Dear Yellowstone, your life would be just fine without me. You don't need us, and you’d sleep better at night if we weren't around. These trails that cut across your mountain tops, these roads that we’ve carved into your valleys, and these bridges that span your waterways are selfish attempts for us to hold on to you. We’ve scarred you and caused you harm, but we love you and somehow you’ve tolerated our presence. You’re beautiful, and we’re so grateful that you keep us around.
In an attempt to make an early start, I unhooked the water and electricity while the hose and cable were still stiff from the cold. Toast with grape jam, orange juice, and coffee tastes better out here. Who really cares if I wear the same clothes I’ve had on for the last two days? These wool hiking socks? Don’t ask. We had an hour and forty-five minutes worth of driving to get to the other side of the park for our first item of the day, and you never know when a bear jam is going to make the roads slow.
The park’s road is designed like a figure-eight with a centralized junction near the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. There are campgrounds and a beautiful new hotel within a mile of the intersection. The lower half of the circuit is where most of the well-known attractions are located. Old Faithful, the Grand Prismatic Spring, Yellowstone Lake, the Fishing Bridge, and Great Thumb are all on the south end of the loop.
The northern section of the road draws across some of the most beautiful hills I’ve ever seen. There is no gentle slope, but the wildflowers don’t seem to mind. We made great time to the Roosevelt Lodge and walked to the corral to redeem our tickets for the first stagecoach ride of the day. It wasn’t a long tour, but that’s probably okay.
Can you imagine traveling this way? Before 1915, this was the only way to get near the park, and although there was some limited boat access, the majority of visitors spent days on a coach before they’d even reached the entrance. It would be another two days of travel before they could see the interior features like the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.
It was dusty, but not bad. We were the first of two coaches to travel the path. I wonder how many coaches would have traveled at one time and if they’d had the courtesy of leaving enough space between one another to let the dust settle. The sun was warm, but that was fairly welcome. This is the hottest part of the year and it was still very pleasant during the afternoon.
Jen and the kids rode in the back of the wagon and I opted for the tallyho for a better view. There was not much in the way of wildlife or scenery that we hadn’t already experienced. A lonely bison appeared for a moment and hid again behind some taller features. The guides talked about seeing other fauna, but there are no promises.
It’s no wonder that people prefer to drive their own cars. The thought of riding into the park by stagecoach is wonderfully nostalgic, but totally impractical. Still, the draw of the park is that it is accessible but also wild and free.
After lunch at a nearby turnout, I walked on top of the stone-toothed retaining wall. The road is already narrow and cars are driven by people who may or may not be able to watch for pedestrians while taking in the sights. The side of the wall opposite the road is a twenty foot drop to an untenable landing before an inevitable drop into the valley below. I don’t mind the risk… I feel more sure-footed than I have faith that the drivers will avoid me.
The views are worth the gamble.
A short time later and we had driven to Mammoth Hot Springs and the northern entrance of the park. Finding a space for the RV was tricky, but it all worked out in the end.
Half a mile from the boardwalk that winds around the thermal feature was a lot with enough room for us, and there was a trail that led me to the first terrace.
This collection of springs takes up so much space. The distance around the boardwalk seems easy, but there is a vertical element that kept my pace slower as the staircases were clogged with groups of all ages.
The springs were colorful, though different than other springs that we’d seen. There were intricate fountains of minerals that flowed over the terraces in the same fashion as the water that slowly deposited those structures over time. That same water feature also weathers and erodes the layers of sulfate, calcite, and chlorate shelves. Bacteria thrive on the warmth of the spring even though the water appears to be the clean and pure.
Eventually, I wandered back to the RV and we drove to a quieter spot near the central junction for a much-needed rest. Everyone slept for at least a little while and by six o’clock, we were eating dinner. I made chicken kabobs on the camp-stove with green peppers, onions, mushrooms, and chicken, of course.
One of the great things about RV camping is that we can leave our supplies behind with security and take off for the trail, which happened to have a leg that came to our very doorstep. It was a little steep, but everyone did fine. The trail that we had found was the north rim trail of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. We walked to the west and I found an awesome spot about fifty feet below the lookout where I set up my platypod for a selfie on the edge.
Some of these spots are not very dangerous if you keep cool and watch your step. This one was actually kind of a challenge. The slope was steep and layered with loose gravel. There were some trees and roots that were struggling to hang on. Some of them were trustworthy, and others seemed precarious. Going back up was a little easier because I had my heavy pack giving me a little more traction in the soil.
The falls were so loud, it was like hearing the wind move past your face on the highway with the windows down. I loved it. I loved hearing the power of the water and knowing that I could never withstand the force of nature. I loved feeling slightly fragile and still alive.
After making my way back up the cliff, joining the others, and returning to the RV, we drove to the next lookout and realized that we’d have time to see the falls from one more point if we hurried. Back in the RV, down the road a bit, on the other side of the canyon, and we found the parking lot nearly abandoned. Without hurrying too much, we made it to the Artists’ Point, which is one of the most picturesque perspectives I have ever seen.
The sun was fading, but the moon was up and the falls were still roaring over the rocks and crashing into the floor of the canyon below. I took my shots and watched the last bit of light fade beyond the rim. We drove home in the dark, but I was satisfied that we’d done all we could to see what Yellowstone had to offer.
I think I love her. I love her for the peculiar ways that heat and water have made her special. I love her for the meadows that dance in the sunlight. I love her because there is no place on earth that moves exactly the way she moves, and I don’t even know what secrets she might be keeping.
I wish there were a better way to sign off on this, but the truth is that I had to walk away. Tomorrow we leave for the Grand Tetons and we’re one step closer to home. Thank you all for reading and for all your encouragement and support. Take care, friends!
August 5th, 2017 Dan:
You have once again brought me to tears. This record of your trip is very moving and spiritual for me.
I have loved being "with you" as I relive our experiences there. These parks are truly magnificent and you have captured the essence for me. BOOK!
August 5th, 2017 Ginger:
Is it ever possible to get enough of the West????? I LOVE the picture of you, Wayne, with your hands in the air looking at the view..... I often do the same thing. What other reaction is possible? Simple awe.... Amazing! I've so enjoyed your trip. Thanks a million for sharing!