Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming & Montana - 13 to 19 June 2014 (Part Two)

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July 20th 2014
Published: August 2nd 2014
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I continue this blog with part two of our travels around Yellowstone National Park it is such a huge park that I have split it into two blogs. On our way back to our campsite at West Yellowstone which is actually in Montana whilst Yellowstone itself is in Wyoming we again came across a queue of traffic - but this time we managed to pull off the road and head down to the river where we got our fist glimpse of a huge Grizzly Bear. A few people were heading back to their cars as we arrived as they said it was such a long way off across the river that they could not see it - luckily with our new lens and Paul's binoculars we managed to see and get a distant shot.

This large bear was foraging for food - ripping apart giant rotten logs and turning over heavy stones in the search for insects or their larvae across the river from where we watched - probably a good place to be - for us that is! The grizzly is North America's largest omnivore (eats both plants and animals), but about 85%!o(MISSING)f its food is green vegetation, wild fruits and berries, nuts, and bulbs or roots of certain plants. Grizzlies also eat a great deal of insect as this one was, sometimes the remaining percentage of food they consume is meat but that mostly comes from animal carcasses, or carrion, of big game animals. However it will sometimes prey on live elk or moose calves or some smaller mammals. The grizzlies along the west coast of Canada and in Alaska have salmon to feast on which is an important food source but in Yellowstone spawning trout also plays a crucial role in the diets of some of the bears. Getting back to our parked vehicle was not such an easy task as we had to wade through some deep swamp waters along the river bank - we had somehow edged closer to the grizzly bear and got deeper into a swamp area.. … …I ended up with wet socks and boots but it was so worth it to get a long distant view of this iconic animal without the fear of being eaten as there was a raging river between us.........

So we spent our last night in West Yellowstone, but were really pleased as we had managed to get a site at Madison Campground which would mean that we would not have to travel all the way out of the park each day and give us more time close by.

We had been getting low on our cooking gas which our two burner Coleman Stove used. We did have two spare canisters of Colemans gas but alas both of these would not attach themselves to the stove connection tube - due to a poor thread. We tried everywhere to get a different ‘make’ without success, so we were hoping that the bottle we had would last (they usually last about 4 days), before we could find another supplier - otherwise we would probably be going very hungry … … …and Paul would not be able to partake of his early morning coffee........

The next day we decided to head north to Mammouth Hot Springs even though there were roadworks along the way with warnings of major delays. Luckily the ‘hold up’ was not too long. However the weather was not that good and after travelling across a relatively flat plateau we suddenly started to descend steeply into Mammouth. With the poor visibility it was a bit daunting as we were unable to see very far in front of us but we finally pulled into the visitor centre at the bottom of the steep road and sat in the car waiting for the torrential rain to ease so that we could get out of the car. It didn’t stop so we made a mad dash for the entrance and were soaked before we even got inside - we hung around inside to dry out before we moved on luckily there was some interesting information to read up on about the area! A lull in the rain a while later enabled us to park up and have lunch before walking around the Hot Springs - the sun even poked it’s head out a couple of times but did not want to linger.........

For hundreds of years, Shoshone and Bannock tribes collected minerals from Mammoth Hot Springs to make white paint. These minerals contribute to the beautiful terrace structures, along with heat, a natural ‘plumbing’ system, water and of course the mix of limestone. As we walked along a boardwalk trail the terraces were like a multi layered wedding cake with icing oozing down the sides. Even with the really poor light and rain showers these stone terraces were a delight to see, although the main viewing area was quite crowded with us tourists!

On the way ‘home’ we stopped near the roadworks as there had just been a sighting of a couple of grizzlies but they had disappeared before we could see them - shame. At a couple of other lookout places; Artist Paintpots and Gibbon Falls the weather was still very unkind and we did not meander too long at either of these delightful locations which was a shame as the colours would have been great if the weather would just give us a little break. We arrive back at Madison Campground cold and very wet so had supper and took an early night crawling quickly under the quilt to get a little warmth………………….. another wet and cold night followed so we were glad to move on.

