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Belated Trip Report: YNP & GTNP (8/26 to 9/6/12)

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Belated Trip Report: YNP & GTNP (8/26 to 9/6/12)

Belated Trip Report: Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks (8/26 to 9/6/12)

I'm late in getting this trip report written, but since returning, life has gotten in the way. It was hard to find the time to go through the journal I kept, and it's taken Mr. Dune a while to sort through all his 2,100 photos. I want to thank OhioHick for his help and suggestions on writing a trip report, and for all the TripAdvisor experts and travelers who generously shared their knowledge and trip reports which helped in my planning before our trip.

We are a middle-aged couple-- I'm 56 and Mr. Dune is 60-- and our favorite kind of vacation involves spending time in natural settings. We usually prefer road trips closer to home on the east coast, but decided to splurge on a vacation out west to celebrate our 30th wedding anniversary which occurred September 18. I visited Yellowstone and Grand Teton National parks as a child with my family, traveling in an RV, and Mr. Dune camped in Yellowstone as a 16 year-old, hitch-hiking to the park and back with a friend from his home state of Washington. We originally thought we'd do a 14-day road trip including Grand Canyon, Bryce, and Zion, and then heading north to Yellowstone and south through Grand Teton park, but I woke up one morning in a cold sweat and near tears, thinking of the amount of driving, the lack of a restful vacation, and the potential for divorce, so we began focusing on just Yellowstone and Grand Teton areas (thankfully!) We only started planning in early March 2012 but were able to secure lodging in all the areas we wanted. Once those reservations were made, I began having the fun of planning our trip.

The Yellowstone and Grand Teton Forums on TripAdvisor were invaluable to my preparation and planning. I read as many reviews of lodging, restaurants and archived trip reports as I had time for and gleaned tons of information by searching in and reading the TA forums daily. Forum experts recommended Janet Chapple's book “Yellowstone Treasures” as well as “Photographing Yellowstone National Park” by Gustav W. Verderber which I bought Mr. Dune for his birthday in April. I also referred to and learned from “Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks Road Guide” from National Geographic and “Yellowstone & Grand Teton National Parks Must-Do Hikes for Everyone” by Andrew Dean Nystrom. I bought Rand McNally “Easy To Read!” Montana/Wyoming and Utah state maps from Amazon.com. We picked up an Idaho “Official State” Highway map at an Idaho visitors center, and got a lot of use from the maps that Rangers give out when you enter each park. I also bought almost every 50 cent guide available at the Old Faithful Visitor Center for all the geyser basins and for the Canyon area. I tend to over-plan but learned from forum experts and many others on TripAdvisor, that we needed to be flexible and open to serendipity experiences. And although we crammed as much as possible into our days, we were rewarded for our flexibility many times during our six days in Yellowstone and three days in Grand Teton national parks.

As an aside, I don't mention it often in my report, but we had breakfast every day in our room (juice, cereal, milk, bread, and peanut butter) while traveling in the parks, and usually ate at least one meal out of our cooler, and one at a grill (closer to fast-food) or cafeteria. We enjoy fine dining occasionally but tend to prefer diner-type restaurants when traveling-- no reservations needed, and a little less time is spent indoors when we mostly want to be outdoors as much as possible. Also, I often mention times in my report so you can get an idea of how long it might take to get somewhere or what time of day we did things. I wish we'd written down mileage driven each day, but didn't think of it.

I'm very detail-oriented and really enjoy reading trip reports and reviews that include a lot of detail, so this report may be more than you bargained for, if you prefer less rather than more information. I've included links to photos at the end of each day's report if you get tired of reading and want to skip to the photos.

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1. Re: Belated Trip Report: YNP & GTNP (8/26 to 9/6/12)

Day 1, Sunday, August 26: We left home at 4:15 AM, heading to Philadelphia International Airport for our 7:30 flight. We took Delta non-stop to Salt Lake City. After gaining two hours, our plane arrived almost 50 minutes ahead of schedule at 9:40 AM. Our suitcases were already on the carousel when we arrived at baggage claim and we went right to nearby Enterprise Car Rental where we'd rented a full-size car and got a Chevy Malibu. We were in the car and off by 10:15 and headed around 40 miles north to Layton, Utah. We enjoy diners, drive-ins and dives like Guy Fieri's popular program on the Food Network and decided to eat at “Sill's Cafe”, 335 E. Gentile St., Layton, UT. There was quite a line to get in since it was a Sunday, but we chose to sit at the counter and enjoyed watching the many plates coming out of the kitchen with deep-fried scones as large as the plates, topped by huge globs of melting honey-butter. A true punch-in-the-heart side order with breakfast and not like any scone we've ever eaten!

After breakfast, we headed to a Super Walmart and bought a 50 quart cooler, ice, and all of our groceries and supplies. (I had researched and printed maps so we could find Sill's Cafe and Walmart. I also had a map to a Smith's grocery store but we found everything we needed at Walmart.) We then checked in to the Layton Comfort Inn hotel at 1:30 and got a 3rd floor room facing the mountains as we requested. It was a nice, spacious room, and there was even a mid-sized fridge where we stored our perishable food overnight.

We couldn't find any cardboard boxes at Walmart to carry our dry goods and non-perishables, so I used a small duffel bag I'd packed and an emptied carry-on suitcase to store cereal boxes, bread, bagels, peanut butter, paper towels, etc. After reorganizing all my clothes and stuff for car travel, we headed to Antelope Island, near Syracuse, Utah, in the Great Salt Lake. www.utah.com/stateparks/antelope_island.htm We drove down the 7.2 mile causeway, paid $9.00 (per vehicle) to enter, and soon saw the first animals of our trip, a bison and a bull elk with huge antlers. Stopped in to the Visitor Center and saw lots of swallows swooping all over the building. A few pointing and smiling visitors were taking pictures of a nest of three adorable baby barn swallows above the men's room door outside the building. We watched for a few minutes as one of the birds' parents dropped off food a few times before we moved on. Drove along roads that skirted the Great Salt Lake and enjoyed the stark beauty of the island. By 5:30, we were tired and ready to head back to our motel room where we had a light supper from our cooler. It had been in the mid-90's today and I’d been up since 2 AM, so it was good to finally get a shower and a bed.

