Day 3 – Yellowstone National Park
Megan and I woke up an hour early to walk down to the nearest Geocache in Gardener. It was placed down the steep bank of the Yellowstone River, and it was quite the trek getting down there. Luckily there was some built in trusses that we could make our way down to get to the pier. The box was large, and we were the last ones to sign our names on the log notepad that had been there since 2005. It was fun to look back over some of the notes people wrote over time, and there was some pretty good prizes in there also. Megan took a fish stick-on tattoo, and I took a handmade bracelet made by someone named Lil Piglet. We left a deck of cards.
The Cache was Under the Pier
Since we had a bit more time before we had to be back to the camper to help pack things up, we headed across the bridge to another cache that was near the North Entrance sign. It was an easy one to find, and a nice place to stop and take a picture. We also marked an Earth cache to find in Mammoth Hot Springs so we could get our Wyoming souvenir.
Pip and I by the North Entrance
We helped pack everything up so we could get an early start to Mammoth Hot Springs. It only took a few minutes to get there from our campsite. Dad dropped us off to get a head start up the boardwalk while he found a place to park our enormous vehicle. That thing is HARD TO PARK. With the extra trailer behind us, it is pretty difficult to pull in to a space where we can not only fit, but where we can turn and get back on the road. Later in the day when we stopped at Tower Falls, Dad couldn’t find anywhere to park, and after dropping us off had to continue driving for at least five miles before he could find a spot to turn around and get us. It gets everyone pretty frustrated (to say the least).
Anyway, we headed up the boardwalk toward the hills in front of us that looked like dry lava turned to calcium. We read a sign that showed us what it sometimes can look like if the springs are fully active, and I wish we could have been here when that was happening. At first I wasn’t sure we were going to see anything too great, since it looked pretty dried up from below. However, we continued walking and of course there was otherworldly terrain to witness.
What Mammoth Hot Springs Sometimes Is…
How Mammoth Hot Springs Looks to Us…
As we continued upward, we started to see steam rising around corners in front of us. Terraced rock that looked like a purposeful fountain spouted smoke and drizzled scalding water that slowly made its way beneath the boards where we stood. We continued to climb, and the top of the terrain was in some places caving in to make it look like the cratered surface of the moon. We continued toward the sulfur smell to find pools of colored bacteria soaking beneath bubbling water that was fighting to get to the surface. The end of our journey took us to a spring that exploded from the side of the hill like a waterfall, leaving ice cycle-like deposits over the top of the cavern. It was all quite remarkable, and made you realize that if bacteria can form and survive in this water, where no other life can sustain, then what type of organisms could be surviving on other planets?
Yellowstone? Or the Moon?
The Family on Top of Mammoth Hot Springs
We made our way back down the footpath and decided to stop by the visiting center. A piece of petrified tree sits in front of the center, which is the site of the natural cache that Megan and I saved in our phones. We took our pictures with it and learned a lot about it from the cache description. This was great, as there was no information about the petrified tree around. Wyoming cache obtained!
Megan and Me at the Cache
The Visitors Center showed a 15-minute introduction video to the park, so we decided we wanted to sit in. Most of it discussed what we had already read, regarding where sites were located in the park, where certain wildlife was most likely to be seen, and of course, safety. It showed elk slamming their antlers into cars that were too close, and even a person getting trampled by a bison after they got up close to take a photo. Yikes! That was enough to keep you at a distance. However, I can see how people get so entranced that they wander up close. Because the animals seem so aloof about you being there most of the time, it could be easy to wander closer and closer thinking that they won’t do you any harm.
Later, as we were getting ready to leave, a bull elk with huge antlers was wandering around the downtown area of Mammoth Hot Springs, and many people were driving near to try to get a picture, and walking from their cars toward the elk, even though he was aggressively stamping his hooves. The park ranger was helping to control traffic and make sure people didn’t get too close, and I overheard him saying that the bull was angry and had already hit several cars and chased people this morning. (I took a recording, secretly hoping we would witness him head but someone’s car.)
After eating lunch in the Mammoth cafeteria, we headed on the road toward the West Entrance, briefly stopping at Tower Falls, and then on to the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. The canyon is 24 miles long, between 800 to and 1200 feet deep, and from 1/4 to 3/4 mile wide. The rock of Yellowstone’s Canyon is what gives it it’s name, translated from “Roche Jaune,” named by French Trappers. Hot springs are still active on the canyon walls, altering the lava rock to produce beautiful colors, giving lookouts like Artist’s Point and Inspiration Point great meaning.
Having been to the Grand Canyon this year, it was interesting to compare the two. Before this year, I never knew that canyons could be so different. The major differences, in my opinion, are the depth of the canyon and accessibility. The canyon has two large waterfalls that can be seen up close at several view points. You can walk right down to where each waterfall breaks, and even get full views from above. Though I had the amazing experience of helicoptering over the Grand Canyon, there weren’t many easily accessibly viewpoints inside. The Yellowstone Canyon is great because you can see it from so many angles. And we took advantage of them. Phew! Were we tired after that!
Yellowstone River From Above
Rainbow Near the Upper Falls
Lower Falls From Afar
But not tired enough to rush past the bison that were grazing within feet of us on the side of the road on our way out, or to stop at the mud springs that we happened to pass by. The sulfur was much stronger there, enough make you a bit squeamish if you had just eaten lunch. But boy was it cool to see the bubble and roar of steam that was releasing from inside this super volcano. Thank goodness it has so many places to release pressure in the park!
Bison! So Close!
Dragon’s Mouth Spring
We continued on the long drive to Cody to find a campsite. We passed on the first we found that was on the outskirts of the city because there were no showers, and boy did we need one! We kept going until we finally reached a KOA that not only had showers, but also a pet playground, giant chess and checkers set near a kids playground, pool, general store, and a “Jumping Pillow.”
What the Heck is a Jumping Pillow?
Megan on the Jumping Pillow
Megan and I took Pip to stretch his legs. After all, he wasn’t allowed out at any of the sites, and we could only take him out to run a bit at Mammoth Hot Springs.
Pip in a Playground
Oh, and did I mention that Pip and I wore our Seahawks gear today to represent? Unfortunately it didn’t seem to help the team at all. 😦