Westward Wanderlust, Day 6
Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
July 15th, 2012
Last night’s fog was followed by many hours of rain. As we broke camp at Lewis Lake, grey clouds moved across the morning sun, doing little to dry our rain-soaked tent. We were packed and moving before 9:00am, heading to the Old Faithful Basin on last time for dish washing and gift shop perusing. It’s hard to believe we have only seen 2/3 of Yellowstone. Today we will head up the Southwest side of the Yellowstone loop figure eight, then East toward Canyon Village. We had uneasily skirted the edge of the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone in the fog last night, but now, with bundles of cumulus clouds hanging in the sky, we relished our natural surroundings. The road hugged the edge of Firehole River as we rolled on. Osprey soared above the rapids, their bodies agile knives slicing south as they hunted for Cutthroat Trout. At about 11:00 am, we rounded a corner and suddenly encountered as large group of people and cars crowding the roadside. I jumped out of the car and ran to the concentration of crooked necks and straining eyes peering down at Firehole River. This is what we saw:
A park ranger stated that it was a wolf kill that had been made earlier in the day. The pack had abandoned the carcass for reasons unknown, and many had since made it their mission to wait for their return. The ranger, understandably, seemed doubtful that the pack would return as long as people stayed in the area, but was there just in case. The direction of gawker traffic however was soon becoming his primary purpose.
We continued on, stopping at Norris Picnic area for YPB. Adjacent to the picnic area was a large field in which we had seen a herd of bison as we passed. We walked carefully through the pines to edge of the field, hoping the set up the tripod and get a few pictures from our unique perspective. As we got closer to the wide open space D followed the tree line, becoming each clump of shrub and brush along the way, and capturing these awesome shots.
We continued on to the beautiful Virginia Cascade Road, which follows an absolutely vertical cliff overlooking the Gibbon River. Finally, we reached the trails that flank the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. We hiked to Red Rock Point, then to Lookout Point.
We hiked to Grand View, Lower Brink, Inspiration Point, Upper Brink, and then finally, Uncle Tom’s Trail.
Uncle Tom’s Trail was, as you can infer from the sign, was exhausting. As the day wore on, it had become humid, partially sunny, and the temperature has risen to over 70 degrees. The intimate view of the Lower Falls is worth the hike, but you certainly need to be ready to break a sweat. Those who do make the descent are not only keenly aware of the steep grade of the trail, but also of the slow, steady affect an altitude of 8,000 feet can have on your stamina.
We re-hydrated, and continued on our way. One of the most unique and interesting aspects of Yellowstone is the diversity. Yellowstone is an eclectic wealth of natural features, roaming wildlife, and beautiful scenic drives.
As we headed North toward Canyon Village along the Yellowstone River, we noticed a large dark figure in the water. A buffalo was swimming across the river.
The determined animal was moving a pretty decent clip across the steady current of the river. It was amazing to think of the power needed to propel such a large creature with apparent ease. I thought of how my Dad joked when I was young about the clam above water appearance of a duck swimming on the across the lake verses the unseen, frantic paddling of their webbed feet hidden below the surface. How fast must the legs of a buffalo move in order for it to swim?
When the buffalo reached the shore, he stopped. He stood swaying ever so slightly, seemingly pondering his next move. I could hear his inner monologue; “I’ve crossed the river. Today is a success.”
We stopped in Mammoth Hot Springs to mail a postcard and continued North along the Yellowstone River Valley. The road wove between towering lime and sandstone and clung to the edge of the cliff tops.
The clouds shadow and darken the cliff faces and hillsides, the evening sun shining strong and warm over the vast stands of pine and great swaths of grass and sagebrush.
As we rounded a sharp corner, we saw of first bighorn sheep.
She was just in time to make our list of “Yellowstone Wildlife Sightings” before we exited Yellowstone through the historic North Entrance.
In March of 1872, Ulysses S. Grant signed the Act of Dedication, making Yellowstone the world’s first national park. The gigantic stone arch is in turn, a very fitting place to display the following quote by Teddy Roosevelt:
I mused about the great vision of this idea. This is, I think, what our national parks are all about. They belong to us, and we belong to them. These places are ours to enjoy and experience whenever we want to. They benefit us in ways that we can’t always explain, yet continue to examine. They are ever changing, yet everlasting. As long as we treat them with the respect and love that they deserve, they will continue to be there for the enjoyment of future generations.
It was 81 degrees at 7:30pm. We must have entered Montana within the boundaries of the park, because 10 minutes later we were in Gallatin National Forest. The late day sunlight thrust shafts of light through the grey blue clouds as we motored through Montana.
The landscape of Montana is breathtaking. The wide-open fields were carpeted in shades of brown, green, and tan, and ocher. Great peaks of purple and blue mountains stretched endlessly all around us. The setting sun cast a golden light over everything, as the clouds moved in swiftly from the Southwest.
As we approached the Castle Mountains, the sun pigmented the sky and clouds bright pink and orange. The sky behind the silhouette of the mountains was a pastel purple. Wispy sherbet clouds hovered over the sagebrush and pronghorn. It was humbling being somewhere so big and endless.
Even below its monstrous scenery, Montana doesn’t really rise above quaint. As D observed “We are the traffic in White Sulphur Springs”. By 9:30pm, we were in Lewis and Clarke National Forest. It is amazing how light it stays out here, but I suppose it makes sense when you are chasing the sun.
As we drove late in to the night, we were witness to a spectacular display of the Aurora Borealis. The sky rippled with intense green beams. The lacks of urban light pollution making the surrounding openness seem even darker and bigger. We pulled off of the highway on to a dead end road and watched the performance of the renegade molecules.
Eventually, we tore ourselves away from the show and continued North. Our next destination: Glacier National Park.
Day 6 Soundtrack –
Heading towards the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone – The Black Angel – Passover
Jack White III Mix
“Great High Mountain” – Jack White