After filling our bellies, gas tank and backpacks, Garrett and I said goodbye to Cooke City. We drove a couple of minutes to the Northeast Entrance, also known as the Silver Gate Entrance, of Yellowstone. At 8:00 in the morning, we were the only car driving through (the park employee at the gate said that this was the quietest entrance of the park--the line of cars never gets beyond 10).
I had reserved a campsite at Bridge Bay Campground about a month before. I chose Bridge Bay primarily because of its location, which is the dead center of the park. It is also facing Yellowstone Lake, and as the unfortunate desert rats we are, Garrett and I always jump at the chance to be near water. The drive from the NE entrance to Bridge Bay took us about 2 - 2 1/2 hours.
Two hours may seem like a lot, especially because there were closer campsites, but it really wasn't. The drive was awesome. To get from the entrance to Bridge Bay, we first drove to Tower-Roosevelt (29 miles), then on to Canyon Village (19 miles), to Fishing Bridge (16 miles), to Bridge Bay (about another 5 miles). The change of landscape along the drive and the amount of wildlife that we saw was, in a word, insane.
"Wait a second," I said in disbelief to Garrett, "that was a bison! Ah! I hope we see more!"
Little did I know, we would see hundreds (if not thousands) of bison in our short time in Yellowstone.
We saw bison: grazing in the distance, nursing their young, lying by a pond, standing in the river (such a beautiful sight), crossing the street, causing traffic jams, running up hills, hanging out near the hot springs...you name it, we saw it. It was incredible.
What I couldn't believe, though, was how ignorant people were in terms of getting close to the bison. There are two things that I think need to be followed regarding wild animals: the first is safety, and the second is respect. It was amazing how easily people threw those two rules away just so they could snap a great picture. (Our close-up shots only came from the bison running by our car as they crossed the street and caused traffic jams.)
Other than spotting a gazillion bison on our drive into the park (and everywhere else for that matter), our drive was amazing for all of the different terrain it took us through. We entered the park in a forested area, drove through some prairie lands and through some mountains on the way to Tower-Roosevelt.
The area between Tower-Roosevelt and Canyon Village is undergoing road works, so this was the part of our drive that took the longest (you had to wait for a head car to guide you through the pass). A lot of the drive between the two points was along a dirt road nestled up to cliffs.
Between Canyon Village and Fishing Bridge, the landscape changes a ton. You drive through woods, along cliff sides, through a prairie, next to the river, and (my favorite) through sulfur-infused hot springs. The Yellowstone River snakes its way in and out of sight through this pass, too. It baffled me how much the terrain changed, and how drastically, in so little time.
It was awe-inspiring, then, to have Yellowstone Lake come into view as we approached Bridge Bay Campground. The lake is huge, flanked by both flatlands and mountains, and was sitting like a table of glass below a layer of smoke when we drove up on it.
If you're up for a scenic drive heading to the park and through the park, I recommend taking Beartooth Pass (in the daylight!) to Cooke City and the Northeast Entrance, and from there go on to Bridge Bay. The entire park is amazing, I'm sure, but what we saw on our way in will stick with me as some of the most breathtaking sights I've ever seen for the rest of my life.