Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Yellowstone Day 3+

We knew that Thursday was our last day in Yellowstone.  On Friday morning we hoped to leave as soon as we could in the morning, preparing for an 8-hour drive to Rapid City, SD.  So Thursday we had one goal:  complete the upper loop.  When we left that morning we carried along our dirty laundry thinking if we had time we could stop at a laundromat.  We also carried along all our cooking supplies, planning to cook in a picnic area if necessary so we didn't have to make it all the way back to camp by supper time.  It was a well-thought out plan.  Well...we got up Thursday morning and had a breakfast of pancakes.  We were on the road around 9:30 a.m. again.  We made our way slowly up the west side of the upper loop, heading from Norris to Mammoth.

 "Roaring Mountain"  At this stop, we could hear the roaring/hissing of the steam vents.  We had fun talking with a ranger here.  I asked him about the dead trees we were seeing along the way.  Many are from wildfires, some are from poor soil conditions (Yellowstone is an active volcano, if you didn't know), and some are due to the beetle that I can't remember the name of yet.

 Sheepeater cliffs.  These cliffs were named for the Native American tribe that lived in this area.  The rocks are an example of columnar joints.  It looks like someone stacked them that way--sort of a primative retaining wall.  It's hard to believe they were formed that way!

Our next stop was on the Gallatin Range.  This part of the drive was long and beautiful.  I took sort of a panorama of the range, but without my tripod and without plans to try to stitch the photos together.
 (In the distance) Mt. Holmes, Dome Mountain, and Antler Peak

 Quadrant Mountain

 Electric Peak

 Sepulcher Mountain

Next we pulled off on the Upper Terraces Drive.  Not realizing that we were actually at the "big" attraction of Mammoth Hot Springs, only me, Kathi, Malachi, and Tirzah got out of the van.  We ran quickly around the upper terraces and snapped some pictures.  I even commented out loud, "We're going to see bigger ones."  Hahaha.  This was pretty much it.  The joke was on me.  We drove around to the bottom before I realized my error.  At that point I implored Mitch to stop, and we all got out and walked back up to the top.  It was SO hot (probably around 90 F), and a lot of the heat comes up from the ground.  So we had heat bearing down on us from the sun, heat coming up from the ground, and a nice hot wind blowing.  Wow, we were tired and thirsty!

 Canary Spring

 We trained Tirzah to hang on to her hat.  Gusts of wind come up and catch you by surprise.  You can't go off the path to retrieve hats, because the ground can actually be a thin crust that breaks through as easily as a pie crust would.  We lost her hat once, at the Norris Geyser Basin, but were able to retrieve it with a long stick.

Once we were in Mammoth, I said that since we were only 5 miles from Gardiner, MT, we should definitely head into town.  This gave us the opportunity to say we had visited Montana, as well as get a picture at the grand north gate entrance.  We stopped in Gardiner at the grocery store to get supplies for lunch (more sandwiches), but we did not stop to do laundry.  While in Gardiner I made contact with home for the first time and got caught up on the exciting news.  We were sad to hear that the very same time while we were in Canyon, a man and his wife were attacked by a grizzly bear protecting her cubs.  The man died.  All morning we had been commenting about wanting to see a bear.  Suddenly it didn't seem like it was so important.

 In Mammoth Hot Springs, the doe elk are perpetually grazing on the lawns.

 Undine Falls
 I *think* this is Floating Island Lake, and the floating island has a nest on it!

 It also has a Black Bear and two cubs!  With a huge crowd of people already there to see.  This was really crazy.

 See the arrow?  That is a ranger there.  There were several rangers on site to make sure people stayed away.  I met one guy walking away with a Nikon camera and an enormous lens.  I stopped him to ask him what kind of lens it was (it was a 500mm fixed lens, with a camouflage body).  It turns out that he stays in the park and knows the rangers...and knows a lot about photographing wildlife.  It was almost more fun to talk to him than it was to look at the bears.  I wish I could have looked through that lens.  :)  The crowd of people had me very worried about Mitch trying to find a place to pull over in our huge van, so I said my goodbyes and hurried back to the van.  It turns out that he had found a good spot...but was quickly blocked in by Rangers.  Since we couldn't move for a while, he got out to see the bears too.  He also asked someone about the huge lens on her camera.  She showed him a fantastic picture she had gotten.  :)

 Our next spot was a petrified tree.  I don't know why this picture turned out so awesome, but it did!  The sad story here is there used to be 3 trees.  For years visitors coming to see the trees would chip away "souvenirs" to take home with them.  This tree is the only remaining one, and it is protected by the fence surrounding it.

 Here's the Yellowstone River again!

 Tower Creek

 Yellowstone River, tumbling over the Tower Falls

 As we neared the end of our journey around the upper loop, close to the Dunraven Pass, we stopped at this pull-out, which coincidentally had a sign on how to identify a grizzly bear's habitat.  Cool--we were right in the middle of it (but didn't spot any bears).

We actually made it all the way back to camp to make supper, but this didn't go as planned, either.  I had planned barbeque chicken sandwiches.  We got out all the supplies, but discovered I had no barbecue sauce.  Not good.  We didn't even have supplies to make regular sandwiches.  Thankfully, we had brought extra pancake mix.  So pancakes for breakfast AND supper.  I felt like a pioneer!

On Friday morning we got up, took down our camp, snacked on Pop Tarts for breakfast, and headed out of Yellowstone.  I had to get a few more pictures as we passed.

 I was kind of sick of seeing bison by this point, but I still couldn't resist--Look at all those bison!!!  They remind me so much of cows.  They look like a cross between a very docile cow and a teddy bear.  I think this is part of what makes them so dangerous--people feel it is safe to approach them, but are seriously wrong!

 Sylvan Pass

I'm pretty sure this was called "Devil's Kitchen" in Wyoming.

We were late pulling in to Rapid City, SD, but we had enough time for supper (after a stop at Wal-Mart, we were able to have those barbecue chicken sandwiches) and much-welcomed SHOWERS.  Can I get a "Hallelujah!"?  I also stayed up late (free wi-fi at our campground was motivating) and did two loads of "critically needed" laundry to get us through the weekend.

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