We wound through the road construction in Gallatin, Montana and entered Yellowstone via the north gate, which was pretty spectacular. The first treat was when we stopped at the ranger station on our way in. It costs $25 to enter the park. However, with my senior “America the Beautiful” pass, it was free. SCORE! The road to Mammoth had a number of construction delays but we’d been warned so it wasn’t a huge deal. This is the first time either of us had ever been to Yellowstone as far as we knew, so we had no idea what to expect. The scenery wasn’t all that spectacular at first but we did run into something that we’d read about in Yellowstone. Well, let me rephrase, fortunately we didn’t run into it. What was it? The idiot driver that stops right in the middle of the road so he can photograph wildlife. All the literature specifically says NOT TO DO THIS! Find a pull-out (there are many) and take photos from a safe distance. This guy must not have read the literature…………. Whoops! What was supposed to be a photo was a 3 second jittery video. Oh well. This is what he stopped to photograph:
Pretty cool, I’ll admit, but not cool enough to risk getting rear-ended. Bison were far and away the most numerous wildlife we saw. These guys are BIG, too. Not the smaller domestic ones you sometimes see on people’s ranches. These guys could do some serious damage if they got spooked. At Mammoth, which has a hotel, a visitor center, a campground, a store, etc, etc, there was a huge herd of elk just sitting around on the lawn.
There were only 4 campgrounds still open and one of them was full. The one at Mammoth wasn’t full yet but looked like it wouldn’t be long. It had only 85 sites and the one at Madison, which was more centrally located, had over 200 sites and had not been filling up lately. So, we decided to go there, get a site for 4 nights, and just operate out of there. The road between Mammoth and Madison was under construction and we were told to expect many long delays. The guy at the visitor’s center said that the longer route around would be a better option. No construction, more chances to see wildlife, and much more scenic. It was supposed to take around an hour and a half whereas the other route, if there wasn’t any construction, was only about 40 minutes. But, with the construction, both routes were likely to take about the same amount of time. We opted for the more scenic route.
In the distance in the photo above is the “Grand Canyon of Yellowstone”. Believe me, there will be much better photos of it later. The route we took was in Yellowstone’s raggedier eastern side. By raggedier, I mean that there are lots of mountains with lots of passes. Spent many miles in 2nd gear going up and 3rd gear coming down. Decided not to make a bunch of stops since we had several more days to do our exploring.
When we got to the Madison Campground, we were happy to find that it definitely was not full. We were also happy to be charged only half price, again, due to my senior status and the card to prove it. Four nights for around $45 instead of the $90 it would cost without the card. Yeah, baby! The campsites were nothing to brag about but, since we spend most of our campsite time inside, who cares? We did have a visitor saunter through the first afternoon.
After another cold night (it was 30 degrees outside when I got up at 7 AM), we decided that Friday would be our Old Faithful day. We left our bikes chained to the picnic table to reserve our spot (not actually necessary) and headed out for the 16 mile trip to Old Faithful. Along the way we passed a lot of steaming pools and fissures. And I mean a LOT of them. Sort of creepy to know that, not very far below us the magma is close enough to the surface to be hot enough to boil water. But it was very impressive.
Our timing for arriving at Old Faithful was perfect. By the time we got the rig parked and got over to the observation point, we only had about 10 minutes to wait until the next eruption was likely. The crowd wasn’t all that big so we had a great spot to watch. After a couple of teases, she did her thing.
Pictures, at least my pictures, don’t really do her justice. After the eruption, we decided to take the hike up to an observation point. The climb took us up 200 feet in about 1/2 mile. Let’s see, 5280 feet in a mile so a half mile is 2640 feet. 200 feet is 7.6% of 2640 feet, making this a 7.6% grade. And I was panting at the top. No wonder Flipper had such issues with the 12% grade I tried to make her climb outside Kettle Falls. But the view from up there was pretty nice. We even managed to get there in time for Old Faithful’s next eruption.
We spent the rest of the day hiking around ogling various mud pots, fumaroles, and geysers.
This coyote crossed the boardwalk right in front of us. He looked pretty proud of the bison face he was carrying:
By the end of the hike, our dogs were barkin’ but we had to take a little time to check out the Yellowstone Inn.
By late afternoon we’d had enough of geysers and breathing sulfuric steam and headed back to camp. It was another cold night but the heater kept us toasty. On Sunday morning, it was 30.5 degrees outside and 42 degrees inside when I got up. Took the furnace 2 hours of non-stop running to bring it up to 70 degrees inside. Felt sorry for the tent campers.
On Saturday, we drove around and hit a few places we’d bypassed the first day before heading out to new territory.
We took the drive along the south rim and then the north rim of the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone:
On the way back to camp we decided that we’d probably seen enough of Yellowstone for this year. We saw most everything that was open except for the backcountry. We decided to leave a day early and, lo and behold, the National Parks Service saw fit to refund us what we’d paid for the night we wouldn’t be staying. That doesn’t happen often. This morning, we emptied the holding tank, dumped the garbage and recyclables, and filled the water tank. Next stop: Rexburg, Idaho.
Driving around in Yellowstone: 133 miles
Total to-date: 2388 miles (60 miles/day)