Echinus Geyser, which erupts every 45 to 75 minutes. (Every 12 to 15 eruptions, Echinus sends a spray of air-cooled water over cheering children on the viewing platform.) Still, because of the wet meadows around it, neighboring Porcelain Basin appears almost unsinged. At 7 one morning last July, we were the only people in the area. By 10, the parking lot was beginning to fill; by noon, there wasn't a space.

Observing Yellowstone's wildlife

How did the fires affect Yellowstone's wildlife? While there were animal casualties, we were surprised to see elk and bison grazing placidly near active fires. Even more surprising was how quickly wildlife moved back into burned areas once the flames passed on. Some species even seemed to be attracted by fires: record numbers of raptors were sighted riding fire-generated thermals and picking up easy rodent meals where protective ground cover was burned away.

Biologists believe that, in the long run, wildlife will benefit greatly ftom the fire. "Close to 80 percent of the park was forested, and much of that forest was mature lodgepole pine," notes park wildlife manager Norm Bishop. "Mature lodgepole is kind of a biological desert. The fires released nutrients locked up in those trees back into the ecosystem. Over the next few years, we're going to see a tremendous increase in plant, insect, and animal diversity throughout tbe park."

While the long-range prognosis is good, last winter was tough. Fire-burned and drought-shriveled range, harsh weather, and large herds resulted in high mortality among elk. Bison attempting to retreat to their historic winter range just north of the park boundary at Gardiner were the victims of a controversial "hunt" that "harvested" 557 animals.

This summer you can judge for yourself how Yellowstone's wildlife is doing. Although you are almost guaranteed to see most species except bighorn sheep and bear in summer, spring and fall are the best times: the park is less crowded, and wildlife concentrates in the lower valleys near roads. In May and June, you still have a chance of seeing animal babies (but be sure to give them a wide berth). This year, because of the fires, deer should be easier to observe. In late August and September, as aspen turn golden, moose and elk are in full rut, and you hear the bugling calls of male elk echoing across the meadows.

Find wildlife by driving slowly along park roads, scanning open areas and river banks. Early morning (dawn) and late evening are best; as day traffic builds, wildlife moves away ftom roads. Minimum gear for wildlife photographers should include a tripod and a long (at least 200mm) lens.

As birds move into newly created habitats, this summer will bring some of the best and most varied birdwatching in years, predicts park ornithologist Terry McEneaney. Look for three-toed and black-backed woodpeckers on dead trees in burns, and increased numbers of raptors-including bald and golden eagles; ospreys; peregrine and prairie falcons; Swainson's, sharp-shinned, Cooper's, and redtailed hawks; northern harriers; and even great gray owls. Several pairs of endangered trumpeter swans may again be nesting along the Madison River a few miles below Madison Junction.

Remember, Yellowstone is not a petting zoo. Last year, 18 park visitors were injured by wildlife in incidents ranging from squirrel bites to elk stompings. While most people worry about encountering bears, in the last three years 15 park visitors have been gored or trampled by bison. In all cases, it was because the victims got too close to deceptively docilelooking animals.

You don't need to get close. In fact, you see more natural animal behaviors (feeding or hunting, courting, territorial defense, social interaction) by observing from a distance. Keep binoculars handy for quick scanning, then use a spotting scope and tripod for studying distant action.

On foot or hip-deep off Yellowstone's busy roads

Here's an overview of what hikers and fishermen are likely to find in the park this summer.

Hiking. For day-hikers, there's a whole new Yellowstone to discover. Old trails through burned areas offer opportunities to witness the natural reforestation process, as well as better birdand wildlife-watching. For some hiking choices through the burns, see page 112. A good prefire hiking guidebook is Yellowstone Trails, by Mark C. Marschall, on sale at visitor centers and stores for $3.95.

A good bet would be to join one of the dozens of free interpretive programs and ranger-led hikes offered daily throughout thc park. For a list, pick up a current copy of Discover Yellowstone, which costs 50 cents at visitor centers.

Back-country horsepacking and backpacking are the activities most likely to be curtailed this summer. At our deadline, the Park Service was still deciding which (if any) wilderness areas might be temporarily closed. For current information on specific destinations, check with the Park Service after May 1. (Most roads should be open by then.)

