Day four: Bison & wolves of Lamar Valley, horseback riding in Wyoming, and the Grand Canyon Water Falls

Our morning drive into Lamar Valley led us into several welcome traffic jams with herds of bison, giving us an opportunity to see their babies play and their mating season in full swing. We even had a chance to check out wolves- once nearby at a wolf den and another from the valley wolf watchers who had spotting scopes. We observed 2 wolves chasing a pack of bison around the drinking hole area. Small creatures in comparison, but with such power and authority.

We continued down the Charles Scenic Highway where we spotted signs for horseback riding at the Skyline Ranch. Since I had never been horseback riding, we spontaneously checked out the ranch. While they were full, they were nice enough to refer us to their friends at K&Z Ranch in Cody, Wyoming further down the road. There, our guide Casey took us on a 90 minute horseback ride through the Shoshone National Forest. My horse Bojangles was quite the gentle horse, and his knowledge of the hills and how to maneuver the rugged and steep terrain was remarkable. At the point I stopped “driving” and let him guide me, I truly began enjoying the natural beauty around me. We saw sand hill crane babies splashing in a stream, stunning views of Cathedral Ledge close up, and grand views of Bear Tooth Mountain among others.

We carried on to Bear Tooth Highway on a long stretch of road to a beautiful overlook of the valley, giving us an opportunity to warm up our hiking legs on large rock formations. Afterward we continued to the town of Red Lodge, WY, and realizing we were 3 hours from base, we headed back. We retraced our steps up and down the mountain and headed to the waterfalls at the Grand Canyon.

We saw Yellowstone falls from several angles – lower falls “north rim”, where were close to the roaring falls, lower falls “south rim”, where we could see the stretch of rapids protruding from the falls point, upper falls, and also from Artists’s Point, which served as my favorite of the viewing locations. The pastel colored mountains lit with a setting sun were breathtaking. The pink pastel hearts in the mountainside reminded us of the love and beauty and around us. We ended the day with a rich sunset view over the valley, worthy of a stop off from the long ride, and a celebratory champagne back at the Mammoth Lodge.

64°F
Yellowstone National Park, Yellowstone National Park, WY, United States

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Day three: Continental Divide, Cauldrons and Bison and Deer o-my, Geyser hunting, Old Faithful Inn, river swims and picnics

My morning began way too early as my body clock refuses to accept it’s new time zone. Lucky for me, Captain Mark was on security duty and provided coffee before civilization arose. Kathleen also woke early, so we started the day’s adventures with a morning drive to the Mud Volcano. On the way, we stopped at a seemingly common roadside area. It happened to be the Great Continental Divide, where an easy-to-overlook small river of water covered in lily pads sends its waters to both the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. It was peaceful and beautiful in the morning light. Further on our way to the Mud Volcano, we met some deer and bison and experienced the grand Lake Yellowstone.

We were approached by a bison on our drive. He decided to stroll down the center lane and we caught a great video of him as he walked past us. We saw another bison in the mud volcano area who seemed to just want a nap in the morning sun. Another bison was at the bottom of the trail as we tried to leave. Our ranger Cane West (aka Kanye) told us how the bison are just starting their mating season and are a little unpredictable, so best to stay clear of the aggressive males!

The mud volcano area sputtered about as if the witches were brewing a morning porridge. The thrush of force at churning cauldron could be felt as we approached, and made black dragon’s cauldron seem wimpy in comparison. We chose to take in our morning breakfast at Sour Lake, enjoying the calm beauty and noticeably lower sulphur smell than its neighbors.

After the morning adventure, we headed back to the Old Faithful area to check out the more powerful geysers, as Kathleen wasn’t impressed with OF’s max heights. Lucky for us, Grand Geyser and Beehive were predicted to erupt within a few hours of each other. Grand was just that – enormous at about 185’ and a spray of “rain” on us that was amusing and refreshing, lasting for a long run of 5-10 minutes. After Grand, we went to Beehive, where we set up chairs and had a lunch picnic, barely noticing the crowd forming behind and around us. Beehive graciously waited for us to have mostly finished our lunches and then she exploded like something you see only in movies. She is known as the most powerful and tallest 200’ geyser in all of Yellowstone, and she didn’t disappoint.

