YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK, PT. 2
We moved camp one last time in Yellowstone, again, at zero-dark thirty in the morning. This time we moved east to Tower Fall, and was second in line on a Tuesday. The campground was not great, but we grabbed the most 'secluded' spot available. The pit toilets were pretty not-stinky though, so that was nice. Though they did provide a loud echo, which kids from a close by site soon realized and spent a few hours one afternoon belting rap lyrics in. I don't know, the youths these days ::Shrugs::
From this site we explored the Mammoth Hot Springs area, Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, Hayden and Lamar Valley. We also celebrated a huge event, Eric's 30th Birthday!
But we celebrated in our normal way, which is pretty chill. On the day of birth, those who's birth we celebrate get to choose what meal is prepared, and is not responsible for any chores. That means cooking/cleaning/organizing/making sure camp is clean/ driving etc. On Eric's birthday, we had a perfect day.
Starting early with sunrise in Lamar Valley, we went out for our third morning looking for wolves. The Yellowstone wolves are world famous, for it is one of the most popular and very successful reintroduction programs in ecology. (For more information on that, check out the park website at ).
We had been out the two mornings previous and had seen black bears, two wolves at a distance, and many bison. This day also included a ton of bison, but we knew how to find the grizzlies and wolves better now. We started at a specific pull out along the main road, and were the first to arrive. Soon followed by one of the many hobbyist wildlife observers. This older gentleman (Doug and his dog Jackson) pulled into the spot next to us, and with a little prompting, showed us five grizzlies munching in the open fields at a great distance away. We set up our own spotting scope (though not as good as his), and found them in our view. Soon the pull out filled with professional wildlife scouts and tours, and we listened intently to their radio chatter. This provided information that is necessary to finding the highly sought after wolf sightings. If I didn't have a scope of my own, and multiple days to go 'hunting' for wildlife, I would absolutely hire a guide. They have the experience and knowledge of seasonal patters that help find the elusive wild animals we all want to witness. We were kind of annoying, listening in, asking questions, prodding and shuffling to the front of the line, and we eventually saw two wolves through our scope in good detail. We relocated down the road when all the guides deserted the pull out and tracked them (the guides) to one of the first wolf pup sightings of the season. High on a ridge were about 5 pups and two adult wolves playing and running around in view (with scopes) from the road. This, combined with bison, coyote, grizzly and black bear, made for a phenomenal start to Eric's third decade alive.
After our wildlife excursion, we pulled off to fish for a while along the Yellowstone River. The water was a beautiful teal, and the surrounding cliffs were a pale gold as we had the banks under the bridge all to ourselves. Once again, the fish were present, but unresponsive to our flies. At least we had the company of the Northern Flickers with us as we cast.
Back at camp around 10am, Eric started a fire (with the ease from Dad's fire starters) and then laid back in the hammock to play some Fire Emblem while I made a late lunch. Campfire Nachos are freaking delicious, and we enjoyed them in the comfort of the trailer since the winds (and people noise) picked up by 2pm. The rest of the afternoon was spent lounging with some local brew, playing some music, and sitting by the fire. As night rolled in, we put on some Stargate SG1 before bed. It was a great day all around.
Beyond all of the wildlife seen in Lamar Valley, the landscape itself was a sight to behold. It is called the Serengeti of North America because of the large swath of grasslan spreading for miles before beautiful mountains rise up in the background. Tributaries to the Yellowstone River flow braided in the lowlands and herds of bison are easily seen drinking, wading, or traveling among the banks. The sunrise gave a lilac hue to the skies every morning, and it felt like walking through a painting. We are very much looking forward to visiting again, hopefully, this coming winter.
In the Mammoth Hot Springs area (Northwest corner of the park) we had two main attractions to check out. First, the famous Terrace Mountain hot spring that towers over the small town and visitor center. We once again found ourselves within the masses walking the boardwalk around the largest carbonate depositing spring in the world. These hot springs are important habitats for extemeifiles, small microorganisms that thrive in high temperatures, and the different algae and bacteria flourishing in these environments create pockets of beautiful colors that cascade down the hillside. The springs also release sulfur, like much of the features throughout the park, which is why everywhere smells like an egg fart. By this point, we were sulfured and peopled out, so we didn't stick around this area long.
The Mammoth Hot Springs visitor center was the only location within the northern part of the park we could get WiFi (no cell service otherwise). We managed to steal a little bit from the Yellowstone Lake lodge earlier in our trip, but then the lodge had some construction malfunctions that wiped out their internet for the rest of the week. Checking in with family was very difficult. The WiFi available at the visitor center was crap, and we basically had to stand in one corner of the exhibits for an hour just to get texts and a few marco polos out.