We were lucky and had managed to secure another night in Yellowstone - still hoping for some better weather, ever optimistic us Brits. Our next stop was the Canyon Campground so we were able to continue our travels around YSNP for a little while longer.

On the way we stopped at Norris Geyser Basin, which we had briefly visited on our first day in the NP. Even with this awful weather we have come a long way so still wanted to hike the trails so we had to ‘don’ our wet weather gear and head out and make the most of it. Like elsewhere the geysers in here all have their own unique names, some quite appropriate to the sounds that they make - you could hear some that hissed, some that gave a bell like ring, some just a puff, whilst others seemed to roar. You could also sense and hear the hot lava bubbling beneath your feet under the earth surface………. Names like Whirligig Geyser, that had a chugging sound that a back vent made during its eruptions and Cistern Spring which was connected to Steamboat Geyser - you can guess the sound of this one.

After an eruption Steamboat’s cistern drains and has formed some pretty terraces which could be seen on the north side of the pool. Then there was Constant Geyser, Veteran Geyser and aptly named Porkchop which exploded in the late 80s and the blast blew a multitude of rocks up to 220 feet away. We could still see these giant rocks that it had upended all around its crater rim waiting for the next massive eruption to move again. Although the geyser is now inactive and you can only see a gently boiling pool - but who knows what it will be like tomorrow.

We also saw Emerald Spring a 27 foot deep green coloured pool which usually stays just a few degrees below boiling point. It was indeed awe inspiring wandering around all these thermal pools with water bubbling non stop and not knowing what was going to happen next.

We had met a local family a while ago who said that their favourite geyser in Yellowstone had always been Echinus Geyser, so we had been looking forward to seeing this one. Apparently it was the most predictable one in Norris until recently - now it was being described as fairly weak and erratic. However prior to its slow down its maximum height was about 125 feet now that would have been good to see. Unlike most geysers in Yellowstone and around the world, which tend to be alkaline in nature, Echinus, along with most of the other thermal features at Norris Geyser Basin were acidic in nature - the water in Echinus is reportedly about as acidic as lemon juice!

We hiked on over a stark, barren landscape, the milky colour of the minerals deposited here inspired the apt name of Porcelain Basin. This is the fastest changing area in Norris Geyser Basin with water fluctuations and seismic activity often changing the features very quickly - the result of an acidic environment as mentioned above. The views all around us looked like we were in the middle of a deadly war zone and we could not wait to get out. It's hard to imagine a setting more volatile than Norris which is part of one of the world's largest active volcanos and one of the hottest and most dynamic of Yellowstone's hydrothermal areas. Many hot springs and fumaroles have temperatures above the boiling point here. Even with all the bad weather this is definitely worth a stop if you are in the area so much to see and an ever changing vista so we will have to come back some when in the future.

We left Norris and stopped again at several viewpoints along the Hayden Valley which we had passed a few days ago. The Hayden Valley has lots of little lay-bys you can pull into to take a look at the views out over the lake, grasslands and up into the rimming forest areas. A chap we met had just seen a couple of Grizzlies but they had disappeared into the forest and we did not see them even though we waited a while before we got so cold that we had to get back into our van to warm up and move on. We did notice that his wife was sat in the warm van all the time whilst he stood out with his spotting cope hoping to get a glimpse of these bears again - a very hardy chap.

We continued to Mud Volcano as Paul could not remember us visiting it a few days ago when we entered the park - he must be getting old……. If you have read our blog you will remember our visit here………….We warmed up around one of the thermal pools before hiking up the trail. We were pleased we did because as we were returning to the van a couple of bison blocked our path so we stopped and waited for them to clear the trail before we continued on. Back on the trail when they had passed by and just a few steps later we were surrounded by a huge herd - right in front of us and heading down towards Mud Volcano, our destination and where our van was parked……….