Hikers should keep in mind that certain areas of the park where grizzly bears are active (such as Pelican Creek) will be closed for periods during the summer. Be sure to check at visitor centers for closures and hiking alternatives.

Fishing. Although there is still concern that spring runoff may cause erosion and affect spawning areas in steeper parts of the park (especially the Lamar River drainage), conditions after rains late last fall looked better than expected. "With the snow we've had so far," notes one guide, "I'd say fishing is looking good for this summer."

Fishing in Yellowstone country is primarily for native cutthroat and wild rainbow and brown trout, and most streams are managed as catch-and-release waters where fly-fishing is the best and often only legal method. Combine accessibility, scenery, and support ftom local tackle shops and guides, and it's no wonder most experts agree that Yellowstone, the southwest corner of Montana, and the Island Park area in Idaho offer the best fishing in the lower 48 states.

West Yellowstone is the bub, with a half-dozen tackle shops offering guide service. There are also good shops in Bozeman, Livingston, Gardiner, and the Island Park (Ashton) area; state travel offices (see page 118) have lists. Best ratio is one or two anglers per guide. This year, the going rate for a day of fishing will be about $160 for walking the bank, or $200 for two people drifting in a boat (lunch may be included; tip is not).

Be sure the guide you hire knows the river and has floated it recently. If you hire an independent guide, be certain he has a license for the state where you plan to fish. Even if you decide you don't need a guide, buy your terminal tackle (leaders, flies) locally. Conditions change daily, and area shops can tell you just where and how to fish nearby waters.

You'll need to buy fishing licenses for states outside the park; fishing licenses for Yellowstone waters are free.

Planning a 1989 vacation to-and near-Yellowstone

Here and on the following pages, we list accommodations, facilities, and special activities in Yellowstone and close to its entrances.

A number of good books offer detailed information on everything from geology and birding to hiking trails and auto touring. Look for them at park stores and visitor centers.

Yellowstone vacation planner for 1989

Planning a vacation in Yellowstone country-administered in part by the National Park Service, the park concessionaire, three states, and five competitive gateway communities- can be a challenge.

The listings on these pages will help. Keep in mind that the busiest part of summer is from July 4 into early August; book accommodations in the park and gateway towns as soon as possible. Centennial events in Montana this summer and in Idaho and Wyoming in 1990 make reservations even more important.

While Grand Teton National Park is not included here, it's also well worth a visit. Write to the park in Moose, Wyo. 83012, or call (307) 733-2880. The Wyoming Travel Commission and the Jackson Hole Chamber of Commerce can also help.

Agencies for information, reservations

The National Park Service, Box 168, Yellowstone National Park 82190; (307) 344-7381. Send for a map and basic tripplanning information. The same information and free park fishing licenses are available at entry stations during the day. Yellowstone is mostly clear of snow and open to traffic by May 1 (weather permitting), and roads usually remain open until mid-October, when snow closes them again. Entry fees (also good for Grand Teton) are $10 per vehicle for seven days, $15 for an annual pass, $25 for a Golden Eagle Passport good in all national parks. Park headquarters are at Mammoth Hot Springs, but visitor centers near all lodging complexes and at Fishing Bridge offer park information and guidebooks, as well as specific details on hikes and interpretive programs in that area.

TW Recreational Services, Inc., Yellowstone National Park 82190; 344-7311. This concessionaire operates all lodging, special tours, and rentals in the park, except for the Hamilton Stores and service stations.

State travel offices. Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming all publish free vacation guides listing accommodations, campgrounds, guest ranches, guide services, Forest Service offices, and chambers of commerce. Idaho Travel Council, Hall of Mirrors, 700 State St., Boise 83720; (208) 3342470 or (800) 635-7820.

Travel Montana, 350 Conley Lake Rd., Room 970, Deer Lodge 59722; (406) 4442654 or (800) 541-1447.

Wyoming Travel Commission, 1-25 at College Dr., Cheyenne 82002; (307) 7777777 or (800) 225-5996.

An unsual travel service. Expanding a Yellowstone vacation to include a guest ranch, guided fishing, or a wilderness pack trip takes planning (see page 120). Off The Beaten Path (109 E. Main St., Suite 4, Bozeman, Mont. 59715; 406/ 586-1311) can customize a trip for you. It takes no booking commissions, so clients pay a planning fee of $75 to $350.

What about the "natural fire" policy?

