Day 48 – Yellowstone

Our last park/hiking stop before the second wedding of our trip is Yellowstone. We are splurging with two nights at the Lake Yellowstone Hotel, then heading for a three-day, two-night hike.

We drop down from Montana through Gardiner and the North entrance. Walt’s never been to Yellowstone and I’ve only spent one day here about a decade ago. It’s another sunny, warm day so we have the car’s top down, which really gives us so much better access to the scenery.

We know we can’t hit everything but we’ve tried to plot a trip that will at least give us a good cross-section of the park: some fields for bison-viewing, hot springs, mud pots, and waterfalls.

Mammoth Hot Springs just amazes us with the bubbling and calcite rocks.

We stop at Cascade Falls and are rewarded with beautiful waterfalls plus some very interesting rock formations. We are both fascinated with the fact that a huge portion of Yellowstone was once a volcano and you can still see the blown rim, known as a caldera, in various spots.

We see bison, actually walking in the road, almost close enough for us to touch, although we are not tempted to do so. We are bemused by all the signs in Yellowstone about being “bear aware” and staying away from “dangerous wildlife” and yet when we get to our hotel room, there’s a stuffed bison toy on the bed (available for purchase) and a bear-shaped soap in the bathroom. If you want people to be on their guard around these animals, maybe you shouldn’t be doing your best to make them look cute, we think.

We stop for the lower falls at the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. The sign at the top of the trail warns visitors that it is “3/8 of a mile and 600 feet to the bottom” and yet we see people who clearly should not be going down this trail. We pass two women in flip flops, one of whom keeps turning to her elderly mother behind them, asking “are you OK, Mom?” This older woman, while wearing good sneakers, is clearly not comfortable going downhill on this gravelly, dusty path. What’s she going to do on the uphill? We pass them and enjoy the wonderful rush of the water going over the falls, the spray it kicks up and the view down the canyon. As we head back up the trail, I notice the two flip-flop-clad women just getting to the bottom, with “Mom” nowhere in sight. I am hoping she headed back up shortly after we ran into them and is now sitting at the overlook on top.

We stop briefly at the overlook but are intent on getting to a lookout further down the canyon that looks back at the falls we’ve just gotten up close and personal with. Off we go until we find a high lookout and spot an eagle’s nest perched on top of a rock high above the canyon. Then we head down another trail to the lower outpost, where we have a great view of the falls as well as the outlook above us.

Clouds have been building and it starts to sprinkle as we head to the car but we’re inside before we can get wet. And the rain passes extremely quickly so that by the time we get down the road to the mud volcano, the sun is shining again. We’re fascinated by the bubbling, spraying holes as well as the bison sitting calmly near one – a little spa treatment, perhaps?

Our last stop is the Lake Yellowstone Hotel, a gorgeous, historic building right on Yellowstone Lake. As I’ve said, it’s our big splurge for the trip. We’ll want to get an early start hiking the day after tomorrow and there aren’t a lot of cheap places to stay in the park. I guess we could’ve camped but we prefer not to car camp, which is what we’d have to do when we’re not backcountry hiking and camping.

We clean up and head down to the lobby for drinks overlooking the lake while a nice lady plays the grand piano. It’s all very elegant and delightful.

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