The Last of Yellowstone: Snow, Canyon, Mud, Bears!

blog, photography, pnw & travel

We have now left Yellowstone. The consensus (can there be a consensus between two people?) is that we shall have to return again someday. Off season was a neat time to come, because there were not very many people here, but it might be nice to come in better weather, to see the thermals in all their glory, more of the animals, etc.

Yesterday we were lulled in and out of sleep by raindrops tip-tapping on our roof all night, and woke to a powdered mountain view the next morning.

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We didn’t get out as early as intended, but it was cold and we were moving a bit stiffly. This was the first night of the trip I wasn’t clawing my way out of my -1 degree-rated mummy bag at night when it got too toasty. We just may have overestimated the seriousness of our late-season camping – hooray for climate change. However, I was rather excited to come up over a ridge and find that I could now begin the annual war I wage with my cousin: who can capture a photo of the best frozen thing. The battle of frost, as it were. It’s totally not fair that I was about 8,000 feet higher than she is right now.

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We made lots of little stops, making our way slowly out of the park and heading east. We saw Roaring Mountain, whose steam vents could be heard from up to four miles away in the 1800’s! Pretty neat.

It’s winter!

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Then we visited the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, which I’d written off a couple of days ago.

“It’s not like it’s the real Grand Canyon or anything…”

Well, boy am I glad we decided to go! The view from Artist Point was spectacular, with the rusty watercolors of the canyon running together and the spindly trees clinging for dear life on the cliffs. And the waterfalls! You can’t get a photo of both of them, but one was enough!

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We saw a few Clark’s Nutcrackers flying around this area, as well as another lost hat. That is one of the themes of this trip (besides Jim smoking his way across America, but more on that later). This was the third one I’d seen; first the flower hat at Norris, then a straw cowboy hat at Excelsior Geyser, and now this cap out of reach in the canyon. Can you spot it? And even harder, what team is it? 😉

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We started to do the hike to “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” at the canyon, but it was going to be a hell of a time coming back up, & we are, simply, out of shape. Plus it’s still like 8,000 ft. elevation up here. The canyon non-hike was the first time we’d cracked out the bear spray and bell, really. We were the only people around, and there were signs posted everywhere, indicating bears were frequently seen in the area. We saw some bear scat, but no bears.

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We went through Hayden Valley (yes, Mom, I know! I know!) but didn’t linger, because there wasn’t much going on. We saw Mary Mountain, and Alum Creek (where there are apparently a *lot* of bear sightings – and killings), but no bears. Again. Lots of bison, lots of elk. No wolves, and no bears. Psh.

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Then we went to a couple more thermals – the Mud Volcano and Dragon’s Mouth Springs. The Mud Volcano was probably my favorite thermal. It was like Ovaltine; a pale chocolate brown, perfectly smooth & bubbling, with my favorite kind of mud rimming the edges. Jim says it’s weird to have a favorite kind of mud. But do you know what I’m talking about? It’s like slightly melted creamy peanut butter. But Jim also said I probably shouldn’t bathe in it, since it was full of sulfuric acid, and would likely melt my skin off.

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The Dragon’s Mouth Spring was the most forceful spring I’ve seen in the park yet! It was like an ocean cave, with waves spewing out and crashing through the tunnel’s mouth, but it was hot and steamy, and nearly knocked you over with sulfur fumes.

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Next we went down to Yellowstone Lake – we really were just trying to hit the rest of the park before we left. The West Thumb was closed to cars, but pedestrians could still get in and look at the thermals and springs. It was interesting to see them go right down to the lake. Apparently it doesn’t affect the lake’s overall temperature that much.

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There were some deep pools here – one was aptly named “The Abyss.”

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We said goodbye to the last of the thermals, and drove around the lake to head east. There is extensive fire damage around the lake – from the giant fires in 1988, from the early 2000’s, from 2011, and 2013…

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After we left the lake (where we saw Mary Bay – who the heck was Mary and why did she get all the spots named after her??) we headed back up, up, up into the mountains.

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THEN WE FINALLY SAW A FREAKING GRIZZLY.

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A line of cars with giant telephoto lenses poking out the windows was our first clue: “Ok, there’s something going on here – and it’s probably not an elk.”

We slowed down and parked at the back of the line and watched the hillside where everyone was directing their focus. Pretty soon we saw her moving down the hill, digging up roots, totally ignoring the 20 or so humans in giant vehicles watching her every move. Someone up ahead of us mentioned there was a cub, so we stayed put, and pretty soon, there the little (ish) one was. We stayed for about 30-40 minutes, just watching and taking photos. Jim let me use his giant telephoto! Yay.

(side note: in case you didn’t know, you can click on smaller photos to enlarge them – I just don’t want to post them full-size, for space considerations)

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So now we are on the road to Madison – with a long, flat stretch of cowboy stuff ahead of us the next few days…

So cheers!

Anna (& Jim)

One thought on “The Last of Yellowstone: Snow, Canyon, Mud, Bears!

  1. I stumbled across your blog from an Instagram photo that I loved (I love all your photos)
    How exciting to get to see Yellowstone. It’s on my list of must visit places. I’ll get there in a couple of years. Right now with a new baby, the farthest we can travel is about two hours to the coast, and even that is an ordeal. I love the winding easy prose of your post. I also love that you GOT TO SEE A GRIZZLY! HUZZAH! They are such amazing creatures.

    Like

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