Wednesday, June 24, 2009


Part 3

Final installment! I know this has been long and I've been busy trying to get caught up after a 2 week vacation.

Saturday, June 13, was our third and final day at Yellowstone. While you could easily spend a week there and probably still not see everything, we did see most of the high points of the park. The park itself is 2,219,789 acres or 3,468 square miles so you can see how much there is to cover. If you look at the map, we divided it up as follows: we came in on the east entrance in Wyoming, did the Canyon section and Norris the first day; the second day, we did the Old Faithful and West Thumb area; day 3 was the Mammoth and Tower Falls sections.

Our plan was to leave through the North entrance and spend the night in Livingston or Bozeman, depending on how much time we had.

The Mammoth section has some steep and winding roads, canyons, waterfalls, and of course the town of Mammoth, which is where Fort Yellowstone is located. The buildings still stand.

The main attraction at Mammoth Hot Springs is the terraces. Heat, water, limestone, and rock fracture combine to create the terraces. Travertine is deposited as white rock, however the microorganisms and living bacteria create beautiful shades of oranges, pinks, yellows, greens, and browns. The Mammoth Hot springs are constantly changing. As formations grow, water is forced to flow in different directions. The constant changes in water and mineral deposits create a living sculpture. Mammoth Hot Springs is divided into two sections, the lower terraces, and the Upper terrace Loop. (taken from the YNP website--my pictures though)

Here, you climb up the terraces on a walkway and steps, and of course of all days for it to finally be somewhat warm, it was that day, so by the time we finished climbing what seemed like 200 steps in the thin mountain air, we were all out of breath and sweating. There was no air movement either, although I would guess the temperature to be no more than 65 degrees.

As we were descending the steps/walkway, I got a phone call, with a ring I couldn't identify to any of my kids or family so answered it figuring it was a wrong number. It was a cousin I hadn't heard from in at least 2 years asking a dumb legal question! Oh, by the way, I'm at YNP right now so really can't talk. And as a reminder, I'M NOT AN ATTORNEY! I CANNOT GIVE YOU LEGAL ADVICE! IF YOU NEED LEGAL ADVICE, YOU NEED TO CONTACT AN ATTORNEY!

After we left the terraced Mammoth area, we decided on a picnic lunch at a grassy spot next to a church, overlooking the area below. It appeared from others also lunching nearby that there was going to be a wedding that day at that church. How cool is that?? (not my picture because mine didn't turn out this well)

While we were eating, you could actually see a storm coming over the mountains, so we quickly ate and no sooner got done than a rumble of thunder could be heard echoing through the canyon. We hurried to pack the car before the downpour started and headed northeast to Tower Falls. Signs along the road warned of elk in the area, and we saw dozens just grazing on the hills.

Soon the rain started again, as most days, and we continued our winding and upward drive to the Tower Falls area. Shortly after the rain started, we spotted cars stopped and knew there was some kind of wildlife sighting. This appeared to be a moose, just waiting out the storm.

Farther on, another batch of stopped cars along with a ranger. Here we found out was a bear just grazing on the side of the road. The ranger was not allowing anyone out of their cars, just stop long enough for a picture and move on. I'm sure this is because knowing how stupid people can be someone would get too close to the animal and then get mauled or something.

Its about 21 miles from Mammoth to the actual falls, a winding, curving upward road but some of the most beautiful scenery yet. As far as you can see are mountains, some green with trees, other sections all rock or some kind of stone, and canyon after canyon after canyon. You can see for miles and miles and we could see heavy rain coming at us long before we drove into it.

Once we got to the Falls section, here again was another canyon area with more falls, not as dramatic as the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone falls but always worth seeing nevertheless. One of the walkways to descend to the lower areas was closed due to damage from storms, etc., but none of us were in much of a mood to do any more climbing, especially in the cold, blowing rain. This was one of the more crowded areas, but only because parking was at a minimum.

Heading back down to Mammoth, we stopped at some of the turnout areas to take closer pictures. We were rewarded with spotting some mountain goats and babies climbing up and down the rocky canyon. Too far away for any decent pics but could be seen easily through binoculars.

From here to Mammoth we spotted another moose and and more elk the closer we got to there, and again it rained and rained and rained. As we passed the old church, we could see the groom or groomsmen standing outside waiting for the wedding to start.