A couple of the large males headed forward into the mud and some of the older bison followed - their legs and hooves buried deep in the warm mud - one had his face covered in the wet mud and looked quite bizarre, another had a green pine leaf sticky out of its ear but they were content and happy with their wallowing……….… A Ranger appeared and got ‘the gathering crowd’ to move back as we were only a few feet away from the bison - they had managed to angle themselves in front of where we should have been standing to view the mud pools. You are supposed to keep 25 feet between you and them but they obviously did not need to keep the same distance from us! As we edged backwards into the carpark a couple of females started moving the same way so we were literally surrounded by them. It took ages for the herd to wander off and then the last couple of stragglers that had wandered into the carpark realised that they were alone and gathering pace heading off to follow the rest of the herd to gather ‘herd’ over the nearby hills but in the meantime we got some lovely close up views.

We arrived at our campsite in Canyon Village which is set within the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River. The views here express the geographic history in dramatic colours and shapes and everyone we had met said that we should not miss the area and the hike to the Waterfalls. The highest plunge type waterfall in the park is the Lower Falls at 308 feet and is the second most photographed spot in Yellowstone, with Old Faithful being the first. The Upper Falls flows over similar rocks but is a mere 109 feet. There were numerous lookout views from Inspiration Point, Grandview Point, Lookout Point and Artists Point, most of which required only a short walk but some a slightly longer one. The added bonus though was the colourful canyon walls that framed the falls from many different angles, although the drop offs were a little bit daunting.

That night we were getting really cold in the van so put on a few extra layers - how we longed for some warmth (although we did not wish to be back in Death Valley!) Paul even located his beanie hat in case he had to make a dash for the loo in the night……. After a very cold sleepless night we awoke to see freezing snow falling - this had settled on the top of the van and the surrounding forest. It looked really pretty though with the pine trees and fallen logs all coated in snow but we just wished it would warm up a little bit ………it is supposed to be summer..........

We called in at Canyon Village Visitor Centre the next morning and asked the Rangers about the roads north to Tower-Roosevelt as we wished to head northeast the next day. He informed us that the roads would be poor because of the mountain range pass we would have to cross with an elevation of over 10000 feet. We were currently at an elevation of about 8500 feet, so we decided not it was probably not a good thing to go even higher. Instead we chose to hike around the Canyon and it was fortunate that we did as the north east road had to be close because of the late snowfall.

We set off to hike the Clear Lake Trail from Uncle Tom’s Point parking area. It was early morning and there was no-one else around and it was such a stunning hike with many different terrains. The trail took us through a large rolling meadows with views over the mountains before heading into some thick forests where the floor was coated in yellow flowers - so pretty. There was a lot of water around and the ground was quite soggy so we had to keep wandering off the trail a little bit to try and keep our feet dry.

As we trekked through a woodland area it started to snow again and we startled a massive male Elk which was emerging from the forest - it made us ‘jump’ as well as it was so close! We were making a noise as we were in ‘bear country’ and the rangers told us to sing if we walked through enclosed areas - we did tell him that we could not sing, he said he was sure that the bears were ‘tone deaf’ … … I think the Elk got a bit of a shock though………… Both our daughters, Sharon and Kerry always avoid standing next to us if we are ‘singing’!!!! sorry, Elaine in Lymington, UK I do not think we will be able to join your choir or yours in Australia Bronwyn……

The snow continued as we approached the first lake and we saw ‘steam’ coming from the wooded area nearby - we were approaching a hydrothermal area so had to be really careful where we stood. It was hard keeping to the trail which was not well marked and hard to see in the snow, so we kept stopping to check that we were going the right way.

We trekked in and out through more forests and along a lake which we think was called Lily Pad Lake as there were lots of lilies floating on the surface. We finally arrived at the edge of the crater with delightful views over the lower falls - you can never get too much of this delightful gushing waterfall as it topples over the edge into the steep canyon below and at least we knew where we were now.

It was still really cold and wet so we had a hot shower at the lodge and settled down in their lounge area for the afternoon. It was cosy, warm and dry and we were able to connect to the wifi to see what was happening in the outside world much better than sitting in our cold campervan in the middle of the forest. We spent much of that afternoon chatting to an ex-military chap from Houston who was travelling around the area alone for six months - he had some interesting stories to tell. Later we had dinner in the lodge’s restaurant as it was still too cold at the campsite to even think about doing any cooking. You are probably getting fed up with me now always talking about the rain and the cold but we still would not have missed this part of our journey.

