Wednesday July 11th
I went to bed last night shortly after 9:00pm and woke up cold a couple of times during the night. The first time, I put on warmer clothes and the second time, I broke out the "zero degree" sleeping bag and used it as a comforter. I woke up for the day at 5:50am to 48F outside.
Since I had a shower to start the day Tuesday, I opted to by-pass using my shower pass at Grant Village in order to head out and get a early start on wildlife viewing and my planned drive around the lower loop of the Yellowstone Park Road.
For those who are not familiar with Yellowstone, you can drive the entire park road in your personal vehicle. There are limitations on RVs and vehicles that are towing trailers and/or boats but for the most part, visitors have full access to most of the most popular attraction areas within the park. The road that covers the park is a figure eight, comprised of two loops with numerous spur roads that create the entrances and exits of the park.
The lower loop is the larger of the two, and includes much of the geyser area as well as the popular Hayden Valley known for its large bison herds, grizzly bears and the canyon wolf pack. It also runs along the Yellowstone River and Yellowstone Lake. Grant Village and the campground I stayed at Tuesday night is at the southernmost end of this lower loop, so it provided for a great start to my first day in Yellowstone.
As I left the Grant Village area, there were elk everywhere; all females with young. Further on down the road, there were three large bull elk with quite impressive racks. I was fortunate to be able to stop and park while shooting photos of both groups of animals. It was a lovely morning, complete with a wonderful sunrise over Yellowstone Lake. The cold air temperatures provided enough of a differential to create a fog over many of the geothermal areas around West Thumb Geyser Basin and Mud Volcano. I did stop at the Mud Volcano parking area to use the bathroom. Imagine my surprise when I stepped out and saw a huge bison less than 10 or 15 feet away. I waited for him to move on further behind the rails protecting the boardwalk, before exiting . . . and of course snapping his photo!
It wasn't much further to Hayden Valley and my first official bison road jam. There were mostly females and their young (known affectionately as "red doggies") on both sides of the road, as well as crossing or walking right down the middle of the road.
Their young are quite adorable looking, but messing with momma is not a wise choice. It was interesting watching a couple of bulls joust, testing themselves as rut season is just around the corner. They were in the middle of the road, locking horns and providing entertainment to those who stopped to give them right-of-way. I moved on through the traffic jam continuing my drive north towards Canyon Village where I was hoping to be able to check in early for that evening's camp reservation. Before arriving there, however, I did make a stop and got out to walk the short, easy trail to the lookout at the Yellowstone River Canyon at Artist's Point. A bus had just been there, but was loading to head on, so there was no crowd. Further on down the road, however, at the next walking trail, there were a lot of people but I didn't allow that to deter my hiking up to the overlook point which provided a greater view of the entire canyon area. It was well worth the effort!
At Canyon Village, I was able to check into my campsite and obtain my shower card for the day so I went ahead and took a shower. With the morning temps now up around 60F, it was warm enough for me to be out and about with wet hair. The shower felt good and I was now refreshed to continue on about my day.
It was here that I first ran into a family from a city about 10 minutes from where we live. Over the course of the next few days, I passed them or parked by them several times. Their vehicle was especially notable as they had two handmade kayaks on their roof. They would not be the only visitors I'd run into from the Milwaukee area on this trip.
My drive next took me across to Norris Geyser Basin. This is a very nice area of geysers and hot springs. Unfortunately with my asthma, I was unable to do much of the walking around the boardwalk areas leading up and around several of the geysers or out into the area known as the Porcelain Basin largely due to the high sulfuric content in much of the area.
I did walk out to the overlook of Porcelain Basin and sat upwind from one particularly stinky vent. The view was lovely. From there I walked back through the museum and hiked the quarter mile boardwalk up to the Steamboat Geyser. While it is known for very large and unpredictable eruptions, all that I saw in my hour or so there were several spurting eruptions that only lasted 15 to 30 seconds, launching water upwards perhaps 10 to 15 feet in the air. Still it was fun to watch it percolate and gurgle as it sputtered and steamed.
On the way up to Steamboat Geyser, the pathway takes you by the Emerald Spring, another rather smelly area. At least with the gentle breezes, it was possible to find a place to stand out of the air current containing the sulfur smells.
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