Monday, September 5, 2011

Wild Kingdom

Day 9: Sept 4, 2011

Last night in the private campground, we made the most of the facilities. We charged every electronic device we have, as well as our giant auxiliary batteries. We enjoyed the very upscale shower facilities--the nicest I’ve seen in ANY campground EVER. And of course, I uploaded 3 blogs and a heck of a lot of photos. I didn’t get to sleep until 3 a.m. That was the downside, and I am incredibly tired tonight.

This morning we packed up, later than desired (as usual), and headed back into the park for one last day. My first priority was to find a campsite for tonight, otherwise I would have to call the private campground back and reserve our slot again. But I REALLY did not want to spend that much money, wifi or not! Luckily, however, as we came back into the park, we saw that all the campgrounds were open. We made a beeline for the Mammoth Campground in Mammoth Hot Springs, and snagged a fantastic site with an unbelievable view, for the ludicrously low price of $14 for the night. I said to Joe, I feel like I hit the jackpot this morning!

As soon as we had the campground issue settled, we headed into Mammoth Hot Springs to explore the Mammoth Terraces. These are geologic forms with springs much like the ones we’ve already seen, but they deposit a mineral called travertine in a unique terrace-like formation. We found them more interesting than we expected. We went on the lower walkway around the base of the huge structure first.

Then we drove up and around to the top, to see the upper level.

From Mammoth, we drove south toward the Norris Geyyser Basin. The road through this part of the park is pretty distinctive in many places. In 1988, there were huge fires in Yellowstone which destroyed many trees. The predominant tree in the park is the Lodgepole Pine. This tree has seed cones which stay sealed up for years in a waxy cover, until there is a forest fire. Then the heat causes the was to melt, cones to open and the seeds to drop into newly burnt area. The seeds have plenty of nutrients from the burnt trees, and of course all the sun in the world. So new Lodgepole Pines are born. All along the road, we saw tall white “poles” of the dead trees, with a thick new forest of green pines about 20 feet tall. They are all competing for sun and space, and eventually will be a mature forest. But right now, you would hardly be able to walk through them, they are so thick. It is so amazing how nature destroys one forest and reseeds another.
We stopped at a pullout for lunch before reaching Norris, with a view out our door of trees and a lake. I had the idea to take a walk down to the lake after we ate. But just as we finished, I realized that cars were pulling over maybe 50 feet further down the road ahead of us. It had all the hallmarks of an “animal jam”--cars stopped in both directions. So of course Joey and I got out of Mo and walked along the edge of the road to see what they were looking at. Suddenly I saw it--a bison was walking along the roadway, just inside the tree line, and was heading right toward us! We ran back to Mo and jumped in and latched the door, and only moments later this humungous animal walked right past our door, perhaps 10 feet away. He was totally oblivious to us, and kept going while I took a photo through our screen door.
We did take a walk down to the lake after that, but we were much more cautious, making sure we didn’t see anymore lone bison! The lake was beautiful and serene, and It would have been nice just to sit on a log and meditate for a while, but we felt like we should keep moving.
So we continued to the Norris Geyser Basin. Unfortunately, this was the one thing we saw or did at Yellowstone which turned out to be disappointing. I guess it’s partly because we’d seen all the other “hot spots”, and those geysers and pools were either more active or more beautiful. We went on a 1.5 mile walk around the “back basin”, and with the exception of Steamboat Geyser, none of the others did anything more than a slight bubbling here and there.

In addition, the wooden walkway was taken down so much of the trail was on uneven ground, and it was 90% in the hot sun. So we were sunburned, exhausted and disappointed when we finished--we could have used that hour to better use just chilling next to the lake, like I said!

From Norris, we cut across the center of the park’s figure-8 double loop, back to Canyon Junction. We decided to look at the Yellowstone Falls from the south rim views, which we skipped a couple of days ago. This was a great decision, because the one thing the Falls are NOT is “disappointing.” We first took the path down to the brink of the upper falls, and as soon as I caught a glimpse of the Yellowstone River roaring around the curves toward the drop, I started the “wow, wow, WOW!” thing all over again. It was simply spectacular--and that was the part BEFORE the water “fell” over the brink. You can stand right at the top there, and it is just mindboggling. So absolutely gorgeous.
Then we drove to Artist’s Point, and again the views were stunning. We were just sorry we’d skipped them two days earlier, because we’d have been there about mid-day. This time, in the late afternoon, the view was stunning but the camera simply couldn’t do it justice. The view of the canyon with the waterfall at the end is just completely amazing.
Cheered up by that, we decided to take a slight detour on the way back to Mammoth, and go back to the Lamar Valley to see if we could see any animals. It being 7pm by the time we got up to the turnoff to the valley, we were hopeful. What we had was another very intense encounter of the bison kind--we found people watching three separate herds (or maybe it was all one, all spread out). One group was right by the road, and just starting to cross, thus stopping traffic.
The second group was down in the valley crossing the river, and working its way up to the same point to cross the road.
And the third group was up on a hill nearby. As you can see from these few photos, they got VERY close to us.

We spent at least 30 minutes watching and listening to them. They were so cute--some rubbed their heads on the fenceposts nearby to scratch itches; I saw one mother nursing its baby after they crossed the road; the big bulls took turns standing in the road so no one could go past them. The best part is listening--they grunted and made these low mooing type noises that are very hard to describe, but are somehow so adorable. They are obviously talking to each other--all the single bison we’ve seen have never been talking or mooing. They are HUGE.
Then we drove back to Mammoth Campground. I drove the last part of the road when it got too dark for Joe to see well (see tomorrow’s blog) and it was dark by the time we got to the campsite. I was disappointed to have missed the sunset view from our site. But I did have one last treat: from our site, we could see the road leading up into the park, and the cars were all stopped. As I said, that means only one thing. It was virtually dark, but I could see large light animal shapes walking across the road in single file below us. I grabbed my binoculars and could see them clearly--they were elk, and were parading across the road and up into the brush nearby. They took their time, and there were a lot of them! I was amazed how clearly I could see them despite the darkness, but the car lights were shining on them so that’s probably why. It was a great end to the day’s wildlife encounters.


Tom M said...

Your blog and photos bring back a lot of memories of our times at Yellowstone. Isn't it the kind of place that you hate to leave?

You don't mess with Bison! They are huge and faster then then you think. We saw people walk up to them, look into their eyes and take a picture.

Andrea Tyson said...

I, too, am brought back to a trip from the '60's I took with a friend. And what a trip it was! What a beautiful country.