As the summer of 1988 drew to a close, Yellowstone National Park was hotly engulfed in both flames and controversy. On one side, ecologists insisted that the park conflagration was inevitable and overdue the consequence of years of fire suppression. On the other side, politicians and local businessmen claimed that the fires cost millions in lost tourism dollars, and that flames should have been stamped out early.

In the middle was the National Park Service and a controversial "natural fire" policy that sparked Congressional hearings, which are still underway.

Yellowstone is one of 25 national parks (including Yosemite) that has a policy to let naturally caused fires burn as tong as they don't threaten life, property, or important natural or historic sites. The policy grew out of research documenting the importance of fire in natural areas. Between 1972 (when it was adopted) and 1987, Yellowstone's natural fire policy worked: 80 percent of all lightning-strike fires fizzled on their own; most others burned only a few acres. During those 16 years only 34,175 acres burned.

Last summer was the exception. The combination of Yellowstone's vast forests of aging lodgepole pine, the effects of an ongoing drought, and the driest summer in park history (moisture content of dead wood was less than that of kiln-dried lumber) made the park a tinderbox.

Of course, Yellowstone wasn't the only dry spot. Hot, dry weather seared much of the nation last summer, and across the country some 75,000 wildfires charred 5.9 million acres.

Yellowstone officials let lightning-caused fires burn until July 21, when growing pressure from local businessmen, congressmen, and Washington-combined with the extreme weather conditions forced launching of an all-out attack that eventually involved 25,000 firefighters and cost taxpayers some $120 million.

Critics contend that the natural fire policy was a failure, and that, if fires had been fought from the beginning, the losses would have been far less. But several major fire complexes-including North Fork and Hellroaring were man-caused and were vigorously fought from the beginning. Firefighters weren't able to control them, and their progress wasn't significantly different from uncontrolled natural fires.

While the smoke has cleared over Yellowstone, the outcome of hearings in Congress and by the National Fire Policy Review Committee in Washington is still hazy. Scientific reviews have generally supported the natural fire concept, but final reports aren't due until May.

Meanwhile, park and forest officials aren't taking any chances this summer. Last January, they announced that until fire reports are issued and new policies set, all future fires will be suppressed.

Bighorn sheep Best odds of spotting these elusive creatures are on hike up Mount Washburn (page 112). From the road between Mammoth Hot Springs and Gardiner scan rocky areas with binoculars

Bear You'll be lucky to see one of the park's black bears (below), luckier still to spot one of the estimated 200 grizzlies. Black bears are often sighted in Mammoth area, where rangers shooed this sow and cubs away from campground last August. Watch for grizzlies at dawn or dusk, May into June, from pull-outs overlooking areas between spur road to Mount Washburn and Tower Fall

Elk Young bull wades to unburned island of grass in Madison River last fall. Look for groups of females with young in meadows along roads (lawns at park headquarters are sure bets) in spring and summer; in late August, males leave forests to join females and bugle challenges


Bison Pile drivers on hooves, male bison go head to head during rutting season in early August. Also look for bulls "escorting" cows, keeping them away from the main herd. Bison are often seen in Firehole River and Old Faithful thermal basins. Best summer ranges are Hayden and Lamar valleys

Pronghorn antelope Preferring rolling sage plains around park's north end, antelope can be elusive. Best bet: drive the one-way dirt road from Mammoth to Gardiner about an hour before dirk; cheek the meadows at the park boundary at Gardiner, where we photographed this one

Moose Big as these largest members of the deer family are, moose are sometimes tough to spot. Check willow thickets around moose exhibit between Mammoth and Norris near Indian Creek Campground, lower Soda Butte Creek area in Lamar Valley, meadows around Pelican Creek east of Fishing Bridge

Where to stay in Yellowstone: hotels, cabins, lodges . . . rustic to elegant

While lodging at Old Faithful is always in demand, five other lodging complexes are scattered around the park, each with its own attractions, facilities, and services. At our deadline, advance bookings were down 12 percent, and this month you should still find rooms for summer (although not necessarily your first choice) through TW Recreational Services. We note 1989 rates for a room, double occupancy.

At the height of summer (July and early August), all of these areas are crowded, with parking difficult and lines for most meals. Our advice: have breakfast early, eat dinner early or book well ahead at a dining room that takes reservations, and carry picnic supplies.

