The race was on!

I woke my daughter up at 4:30 a.m., and within 15 minutes we were out of our hotel in Idaho Falls and racing north toward West Yellowstone, Mont., the west entrance to Yellowstone National Park, out ultimate destination.

After exploring Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve, we’d done the bulk of our shopping for camping at Yellowstone after reaching Idaho Falls the day before.

The big issue that morning: camping at many campgrounds inside Yellowstone are first-come, first served.

The National Park Service has a handy app I’d come across, with updates on individual park information, including a breakdown of all the campgrounds, whether they had spots available, and when they’d each filled up or the day.

I’d targeted Norris Campground as our likely place to find a campsite. It hadn’t filled the day before until 10:30 a.m., and was centrally located for exploring the huge national park.

So we left Idaho Falls in the pitch dark and sped north, and were at the west entrance a little after 7 a.m.

Excitement over being back at Yellowstone, which I hadn’t visited since I was a kid, was overshadowed by stress to secure a campsite.

We enjoyed the beauty along the Madison River as we headed east to Norris, but getting a campsite was the priority.

We pulled into Norris an hour later, and found a long line of cars waiting for the campground to open up.

One man heading back to his van said the park rangers at the gate estimated the campground would fill quickly. So without wasting time, we headed north to Indian Creek Campground, which hadn’t filled until mid-morning the day before, in hopes of grabbing a spot.

We weren’t the only ones with that plan, and joined a line of cars at Indian Creek looking for a spot. Each was given a tag, which the rangers assured us of a campsite and, after two hours of nervous waiting, we finally got our campsite.

Relief replaced the stress I’d felt since leaving Idaho Falls. Without a campsite, we’d have had to stay outside the park, which would take longer to explore the plethora of sights to see in Yellowstone each day.

So we set up our tent, unloaded our camping equipment, and then I surprised Madi with a purchase made just for this trip: a new hammock.

We had a perfect place for the hammock between two trees, and soon Madi was swinging her way into a nap in the afternoon sun.

We relaxed for awhile, and then got serious about camping in Yellowstone.

No food was to be left outside the car or bear-proof container located at each campsite, signs everywhere warned.

Bears are common in Yellowstone, with the camp hosts located just across from our site relating a story of a grizzly meandering down the road in front of our site two weeks before.

Bears are attracted by any food items, and I didn’t want a visit as we slept in our tent!

After setting up our site and putting anything that might attract wildlife in the container, I rousted Madi from the hammock and we headed 10 miles north to Mammoth Hot Springs, one of the more popular attractions at Yellowstone.

The old Fort Yellowstone, stores, a hotel and the Mammoth Hot Springs Campground are located near the north entrance to Yellowstone.

We were there to see the upper terraces above the populated area, which feature formations from deposits of calcium carbonate the hot springs leave behind.

This was one of the places I remembered from visiting Yellowstone as a kid.

We drove the upper terraces, and were fortunate enough to find a parking place so we could walk the immense length of boardwalks around the area.

That’s another rule of Yellowstone: if there are boardwalks, stay on them!

The hot springs, geysers and mud pots in the park are exceedingly hot, and stories are all too common about visitors leaving the boardwalks, falling into one of the springs and disappearing forever.

A couple mentions of those occasions and Madi Rose wasn’t about to leave any boardwalk!

The visit to Mammoth was a great addition to our first day in Yellowstone, but we weren’t done yet.

On the way back to Indian Creek, we took a short sidetrip to Sheepeater Cliff along the Gardiner River.

This formation of columnar basalt was so named in 1879 by superintendent Philetus Norris for a band of Eastern Shoshone called the Tukuaduka (sheep eater) that resided in the area.

Yellow-bellied marmots make the rocks beneath the cliff home, and their shrill voices could be heard as we walked the area.

We cooled off in the Gardiner River, keeping our bear spray with us in case of a run-in, and then headed back to camp for the evening.

The next day, we could get down to exploring more of the magnificence of Yellowstone.

Bret Rankin can be reached at or 509-526-8316.

Bret Rankin can be reached at or 509-526-8316.

Bret Rankin graduated from Western Washington University, and after reporting and editing at several newspapers in western Washington, he joined the Union-Bulletin in 1999 as a sports reporter/copy editor. He has been sports editor since 2010.