Photos here: http://tinyurl.com/8sz3dlq

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2. Re: Belated Trip Report: YNP & GTNP (8/26 to 9/6/12)

Day 2, Monday, August 27: We enjoyed a hearty, complimentary breakfast offered by the hotel and were on the road heading north by 7:30. It was sunny and 70 degrees by 8:00. We were struck by how similar the vegetation and size of hills in this area reminded us of the scenery in the middle of Washington state along the Columbia River, especially near Entiat, WA (where Mr. Dune's sister has a vacation home). We crossed into Idaho at 8:30 and got off of I-15 in Pocatello to find a place to buy a few more supplies and look for bear spray. We found a huge Fred Meyers store and I asked a guy at customer service if they had bear spray. They didn't, but he recommended a sporting goods store down the road, where I bought the bear spray and holster for $39.00. Got gas in Idaho Falls and stopped in Rexburg for lunch at a Wendy’s to eat as we drove. The landscape began to change as we started to climb upward, and we could see the Teton mountains off to the east. We entered Montana and arrived at the Evergreen Motel in West Yellowstone at 1:00. (My review and photos here: tripadvisor.com/ShowUserReviews-g45399-d1119… ) Our room wouldn’t be ready for an hour, but we checked in, got our key, and then drove into town and parked so we could walk around and explore. Tried to get coffee and a cinnamon roll from Bear Country Bakery, but it had closed early, so we went to Woodside Bakery and shared a tasty cinnamon roll while sitting on a bench outside the Playmill Theater. It was a beautiful, sunny day, 80 degrees and windy, with a few puffy clouds to make the sky interesting. Drove to the west entrance of the park and bought a pass to Yellowstone and Grand Teton parks since it was $25.00 for seven days and we would be in Grand Teton National Park for three days beyond, so just got the $50.00 year-long pass. It was fun to drive around town and see all the restaurants and motels which I'd read reviews about on TripAdvisor. Returned to our room at the Evergreen where I unpacked and “nested”, and we finally headed in to the park at 3:30.

We saw our first small herd of elk near the Madison River; someone watching them with us said that the one buck had 10-point antlers. We were so excited and giddy to see the first bit of steam from a thermal feature rising from out of a grassy field as we approached Lower Geyser Basin. Arrived at Old Faithful around 4:30, just after it had erupted, so went to the Visitors Center and bought most of the 50 cent pamphlet guides and looked at the board for predicted geyser eruptions. The Lion Geyser was erupting in the distance but I didn't think I could run that far or fast enough in time to see it up close. I'd really wanted to see Beehive, but it had already erupted that day and wouldn't go off again until after dark. We saw that Daisy was supposed to erupt around 6:30 and Riverside between 6:40 and 7:20. We bought some trail mix from the Hamilton General Store to keep us going and walked all over the Upper Geyser Basin. Missed Old Faithful again by a minute or so, just catching the tail end of it. Walked quickly down to Daisy by the paved bicycle path and sat waiting for it. I was so surprised when it erupted because I'd been looking toward Splendid Geyser instead of Daisy, and when it did erupt, I almost cried at the beauty and wonder of it! We could see a rainbow in the misty spray and were thrilled to be there at the right time.

We walked on down the road to Riverside Geyser where a crowd had begun to gather. While waiting for the geyser to erupt, we went to the bridge across the Firehole River, where Mortar, Fan, and Spiteful Geysers are located. Enjoyed seeing Morning Glory Pool and I was thankful to know from my research and especially from Pam (“D0bby”), a TripAdvisor Yellowstone expert, that a vault toilet was located nearby. Riverside erupted at 7:10 and we stayed and watched for ten minutes, thrilled to see the beautiful rainbow in its mist. We also enjoyed watching a lone buffalo lying next to a dead tree next to the river. We walked REALLY fast back to our car since it was starting to get dark and I was so fearful of driving in the park at night as we'd been warned of the dangers of animals on the road. We got back to West before it was totally dark and only had one traffic-slowing incident of a lone bison clomping down the middle of the road. He was so close to our car as we passed by, I could've reached out and touched him! Ate a light supper from our cooler and heated soup in the small microwave oven in our room before heading to bed.

Photos here: http://tinyurl.com/9w4xvoh

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3. Re: Belated Trip Report: YNP & GTNP (8/26 to 9/6/12)

Day 3, Tuesday, August 28: We ate breakfast in our room, got coffee from McDonald's, and were on our way at 7:30. The outdoor temperature that our car displayed was 50 degrees in West Yellowstone and 39 degrees on our way to Madison, so my hooded sweatshirt and windbreaker kept me comfortable. Stopped by the Madison River to look at Mt. Haynes and to photograph steam rising from the river, and at Madison Junction in the picnic area to use the nice restrooms there (thanks again, Pam!). Took Firehole Canyon Drive and heard and then saw an Osprey on top of a very tall snag. As we stopped at places along the road, Mr. Dune took a lot of photos of the rushing river and then the falls. Onward to Fountain Paint Pots and it was fun to see Clepsydra, a perpetually spouting geyser, among all the other wonderfully entertaining thermal features. We loved the entire area and there are vault toilets in the parking lot if anyone is interested. I spoke to a ranger at Fountain Paint Pots and he said that Great Fountain Geyser might erupt between 10:00 and noon. Stopped to see Firehole Spring on Firehole Lake Drive and when we arrived at Great Fountain at 9:45, it was written on the prediction board that it might erupt between 10 and 10:30. A few people were already sitting on the benches and waiting. To the left of where we were sitting were around ten geyser-gazers who were fun to watch and listen to as they chatted. Across a field from Great Fountain, we could see a geyser erupting in the distance and a geyser-gazer told us it was White Dome Geyser. Great Fountain finally erupted at 10:20. It was tall and beautiful and lasted around ten minutes. We then drove along Firehole Lake Drive to the lake and enjoyed watching Young Hopeful Geyser erupt.

On to Midway Geyser Basin and gorgeous Grand Prismatic Spring. A number of buses were there so it was a little crowded. It was windy and gusty at times, so quite a few hats and caps lay in the sinter terrace down the hill from Grand Prismatic. Excelsior Geyser below Grand Prismatic, once the largest geyser in the world but now dormant, was huge and awesome. I read that it discharges over 4,000 gallons of boiling water per minute! We tried to get to the trail to Fairy Falls to see Grand Prismatic Spring from the hill, but the parking lot was so full that cars were parking on the main road. Our one regret is we never were able to return to the trail, but it will be on our Must-Do list for our next trip.

