Sunday, August 30, 2015 Road Junkies 0 Comments

CANADA OR BUST, Chapter 20:  
Day 23:  West Yellowstone, MT to Cody, WY
A cool front arrived as we slept, bringing rain overnight and a pleasant 46° start to the day under cloudy skies.  We entered Yellowstone National Park about 8:15, greeted by a much more pleasant ranger who actually offered a map.  On the entrance road, we stopped at the Mount Haynes overlook and planted a letterbox.
Established by an act of Congress and endorsed by President Ulysses S. Grant in 1872, Yellowstone was the first American national park and is also believed to have been the first national park in the world.  Today we planned to explore the lower half of the park, so we turned south when we reached the Grand Loop Road.  First stop was Foretold Canyon Road, where we found another mystery letterbox.

Back on the Grand Loop, the Firehole River was our roadside companion as we continued south toward Old Faithful.  But first we stopped at the Lower Geyser Basin, busy with tourists and geysers putting on a show.  

Next was the Midway Geyser Basin—with even more tourists—and the Grand Prismatic Spring.  The steam was blowing across one section of the boardwalk in such volume that glasses fogged and clothing and hair were saturated.  But the nice wind quickly blew everything dry again.
For some reason, most people seem to be in a big hurry today—both on the road and on foot.  We call them "hurry-warts" because they are oblivious to the effects their jostling has on others.
Cell service in the park is intermittent with large swaths Verizon-free.  Signals are usually available around visitor centers, and the Old Faithful area was no exception.  As we approached it, I checked my Yellowstone Geyser app and learned that the next 20-minute eruption window would begin in just ten minutes—giving us just enough time to park and find a viewing position around the two thousand or so already gathered for the big show.  Park officials realize that Old Faithful has hordes of loyal fans, so the expansive viewing platform around the geyser accommodates everyone comfortably.
Ken hung out near the web cam as we had done on our last visit in 2008 and notified cousins Bruce and Tom that they could see Old Faithful blow in a few minutes.  Bruce called later and reported that he had viewed the shower of power and had spotted Ken.  For the record, the reliable gusher spouted off just ten minutes after the 20 minute window.  Not bad for someone that ancient.

By the time we left the world's most popular geyser, we were ready for some lunch.  Perfect timing since the next letterbox on our list for today was at a picnic area.  But first we stopped briefly to check out Kepler Cascades, and since we had just talked to Bruce and knew he was available, we showed him the waterfall via FaceTime.

A savory salad at a picnic area on the Continental Divide refreshed us for the afternoon as we let our letterbox searches guide our sightseeing.  Next stop was the West Thumb Geyser Basin along the shore of Yellowstone Lake.  A cryptic clue fo a letterbox we were seeking indicated it was hidden in "West Thumb."  
Though we didn't find the box, we did encounter a busload of Chinese tourists who were thoroughly enjoying the park.  Returning to the car with the new knowledge that the West Thumb reference was a red herring, we quickly deduced where the letterbox was hidden.  But it was a five-mile hike and we just didn't have the time to pursue it.
After pausing to find a new letterbox near the top of West Thumb and one off Gull Point Drive, we moved over to the Fishing Bridge area in search of another letterbox.  This section of the park is named for a small bridge spanning the Yellowstone River just before it empties into Yellowstone Lake.  

From 1908, the pedestrian lanes of the bridge were frequently lined elbow to elbow with anglers, their lines tangling and their hooks sometimes snagging passing motorists foolish enough to have their car windows open.  Finally in 1973, park officials closed to bridge to fishing to save the disappearing trout population.  The traditional name remains even though the bridge now sports a prominent "No Fishing" sign.

It was after 4:30 p.m. by the time we left the Fishing Bridge and we still needed to dive to Cody—with some letterboxing stops along the way, of course.  But we couldn't leave Yellowstone without visiting Hayden Valley, truly the place "where the buffalo roam."  In the two days we had been in the park, we had seen an occasional lone bison.  
But July and August mark bison breeding season, and the park's central herd always congregate in Hayden Valley, as do Yellowstone tourists.  Numerous pullouts are provided to prevent bison jams, and we were again stupefied by the willingness of tourists to approach these 2,000-lb wild beasts for the sake of a photo op.
Our buffalo hunt successful, we shuffled off toward Cody, Wyoming, where we would spend the night.  On our last visit to Yellowstone in 2008, we went through every park entrance except the east entrance, so we had no idea what a treat we had in store.  The Beartooth Highway (northeast entrance) notwithstanding, the triple marked US-14/16/20 around Yellowstone Lake and through Sylvan Pass serves up some of the most alluring scenery in the park.

When offered an overlook on a butte above the lake, we not only admired the view, we left a "Love This Spot" letterbox to lure others there.

But wait!  There's more.  Upon exiting the park, we embarked on the Buffalo Bill Cody Scenic Byway, a winding two-lane road through the Wapiti Valley.  President Theodore Roosevelt labeled this stretch between the park and Cody "the fifty more beautiful miles in America."  Having driven many U.S. roads, we can't argue with TR's assessment.
With the Shoshone River bubbling nearby as a constant companion, we meandered along with panoramic views—often up close–of the Abasaroka Range.  Unusual rock formations by the hundreds greeted us around every bend in the road.
We stumbled a bit with the clues to three letterboxes we found along the way, so darkness was falling by the time we neared Cody.  But there was still enough light to let us know that we need to return tomorrow to get a better look before continuing east toward South Dakota.

Daily Stats
  • Miles driven:  176
  • Miles walked:  5.9
  • Letterboxes:  10 found, 2 planted
  • Weather:  48° to 84°, sunny
  • Yellow buses:  26
  • Bison:  115
  • Lodgepole pines:  1,670
  • Bicyclists:  5
  • Fly fishermen:  22

Mount Haynes

Firehole River falls

Fountain Paint Pots Trail

Fountain Paint Pots

Midway Geyser Basin

Grand Prismatic Spring

Grand Prismatic Spring

Old Faithful

Abyss Pool

West Thumb area

Letterbox on the shore of Yellowstone Lake

Bison in Hayden Valley

Bison walking the East Entrance Road

US-14 en route to Cody