Our successful geyser hunting ended just in time for us to take the Old Faithful Inn tour, which was truly a treat. Our tour guide Ruth had been at the Inn for 28 years, and her depth of knowledge and storytelling was impressive. We learned that the Inn’s architect Robert Reimer was a first time architect who “was in the right place at the right time” to win this job. His vision was to bring the forest into the hotel, a concept that was unheard of at the time as many hotels tried to model the interiors of the big cities. Construction took 1 year with only 50 carpenters and doors opened in 1904. The interior is 70” tall, similar in height of the common pine trees, and all the wood was sourced within 4 miles. Even the grand fireplace was made from volcanic rock that was locally sourced. We toured an original room and learned what the activities were like there at the time. We also learned that the wealthy visitors would take a 5 day trek in horse and carriage in order to reach the OFI! We heard the touching story of a guest who brought her grandmother’s diary of her trek in that era and her room at OFI, which she got to sleep in 2 generations later. It was touching.

We meandered our way to Mammoth, stopping to see the Artist’s Paintpots (including its slightly repulsive mud volcano), cool off in a swimming river, check out roaring mountain, and finally made it to our next location. After a great dinner in town, we are finally ready to start again tomorrow.

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Yellowstone National Park, Yellowstone National Park, WY, United States

Day two: Grand prismatic, Fairy Falls, Old Faithful

Our morning adventure started with a quick drive from the Snow Lodge to Grand Prismatic Spring, the largest hot spring in the US. We began our trek with a short hike up to the overlook where we saw beautiful vistas and what we thought at the time were rich colors. After exploring the surrounding trails we headed back to the car and drove to get closer to Prismatic. The boardwalks made it easy to walk around and take it in as closely as possible.

When we got close up to the spring, the colors were indescribably rich hues of sharp aqua and sea blues enveloped by copper and terra cotta from which arose powder-white finger-like branches. The striking colors enchanted us while the clarity of the water surprised us. We could see all the rocks and formations in the water with perfect clarity. We lingered in the beauty.

Our next hike was to the 70-foot Mystic Falls. We had an easy hike to the base and picnicked. Afterward, we climbed a few miles trail to the overlook at the hills tree top, where we took in the grand views that reached all the way back to Old Faithful. After much wandering, we made it back just in time for our dinner reservation at the Old Faithful lodge where we shared a bottle of Sokol Blosser Pinot Noir Estate Cuvée 2011, a favorite Kathleen brought for us to enjoy. After dinner, we walked over to Old Faithful who welcomed us with a perfect 120′ eruption complete with hopeful rainbow. We couldn’t have planned a better ending to our long, 12-miles of hiking day.

70°F Sunny
44.487° N, 110.866° W

Day One Entry: Aug 1, 2017

Kathleen had driven 10 hrs from Seattle to pick me up in Bozeman. It was another 1.5 to Livingston, where we stopped for pictures with a selection of Livingston signs. Livingston was the first railway station serving Yellowstone, and a cute city center grew up as a result. It looks like it stepped right out of the 50s.

After Livingston, we went the fine dining restaurant at Chico Hot Springs in Pray MT. It was on a resort campus complete with cabins and day spa with gorgeous views of the surrounding mountain range.

We then drove along a mountain range to Gardiner. We passed Livingston Peak, Mt Delano, Black Mountain and several others on our way to the grocery store just outside the park. After loading up, I drove from there to old faithful which was a few hours in the dark.

It was quite the adventure driving to Old Faithful Snow Lodge in the dark – lots of deer crossing right in front of us, a major road closure that required us to drive an extra 40 min and then all the way the other path around the grand loops.

When we arrived the reservation system was down so we requested tea and the security guy took care of us. Turns out Mark is a retired Navy Chief Petty Officer and a super knowledgeable park volunteer where he and his wife retired here as campers May-Oct in his dad’s 1930’s Boy Scout sleeper tent that went back to the days of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC).

He told us about the Great Depression and how families sent their kids to the parks for work and the kids sent money home to support their families. Many trails were established back then! The CCC was vital force in the development of national parks across the US. The CCC aimed to help decrease the number of unemployed youths in America.

He also talked about ecosystem development, the importance of keeping animals where they are so that ecosystems aren’t harmed, like not moving endangered wolves elsewhere and having an ecosystem collapse because without the wolves the elk would eat the grass and there would be no bugs to feed the fish.

After our lesson, which drew in another late night check-in couple who was equally impressed by Mark, we got our room keys, I unloaded the car, and we finally settled down and unpacked in our lovely 2- queen bed suite.