If I haven't mentioned MarcoPolo yet, it is an app that allows for video texting basically. Eric and I are able to record little bits of our days to share personally with individuals when we are out of service, and then when we have service or (most likely) WiFi, we can at least send out those videos to let loved ones know we are not dead. It is also an awesome way to share our trip on a more personal level. I like the blog, and that is mostly for us to remember as many details as possible, but it is still nice to share what we are doing with others. I don't like the randomness and impersonal aspects of social media, so I don't contribute there too often. Also, it is really hard to post on Instagram or the like with limited service/internet. Thus, MarcoPolo has been a godsend. Also, without actual phone service I can not receive texts unless it is from an iphone, in which case I can receive them via WiFi, but Eric cannot. I hope this gives me a laugh later in life when these technical problems probably won't exist. Also, this kind of travel is made so much easier even with limited access to smart phones compared to a generation ago, so I am aware of how easy we have it even with the technical difficulties.
TL;DR A good portion of the country has limited to no cell phone coverage, and WiFi is difficult to come by. However, payphones don't exist anymore either, so keeping up with family has been more difficult than expected on the road.
During our few stops to this visitor center, we were able to witness the insane disregard to wildlife personal space that Yellowstone is famous for. It is common knowledge, though still disregarded often, that one should stay a good distance away from bears, wolves, and bison because they are big and scary ::eye roll:: But deer or elk (or anything else appearing non-threatening? Oh, get as close as you want apparently!
Elk, including bull elk, were common around the township, and tourists were just dying to get selfies, have their kids pet them, stand 5 feet away, take a photo and slowly inch closer for a better photo, you name it, they did it. So throughout the day, various rangers would have to chase people away, set up perimeters around the grazing elk, stand watch at cross walks, show a presence in general to discourage and stop this behavior from people. This is not only for the protection of the animals, lets face it, these elk could care less about us, but for the protection of the people. We've all heard the stories of people getting too close to a wild animal because fill in the blank and then were “attacked out of nowhere!” As I used to tell kids at camp when they asked if an animal would bite, “if they have a mouth, they can bite” and the same goes for any animal in the wild. If it has a mouth it can bite, if it has legs it can kick, if it has claws it can scratch, etc. Shit, if someone was bothering me while I was eating, I would kick them too.
TL;DR for that one, give animals space. They are not just there for your enjoyment. They actually live here. We are in these parks to observe wildlife being wild, let them.
Our second main attraction in this area was the boiling river. Boiling river gets it's name from a high flow hot spring that empties into the Gardener river, which is a normal, cold flowing river from snow melt and rain fall. It was an odd one because we typically shy away from the crowds. As soon as we got to the trail head (at 8:30am) there were already limited spots. We were kind of dreading it. We walked the one mile path down to the river and were already glad we came. The surrounding area was gorgeous, even with the crowds, and there was enough turnover that it wasn't too bad. The river bank was lined with brown and gray glistening river rock spotted with green algae from the hot springs. There was also an abundance of wild sunflowers in full bloom in the foreground of the brown/green grassy mountains surrounding the river. We carefully walked in past the initial pools, and the feeling was freaky. Our legs were oscillating between freezing cold and hot tub hot as we walked on the outskirts of people soaking along the merging waters. We found a spot for ourselves to chill, slightly swimming towards the riverbank for hot water, and away towards the middle of the river to cool down. We stayed for about an hour before the amount of people became too much, and kids started ruining an otherwise relaxing experience (adults too, but there were a lot of kids since it was summer).
One of the last areas we explored was the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. This area was impressive, but didn't really impact either of us. You basically drive right up to the view, get out of the car, waddle 500 feet along a paved path with bus loads of other people, and gaze upon a canyon waterfall so picturesque it's ridiculous. I know that sounds amazing, but we realized that the anticipation during a hike to get to the view makes it a bit more enjoyable, at least for us. Also, it makes it seem less man made, and crowded. We enjoyed Fairy Falls a bit more, which I know will sound crazy to some. I can't deny the view was incredible though.
After just over two weeks within this park, we kind of felt like we lived here. We were starting to get asked for help navigating the area as we explored with leisure. Talking with many people during our stay, we once again find extreme gratefulness for the opportunity to travel long term. With most people's visit to Yellowstone lasting about a week, it is no wonder that most people come here four or five times before they have seen the whole park. We felt like we had just enough time to get a gist of the park, and feel fully satisfied with all the front country features. Although it wasn't time efficient this time around, we will probably avoid the height of summer for any future visit.
We have realized that we now latch on to anyplace as our 'new home' when we have stayed for longer than three days. We have become accustom to flexibility, mobility, and ever changing situations that as soon as we have the slightest bit of consistency, we feel like we live there. Thus, it was weird to finally say goodbye to the greater Yellowstone ecosystem and head north. Unfortunately, we didn't have the time to explore central and eastern Wyoming like we had hoped. Although we make our own schedule, we have a 'time table' dependent on weather that we had to stick close to otherwise we would miss the window for certain areas being accessible (Canadian Rockies.)We had a few days planned in cities before we drove to the next cornerstone destination of Glacier National Park.
9/10 would explore stinky crowded geothermal wonderland again (but not in summer.)
Song: I don't fuck with you – Big Sean, E-40 (what the animals were singing about the tourists)