We headed to the North entrance, Gardiner, and it was just dreary weather. At the North entrance is the Roosevelt Arch, which for some odd reason there is no turnout for picture taking so we had to go through and park and then walk back.

Gardiner is just a small town on the edge of YNP in Montana. We figured we would drive to Livingston to spend the night or Bozeman if we had time. Livingston is considered the gateway to Bozeman, also not that big of a town, but right off the highway, and with the continual heavy rain, we decided to stop there for the night. I had stayed there before and the hotels weren't that great and were fairly expensive, but somehow I had found a place on the internet with no website just good reviews so we found that place and were pleasantly surprised. For $64.99 a night, we had a room big enough to fit 8 people easily so you couldn't beat that. Naturally, the weather cleared shortly after checking in, but that was that. We were all tired and would have a long 2 days of driving ahead of us after this.

Spent the night in Livingston but wished we had gone on ahead to Billings (east) to get a head start on the next day of driving. I love the Montana countryside, the Little Horn Mountains, the Big Horn Mountains, so peaceful and serene. At least until the storms hit, and once again, we got blasted just outside of Billings. We had hoped to stop at the Little Big Horn Battlefield/Monument/Park, but it was raining so hard again, we just kept driving. At times it was almost impossible to see the road let alone thinking of getting out of the car and touring.

We were taking a north easterly route home this time, avoiding the mountain road of Highway 16. Interstate 90 east is straight through Billings, then into Sheridan, Wyoming, on to Buffalo again, then on to Gillette, before heading into South Dakota. I have read a lot of history about this particular area, from Bozeman on through South Dakota, so I was looking at things with a new eye. The town of Deadwood, SD is quite notorious, and then of course you have Mt. Rushmore which is about 30 miles north of the highway.

Shortly after this, a huge hail storm hit, with baseball sized hail, denting up cars, cracking windshields, making another mess of the road. Just another day in paradise here in SD it seemed!

We finally got a hotel late that night in Chamberlain, SD, which is where Lewis and Clark started their westward journey on the Missouri River.

The next day we headed out, to reach home hopefully by late night, only again to spend the next several hours in heavy rain. Trucks would pass and get in front of you and you couldn't see them, like a ghost, but you knew they were there. It was tense driving, and of course we had to slow down, taking longer yet!

By the time we reached Minnesota, the rain finally let up. By the time we entered Wisconsin, it was late afternoon and we were getting caught up in construction traffic, and needing gas, we stopped in the Wisconsin Dells area to eat, pretty much knowing it would be the last leisurely stop we would have. Our hope was to get home by 11 pm.

Fortunately, we had no more rain the rest of the way home but the usual Chicago area traffic (and we take 39 until we get to 80 and then cut over to 94 to avoid direct Chicago traffic) was heavy and with nightfall, the drive was starting to get to me. I hate all the big trucks, cutting in and out like you're not there, but being on the interstate you can't avoid it. Still better than a 2-3 hour backup in Chicago like I've had before.

We finally arrived home around 12:30 am after a few more somewhat tense hours and driving in the dark through construction areas in Michigan. Much as I love to travel, sometimes the journey there and back can be so tiring!


Lily on the Road said...

Thank you so much for sharing your vacation!

Love the photo's and descriptions that you've put along with them. Now, I'm going to have to look up and read all about the Park, SD and Deadwood. All Sounds SO Interesting.

Missy said...

I love that trip! That was our family vacation for years - we'd drive from MI to Wyoming. Sometimes Yellowstone but always the Tetons. Dad JUST got back from there yesterday. Love IT.

Just_because_today said...

don't you love ot hear from someone after two years to ask you a dumb question?
Seems that it rained as much there as we had here...nevertheless, seems that it was a great time. Loved the pictures

Lisa Slow-n-Steady said...

I've never been there before. You've inspired me to put it on my list of places to go. Thx for sharing. :-)

ShirleyPerly said...

Wonderful trip report! We didn't have a chance to visit the Mammoth Lakes area when we were there so I enjoyed your views vicariously. But I definitely remember that altitude making breathing a bit difficult.

Glad you made it back safe in that stormy weather!