Stopped at Kepler Cascades overlook and saw more of the beautiful Firehole River. Put together lunch from our cooler at a picnic table in the Spring Creek picnic area, and enjoyed listening to the rushing wind through lodge-pole pines as we ate. Drove back to the Old Faithful area and got huckleberry ice cream cones at the Inn, savoring them while sitting on the second floor balcony looking out to Old Faithful. We went out and stood by the benches while awaiting its eruption. I called my sister in NY State and got her to turn on the Old Faithful live-cam (linked here: www.nps.gov/features/yell/live/live4.htm ), and she watched the eruption at the same time we did. I was waving to see if she could see me on the web-cam but I never figured out where the camera(s) was/were, and she couldn't see me. I had no idea from watching the live-cam over the past few months that there were so many benches and people watching at one time!

Bought postcards at the Visitor Center and headed to the second floor of Old Faithful Inn where we relaxed and rested on a leather couch along the railing, overlooking the lobby. Mr. Dune snoozed while I wrote my cards and people-watched. When we felt revived, we walked over to the Lower Hamilton Store's Grill for an early dinner at the counter (my review here: tripadvisor.com/…REVIEWS ) and afterward, around 5:00, headed to Black Sand Geyser Basin. Cliff Geyser was erupting as we arrived and we enjoyed seeing beautiful Emerald Pool and Sunset Lake. It was fascinating and eerie to see three inch to one foot holes below the geyserite surrounding the pools, and water bubbling and boiling in those holes, just below the surface. We then went to Biscuit Basin and were surprised to see Black Opal Spring wasn't black, but a gorgeous milky, pale blue color. Enjoyed another perpetually spouting Avoca Spring, gorgeous, deep blue Sapphire Pool, and Jewel Geyser that erupts every eight to nine minutes, rising to around six feet in height.

On the way back to West, we saw people and cars beside the road: an elk cow was grazing beside the Madison River. Across the river was another smaller elk cow also grazing, and we could hear her squeak from time to time. After a few minutes, the larger elk cow waded into the river and crossed to the other side, and the smaller elk immediately began nursing on her mama! I thought I would faint dead away from witnessing that incredible cuteness! We spotted another elk cow grazing across the river, but don't know if she was related to the others. A little further down the road we saw cars stopped so we joined them and spent some time watching a bald eagle high up on a snag-- a wonderful ending to a great, full day. Returned to West after 6:30, got gas for the car, did a small load of laundry at the motel, and planned for the next day.

Photos here: http://tinyurl.com/9tb9nw4

Edited: 2:52 pm, October 29, 2012
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4. Re: Belated Trip Report: YNP & GTNP (8/26 to 9/6/12)

Day 4, Wednesday, August 29: Decided to sleep in a little so we were out around 9:00. Mailed our postcards and stopped in at one of the grocery stores in West for a few more supplies and produce since we'd be heading for our three night stay at a Lake Yellowstone cabin the next day and knew prices would be higher at general stores in the park. Drove north from Madison Junction, and were excited to see new territory. Had a small bison jam on the way as a solitary bison walked along the opposite side of the road along the shoulder. Stopped to see gorgeous Gibbon Falls and then on to Norris Geyser Basin. The Norris parking lot was full at 10:45 so we continued on north, hoping to stop back later in the day. Saw Roaring Mountain and it was fascinating to see steam emanating from the numerous fumaroles on its side. Arrived at Mammoth Hot Springs after 11:00 and parked near the Lower Terraces. There are lots of hills and steps to walk up offering great access to the travertine terraces. We were often at a loss for words to describe what we saw in Yellowstone and used the phrase “other-worldly” frequently, and Mammoth Hot Springs was stunning and seemed definitely other-worldly! (As a rule, I tend to avoid being out in the sun and heat in the couple of hours before and after high noon, but because of all we wanted to see and do, I had to accept being exposed to the sun at this time of day. We slathered up with sunblock and I always wore a canvas hat with a brim and sunglasses that helped me to enjoy our activities and stay fairly comfortable.)

It was a warm, sunny, cloudless day, and after seeing everything in the Lower Terraces, we walked into Mammoth, checked out the General Store and Terrace Grill, and walked through the Albright Visitor Center. Enjoyed seeing reproductions of Thomas Moran's watercolors of Yellowstone from the late 1800's and also walked around the museum section. Got to see the small resident elk herd on the grass in the town square. There was a buck with huge antlers and a few cows . Next to Mammoth Clinic were two young elk calves with fading spots, resting in the shade nest to the building with their mom grazing nearby.

We decided to try to find a place for lunch in Gardiner. I had done a little pre-trip research and found Tumbleweeds Bookstore and Cafe at 501 Scott Street, where we both ordered tasty and hearty salads with turkey and cheese added, and got them “to go”. Stopped to photograph the Roosevelt Arch at the north entrance, and on our way back to Mammoth, passed the 45th parallel, halfway between the Equator and the North Pole, and happily recalled being at the 45th parallel in Stewiacke, Nova Scotia during our Canadian Maritimes trip in 2006. Re-entered Mammoth and the elk were now lying in the shade of buildings. The bull was lying in the grass next to the stairs into an administration building, so we parked the car across from him, and while eating our salads, watched the bull chew his cud until he eventually got up and wandered off. The Park Ranger, who shoos the tourists away from the elk, got in his truck and followed the bull, so we followed the Ranger to see where the elk had gone. He (the elk, not the Ranger) was munching on some shrubs behind one of the Mammoth cabins.

