YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK, Wyo. (AP) — A stone’s throw from Yellowstone National Park sits the small border town of West Yellowstone, which is usually either buried in snow or swarmed by tourists. But at the end of April, the streets are quiet and locals can peacefully read newspapers on coffee shop porticos.
It’s also a quieter time in the park, with most services closed and some roads still inaccessible. And for some, that’s the best time to be there.
Lindsey Higgins and her fiancé Devin West had a front row seat to Old Faithful recently though the front row options were limitless. There were less than a hundred people at the afternoon eruption, which was just as tall and spectacular as ever.
It was the couple’s first Yellowstone visit, and despite the so-called “off-season,” they had been thoroughly entertained, the Jackson Hole News & Guide reports.
The day before, the pair saw a grizzly bear up in Mammoth and on Thursday they were delighted by the emergence of baby bison throughout the park.
West was even charmed by the trees, which he described as “insane.”
As they turned back to watch the trusty geyser take to the skies, another couple set their love in motion with a simple, tear-filled wedding proposal.
Retired Brigham Young University professor Eric Walz was also feeling the love, strolling hand in hand with his wife of 46 years, Lynne. The two sported matching hot pink jackets with the Yellowstone National Park insignia.
Rexburg residents and longtime park visitors, the pair were lured out in spring by the prospect of quiet roads and active animals, and they weren’t disappointed.
“I’ve seen more bison than ever before, and gotten closer to them than I ever have,” Lynne said.
Up at Artist Paint Pots, visitors strolled through brightly colored mudpots, geysers, and fumaroles right alongside the bison, who occasionally took their turn on the narrow boardwalk.
It was here, too, that spectators could casually watch as an amber brown newborn received a flurry of tongue kisses from mom.
Park Ranger Mark Vogel has been with Yellowstone since 2013 and said the warm temperatures and increase in vaccines have definitely brought more visitors to the park in this year’s off-season.
Most folks said they just came out because they had the time. Tuan Vo was working out in Idaho Falls and had the day off to come tour. The Nielson family drove up from Utah now that everyone has been vaccinated.
They also got perhaps the best show of the day, witnessing a pack of coyotes tear into a dead bison that had collapsed on the far bank of Madison River.
“It was quite the sight,” said Kelly Nielson, who has limited mobility due to her rheumatoid arthritis. Luckily, she was able to take in the spectacle from the car.
She hadn’t been to the park since her son Josh was 5 years old. Now, he’s 40 and has a 2-year-old daughter, Annabella. With Bella in her stroller, and her grandmother in a wheelchair, the family was grateful for Yellowstone’s accessibility and the opportunity to “get out of dodge,” after a year of COVID quarantine.
Also getting out were four “gals” on a road trip from California. Cameras in hand and cackling with enthusiasm, they took in the view from Artist Point as the sun set directly over Lower Falls. With the 308-foot waterfall still half-shrouded in snow, it was a scene few get to witness in quite that way.
During the winter, the road to that part of the canyon is often inaccessible due to snow, and once things warm up the narrow outlook is so jammed with “artists” it’s hard to celebrate the view.
One couple at the outlook asked News & Guide photographer Kayla Renie to take their photo because she was literally the only other visitor there.
While most folks were pleased with the serenity of a quiet off-season park, rangers said several visitors have gotten grumpy when they hear about all of the road closures.
One key closure is the South Entrance, which typically unites Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Park. While that’s no surprise for most locals, not every tourist does their homework.
And even locals are slightly miffed by the park’s recent decision to close the South Entrance to cyclists until Friday, when it also opened to all car traffic.
Those restrictions render Yellowstone Lake inaccessible, which, though frustrating as an at-the-gate realization, helped some visitors feel a greater sense of satisfaction.
“There’s usually no way to see the whole park in one day,” one reveler from Montgomery, Alabama, said. “At least this way we know we didn’t miss anything.”