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!

Home Away From Home, Montana, National Park

Hiking in the Canyon

We headed for the Canyon area this morning and our first stop was the Visitor’s Center. It was a very different center in that it seemed to focus on the volcanic activity more than the geysers. We did get to see the 9,000-pound globe that showed the hot spots in the world. Just by touching it you could move the globe in a different direction.

Our first stop was Lookout Point. We walked down to the observation point where we could have a clear, though distant view of the Upper Falls. They were so beautiful and powerful that against our better judgment we decided to take the Red Rock Trail. It descends about 600 feet and the path is a little rocky at times. But the end result was so worth it. What majesty and power we observed as the falls rushed down the mountain. We took a lot of breaks going back up and in spite of Jerry’s doubts, we made it.

Our next stop was the trailhead for Inspiration Point. Now, in all honesty, I must admit that if we had known that we could have driven just a little bit further and arrived at Inspiration Point we probably would have done that. Instead, we took the trail. After we’d walked just a short distance, I told Jerry it should be called Inspiration Points – with an “s” because there were several spots that had breathtaking views. We continued walking and entered into a forested area. I was feeling really assured because I knew that for once we had the bear spray. Wrong! Jerry had the holster for the bear spray but he had taken the spray out and forgotten to put it back in. Oh well, I just kept making noise. The bonus was smelling the wonderful firs along the way. It smelled just like Christmas.

We finally made it to Inspiration Point after a somewhat rocky path to the overlook. The views at Inspiration Point were indeed worth the hike. Again, we saw the majestic falls tumbling down to the viciously bubbling stream below. We then realized that some of the people we had seen on the trail were only hiking one way with someone in their party picking them up at the end. No such luck for us. We turned around and headed back to the car. Interestingly, neither of us thought the hike out was nearly as far plus it was a lot more pleasant. It took us about 30 minutes.

We returned to the Visitor’s Center and in lieu of a vacant picnic table, we had our lunch in the car – again! We rolled down the windows and there was a very nice cool breeze.

Since we were on a deadline to return to the campground, we decided to ride into Hayden Valley to see if we saw any animals. Suddenly we saw a great many cars parked but couldn’t determine what everyone was looking at. People had chairs set up and some had a long-distance lens. We parked and as we were getting out of the car someone asked if we wanted to know what we were looking for. Certainly, because it surely wasn’t obvious. It was a bear eating a dead bison! With the binoculars, I could barely make it out and only saw the rump of the bison and the bear’s head. It didn’t take too long to decide that we had seen enough.

That was the end of our touring for the day as we had dinner plans for the evening. Our older son Trent had arranged for us to have dinner at the posh Spanish Peaks Clubhouse in Big Sky. It was only 47 miles away but took longer than an hour due to some mountainous roads near Spanish Peaks. It is called “Peaks” for a reason. Our dinner was delicious. Jerry had an elk chop and I had a petit filet. We topped it off with a yummy dessert of flourless chocolate cake and ice cream cover with crunchies and caramel sauce. Wow, I was hoping that the button on my jeans didn’t fly off and hit someone across the room. After dinner, we walked out on the deck to look at the beautiful surrounding. Marring the view but still beautiful in its own right was a crane being used for building. It was boasting an American flag and a Montana flag. Both were floating gently in the wind.

We stopped for gas before we left Big Sky as it is less expensive than in west Yellowstone and we knew we’d be driving a lot tomorrow. The road back to West Yellowstone was desolate, to say the least. We met a few cars but saw none going our way. There was no cell service so if there was a problem we were on our own. Jerry spotted two deer on our way back and despite the warnings, we didn’t see any other wildlife.

Home Away From Home, Montana

Mammoth Hot Springs and Norris Basin

Leaving really early is just not in our list of possibilities. Of course, I slept later today too so we ended up leaving a little after 8:00 and then had to stop for gas but really to clean the windshield so we could see the beautiful things ahead of us today.

As we traveled through the park on the way to Mammoth Hot Springs, we passed numerous fumaroles. A fumarole or steam vent is the hottest hydrothermal feature in the park. A small amount of water in fumaroles flashes into steam before it reaches the surface. They are easiest to see in cool weather and today with a temperature of 35 this morning we were blessed with being able to see quite a few. When we passed Terrace Spring steam was on both sides of the road and then just before we reached Beryl Spring the sky was covered with steam and it was rising. It looked like a huge sauna.

We continued on through Madison and headed toward Mammoth. Again, we encountered more steam. Just before we got to Clearwater Springs the entire side of the mountain had steam rising. We had earlier decided that we wouldn’t stop anywhere but would go directly to Mammoth but we had a change of heart when we saw the volumes of steam rising. What a sight to see.