Enjoyed our drive and the sights along the Upper Terraces, and then headed south from Mammoth to Sheepeater Cliffs (I was very interested in seeing marmots here, but saw none), and then to Norris Geyser Basin. We started our exploration at Porcelain Basin and were amazed to come down a hill and find below a vast, almost all white “field”. Here and there were burbling pools and a few small, perpetual spouting geysers, and near the beginning was Black Growler Steam Vent, where a large plume of steam pours out continuously. This was the most sulfurous odor we'd encountered so far and the entire area was definitely “other-worldly”, as if it were a setting for a science fiction movie. We half expected a dinosaur to wander by. We also were both struck by how much the flowing water, wide, white expanses, and boardwalks reminded us of seeing low tide on Cape Cod Bay beach flats during our many vacations on the Cape. We then walked around Back Basin and enjoyed reading the story about Pork Chop Geyser blowing up in 1989 while eight visitors watched (miraculously, none were injured), and we marveled at the boulders remaining from that explosion. We loved watching Steamboat Geyser steaming and spurting, at times up to ten feet, and were surprised at the number of stairs up and down in this basin. At the Norris Museum, there was information posted about the fires burning in the area, and we read that “Dewdrop” fire had been burning since July 29 and “Cygnet” fire had been burning since at least August 10. We'd been noticing smoke clouds appearing over mountains and appreciated knowing a little more about them while we kept praying for rain.

On our way back to West, we stopped to watch a coyote that was probably only around 150 feet from a man fishing in the Gibbon River. We were around 120 yards from the coyote and watched as it pounced and chewed up some small morsel. A little further down the road, around four miles north of Gibbon Falls, many cars were pulled off the road and we were fortunate to see an absolutely adorable coyote puppy walking along the river! Arrived at our motel at 6:30 and ate a light supper in the room. We then walked around West Yellowstone and shared some delicious ice cream from Arrowleaf Ice Cream Parlor, enjoying it on a bench outside the cafe as we people-watched. Browsed through a few shops and bought jars of huckleberry jam to give as gifts at home.

Photos here: http://tinyurl.com/8rs29te

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5. Re: Belated Trip Report: YNP & GTNP (8/26 to 9/6/12)

Day 5, Thursday, August 30: After breakfast in our room, we said goodbye to West Yellowstone at 8:00 and headed to Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, with the intent to arrive at Artist Point by 9:45 to try to catch the rainbow that appears in the mist of Lower Falls. It was 28 degrees and the sun was shining weakly through high clouds. It was exciting to drive through gorgeous scenery that looks like many other beautiful places we've seen over the years-- with fields, streams, and mountains-- but the difference was seeing steam rising from all sorts of weird areas-- beside streams, in fields and on mountains, all rising from fumaroles. It was becoming hazier due to smoke from forest fires, and we could sometimes even smell the smoke. We reached 600 miles driven on the trip so far on the road between Norris and Canyon. Arrived in the Canyon area around 9:00 and drove to Artist Point. I was glad to be wearing jeans, a hooded sweatshirt, long-sleeved t-shirt, a light hooded parka and gloves. As we walked onto Artist Point, we got our first glimpse of the Lower Falls and the canyon, and we both nearly wept at the incredible beauty and awesomeness of God's creation. We watched and waited until 10:30 but unfortunately, there was no rainbow from that vantage point as there was a bit too much cloud cover. Mr. Dune got a case of “Lens Envy” as we looked at the equipment other photographers had; he estimated that there was at least $15-20,000.00 worth of cameras and lenses on Artist Point.

Drove to Uncle Tom's Trail and walked down the inclined walkways and 328 steel grate steps. I've always had a fear of heights, but I really wanted to walk the trail and see the Lower Falls closer up, so I gripped the railing and prayed almost every step of the way down and back. The view was absolutely beautiful and worth battling both my fears and the workout that my lungs and leg muscles endured. We then went to the Brink of Upper Falls for a breathtaking view right above the Yellowstone River as it goes over into the Falls, and then started driving the North Rim trail. (I confess to continuing to be confused about which were the Upper and Lower Falls, so please excuse me if I get them mixed up.) Brink of Lower Falls was next and we listened to our sore legs and stayed at the top rather than walking down a steep trail that drops 600 feet. Through my binoculars we could see three Osprey nests with one appearing to have an older juvenile in it. We think we were also able to see the nest from Grand View observation area. Then on to Inspiration Point for gorgeous views. We had missed Brink of Upper Falls on our way in, forgetting that the road is one-way, so we returned to it to see the Upper Falls better, and from there took pictures of Uncle Tom's trail from across the canyon.

Left Canyon at 2:00 and headed to Lake Yellowstone, stopping for some photos at pull-outs in the Hayden Valley. One pullout had people with scopes watching two bald eagles flying. It was wonderful to see through my binoculars that one held a fish in its talons! Drove beside the Yellowstone River and its beautiful scenery all along the way.

Arrived at the Lake Hotel at 2:30, checked in at the front desk, and got keys to our Lake Cabin. I was glad to see it was the single (not attached) cabin I'd requested. (My review and photos are here: tripadvisor.com/ShowUserReviews-g60999-d2266… )

After Mr. Dune rested and I unpacked and nested, we drove around a bit and then went to the nearby Lake Lodge cafeteria for an early dinner (my review here: tripadvisor.com/ShowUserReviews-g60999-d5325… ). After dinner, we took a walk toward the lake on a trail across a grassy field. We couldn't get over how huge the lake was and really enjoyed the views and the peace and quiet of the Lake area. We drove to Fishing Bridge General Store for a few items and were shocked that a box of Raisin Bran was $6.09. We bought it anyway and especially savored every precious flake, raisin, and crumb. We wanted to sit outside the store on the old wicker rockers, but the loud '70's style music blaring through the open door drove us away. Back to the Lake area but we weren't ready to go inside yet, so we sat in our car at a parking area on the road bordering the lake and enjoyed the view until sunset.