Mammoth Hot Springs. Less than a block from the delicate hot spring terraces, Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel (94 rooms and 126 cabins) is open May 27 through September 17. Rooms range from $19 for a rustic cabin without bath to about $47 for a cabin or room with bath in the well-preserved 1937 hotel. The elegant (for the park) dining room takes reservations; fast foods at the Terrace Grill include salads and fruit.

Tower-Roosevelt. Located near Tower Fall, Roosevelt Lodge is open June 3 through September 5 and has 78 small, rustic cabins from $16 for a basic shelter to $46 for one of the few cabins with baths. This ranch-style complex is also base for the park's most varied horseback riding opportunities. Book early; families who like this type of roughing-it return here annually. The homey dining room is our favorite place in the park for breakfast or at least a leisurely cup of coffeeon the porch.

Canyon Village. A plan has just been approved to consolidate and upgrade the sprawling motel-like complex of Canyon Lodge. The 572 modular "cabins" ($46 to $59) all have baths and are open June 12 through August 28. Proximity to the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone and good hiking near Dunraven Pass help justify overnighting here. Dining is in a cafeteria or a dining room; or treat yourself to milkshakes and hamburgers at the fountain in the Hamilton Store.

Lake Village. Perched right on the edge of Yellowstone Lake, this classic older complex is still one of the most hospitable places in the park. Last summer, interior renovation of the 158-room Lake Yellowstone Hotel and its 36- room annex was completed. Exterior restoration of the 1891 building will be completed this summer. With evening classical music recitals in the lounge and a spacious, reservations-only dining room, this is as civilized as it gets. Rooms range from $59 to $88, with suites at $203. The hotel's 102 unrenovated cabins offer rustic comfort for $46. Open May 24

through September 17.

A short walk away, the 186 older cabins at timbered Lake Lodge are open June 5 through September 11. Cabins with bath are $39 to $59; there's a good cafeteria.

Grant Village. Completed in 1984, the village is Yellowstone's answer to the need for motel-style lodging. The 299 architecturally uninspired rooms, an easy walk from the dining room and a separate lakeside steakhouse, are $49; open May 31 through September 18.

Old Faithful. The most popular area in the park, Old Faithful is at once frustrating and fantastic. The landmark 317-room Old Faithful Inn (almost always full) is log-built; even nonguests come to marvel at its timbered atrium lobby. Rooms range from $32 to $143. Typical park fare somehow tastes better in the log dining room (reservations needed); don't miss new etched-glass windows in the lounge. The oldfashioned Hamilton Store counter next door serves quick breakfast or lunch.

Just opposite the geyser is Old Faithful Lodge, with 132 basic cabins open May 23 through September 25; they cost $30 with bath, $17 without. The lobby offers geyser views and a cafeteria.

Old Faithful Snowlodge is open May 19 through October 30 (it reopens during the winter season), with 10 cabins with bath for $46 and 31 basic dorm-style rooms without bath for $32. Dining room is claustrophobic, food is standard.

Special activities m ' the park

Reservations are advisable for many of these activities. Check with TW Recreational Services (address and phone on page 118 at lower left) for bus tours, horseback rides, boating. Bus tours. Half- and full-day tours run $15 to $30; scheduled service also runs from gateway airports.

Horseback riding. Join guided trail rides at Canyon (June 10 through September 5), Mammoth (May 27 through September 17), or Roosevelt (June 3 through September 4). All rides are scheduled, and reservations are recommended; costs are $10 for I hour, $19 for 2 hours.

Ride out from Roosevelt any evening from June 4 to September 4 for a Western-style cookout ($36 adults, $28 ages 8 through 11, if you go on horseback; about $10 less if you ride in a horse-drawn wagon). Reservations are mandatory for this popular outing; breakfast cookouts can also be reserved.

The concessionaire also features halfhour stagecoach rides departing five times a day from Roosevelt Lodge and traveling into surrounding sage-covered flats. Cost is $5, $4 for children.

Boating. There are launching facilities at Lewis Lake and on Yellowstone Lake at Bridge Bay Marina and Grant Village. All boats must have a park permit ($10 for motorized boats, $5 for others); the only stream open to boating (paddled craft only) is between Lewis and Shoshone lakes.

The Yellowstone Institute (see below) also offers a five-day canoe trip on Lewis and Shoshone lakes for $295; canoes, camping gear, and food are provided.