And then we ran into construction! We were one of many in a long line of traffic that was not moving either way. Just a 30-40-minute delay while they worked on repairing the roads.

We had been advised to drive to Upper Terrace and hike down to Lower Terrace so that’s what we did. The parking lots were jammed but we luckily found a small place to pull the Jeep in. The Hot Springs are amazing, otherworldly, and beyond description. I mentioned that it looked like the land that was forgotten. With cascades of waters streaming down the mountainous rock, it looked surreal. The water is heated deep underground and then rises to the surface. As it rises it penetrates through limestone, dissolving calcium carbonate. Above ground, the travertine terraces are formed. Underground channels sometimes shift or clog causing the water to change course. When that happens springs may slow down or stop thus it is an everchanging landscape.

We walked along the boardwalk in amazement focusing on the various bright colors, some earth colors and some vivid greens and blues. There wasn’t much wind this morning but apparently, it had been windy sometime earlier. We saw several hats in restricted areas.

When we got to the bottom we walked into Mammoth and stopped in a couple of stores. Then we turned around and started the trek back up to the car. Near the beginning to the walk up was the Liberty Cap, a dormant hot spring cone. It stood as a sentinel all alone.

As we were walking someone mentioned that there were elk in a meadow below us so we walked down there and sure enough we saw about seven elk grazing and ignoring the people. All of the elk except one crossed the road while the other one seemed to almost disappear. We returned to the boardwalk to continue our climb and suddenly there she was, right beside the boardwalk.

The walk back up was exhausting whether from the altitude or the climb. We had to stop a couple of times to catch our breath. We chatted with a nice gentleman from France who offered to take our picture. He even offered me some water.

We finally made it to the car and drove into town hoping to find a nice place for our picnic. Parking was at a premium and when we finally found one it was pretty far from the picnic area so again, we ate in the car with air condition.

After lunch, we went to the Visitor’s Center. It was quite a busy place. Since it’s near the North Entrance I would guess some people were in there getting ideas.

Next, we walked to the Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel. Our main interest was in the Map Room which contains a large wooden map of the United States constructed out of 15 different blocks of wood from nine countries. We found North Carolina which was made from walnut. We walked in the gift shop but didn’t make a purchase. We went outside the hotel and sat down just to rest a bit and began talking to some other RVers. They are on a Fantasy Tour visiting some of the same stops we have visited.

We continued our stroll in the town returning to the gift shop and there right next to the sidewalk was an elk. We were really too close to her but our choice was an elk or moving cars. We hurried on by.

As we left Mammoth our intention was the Norris Basin but we remembered that yesterday as we passed by there on our way in, the parking lot was full and cars were parked down both sides of the highway in both directions. I really doubted we’d get in but we did and found a parking place in the parking area very near the trail.

The Norris area is described as “a world of heat and gases where microorganism live in such massive numbers they add color to the landscape”. The area is on the edge of a giant volcano, the Yellowstone Volcano, which is one of the largest on earth. And why were we there?

There were two loop trails, the Back Basin Trail and the Porcelain Basin Trail. We started out of the Back-Basin Trail which had a surprising number of steaming geysers and hot springs. There was a very prevalent odor of sulfur.

Our first stop was at Emerald Spring, a beautiful clear pool. “A hot spring’s color often indicates the presence of minerals. In a clear blue pool, the water is absorbing all colors of sunlight except one, blue, which is reflected back to our eyes. The 27-foot deep pool is lined with yellow sulfur deposits. The yellow color from the sulfur combines with the reflected blue light, making the hot spring appear a magnificent emerald green.” We are still amazed at the vibrant colors we see in all of the hot springs and the springs are very prevalent on the Back-Basin Trail.

The two most popular geysers in Back-Basin are Steamboat Geyser which is the tallest geyser in the world at 300-400 feet and Echinus Geyser. Both are acidic geysers which are very rare. We didn’t get to see either erupt although Steamboat was due.

We continued on the trail and were nearly done when Jerry saw the sign pointing to Porcelain Basin. As tired as we were we knew we wouldn’t get back to see these oddities again so we soldiered on. We followed the boardwalk around and through the basin which is totally devoid of trees. It again looked like a forgotten barren land.

As we continued on the boardwalk we saw some people along with a ranger stopping by a small geyser. The ranger told us that it was due to erupt in about 15 minutes so we waited – and waited! It did finally erupt and was amazing. We were so close to it! The ranger advised guarding our phone screens, sunglasses and camera lens as the acidic water and steam would etch them. We could actually feel the water from the steam.

Another long day and an even longer ride back to the campground as we ran into an elk jam. We just waited patiently and ate potato chips!