Photos here: http://tinyurl.com/9xp8cjc

Edited: 2:55 pm, October 29, 2012
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6. Re: Belated Trip Report: YNP & GTNP (8/26 to 9/6/12)

Day 6, Friday, August 31: After breakfast in our room, we left the cabin before 6:00, armed with bear spray and flashlights as we walked to our car. As mentioned before, we were well aware of the danger of driving in the dark, but we wanted to get to the Lamar Valley early. Headed north-- driving slowly-- and enjoyed the colorful clouds in the sunrise while the full moon was still in the sky. Went over Dunraven Pass and, right before 7:00, waited for ten minutes in the construction traffic at Tower. Around four miles east of Tower Junction, four bison started walking across the road. We were able to drive by them and got to a pull-off so we could photograph them as they held up a line of cars. Saw a few solitary Pronghorn antelope and bison along the way, and stopped when we saw people on a Yellowstone Wildlife Tour scoping a small herd of Pronghorns and a large herd of bison in the distance. A couple of miles down the road was a herd of 17 Pronghorns, and we continued to see small herds as we made our way along the Lamar Valley. Saw lots of bison along Soda Butte Creek and stopped at two wildlife viewing areas right before Soda Butte where there were people with the Wolf Project looking through scopes. A wolf had recently been spotted, but by the time we'd arrived it wasn't visible. Stopped at another viewing area just down the road and were so fortunate to see a black female wolf in the distance. A woman allowed me to look through her scope and I could see the wolf rolling on the ground, with her four feet in the air at times. The woman said the wolf was rolling on top of her prey. Earlier, the wolf had been digging in the ground and I saw her with something in her mouth at one point. We don't know if she dropped it or what happened, but she didn't eat it as far as we could see. There was a bison standing near the wolf that began approaching her, and the bison kept following the wolf. The wolf would sometimes get closer, then playfully trot away, and it looked like they were playing a game of Tag.

Because we'd gotten such an early start, Mr. Dune suggested that we drive the Beartooth Highway, so we exited the northeast entrance of the park just after 8:30. Got $4.00/gallon gas in Cooke City and stopped for a cinnamon roll to share along with coffee at Bob's Bearclaw Bakery, where they were also cooking and serving breakfast at the few small tables. Then down to the Visitor Center (nice restrooms!) for a map; I'd left the one I'd printed out during trip research in our cabin since we hadn't planned to drive the Beartooth this day. (The woman at the Visitor Center said that the road between Norris and Canyon was now drive-able only by Ranger escort due to the smoke from nearby fires.) It was a warm, sunny day with some haze and high clouds, and not much of a breeze. I'd started the day with long pants, t-shirt, and a sweatshirt under a light hooded parka and gloves, and was down to my t-shirt layer by 9:00. Began our drive on the Beartooth at 9:15 and saw a few white-tail deer along the side of the road. Reached the turn-off for Chief Joseph Highway at 9:45, and there hadn't been much elevation climbed up to this point. Stopped to look at and photograph the beautiful Beartooth Falls and ravine from the bridge, and a little further on saw Beartooth Lake.

Reached “Top of the World” General Store after 10:00 (vault toilet available), browsed through the store, and back on the road, began driving our first switchbacks within 30 minutes. Saw Beartooth Butte in the distance, and it looked like a rugged, ocher-colored, flat-topped mountain. Our car continued climbing to Beartooth Pass overlook, West Summit, the highest location on the highway at 10,947 feet. Saw a ski chairlift along the way and found out that it's the International Ski and Snowboard Summer Camp where training takes place from April to July. Arrived at Rock Creek Vista Point rest area at 11:15 (three buildings of vault toilets) and gorgeous views of Rock Creek Canyon and Hellroaring Plateau. Watched Golden-Mantled ground squirrels for a while and thought they looked like chipmunks on steroids. There were regular chipmunks also running around and they were half the size of the ground squirrels. Decided to head back to Yellowstone and found a pull-off below the West Summit of Beartooth Pass, overlooking Gardner Lake to eat a snack from our cooler. It was a breathtaking, memorable view!

Clouds began to build up in the sky and we saw a lightning bolt while driving west. It rained lightly on and off and at one point around 1:00, we drove to a pull-off near a stream and snoozed in the car for around 20 minutes. It rained hard at times as we made our way back to the Cooke City Visitor Center to use the restrooms, and we prayed that the rain might reach and help with the fires. Re-entered Yellowstone via the northeastern entrance just before 2:00 and were amazed by the large herds of bison we saw as we drove again through the Lamar Valley. A few men were fishing in Soda Butte Creek and we stopped to watch a small herd of three Pronghorns less than 50 feet from the road.

Arrived at Roosevelt Lodge at 2:45, and enjoyed a late lunch/early dinner. (My review here: tripadvisor.com/…REVIEWS ) We left at 4:00 and headed to Tower Fall. Thankfully, road construction in the Tower area was finished for the day so there were no delays. We were able to find a parking spot in this busy area that also has a general store and ice cream, and it was a 150 yard walk to the waterfall overlook. Tower Fall was lovely, but the trail to the base was closed (perhaps permanently) for repair. Drove south to Canyon, around a 30 minute drive, missed a bear sighting by ten minutes off in the hills right before Canyon where a number of people were pulled off and looking through scopes and binoculars. Went to the Visitor Center to ask where cell phone reception might be available and the Ranger mentioned that the head of the Cascade Trail worked for her but it didn't work for us (we have a TracFone).

Again pulled off the road when we saw lots of cars and were happy to watch a pelican take off from the Yellowstone River, just north of the Mud Volcano area. Stopped at Sulphur Caldron and walked along the overlook, amazed by the bubbling mud and sickly green-colored pool. We were almost overcome at times by the odor of rotten eggs and I occasionally had to turn my face away to gulp fresh air as the stinky steam wafted by. We both loved seeing the fenced-off hole in the parking lot that occurred when a hot spot burst through the pavement around 1980. Moved on to Mud Volcano area which we found as fascinating and wondrous as every other thermal feature we'd experienced so far. We especially enjoyed the spooky and sinister-sounding Dragon's Mouth Spring that thumped and puffed as water churned out of the mouth of what looked like a cave. If I'd been a kid seeing that, I'd definitely have had nightmares for weeks afterward! It was mesmerizing to watch, and I would have enjoyed watching it much longer if we'd had more time. I also loved the bubbling and moiling of Mud Volcano and Churning Cauldron. Some of the spookiest, most ominous thermal features to me are the huge fumaroles where there's mostly steam, but also sometimes loud hissing and gasping, and at times, almost thunderous sounds.

It was now after 6:30 and we continued our drive back to Lake area. About one mile south of Mud Volcano, a beautiful red fox suddenly dashed across the road, right in front of our car. It was so exciting to make eye contact with it as it ran off into the woods. As we drove, it was raining lightly, but the sun was out, so I thought we might be able to see a rainbow somewhere. Sure enough, a HUGE arcing rainbow stretched across the sky in front of us. The sky was a deep blue-gray color behind the rainbow and it was stunning and awesome to witness! We drove to the lake where we could see not only one end of the rainbow disappearing into the lake, but a fainter second rainbow beside the brighter main one. It felt like the most incredible gift, and we stood speechless for a long time as we drank in the beauty until it faded away. I will always remember that rainbow.