Bridge Bay Marina, open June 2 through September 18, is the place to take a narrated, hour-long cruise of the lake ($6 adults, $3 ages 5 through 11) or to rent anything from a 14-foot rowboat ($3.25 per hour) to a 34-foot cabin cruiser ($45 per hour). Full marina facilities, launch ramp, and an adjacent campground make this popular with boaters.

Yellowstone Institute. Located at a site rich in wildlife, this nonprofit institute sponsors more than 60 two- to five-day field programs that study what makes Yellowstone unique its history, geothermal structure, and flora and fauna. Programs cost about $35 a day and are offered June through September. In the wake of the Yellowstone fires, new two-day classes have been added: they address fire ecology ($95), wildflowers ($65), and wildlife ($65). Students can also learn about tracking mammals, fly-fishing, wildlife and wildflower photography. Special two-day family programs are available.

Class participants can rent bare-bones cabins for $6; you cook in a communal kitchen. Write to the Yellowstone Institute, Box 117, Yellowstone National Park 82190, or call (307) 344-7381, ext. 2384.

Family activities just outside of Yellowstone

Most of the companies and activities listed here are within an hour of Yellowstone. Travelers who wish to venture farther should consult state travel offices, or chambers of commerce in the areas they wish to visit.

River-running. It's illegal to float the rivers in Yellowstone National Park. But rivers outside the park offer good rafting. Plan a spring trip for highest water, a mid- to late-summer run for a gentler ride more suitable for children. Yellowstone Raft Co. offers half- to full-day trips on the Yellowstone, Gallatin, and Madison rivers. All gear is included in price; halfday trips start at $25, and day trips cost $48 to $85 (including lunch). Children (ages 6 and up) cost about $10 less. Write or call for reservations: Box 46, Gardiner, Mont. 59030; (406) 848-7777.

Gold panning. From June to September, you can travel in four-by-four comfort to three abandoned gold mines on the outskirts of the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness, north of Cooke City. Everyone gets a chance to pan, but "color" isn't guaranteed. Two-hour tours are given twice daily; all equipment is included in the $10 fee. Write to Beartooth Plateau Outfitters, Inc., Box 1127, Main St., Cooke City, Mont. 59020, or call 838-2328 (summer), 445-2293 (winter). Beartooth's Cooke City shop is the area's headquarters for fishing tackle. It also offers half-day horseback rides and guided pack trips.

Mountain hiking. A number of companies offer occasional overnight mountain-bike tours of Yellowstone, but here we mention one that offers frequent Yellowstone day trips. For a list of operators near the park that offer more complete programs, consult state travel planners and local chambers of commerce.

From West Yellowstone, take a half-day ride along the Madison, spend a full day riding to Hebgen Lake, or take an overnight trip to a guest ranch or bird refuge. Trips average 15 miles a day, and a shuttle is available for tired bikers, Lunch tours cost $55; overnights are $125 to $150, meals and bike included. Write to Gallatin Fats Cyclery, Box 312, West Yellowstone 59758; 646-9268.

Greater Yellowstone Coalition. Five naturalist-led trips explore different parts of the greater Yellowstone ecosystem. They range from an eight-day horsepack tour through the Absaroka Wilderness ($999) to a four-day stay at a guest ranch in Paradise Valley with ecology field trips and seminars ($425). Meals and lodging are included on most trips. Sign up early; they fill quickly. Write or call Ken Barrett, Box 1874, Bozeman 59715; 586-1593.

Camping in and around the park

Yes, most campgrounds in Yellowstone fill up every night-- many before noon. This also holds for camping areas outside the South Entrance. But those near other entrances are surprisingly empty.

Last July, we made late-afternoon checks at more than a dozen Forest Service campgrounds around West Yellowstone, Cooke City, and near the East Entrance (there aren't any near Gardiner). Only one, at West Yellowstone, was filled.

The park campgrounds. A dozen campgrounds are scattered through the park. As part of a trial program, campers will be able to reserve sites at Bridge Bay through Ticketron up to eight weeks in advance. Reservations cost $9; campground fees are $5 to $7 a night. Because of bears, only hardsided camping (no tents or tent trailers) is permitted at Canyon Village and Fishing Bridge. Check-out time is 10 A.M., and campers begin lining up early at popular

locations (such as Norris).

