We made it to Yellowstone today, and not just to the border or some easy to get to spot from Billings — we went all the way to Old Faithful, saw an eruption, and went back to Billings. I highly suggest others take more time and not spend over 11 hours in the car to make this trip.
My in-laws made it out to Billings late Friday night (the whole reason for this trip was a wedding on Sunday — there were some 20 people from Evelin's branch of the family coming out from various East Coast points), so we met up with them and tried to figure out what we wanted to do that day. After a bit of talking (and an inopportune nap on Celeste's part), we headed off to Yellowstone around 10:00 a.m.
We were making good time when we stopped in Red Lodge for some film and to visit the Montana Candy Emporium. As we got back on the road headed for the Northeast Entrance via the Beartooth Highway, we quickly discovered that the road is washed out about 12 miles past Red Lodge. (The Billings Gazette had a good article on the engineering going into the reconstruction on page 1 of Sunday's paper, a day too late for us.)
Looking at the detour route, what that would mean for when we'd get there, and where Old Faithful is in the park, we decided to try to limit the detour to two-and-a-half hours by going through Cody, Wyoming. We didn't stop at the Buffalo Bill Historical Center or the Buffalo Bill Dam (although both look worth a visit), but we did take a short diaper-changing break along the Shoshone River above the reservoir.
We made it to the east entrance of Yellowstone around 2:30 p.m., which is about what we expected given the change in route, and struck out for Old Faithful only to discover that the road from the east entrance to the lake is also under heavy construction. It could have been a lot worse, but it did slow us down.
After a stop at Lake Yellowstone, we made it to Old Faithful [NPS webcam] not too long after an eruption and with about 45 minutes to wait for the next one. Celeste was doing a lot of walking holding on to fingers at this point, enjoying being out of her carseat immensely up to the point where she slipped and fell hitting her head. It turned out to be a really good forehead bruise and a small cut, but she was okay after Evelin and M--- (my mother in law) took her into the lodge to wash off. We next walked around Geyser Hill and saw a few little eruptions/events up there before heading back down to get a spot to watch the eruption.
It was pretty cool (even though I was one of many watching things at least partially through a viewfinder), although there were a few false starts before the full eruption hit. I got some pictures so when Celeste is 10 and says she wants to see Old Faithful, I can tell her "You've already seen it."
After the eruption we got back on the road (Celeste was less than thrilled to see her carseat again) and headed to the north entrance. We figured the quickest way back to Billings would be to head out through Gardenier, Montana, and to pick up I-90 at Livingston.
I'm sure part of it was because we were just driving the main roads, but we didn't see too much wildlife in the park: a few mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus), some white-tail deer (Odocoileus virginianus), two elk/wapiti (Cervus elaphus) resting in a marshy area, and a few cranes of somesort, maybe sandhills (Grus canadensis). I think we also saw a pronghorn antelope (Antilocapra americana) or two, but I'm not 100% certain of that.
Celeste woke soon after we left the park (actually while we were circling back around so that M--- could get a photo of the old north gate), so we stopped at the Park Street Grill & Café in Gardiner for dinner. The food was really good, Celeste had a good time, and I got to try a Trout Slayer ale and a Teton Ale. The Trout Slayer was little lighter, but I liked the Teton a lot.
Everyone was too full for dessert, so we headed back on the road, making it home with no incidents. We did, however, see some pretty good fireworks as we were passing near Big Timber or Columbus or somewhere. We finally made it back to the hotel around 11:00 p.m.