Stopped in at the Lake Hotel where the sun room was crowded with people reading, talking, enjoying drinks, and playing card games. A woman was at the piano playing “Maple Leaf Rag” and the sound of it, the view through the large windows out to the lake, and the whole atmosphere made me grin wildly. We sat for a while and listened to the music, and reflected on our tremendously satisfying, unforgettable day. We had driven 228 miles and we went to bed thankful for all the blessings of the day.

Photos here: http://tinyurl.com/9eln8nj

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7. Re: Belated Trip Report: YNP & GTNP (8/26 to 9/6/12)

Day 7, Saturday, September 1: Slept in and were out by 9:30. Headed to Fishing Bridge and bought a cute ceramic bison bank with “YELLOWSTONE” printed on its butt for Mr. Dune's ceramic bank collection, and then to the Visitor Center to ask about the Storm Point Trail and also where to find cell phone service. St. Mary’s Bay was suggested and was glad to find two bars on my phone; we parked off the road next to the bay so I could connect with my sister and get news from home. I had asked the Ranger about finding marmots on Storm Point Trail but she said they may not be out because the weather was cool, windy, and partly cloudy. I wore rain pants and jacket because the sky looked so changeable and a little threatening. The temperature was in the 50's to low 60's and was colder near the water. It was a 2.3 mile, 90 minute walk and we started out around 11:00. It was the first time we really felt the need to carry our bear spray since the Pelican Valley is one of the best places for Grizzlies in the lower 48 states. So we talked and I clapped my hands every now and then while walking through wooded areas. It was a gorgeous hike with views of Lake Yellowstone, and a sky full of huge, dramatic clouds. A Ranger was leading a group on a hike and I asked if we were getting near the marmot colony. She said it was just a little ways up the trail. We came to a rocky area and saw some movement, and were so happy to see two fat marmots . They were very busy pulling up grasses in their mouths and carrying them back to a hole (their den, I guess) in an opening in the rocks. Even though the light wasn't strong and we were a good distance away, Mr. Dune got some photos of them, and we even got to see a marmot's pretty red tummy when one of them stood on its hind legs.

Back to the car at 12:30 and drove toward the bridge over Pelican Creek where we encountered a huge bison jam that lasted more than 30 minutes. We didn't mind because it gave us the chance to absorb the lovely scenery along the road and creek whose water and golden grasses reminded us, once again, of Cape Cod. Enjoyed watching a bison calf nursing as the line of cars moved slowly away from the creek. The herd was in and alongside the road, and they eventually started following one another single file on a path through the woods, clearing the road enough so we could keep moving. Decided to head to Lake Lodge (review linked on Day 5) for lunch to fuel up for more hiking, and returned to the Pelican Creek Trail. It was around 1.3 miles and took us out to the lake again. We walked out on a wide beach for a while and I saw numerous strange looking piles of scat that were similar to Canada geese droppings, but were larger and in individual piles. I later asked a Ranger at Fishing Bridge Visitor Center if she knew what animal or bird could have made the piles, describing the color, size, and texture (hey-- it's second nature to a nurse!), etc. I thought it might be from pelicans but she didn't know, so it will remain a mystery.

As we finished our Pelican Creek walk, we saw a pelican soar overhead and Mr. Dune got a good photo of it. We then headed for LeHardys Rapids on the Yellowstone River and saw five female Harlequin ducks and one Water Ouzel, also known as American Dipper. (A man with a camera with a foot-and-a-half lens told us what the birds were called.) On to Bridge Bay to see the marina and then a drive on scenic, two-mile Gull Point Drive along Lake Yellowstone. We could see the Lake Hotel as a boat went by in front of it. Mr. Dune announced that as of 5:15 today, we had driven 1,020 miles. He also said that he'd taken 1,400 photos in the past seven days, but only had 14 he really likes. (Most every artist tends to be their own harshest critic.)

Drove back to Fishing Bridge to get gas and headed back to the cabin. While Mr. Dune was out getting ice for our cooler, he saw a herd of around 25 bison on the lawn of Lake Lodge. By the time we walked over to the Lake Hotel a short while later, the herd had moved elsewhere. The same lady was at the piano in the hotel's sun room when we arrived, this time playing “Memory” from CATS. We sat close to the front windows overlooking the lake and eventually moved up to seats closest to the windows as people left. I had a glass of wine as we sat there, and never wanted to leave. It was hard to believe that we were ending the seventh day of our trip and would be leaving Yellowstone tomorrow.

Photos here: http://tinyurl.com/9h4r65h

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8. Re: Belated Trip Report: YNP & GTNP (8/26 to 9/6/12)

Day 8, Sunday, September 2: Packed up and left our cabin at 8:30, checked out at the hotel, and drove south with the lake beside us on our left. On the way, we had to wait while two elk crossed the road and stopped traffic for about a minute. Arrived at West Thumb Geyser Basin at 9:30 and it was fun to be in a thermal area again. There were already two buses in the parking lot but it somehow didn't feel too crowded on the boardwalk trails. There were four elk right near the beginning of the boardwalk, sitting in the grasses near a fumarole. We enjoyed seeing the lake right beside us as we explored West Thumb. It was in the lower 40's, sunny with a few clouds, and the steam seamed thicker due to the cold air. Mr. Dune took photos of a group of people out on the lake in kayaks. It was weird to see Seismograph and other pools bubbling and their overflow going down the hill into the lake. Lakeside Spring flows directly into the lake and Lakeshore Geyser was, as its name describes, right on the shore of the lake. Finally got to see the famous Fishing Cone out in the lake, around 15 feet from the shore line. Big Cone, just a short distance away looked like a better spot for fishing and then cooking your catch than Fishing Cone. Enjoyed watching a pelican float on the lake around 150 yards out from Fishing Cone. When we left West Thumb, there was one small bus and three large buses in the parking lot. Stopped at Grant to use restrooms and asked a Ranger about the status of the fires in the Norris/Canyon areas and whether the rain had helped or even reached the fires, but he had no information. He said that the 1988 fire burned 800,000 acres and the current fires involved around 2,000 acres.