TW Recreational Services (see page 118) operates a trailer park (no tents) with hookups for $17 per day at Fishing Bridge; reservations are recommended.

Yellowstone back-country travel. Hikers, boaters, and fishermen taking overnight trips into the back country must register at ranger stations or visitor centers for permits (free, except a small charge for boat permits) no more than 48 hours in advance. Although chances of encountering grizzly or black bears on the trail are low, carefully study and follow free information on hiking and camping in bear country Some areas may be temporarily closed because of fire damage or because bears are present; check at visitor centers.

National forest camping nearby. U.S. Forest Service campgrounds edging the park are among the least crowded and most comfortable in the Yellowstone area. Overnight fees are typically $5 but may vary depending on facilities. Free state vacation guides (see page 118) are your best general camping reference. For a nominal fee, get detailed Forest Service recreation maps pinpointing campgrounds, trails, and other facilities from district ranger stations in Gardiner, West Yellowstone, Jackson, and Cody

Wilderness outfitters and guides

A licensed outfitter or guide can help you sample Yellowstone's back country safely. Within the park alone, the Park Service has issued permits to 70 different operators who offer everything from luxurious horsepacking trips and llama treks to backpack expeditions. Dozens more outfitters offer trips into wilderness areas outside the park.

Prices can vary dramatically, depending on type and length of trip. An all-inclusive horsepack trip can run $200 per day per person, while backpacking can cost as little as $20.

How do you choose? Recommendations from friends are best. Otherwise, finding the trip that matches your interests will take some homework.

First, decide approximately where you want to go (state vacation guides will help). Write for a list of licensed guides from the Park Service, state tourism offices, or state fish and game departments. Get brochures from at least a half-dozen guides, and compare programs to narrow choices.

Then ask some questions. How many trips has the guide taken into the area in the last two years? Exactly what equipment will be used, and what services provided? Will there be a well-established base camp ftom which day trips will be taken, or will you move from camp to camp? How many guests and wranglers go per trip, and how many animals? Ask for references from past clients.

Compare prices. If one trip costs a lot less than comparable ones, something's probably amiss.

Ask state offices for the address of each outfitter's licensing agency. Check these agencies for any complaints against particular outfitters.

Alternative bases for exploring Yellowstone: the gateway communities

In summer, scheduled air service from many Western cities flies to Bozeman (about 2 hours' drive from the park), West Yellowstone (10 minutes), and Jackson and Cody (each about 1 hour). Of these airport gateways, only West Yellowstone is close enough to serve as a convenient base for daily park visits if park accommodations are full. If you arrive by car, Gardiner and Cooke City are also good bets for overnight stays. Here's a brief look.

Jackson. This will always be popular because of its spectacular setting and proximity to Grand Teton National Park. It has plenty of lodging. For a list, write to the chamberof commerce, Box E, Jackson, Wyo. 83001, or telephone (307) 733-3316.

West Yellowstone. In spite of its blocky cooky-cutter motels, jammed trailer courts, formica-tabled coffee shops, and tacky souvenir shops (the big sellers this summer-as last fall-will undoubtedly be tasteless T-shirts on the fire), West Yellowstone is still the best base for flyfishermen looking for action on southwest Montana's wild trout streams (see page 117). It's also a lodging alternative for park visitors who want to spend time in the geyser basins near Old Faithful and Norris.

For a change of pace from local eateries (the Three Bear is good), try Alice's Restaurant, about 10 miles west of town, for fresh trout and German specialties. For a list of the town's 39 motels, write to the chamber at Box 45 8, West Yellowstone 59758, or call (406) 646-7701.

Gardiner. Elbowing up to the park at the bead of Paradise Valley, this rough old mining town seems to wrap itself in controversy. For years it was (and still is) rumored to be a base for poachers and horn hunters. Of more immediate concern are the well-drilling and land development intentions of its biggest neighbor, Royal Teton Ranch, headquarters of the Church Universal and Triumphant, which threaten the Mammoth Terraces and critical winter wildlife habitat in Paradise Valley. Favored in fall by hunters who prowl the park's northern boundary (locals dub it the "firing line") for migrating elk or bison, this town is also a good base for fishing the Yellowstone and is a short ride from Mammoth Hot Springs.

The best steak in town is at the Yellowstone Mine; for pizza, try the K-Bar. The town has seven motels; write to the chamber of commerce, Box 81, Gardiner 59030, or call 848-7902.

