Saturday, August 29, 2015 Road Junkies 0 Comments

CANADA OR BUST, Chapter 19:  
Day 22:  Yellowstone National Park
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Though the forecast promised a cloudy day, when we left our little cabin just before 8 a.m., the sky was much clearer than we've seen in many days.  At 45°, the air was crisp, and mountain tops were actually visible.
Ranger Grumpy at the west gate this morning was not having a great day—no response to our "Good Morning" greeting, no information until we asked for it.  Soon after we entered the park, the wildlife spotting began with two bison and two elk.  The bull elk was being stalked by misguided camera-toting tourists.
Like many Americans, we used to play the license plate game when we traveled, trying to spot car tags from each state.  We haven't indulged in that counting game for a while, but when we saw cars from seven states in a parking lot before 8:30, we decided to give it one more go.
As we drove along US-191 and then onto the Grand Loop Drive, we continued to follow the Madison River, a shallow clear bubbling stream racing over its stony bed.  

After a brief stop at the Gibbon Falls overlook, our first attraction was the Norris Geyser Basin, one of Yellowstone's hottest and most acidic hydrothermal areas.  Many Norris hot springs and fumaroles have temperatures above the boiling point, which shouldn't be surprising since it is part of one of the world's largest active volcanoes.
Steamboat Geyser in one of its smaller sprays
Days, months or even years may pass between major eruptions of the unpredictable Steamboat Geyser, the world's tallest active geyser and a major feature of Norris Basin.  Major eruptions may shoot water more than 300 feet high for as long as 40 minutes, but even in its more dormant state, Steamboat frequently ejects water bursts 10 to 40 feet high.  An impressive sight.
Porcelain Basin
Still in the Norris area, Porcelain Basin pulsates from steam and hot, acidic springs full of boiling water below the surface.  A boardwalk takes visitors through this vaporous bowl for as-close-as-you-dare views of the milky blue pools saturated with silica.  
From Norris, we continued on Grand Loop Road north toward Mammoth Hot Springs and soon found ourselves in a major construction zone, where the asphalt had been removed down to the road subsurface.  We were following a dump truck and saw only other dump trucks heading south.  Yes, we had seen an "Expect Delays" construction sign, but nothing indicating that the road was closed.

Finally we saw another car behind us and eventually we reached the delay point where drivers had been there so long they had vacated their cars.  In less than five minutes after reaching that point, we moved along, left the construction zone, and continued toward Mammoth.
Minerva Terrace at Mammoth Hot Springs
Mammoth Hots Springs area
Just before noon, we stopped at the Albright Visitor Center at Mammoth Hot Springs.  By that point—3.5 hours from when we began—we had seen license plates from 37 states and five Canadian provinces.  Leaving the center, we inadvertently turned north instead of east to continue the loop.  As it turned out, we would have missed some great scenery around Mount Everts had we not made that wrong turn.
Back on track, we drove east toward the Tower-Roosevelt area, stopping at Undine Falls (short walk, nice falls) and at Wraith Falls (exactly as named, moderate hike).  Near the top of Wraith, however, we found a letterbox.  After that we stopped for lunch at the Hellroaring trailhead, where we located another letterbox.
Trail to Wraith Falls
Continuing east on the loop, we stopped at Calcite Springs Overlook, high over the Yellowstone River.  There we met a North Carolina police officer who spends his weeks in Yellowstone each year.  He told us about seeing wolves in Lamar Valley in the early morning, a grizzly bear who comes to a parking area near Mount Washburn an hour before dark, and a black bear at a campground at the same time each day.  Ranger Grumpy could take some lessons.
View of the Yellowstone River
At Tower Falls, named for the geologic features above it, we stopped at the overlook and hiked about halfway down to the river to find another letterbox.  Of the three short hikes (less than 2 miles) we did today, this was the most difficult due to the change in elevation and lack of oxygen at the 6,650 altitude.

On our way to Artist Point to search for yet another letterbox, this one by our friend Brown Cow's daughter and son-in-law, we pulled into Crittenden Road to check out the Mount Washburn parking area in case the grizzly we had heard about was in residence.  Though we didn't see him, we decided to plant a letterbox there.

While sitting in the car preparing the box, we heard what sounded like a foghorn going off about eight times.  Later we learned that there was a grizzly just down the slope—out of our line of vision—and a hiker had scared him away with the foghorn.
Back down on the loop road, it wasn't long before we spotted that quintessentially Yellowstone sight—a bison lumbering up the center of the road.  Dodging him, we continued to the Canyon area and visited the North Rim Road, which offered excellent views of the Lower Falls of the Yellowstone River.  Then we were off to the South Rim Drive with its spectacular view of the colorful Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone and the Upper Falls.  As an added bonus, we found two letterboxes off the south drive, leaving the site of the second at 7:15 p.m.
Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone

Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone
Driving back into the town of West Yellowstone, we enjoyed views of a beautiful sunset.  Exhausted from a long and active day, we returned to our little cabin at 8:30, made dinner and fell into bed to dream about finding elusive letterboxes.
As we were driving around the park today, we were searching for a landmark mentioned in an old Wyoming mystery letterbox.  Sure enough, we stumbled across one today.  What a thrill when we were able to decipher the rest of the clue and find the box!
Daily Stats
  • Miles driven:  155
  • Miles walked:  7.5
  • Letterboxes:  6 found
  • Weather:  40° to 71°, sunny
  • Gas:  $3.03 at West Yellowstone, MT
  • Geysers:  132
  • Bison:  462
  • Elk:  15
  • Chipmunks:  7
  • Hikers peeing in the woods:  8

Found the letterbox!