By: Henry WILson
In June 2021, my family of five took the quintessential (I.e very popular and crowded) summer vacation to Yellowstone National Park. The Park has five entrances allowing access to the almost 3500 square miles of unspoiled natural beauty. While the varied topography and nature alone is spectacular and worth exploring via the many hiking trails and roads that traverse the park, our family’s excitement was for the animals we hoped to see in their natural habitat.
While visitors can drive through Yellowstone’s Lamar Valley and probably see their fill of elk, pronghorns, and bison, other animals, such as wolves, goats, sheep, black bears and grizzly bears, remain elusive, especially through the naked eye. Because we wanted to maximize our experience, to include seeing these animals and learning more about the park itself, we placed a call to Mike Skelton. Mike owns Yellowstone Wonders, one of several nature guide companies operating in the park. Luckily for us, we were able to secure him for our trip.
Our day started early, with a 5:00 am wakeup call and a 5:30 am pick-up at our front door of our hotel in Gardiner, Montana, conveniently located a stone’s throw from the North Entrance of the park. Mike was ready to go, prepared for an 8-hour tour, and that energy never waned throughout the day.
As he drove us through the park, we learned Mike left his home and career in Dallas, Texas in order to live near, and work in, the park. MikNe had loved Yellowstone since his youth when images of the park’s grandeur made their way through his TV via the magic of Walt Disney’s nature films.
I believe he made the right choice. Mike took us through Lamar Valley (the Serengeti of North America), Mammoth Hot Springs, and other locations while giving us a detailed description of everything we were seeing. Mike had an encyclopedic knowledge of the park and answered every question thrown at him, including ones I had that sounded silly as they crossed my lips (“Why don’t bears get food poisoning after eating an elk for eight days straight?”). Even a stop at the restrooms was accompanied by a story of how and why the swallows flying by us were building their nest under the building’s overhanging roof.
While it isn’t cost prohibitive, an 8-hour tour will run in the $570-$770 range. It was well worth it for our family in order to have someone else driving who could explain the sights before you, the park’s history, and knew where and when to look for the hard-to-find animals (we spotted bears, a wolf, and a mountain goat with her kid that we likely would have missed without his guidance, and the binoculars and spotting scopes Mike provided). Additionally, Mike provided several excellent recommendations for where to go to maximize our solo trips into the park later in the week based on our individual interests, such as hiking, geysers, and stargazing.
Additionally, Mike was great (and patient) with our grade school-aged kids. After our vacation was over, when asked what they liked the most, each of them said the nature tour with Yellowstone Wonders.
If you are planning your trip to “America’s First and Best National Park”, check out www.yellowstonewonders.com to get on their calendar, it will be a park experience you won’t forget!
About the Author: Henry Wilson is an avid runner and founder of Coyote Chase Running Company. Join the Coyote Chase Running Company’s FB Group for running tips and motivation.
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