Published: October 16th 2008October 3rd 2008
Planning is Key
We begin today with one of our more difficult planning sessions. We have only one day to play with given weather predictions of rain, cold and potential snow within another day or two. We have many options from which to choose but we need to plan wisely so that we don't end up in the same position as last night - driving in Yellowstone, in the dark, without adequate lodging facility in range.
We settle on heading up toward Mammouth Springs and around, then down toward the East Entrance of Yellowstone, heading to Cody where lodging will be plentiful. We decide to set time goals through the day so that we are sure to stay on track. It will be a challenge but we decide we are up for it.
Yellowstone National Park
We are glad we did not backtrack to see Old Faithful in the daylight because we see numerous geysers as we venture north within Yellowstone. We stop at Beryl Spring, water so blue and surrounding rock white with sulpher. We stop to further investigate Norris Geyser Basin. There are more geysers than you can count. Rita investigates the well paved pathways
to see if Jerry wants to investigate via scooter. There is a small rough path at the beginning but then it is well paved after that and goes around for quite some time. His scooter can make the trip, though this will definitely take a lot more time than planned. Rita returns to the car for discussion and find Jerry is already negatively affected by the sulpher smell from all the geysers. We quickly surmise this is not a place to tour at any length. Rita shares the pictures of the short part of the basin she walked to and Jerry is more than satisfied with pictures in this case. We move pretty quickly out of the area. It is not the last geysers we will see but it is the last group of geysers that are so concentrated at one location.
We stop for short periods of time at key viewpoints like the Roaring Mountain where steam shot out of the mountainside. And the Sheepeater Cliff, an interesting lava rock that formed "columnar joints" when cooled hundreds of thousands of years ago. Bighorn Sheep favored the rock formations and thus, the Shoshone Indians named them the "Tukadika" or
"Sheepeaters." It was quite spectacular. Constant changing scenery takes us through areas filled with trees, up and around sheer rock cliffs and next to creeks and rivers too many to name. How they ever built these roads back in the day, we'll never understand. It is a glorious drive.
Mammoth Hot Springs
There are numerous viewpoint pull-outs that begin the Mommoth Springs attraction. We do the Upper Terrace drive, a dazzling natural display of white rock where springs previously came through or still currently running through. It is an extraordinary display of many different types of rock and spring water flow. It was an awesome drive.
There was another major pull-out near the town of Mammoth Springs. There were a couple of people changing to swim suits so we assume that is the area where swimming in the hot springs was allowed. The long man-made boardwalks surrounding this area, leading to a higher terrace, were unfortunately filled with stairs. We did not see any path along the boardwalk geered for wheelchair or scooter travel. So, we stood in amazement of what we could see, satisfied with our imagination of what was on top, where hot steam permeated
the cool air.
As we drive closer to the town of Mammoth Springs, we came across the Liberty Cap, a dormant hot spring cone that just stands there like a mast on a ship. That was followed by bright signs posted all over the place warning not to approach elk. We kept laughing that we would be happy to comply if we even saw any. We had been told by the Rangers back at the West Entrance that the elk were all over Mammoth Springs and to be cautious as it was mating season. We had expected to see them all over the place but had not seen a one since last night. Now, the signs seem to be proof they should be around but still, none in sight. We know we give up some prime animal sighting time by starting late morning but that is just the way it is for us since morning is Jerry's hardest time. Still, given all the reports we received about elk around Mammoth Springs, we certainly expected to see a huge herd somewhere.
We continued into Mammoth for a bio break. As we rounded a curve in the heart of town,
there were what appeared to be crossing guards and national park officers stationed at various points. There were various gatherings of people and then, we saw them. Elk all over the place right there in the heart of Mammoth Springs. The "crossing guards" along with national park officers kept watch over the herd, assuring humans didn't do the human thing and get too close. For the most part, given the time of day we were there, the elk were very quiet, many napping. We went down a couple of side streets and caught a huge, and we mean huge, male elk with a full rack of antlers trying to take a nap between two houses. He seemed to be aware of us taking pictures from our slow moving car. At one point he lifted his head and held it there just long enough as if to say "will 'ya hurry up and take your picture so I can get back to my nap?" We don't think he was really thinking that. Yet, it sure appeared logical to us that he was.