We left the next morning heading south (should be warmer) we had booked yet another night in Yellowstone at Bridge Bay Campground. On the way we followed Yellowstone Lake with lovely mountain top views and stopped to let an elk cross the road and managed to get up really close as he did so - these are very majestic animals, particularly with their new growth of antlers.

The campsite at Bridge Bay was good, no showers but flush toilets which were brand new and plenty of space around the sites and lovely spring flowers in bloom. We walked around the West Thumb Geyser Basin which has 84 geysers and hot springs, as well as lots of fumaroles. It overlooks the Yellowstone lake with views of the distant Absaroka Range. The easy hiking trail took us around the Twin Geyers, Abyss Pool, Black Pool, Lakeshore Geyser, Seismogaph & Bluebell, Thumb Paint Pots and The Central Basin itself.

No time to mention them all but the Abyss Pool was stunning, one of the deeper hot springs descending to 53 feet, it varies from turquoise blue to emerald green in colour. It erupted for the first time in August 1987 and then remained quiet until 1991 when it started to erupt several times a day sending bursts 30 to 80 feet into the air but since 1992 it remains dormant waiting for the next time which nobody can predict…………it did not erupt for us but it will one day for someone.......

We stopped at Fishing Cone geyser which was actually underwater just off the shore line. During early Spring and Summer the vent is submerged as the lake levels rise with the snow melt but when exposed the temperature of the cone’s water averages just above boiling point. Old mountain men used to relate that they could net a trout in the lake, swing their pole (line) around, dip it into the boiling pool, and cook the fish without taking it off the line and then they had a 'ready meal' beats MacDonalds hands down...... This ‘cooking-on-the-hook’ feat became famous in the 1870s and visitors, often dressed in cook’s hat and apron came here to have their photo taken at the ‘Chowder Pot’ cone or the ‘Fish Pot’ cone. Anglers often injured themselves whilst straddling the boiling water and also more importantly damaged the geyser cone - fishing is no longer allowed here…………and the day of our visit the cone was underwater.

On our way back and as we approached our campervan we met a couple who said, ‘oh you have the Eyeball Van, we parked next to yours yesterday and it was great as we eventually found our car by spotting yours………

We have spent a long time in Yellowstone, the longest in any of the national parks we have visited and could even had spend more time here it is so worth it - we have seen more wildlife than at all the other parks put together - even though the weather could have been a lot better for us it has been a great visit. Tomorrow we head to the Teton Mountain Range - see you there (hope it gets a little warmer as we head South again)!

Additional photos below
Photos: 22, Displayed: 22


2nd August 2014
Our first grizzly

Bears and bison and elk--wow!
This grizzly is amazing, and being surrounded by bison, incredible. Love the waterfalls, the hot springs and the turquoise geysers. How wise to spend so much time in this fabulous park. And I love the Tetons, so I'm looking forward to your further adventures--hopefully with less summer snow!
2nd August 2014
Our first grizzly

Thanks for your comments Tara - more soon ....
4th August 2014
Yellowstone Lake

Yellowstone is always an amazing place to go. The nature comes to you. We love the wildlife. Usually a few animals in town at the post office. Glad you are enjoying the hiking and serenity.
5th August 2014
Yellowstone Lake

Totalling agree - YS is just awesome ... ...
5th August 2014

Lovely scenery
Lovely scenery. We were for a while thinking about adding Yellowstone to our itinerary for our trip this summer but never got there. After seeing your pictures I am more determined than ever to make sure to go there in the future. /Ake
5th August 2014

Go there
Thanks for your comments and do ensure to put YS on your travel itinerary - Regards Paul and Sheila
6th August 2014

Bison in the carpark, and a bear!
Bison in the carpark, must have been awe inspiring, although it would have scared me witless. You finally got that bear sighting too! The weather sounds truly dreadful. On my last visit (mid July 2011) the temperature hovered around 18.5 C and people wore shorts. Hope it improved heading south again. One note on the campgrounds: four of them (at least) have reserveable sites, which tend to get taken a year in advance.
6th August 2014

Travelling always depends on the unreliable weather....but such good fun
Thanks for you comments and tips - Regards Paul and Sheila

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