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4:00 AM, in the serenity of Grant Campground, Yellowstone National Park, my iPhone started blaring its alarm tone. My eyes shot open and I began patting down all my pockets in a desperate attempt to find my phone in order to turn the alarm off.
Tranquillity returned to the campground. Stumbling out of my hammock, I wrapped an old airplane blanket around my shoulders and shuffled off to the restrooms in my sandals. I'd slept with my toothbrush and toothpaste in my pocket for ease, so I would have to open the metal 'bear-proof' storage box, which would have been a bit too noisy for 4 AM. After having cleaned my teeth and had a 5-minute wash in the sink, I said good morning to my fellow travellers.
All of us, tired and struggling to come to terms with quite how early it was, we got ourselves in the van by 4:30 AM. Each of us were armed with a granola bar, a piece of fruit and water. Setting off down Grand Loop Road, with an easy going folk playlist playing, it wasn't long until we saw the silhouettes of elk dotted along the side of the road. Slowing down, I rolled my window down and leaned out to see the grazing animals.
One of them looked at me curiously from ahead, slightly dazzled by the lone van that was cruising along the empty road. Yellowstone at dawn is almost totally different in comparison to Yellowstone at lunchtime. It was mid-July: a crisp, misty morning. I think I only saw around four or five cars on the road.
As we ventured on through Hayden Valley, the mist hung low and the bison were awake. They and their calf greeted us with deep grunts of approval. Calves pestered their mother's for some morning milk and some of the big males grunted at their families to be wary of the visitors (us). After around a 45-minute drive northbound up Hayden Valley, we ventured to Artist's Point. I think I can safely say that the best time to visit this part of the park is during sunrise or sunset.
The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone really comes alive when cloaked in the light of the brilliant orange morning sun. The deep rouge colour the shades some of the rock is revealed and the lush green of surrounding forests is converted to a fire-like shade of orange. I whispered a gentle salutation to the nature photographers who were set up with copious amounts of what I assume was expensive camera gear. It must have been around 5 AM by now. I wasn't really checking the time, if I'm honest it felt as if time stood still that morning.
It was a breath-taking moment, as the sun illuminated the canyon and rose in all its glory. It gave a new meaning to the phrase 'golden hour'.
Attempts to capture the experience...
After the glorious sunrise at Artist's Point, it was time for some hard work. A hike. We drove up to a starting point for the 6-mile hike up to the fire tower that stands at around 10,000 feet atop Mt. Washburn. This trail is excellent for wildlife and also a chance to see some of the snow that remained from America's excellent spring snowfall.
Once at the top of Mt. Washburn there was a definite 'top of the world' feeling as I looked out and ate my banana. Whilst sitting at the summit a curious chipmunk ran along the wall, right up to me and then continued down the wall.
As well as a chipmunk, I also saw lazy yellow-bellied marmots relaxing on various rocks and stone. Not only that, but there were various pikas seen darting around, they seem like very nervous little animals though, not interested in human encounters. After this morning hike, it wasn't even time for lunch.
I think, if I remember rightly, that it was only 10:30 or 11 AM. Plodding back to the van we decided to head to the section of Yellowstone in Montana. The afternoon was spent lazing in the Boiling River and soaking up the sun after a very early start that was more than worth it!