After yesterday’s wonderful day in the park, I figured there couldn’t be much that could be improved upon. I believe I was wrong!
We started the day doing laundry. Hooray! 🙂 Not exciting, but an essential part of a trip like this. We each packed enough clothes to keep the laundry work to a minimum, shooting for two laundry days.
Since we’re in West Yellowstone MT, there’s only one way to conveniently get into the park, and once you’ve entered, it’s the same 14 miles every time. And after a full day in the park yesterday, we felt like old pros, not necessarily needing to stop for every bison on the side of the road. 🙂 Our goal today was to get to the northeast part of the park, eventually getting to the Lamar Valley.
We made our way to the Canyon Lodge for a little lunch. It was pretty late in the afternoon by the time we’d gotten to the lodge, so the lines were non-existent, but I really get the sense that this part of the park isn’t quite as well-traveled as some of the other parts we visited yesterday. It was nice to see fewer crowds and quieter roads in parts of the park.
While at Canyon Lodge, Darla signed us up with the Yellowstone Association. This group devotes most of the money they bring in to the preservation of Yellowstone, and education of folks about Yellowstone and its beauty. I can’t help but support folks with these goals in mind — were it not for organizations like this, I wouldn’t have places like Yellowstone, Yosemite and others to inspire me and take my breath away.
Another feature of Yellowstone that I’d heard a ton about was the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. This is a mammoth gorge carved out by the Yellowstone River, visually not unlike the Grand Canyon in Arizona. At one end of the gorge is the Lower Falls, and from Artist Point, you can stare right down the gorge into the falls, probably half-a-mile away. This place was crowded, with every photographic tour stopping to get this classic view of Yellowstone in their cameras. A little patience though, and I was able to get my tripod set up and focus on the beauty of this waterfall. This is definitely a place I will visit again, hiking around as much as I can so I can really take it all in.
We’d heard about the Lamar Valley since we arrived at Yellowstone, and it’s being dubbed the Serengeti of Yellowstone. It is a beautiful area — a long way from West Yellowstone, maybe three hours northeast — full of lush vegetation, streams and rivers, and all the wildlife you could possibly want to see. We saw loads of pronghorns, but more importantly, herds and herds of bison.
Any text talking about the Old West will talk about how the plains were black with bison before man nearly eradicated them. While I’m sure our sightings were nowhere close to those described long ago, but it was exciting to us to see these large herds, thriving on the plains. Sio was trying to count them all, and there were easily hundreds of bison visible in the valley. It was a sight to see.
We drove through a lot of the northeastern part of the upper loop of the park through the afternoon, heading toward Mammoth Hot Springs. As we’d heard a ton, just look for the traffic jam, and that’s where the animals are. As we continued around the loop, we came to a dead stop to see…. a black bear! The bear was coming up the hill toward the passenger side of the Jeep, and looked like he was on an intersect course for our vehicle. Becky and Sio got a great view of him before the park rangers started breaking up the traffic jam, and encouraged us to move along. Dunno if the bear would’ve come up to the Jeep or not, but it was one of the more exciting moments of the trip.
We finally got to the Fort Yellowstone/Mammoth Hot Springs area, but we didn’t really stop. This is a living quarters area for folks who run the park, and although there is a visitor center here, we arrived too late to visit it. The Mammoth Hot Springs is a giant, oozing hot spring, towering over any other volcanic-related feature we’ve seen. You can climb it (via boardwalks and stairs), but it was a lot of stairs, and it was too late in the day for us. We did do a “drive-through” on a path that went around the big springs, but it was just gawking for us — no hiking by this point of the day!
With darkness encroaching, we continued our drive toward West Yellowstone… only to see another black bear! This little guy was ambling through the forest, moving away from us, but that didn’t stop a dozen or more cars from pulling over, getting out, and gawking.
After our second bear encounter, we pointed toward West Yellowstone, and despite the late hour we got back to West Yellowstone, the crazy sun was still up… I just can’t get used to how late the sun is up out here!