Home Away From Home, Montana, National Park

Last Day in Yellowstone

What an exciting morning. As our boys would say, we got up at 0 dark thirty and headed to Lamar Valley via Mammoth. We saw a few elk as we traveled along but little else during our hour ride to Mammoth. Leaving there we continued on to Lamar Valley through Tower-Roosevelt. As soon as we turned toward Lamar Valley at the Tower, we immediately saw a lone bison strolling down the highway. Our cars didn’t seem to bother him a bit as he passed very closely by our car. A little further on we saw another bison taking his morning stroll and then we began to see herds and herds of bison. Now we know where they all are!

As we journeyed on, we saw a crowd of people stopped at a bridge. Several had high magnification scopes so we stopped to see what was so interesting. According to everyone, it was three grizzlies eating on a carcass. We looked through the binoculars and the camera plus someone’s scope. I never saw a thing!

A little further on we saw another group of people stopped so we pulled over. One of the guys said they had been tracking a wolf all morning and they were expecting him to come by. Suddenly someone cried out “there he is” and he was on the other side of the road. I actually saw him loping along. Not only did I see him with the binoculars but also with my naked eye. He was really big!

We continued on down the highway marveling at the number of bison we were seeing. At one point we watched some that appeared to be running from something but we never saw any kind of predator. We finally turned around and bam, we were in our first bison jam and we were the first car. We patiently waited as they sauntered along. The biggest guy just stood in front of our car like he dared us to try to come through. We didn’t move! There were several young calves. Eventually, they moved on by and we were able to proceed. There were bison all up and down the road, some by themselves and some in herds, large and small.

As we rode along, we saw another group of cars pulled off of the side of the road so of course we stopped and jumped out to see what everyone was looking at. It was a bear! He was on the other side of the little stream sitting on the rocks eating. It was a black bear, not a grizzly and he had been tagged.

Next, we hit Mammoth again. We walked into the hotel, used the bathrooms and then went into the gift shop to get the pink cap I had looked at earlier in the week. A quick walk down to the General Store where we got a blueberry muffin. After all, we had been up five hours and it was time for a snack.

I had been looking forward to seeing all of the elk in Mammoth as we saw several on our earlier visit but they must have been still sleeping. We saw none. I had been dreading the drive leaving Mammoth headed to Norris because of the construction we had run into earlier this week. Apparently, the road construction comes to a halt on Saturday because they were not working today. Yea. That was an extra 30-40 minutes subtracted from our road time today.

We finally got to visit Artist Paintpots after two earlier attempts. We were both kind of dragging but we soldiered on. The hike was 1.6 and part boardwalk. The first stop was a boiling mudpot and a boiling spring. It was amazing to stand and watch the seismic activity imagining what lies beneath. We continued up to the overlook and the scene below did indeed look like an artist’s palette. Further up we came to a large mudpot and boy was the mud shooting up. Beware flying mud! It looked like one big muddy hole which I guess it was, only a lot hotter. I could just imagine children enjoying playing in that were it not for the depth and the heat. Within the Artist’s Paintpot were colorful hot springs, mudpots and small geysers. It seems there are geysers all over Yellowstone but we only hear about Old Faithful since it’s predictable.

We continued our trek through the park and decided today was the day to have our picnic along a flowing stream. We found a picnic area on a stream and luckily a free picnic table but when we got out, we realized that it was a little chilly and windy for a picnic on the water. Obviously, we had a quick lunch. One of our earlier plans had been to stop by a stream and put our feet in the water. In fact, I had put a towel in the car for that purpose. Well, it was just too cold to do it. Instead, we used the towel as a tablecloth.

We wanted to get a short visit to West Thumb Geyser Basin so that was our next stop. West Thumb is on the Yellowstone Lake and is the largest geyser basins on the shores of the lake. West Thumb is still thermally active and we saw hot springs, mudpots and geysers steam and percolate along the shore. In fact, one geyser was called Percolate. One of the more interesting features was Fishing Cone, a hot spring. Old tales talk of fishermen catching a trout in the lake and then swinging it around to the spring with the end result a boiled fish!

After the hike around the lake we decided to head on back to the campground. We were planning on one stop at Black Sand Basin. Black obsidian or “sand” gives the basin its name. The oranges, greens and other colors in and around the hot springs come from the thermophiles. The colors were so vibrant especially a bright yellow that we hadn’t seen anywhere else. As soon as we walked up the Cliff geyser erupted. What a sight to see.

The steam almost covered the geyser!
We were on the way back but decided we could drive to Firehole Lake Drive. We thought we were going to take a nice simple drive. How surprised we were when we realized that there were many cars and people lined up around a geyser. We snagged a parking place and walked over to see what was going on. We knew it wasn’t an animal despite the attraction. It was actually a geyser, The Great Fountain and they were expecting it to erupt any minute. A couple we talked with had been waiting for three hours. While we were waiting for the Great Fountain, we saw a smaller, yet still significant geyser, the White Dome erupt and then the Great Fountain began erupting. What a sight to see. It was amazing to see the water fill the area around the geyser plus we got sprinkled as we watched through the tremendous steam. It lasted several minutes.

What a wonderful way to end our time at Yellowstone National Park! We drug our tired selves back to the RV after a twelve-hour day. Tomorrow, the Tetons!