We were right on schedule with getting out of Mammoth Springs. So we fought the urge to stay
and watch the elk herd longer and instead, crossed a magnificent bridge leading to the more eastern side of Yellowstone. We stopped for a couple of extraordinary waterfalls and then, seeing a side gravel road that Jerry knew to be much shorter, he decided we should take it. What a trip! As we pretty much expected from our other unpaved drives, this was not a shorter route but was spectacular. It was a total of six miles. We started at 3:12 and finally finished the six mile short-cut at 3:47. We saw buffalo and one particular beauty that we believe is a mule deer but we aren't positive. We've looked at Internet descriptions of deer and mule deer and can't quite come up with a duplicative picture so aren't absolutely certain it's a deer at all. Whatever it is, it was gorgeous and quite personable when we saw it, posing for us to catch a picture. We spotted the sole petrified tree advertised at Yellowstone. Having been to the National Petrified Forest, this one tree was unremarkable for us.
A few young bighorn sheep graced our presence at one of the waterfall viewpoints. Ironically, at the time, we did
not know we were seeing bighorn sheep as they lacked the big, curled horns of a much older adult. Perusing the Internet a few days later, we noted younger bighorn sheep that matched almost exactly the zoomed picture of the animals that walked just beyond our viewpoint. Guess Rita can no longer say she hasn't see bighorn sheep in the wild. Next time, perhaps she'll recognize them as that when she sees them!
The Hanging Valley Waterfall would be the last true waterfall that we would see. We bypassed the investigation of the Tower area due to time. A lot of Canyon Village was cordoned off due to road repair in progress so that made it easy to keep moving. The last 27 miles to exit Yellowstone at the East Entrance was incredible. We seemed to drive endlessly up toward the sky, finding Grizzly Peak, just short of 10,000 feet. Jerry stepped out of the car to take it all in but alas, no grizzly bears stood waiting for his visit. We did not spend much time at that altitude for obvious reasons. We saw many buffalo at the lower altitudes and even came across a bunch of cars
pulled to the side of the road. Try as we might, we could not see what they were looking at and why there were a group of people who had walked a long ways away from the road. Finally, a photographer explained where we should guide our binoculars. It was an unbelievable sight. There was a pack of wolves, a black bear, and a grizzly bear, all fussing over the same unidentifiable carcass. We saw the black bear gain ground to get to the carcass but then the wolf pack strategically positioned themselves all around and went after the black bear. It fell down an incline and the wolf pack was at the carcass again. We left as the black bear was walking around again, assessing the situation. Our camera could not zoom in to pick up the action. We were satisfied to have been witness to such natural animal behavior. There were also vultures circling ominously above. We assume they have a long wait before the wolves and/or the black bear, and/or the grizzly bear finished enough to let them have any. Hopefully, the people that have ventured what we would consider way, way too close stay safe. If
Rita at Beryl Spring
We really were there together
they don't, we would be the first to say it was the humans, not the animals at fault. As our photographer commented, if the bears or wolves would have decided the people were too close and come after them, those folks wouldn't have had a chance in hell of outrunning any of them. Foolish people.
As we left Yellowstone, we saw more buffalo, a little, lonely fox along the road and the park preparations for winter with very long poles marking the curves of pull-outs. The scenery was absolutely splendid, providing a great wrap-up for our Yellowstone trip. We saw a few more buffalo and then, as we made our way to Cody, Wyoming, our scenery became more southwest red rock type with cows and horses dotting the highways.
Fire Fighters Memorial
A special memorial caught our intention and we were compelled to stop inspite of the time. It was a fire fighter memorial, dedicated to 15 fire fighters who gave the ultimate sacrifice in the August, 1937 Shoshone National Forest wild fire. Anyone who knows Jerry, understands the comradarie that calls fellow fire fighters to stand in respect and honor of fallen colleagues. It was
a somber yet inspiring stop. It is still noticeable that a fire took place here years and years ago but the natural rejuvenation was equally strong. Many who pass by likely would not even recognize such a major fire, claiming fifteen lives, ever occurred. For us, it was a memorable stop.
We had planned for a later arrival into Cody, knowing our schedule would take us into the very late evening. We knew the drive would be much less risky than the one through Yellowstone so late the night before. We would have loved pictures of some of the red rock mountains we passed at dusk and especially a couple of very, very long tunnels right through the rock mountainsides but there was just not enough light to save the pictures we took. The last part of our drive for today would need to remain etched in memory.
The last few days have been very long days and full of activity. We will need to take a break from the daily pack-up and move routine soon. That planning could wait another day. For tonight, we are dog tired.
There are more photos below