May 2 2011 by Karla Henriquez
"Yellowstone in May? Isn't it under two feet of snow?" That's what I responded when my husband first suggested going to Yellowstone for Mother's Day. Luckily, he persevered and we packed up our four kids along with my in-laws, for one of the most memorable trips we've taken. Amazing animal sightings, crisp clear vistas, and a wonderful feeling of solitude were our reward.
Although the upper elevations of the park still had several feet of snow, by May, the lower Lamar and Hayden valleys as well as Mammoth Hot Spring had warmed up and had very little snow. Ironically, the high elevation snow pushes all the animals down into these areas of the Park, so animal sightings are more common.
Instead of lines of traffic, there was a feeling of having the whole place to ourselves, and we did. Most of the snowmobilers had gone home but the summer crowds hadn't descended yet. The air was crisp and clear and all the newborn babies were completely adorable.
So what can you look forward to? The easiest way to guarantee sighting wolves in the wild is to find out where this year's wolf dens have been sighted. We all loved watching the new wolf pups cavorting in front of the den. It was thrilling to see them pop in and out through our binoculars and to see the adults interacting with the pups. The only traffic jam all trip what when a herd of bison formed a circle in the road, all facing outward, so one of the cows could drop her calf. We watched for almost an hour as she licked the afterbirth from the newborn, helped him stand and then moved off with the rest of herd to a warm spot in a thermal area.
The animal sightings just kept coming. Bald Eagles were easy to spot as they nested right off the road along the Madison River. We saw a grizzly scavenging a winter carcass under a bridge and watched several black bears with cubs moving along hillsides. The most amazing sight was of two adult wolves 30 yards off the road in the Lamar Valley.
To top it off, the geothermal features of the park looked especially dramatic as the steam billowed off into the cooler air. Banks of snow were a picturesque juxtaposition for the fumaroles and mud pots of the Norris Geyser Basin.
Mammoth Hot Springs felt wonderful in the cooler spring weather and Old Faithful erupted right on time, staging a show for just a couple dozen of us instead of the normal crowds of hundreds. The visitor centers felt accessible and the park rangers had lots of time to chat or answer the kids' questions.
Logistically, West Yellowstone and Gardiner provide easy access to Yellowstone Park and have many hotel options. We stayed at the BEST WESTERN Desert Inn, just outside the West Park entrance. It was easy to come and go and the staff at the hotel was exceptionally helpful. My kids loved the free breakfast which even included French toast and biscuits and gravy, a real treat for them. The heated indoor pool at the end of the day was a great place to relax and unwind. All in all, Yellowstone in May was fantastic.