Stopped at pretty Lewis Falls and walked to an overlook and the bridge over the river for good views. Left Yellowstone, regrettably, around 11:30 and headed south to Grand Teton National Park. Saw five signs in a row, south of the southern park entrance that read: “We saw wildlife / from afar / until we hit them / with our car / Slow down!” Went to Flagg Ranch Visitor Center (restrooms there) and a very knowledgeable, helpful woman gave us maps and hiking information, and even told us when to check in to our cabin at Colter Bay. We found out that the Jenny Lake shuttle boat was stopping for the season after tomorrow, so that was valuable information as we made our plans. She also said it's been a strange year for animals, in that they had displayed different behaviors than usual. The elk were starting to come south early which could mean that winter is coming sooner rather than later.

Entered Grand Teton National Park just before noon and enjoyed our first glimpse of Jackson Lake and the Teton Mountains. Had lunch from our cooler at a picnic table at Lakeview Picnic Area near Jackson Lake. After lunch, drove to Leek's Marina for a beautiful view of the mountains. Arrived in Colter Bay at 1:00, but we couldn't check in until 4:00, so we drove around the Colter Bay area and explored. There's a large General Store with a great selection and pretty good prices, a Visitor Center, two restaurants, and a marina. Cars, RV's, and boat trailers were everywhere because it was Labor Day weekend. Got coffee and ice cream treats from the freezer at the General Store that we enjoyed while we drove around. Decided to drive to Signal Mountain and maybe hike somewhere. I was under-prepared for this part of our vacation, so I only had vague plans so far, and we were both starting to mind the crowds.

Drove up Signal Mountain around 2:00 and climbed slowly up the 4.8 mile two-way road. Beautiful views from the top, although it was hazy from fires. Went to Jackson Lake Lodge looking for the “Lunch Tree Hill” walk. We weren't sure but it seemed like we were hiking on a service road.--there were signs for the hike at the beginning, but then there were none. We later saw that we were hiking beside Willow Flats where moose and elk can often be seen.

Got back to Colter Bay at 4:30 and checked in. I'd requested a single, unattached cabin, and was happy that my request was granted. (My review and photos here: tripadvisor.com/ShowUserReviews-g143029-d101… ). We were told to leave no food at all in the cabin because of mice, so each morning after breakfast or before going to bed at night, we'd haul food out to the trunk of our car (it was okay to keep the cooler in the cabin overnight.) It was a rustic, historic cabin, and a framed sign on the wall said that it was built in 1930 and was one of a number of cabins from the Square G Ranch on old North Jenny Lake Road which Mr. and Mrs. A.W. Gabbey owned. They hosted guests on their ranch for years and then in 1956, the cabins were transported to Colter Bay on flatbed trucks. There were many attached cabins as well as single cabins alongside rows of roads that went up a hill. Walked down the hill to the John Colter Cafe for dinner (my review here: tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g143029-d5… ), and the Ranch House Restaurant was right next door.

After dinner, we went to the Visitor Center and asked a Ranger where to find wildlife in the park, and he highlighted areas on our park map. We then walked to the nearby amphitheater and at 7:00, learned a lot about moose from a young female Ranger. Our favorite tip came at the end of her hour-long talk, when she instructed us how to call a moose. She demonstrated how to precisely and carefully cup our hands together, with our two index fingers pointing upward, thumbs folded inward, and we were all slowly following her lead, expecting her to tell us how to make a sound in our hands when she suddenly flipped open her hands and yelled: “HERE MOOSIE MOOSIE!” It got a good laugh and lots of groans from everyone.

Returned to our cabin before dark, and got to bed early so we could go look for moose in the morning.

Photos here: http://tinyurl.com/9b2pkku

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9. Re: Belated Trip Report: YNP & GTNP (8/26 to 9/6/12)

Day 9, Monday, September 3: We were out by 7:15 and headed to Willow Flats overlook and spotted nine elk and a moose cow and calf off in the distance. The calf was running-- “frolicking” describes it better-- back and forth while its mother stood and watched. On to Cattleman's Bridge site on the Snake River where we saw cormorants, and then to Oxbow Bend for a fabulous reflection of the mountains in the Snake River as well as three pelicans floating together. Came back to the General Store for coffee and a doughnut we shared while looking at the mountains from the edge of Colter Bay. Stopped back at our cabin to drop off my parka and gloves and grab a light jacket and headed out again at 9:30. Drove the scenic one-way road along Jenny Lake, stopping to get out and walk and take photos, and we could smell the faint odor of smoke in the air and see haze. Got to Jenny Lake at 11:00 and took the ten minute shuttle across the lake for $7.00 a person one way. Started our hike toward Hidden Falls, but passed it and continued on up to Inspiration Point. Nothing I'd read about this hike prepared me for the climb, the test of endurance, and the facing of my fear of heights it turned out to be. We felt rushed to get to the shuttle and I only thought to grab one bottle of water to carry in my day-pack. I also didn't think to bring any food with us, even though this hike was happening around lunch time. (Unbeknownst to me, I had put four Kashi Bars in a zippered pocket in my day-pack early on our trip but had forgotten about them, and thought we'd left them on the plane!) The hike to Inspiration Point involved walking over many loose rocks on a very steep trail with scary, narrow parts. I clung to the cliff wall as I gingerly made my way upward, sure that my next step might cause me to slip and hurtle down off the cliff. The views were breathtaking, but I'm not sure I could ever walk that trail again, knowing what I know about it now. Hiked on toward beautiful Hidden Falls and saw a number of people in a rock-climbing school rappelling down and climbing up cliffs.

The next bad decision involved walking back to the boat launch area. We thought it would be an easy two mile walk around the lake, but with no more water and no food, it ended up being a second test of endurance. The trail was much easier than Inspiration Point, but it still had many ups and downs and rocks to traverse; at times, it seemed like it would never end. We returned to the parking area at 2:30, and couldn't believe how packed with cars it was, including some parked on the main road, I guess because it was Labor Day and the last day for the boat shuttle to run. Drank a lot of water, ate lunch out of the cooler, and once revived, drove south to the Menor's Ferry Historic District. Went to the Chapel of the Transfiguration and spent some quiet time in a pew made of Aspen wood. It was a great experience to sit there in the quiet and stillness, and gaze at the majestic mountains through the large clear window behind an altar that held a simple cross flanked by two small bouquets of flowers. Spent some time looking at and photographing the weathered homes of Mormon Row and then went to Menor's Ferry and took the last ride of the day on the steel cable wooden ferry across the Snake River. A Ranger spoke about the history of the ferry as he steered the ferry across the river and explained how the currents propel the boat.