Cooke City. "Cooked City," as a resident dubbed this town after firefighters saved it from last summer's conflagration, is a pleasant surprise. It's small, it's off the main tour route, and it's equally handy to grand wildlife viewing in the park's Lamar Valley (to the west) and to spectacular alpine lakes and hiking in the Beartooth Mountains (to the east).

Try the Second Edition for dinner; meals are ordinary, but ample portions and reasonable prices recommend it. The town has a half-dozen motels, but no chamber of commerce; check with the Montana travel office.

Nearby guest ranches, lodges

One great way to sample Yellowstone country is to stay at one of the relatively remote guest ranches or lodges that specialize in outdoor activities. Mostly, the activity is horseback riding - -with optional hiking, fishing, and wildlifewatching on ranch property or public lands nearby. Facilities range from the luxury of Mountain Sky which offers sophisticated meals, tennis, heated pool and spa, workout room, stocked casting pond, and supervised children's program, at $1,120 (including meals) per week to rustic cabin units, as at Chico Hot Springs Lodge, at $32 a night for lodging only, with everything else extra.

Narrow your choices by asking questions. How much riding is included? Is there a practice ring? Is there stream fishing on the property? Are park trips offered? Is a naturalist on the staff? Do you need your own car to get to trailheads, fishing, or for touring? Are there overnight pack trips? Most ranches need to have 50 to 60 guests to offer children's programs (Mountain Sky, for example, accommodates 60 to 80). While larger ranches offer more variety and might be better for families, smaller lodges are more personal and tend to focus on one specialty, such as flyfishing, nature-watching, or riding. Prices given here are per person for adults, double occupancy; unless noted, all meals and most activities are included.

Most ranches offer lower rates in early summer and fall, and most discount children's rates all season. Plan ahead: many ranches fill up quickly.

Montana ranches

These lodges (area code 406 unless otherwise noted) are about an hour's drive from the park.

Chico Hot Springs Lodge, Pray 59065; 333-4933. Soak in hot springs, sleep in motel ($47) or cabin (from $32) or condos (from $100). Riding and fishing nearby. Good restaurant; bar is lively to rowdy on weekend nights.

Elk Lake Camp Resort, Box 96, West Yellowstone 59758; 276-3282 (summer) or (602) 264-2157 (winter). A little more than an hour from the park, Elk Lake consists of six log cabins on the edge of Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge. Great hiking and bird-watching, some fishing; meals locals drive the gravel road for. Cabins run $50 to $72; an additional charge of $27 per person ($15 for ages 10 and under) buys all meals. Firehole Ranch, 1150 Hebgen Lake Rd., West Yellowstone 59758; 646-7294 (summer) or (307) 733-3674. Fly-fishing specialists, with some other activities. About 20 guests; rates start at $135 per night, including meals.

Lone Mountain Ranch, Box 69, Big Sky 59716; 995-4644. Traditional guest ranch with riding program and emphasis on flyfishing and nature study; children's riding and nature programs. Holds 50 guests; $725 per week.

Mountain Sky Guest Ranch, Box 1128, Bozeman 59715; 587-1244 or (800) 5483392. Description in text at far left.

9 Quarter Circle Ranch, Gallatin Gateway 59730; 995-4276. Traditional rustic dude ranch focuses on riding and fishing. About 80 guests; $575 a week. Parade Rest Ranch, West Yellowstone, 59758; 646-7217 (summer) or (602) 9832653. Rustic cabins, favored by anglers. Can house up to 45 guests; $85 per night, meals extra.

Into Wyoming

7D Ranch, Box 100, Cody 82414; (307) 587-3997 (summer) or 587-9885. Small, old-fast ioned guest ranch, with strong focus on riding. Up to 35 guests in 12 cabins; $775 a week.

Cody's Wapiti Valley. Between Yellowstone's East Entrance and Cody are 13 different "lodges" in a range of categories. For a list, write to Cody Country Chamber of Commerce, Box 2777, Cody 82414, or call (307) 5 87-2297.

Jackson area. Near Jackson Hole are 17 guest ranches. Write or call the Jackson chamber, listed in gateways box above.
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Title Annotation:includes related articles on Yellowstone National Park
Article Type:Directory
Date:May 1, 1989
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