Last night was a long, cold night sleeping on the hard sloping ground, so I was actually glad when the alarm went off at 8 am. We got up, got dressed, took down the tent, and got going. Although we’re staying in Yellowstone for two nights, we are actually camping in two different campgrounds.
The nearest Yellowstone destination to our campground was the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, seemingly referred to most of the time as simply “the canyon”. The Yellowstone River flows through this canyon and forms two major waterfalls, the Upper and Lower Falls. First we drove to the rim of the canyon and took a short boardwalk-and-stairs hike down to the Upper Falls. We were right above the falls and it was exciting to see huge amounts of water rushing down. We got out of there just in time – a tour bus was discharging its passengers as we were getting into our car.
After some debate about where we wanted to hike – I was determined to get at least one good, non-touristy hike in, partially to get away from tourists and partially to get some good use out of my new hiking boots – we ended up driving to Artist Point. This turned out to be the best possible choice, even though we had no idea. This is the iconic Yellowstone spot immortalized by many painters and photographers, including Thomas Moran. It is the perfect vantage point from which to see the Lower Falls cascading down into the canyon, with the yellow rocks on either side. (Thus the name.)
We took a ton of photos of the falls, the canyon, and the river, and then finally set off on our hike through the Yellowstone “backcountry”. We hiked about a mile from Artist Point to a delightfully isolated spot called Lily Pad Lake. It was so great to get away from the paved trails and the tourists. It was a good hike, starting out along the rim of the canyon, then cutting into the wooded mountains. We didn’t really see many people. We passed an older couple who we were surprised to see, but they were pretty cool. Just when we caught up to them, we saw the rear end of a mule deer taking off up the trail. Unfortunately we never caught up to it.
We got to Lily Pad Lake and admired the dual effect of the lily pads versus the reflection of the trees on the parts of the water that weren’t covered with lily pads. We enjoyed listening to the birds call to each other from across the lake. It was nice to rest after our hike (it was a decent climb) and enjoy some solitude before heading back down to relative civilization. It was beautiful and sunny but not too hot just yet.
We hiked back down and got back in our car and drove off. As we left the canyon area and crossed the Yellowstone River, we could see that there were four bull elk in the river. We couldn’t stop to admire or take photos, though, because there was a park ranger in front of us yelling at other people who had parked on the bridge to take pictures.
Our next destination was Mammoth Hot Springs. It takes a while to get from any given Point A to any other given Point B in Yellowstone, especially when you factor in multiple stops to take pictures of beautiful vistas or wildlife. By the time we got to Mammoth Hot Springs, we were pretty sleepy as well as hungry. I’m not overly fascinated by geothermal features in any case, and Mammoth seemed to be particularly uninteresting. It was mostly various terraces of white rock created by the minerals emitted by the hot water that flows from below the rock. We hiked down the boardwalks just a bit and then headed back to the car – there didn’t seem to be much of interest in the main section. We started driving out of the parking area, though, and passed a couple of features that were more interesting. The coolest one was called something like “Orange Mounds”. It could easily have been a fountain designed to sit in front of a New York City building. Water flowed out the top of it, and rock seemed almost to weep as the water cascaded slowly down the grooved sides. Also, it was a bunch of really cool shades of orange. It made the stop more worth it.
Next we needed to eat lunch, but our destination after lunch was a place called the Boiling River, which Kristen had recommended to us. It’s not on any maps, and there’s no sign for it off the road, which made it hard to find. So we headed up toward the North Entrance and ate lunch right on the 45th Parallel (halfway between the North Pole and the Equator!), then went looking for the Boiling River. It turned out to be just across the road from where we ate lunch, which was convenient.
When we got there we learned, from the sign there at the trailhead, why the National Park Service doesn’t advertise the spot. First I should explain what it is: at one point, the Gardner River is met by the runoff from the Mammoth Hot Springs. Extremely hot water meets very cold water and makes for a delightful place to chill out in the water. Apparently this used to be a very popular spot, but its popularity was leading the Boiling River toward extinction. So the National Park Service stopped featuring the Boiling River, but it’s still open to people who find out about it via word-of-mouth or stumble upon it.
It was a half-mile hike to the spot. When we first got there, a young woman who was leaving told us that she had just seen a huge rattlesnake slither across the path. We kept our eyes open and it turned out that it wasn’t a rattlesnake, but it was a rather large snake, which when we saw it was just slithering along the rocks headed into a nice dark hole. I thought it was pretty cool, and Dave was relieved that it wasn’t indeed a rattler.
The Boiling River was so awesome. When we first put our feet in the water, it was like stepping into a bath. It’s not deep enough to swim, but it’s deep enough to sit immersed with your head out of the water. There is bacteria in the hot spring water anyway, so it’s best not to go completely under. The one thing that makes it not quite like a hot tub is the current. Dave and I found a spot next to the riverbank that was surrounded with rocks where we managed to keep ourselves stationary, though with some effort. We just relaxed in the warm water for a long time. It wasn’t quite uniformly warm – the cold and hot currents took turns flowing over us. Mostly it was quite comfortable.
We sat in that spot for quite some time, and then decided to explore the rest of the place to see if there were other spots that were just as good or better. It turned out that we had found the best spot in the place to begin with, but by the time we got done slipping and sliding on the rocks, we decided that we needed to just get out and call it a day for the Boiling River. It was such a great experience – we’re very glad Kristen told us about it.
After that, our goal was to get to our next campsite, but that took us a few hours. The main reason was that we stopped quite a bit. We saw SO much wildlife. Whereas up until now we had mostly seen individual bison here and there, we started seeing large herds of bison. We also saw a wolf, and stopped briefly (in the middle of the road, causing a “wildlife jam”) to take a picture, and noticed a second wolf with it as we drove away.
We also stopped to take photos of other things. At one point we stopped to take a picture of a small waterfall alongside the road, and Dave got into a conversation with another guy who had stopped. The guy had noticed Dave’s Phish shirt, and was telling us all about the final Phish concert in Coventry, VT, which he and his family had just gone to. It was funny.
Another spot we hit before heading toward our campsite was the Norris Geyser Basin. Here is the largest geyser, called Steamboat. Unfortunately it is also very erratic. The last time it had a major eruption was last October. We saw a few decent eruptions (maybe 30 feet), but apparently it can go up to 400 feet when it really gets going.
We drove through the Hayden Valley, then finally we got to Yellowstone Lake and at least we were close. After just a couple more photo opp stops, we arrived at our campsite in Grant Village. It was nice to be able to set up camp in daylight. We made hobo packs for dinner (meat & potatoes – yum!) and built a very hot fire. It was great to chill at our campsite for a while – we haven’t really been able to do that yet on this trip. Now off to bed… hopefully it will be warmer than last night! At least this campsite is flatter.