Stopped at Schwabacher's Landing Road (not well-marked, and has only a small wooden sign off of I-89) and drove down the pot-holed gravel road to the landing and the Snake River. It was a gorgeous, scenic area and we walked a ways beside the river. We could have happily spent most of a day here in this idyllic spot. Stopped at a number of the many overlooks in this section of Teton Park Road. Near Elk Ranch flats turnout, close to Moran Junction, we saw a multitude of bison, and could see some signs of the rut between both bulls and bulls and cows, mostly just some head-butting. Returned to Colter Bay at 7:00 and stopped at the General Store for some groceries and 2 bowls of hot chicken noodle soup that we ate back at the cabin.

Photos here: http://tinyurl.com/9kpdhlc

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10. Re: Belated Trip Report: YNP & GTNP (8/26 to 9/6/12)

Day 10, Tuesday, September 4: We were out by 8:15, stopped for coffee at the General Store and headed south to Moose-Wilson Road, which had been closed a few weeks before due to bear activity. Right before the Laurance Rockefeller preserve there were a number of cars pulled off along the road. A large group, including a Ranger who kept cars and people at a safe distance, had gathered along the road to watch a brown bear and a black bear, perhaps a hundred feet apart, eating hawthorn berries. The brown bear soon ran off into the woods, but the black bear continued his munching for another twenty minutes or so. Both bears had been up in trees when we arrived and it was fun to see them climb down. We all stood and watched, marveling as the black bear grabbed branches and ate and ate and ate. A man drove by as our group stood across the road from the bear and asked the Ranger if he was handling the bears who were watching the “People Jam”, and that got a lot of laughter. We were so thrilled to finally see bears!

Drove on to the Rockefeller Preserve where I used the Visitor Center restroom to change from long pants and long-sleeved shirt into the t-shirt and shorts I'd brought with me in the car. The parking lot was small and the area is popular so our car was met by a friendly Ranger who gave us a trail map with information about the preserve and asked us to park as close as possible to the next vehicle. Spent a short time in the beautiful Visitor Center and then headed out and hiked the 2.9 mile Lake Creek and Woodland Trail loop that took us to lovely Phelps Lake (there's a restroom nearby the lake with compost toilets). It was an easy trail through woods with mostly packed dirt and a few embedded rocks, and lots of areas of shade. It was a “walk in the park” compared to our Jenny Lake hike debacle of the previous day. We carried bear spray and did our usual talking and hand-clapping along the way, and finished our hike around 12:15.

Back on Moose-Wilson Road and at Poker Flats Ranch entrance, we saw an osprey nest with what looked like a juvenile osprey in it. I even got to hear it chirp and whistle a little bit. Arrived in Teton Village and drove through the area, stopping to watch the tram go up the mountain. Crossed the Snake River toward Jackson at 1:00 and, after driving around town looking for a place to eat lunch, saw a sign for “The Bunnery” and remembered reading a trip report from a family that gave good reviews to this restaurant and bakery. We were seated at 1:45 and enjoyed our meal out on their lovely patio (my review and photo here: tripadvisor.com/…CHECK_RATES_CONT ) and felt fortified to spend more time exploring Jackson. We were able to see some of the residential areas before lunch as we drove around trying to find a restaurant and we later walked around and looked at the often-photographed four elk antler gate entrances over the town square. Enjoyed the sidewalks, many of which were wooden boardwalks, and saw lots of expensive-looking shops. After getting a cup of coffee at Cowboy Coffee, we headed north toward the Park on Routes 191/89/26.

Stopped by the Craig Thomas Discovery and Visitor Center in Moose and were overwhelmed by the excellent, informative and educational displays, including an interesting one of Teton mountaineering history, and enjoyed wonderful flora and fauna interpretive exhibits. Saw a stuffed Clark's Nutcracker which helped us identify the bird we had seen and heard on Inspiration Point and also flying over the amphitheater during the Ranger talk in Colter Bay. My favorite display showed animal tracks and actual pieces of animal fur you could touch. It was a treat to be able to feel the fur of a bobcat, black and grizzly bears, fox, coyote, and many other animals that live in this part of the country.

Headed north on the west Park Loop Road and noticed many bicyclists using a paved path that went for eight miles from Moose to Jenny Lake. Saw smoke from fires in the northeast when we parked at the Teton Glacier turnout. We were privileged to see a small group of Pronghorn antelope on the right, and a lone coyote in the sagebrush flats on the left, just before the Lupine Meadows trail head, a little south of the Jenny Lake Junction. Stopped at Jackson Lake Dam at 4:45 where people were fishing below where the powerful water comes rushing out from the dam. Saw two pelicans fly over Jackson Lake and lots of cormorants in the water below the dam. Returned to Cattleman's Crossing and Oxbow Bend around 5:30 to look for wildlife and to enjoy the beauty once again. Also stopped at Willow Flats overlook where I thought I saw a moose through my binoculars, but couldn't be sure. (I forgot to mention earlier that there were 19 miles of road construction from Jackson Lake Lodge on north to Flagg Ranch.)

Before returning to our cabin, we stopped at the gift shop adjacent to the General Store to buy a few souvenirs, and arrived back at our cabin by 6:30. We were surprised to find a beautiful towel and washcloth arrangement on the double bed, created by our housekeeper, Craig. He had even put wildflowers into the folds of the washcloths and made the towels into the shape of a swan. We were very touched and it ended up setting off a good cry because I wasn't ready for our wonderful vacation to be ending.

Mr. Dune went to get ice and check emails on his laptop at a nearby guest services cabin while I began doing heavy-duty organizing and packing. We tried to eat as much as we could from the cooler since we knew we only had one full day remaining.

Photos here: http://tinyurl.com/94ywk7c