Day 246 – Yellowstone’s Grand Loop, August, 19, 2011
We entered Yellowstone National Park via the northeast
entrance and bison peppered the valley while spectators peppered the road. I’ve seen so many bison lately, I wondered if
they were waiting on a bear to run through the herd…it didn’t seem like a very
spectacular event to me especially since they were generally far away. Then I saw a line of them cross the
river. I guess people were waiting for
them to cross the water like people wait for wildebeest to cross the river in Africa.
Soda Butte, a travertine (calcium carbonate) mound, poked up
above the grassy valley. It was formed
more than a century ago by a hot spring.
Only small amounts of hydrothermal water and hydrogen sulfide gas flow
from what once was a prolific spring.
The road followed aside beautiful Soda Butte Creek before we
reached the Tower-Roosevelt Junction where we stopped nearby to see a petrified
tree. The petrified tree is a redwood indistinguishable
from the redwoods of California today. It’s
hard to believe Yellowstone was once home to a warmer, damper climate. The tree was swallowed by volcanic eruptions
and abundant silica in the volcanic flow plugged living cells before the tree
After visiting the tree, we arrived at Tower Fall a few
short miles away. Tower Fall began as a
low ledge at a junction of two different bedrocks. The rock at the brink of the fall is harder
than the rock downstream. At one time a
channel of soft rock around a streambed stood where the Tower Stream now
plummets to a pool below.
We left Tower Fall and took the loop 19 miles past Mt.
Washburn, through meadows and burnt forest, and by prime grizzly bear country
(although I didn’t see one) to Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone where the
Yellowstone River has carved a magnificent gorge. Trails along the rim lead to the brink of the
Lower Falls and the Upper Falls, two intense cascades. The force of the water pouring over the ledge
was dizzying. From afar, the view –
From the falls we cruised another 16 miles through the
meadows that are supposed to be home to moose and elk (didn’t see any). A bunch of people were pulled over to see an
immature bald eagle feasting on a bison carcass, though. It was so far away; however, even with a 300
zoom the bird was about a centimeter in my lens…I kept going. I moved onto LeHardy’s Rapids, spawning
grounds for the cutthroat trout.
By midday, we arrived at Grant Village to find a campsite…wanted
to make sure I secured one before the weekend.
The campsite was right on Yellowstone Lake, the largest, highest
mountain lake in North America measuring 14 by 20 miles. A lovely, groomed path follows the perimeter
and it is within 100 feet of the pavement, so Petey got to enjoy the scenery
After Petey’s walk and dinner, we took an evening game drive
in hopes to spot a moose or a bear. On
the way, the bison interfered and boy was the big guy snarling…grunting at
VANilla, sticking out his tongue. I
started to wonder if he could tip VANilla over.
I was in a precarious position surrounded by cars and bison! It started to get a bit frustrating driving
the pace of a bison walk, but eventually they moved off the road, and I made a
short, stinky stop due to the sulphur at Mud Volcano and Dragon’s Mouth
Spring. A park visitor around 1912 named
Dragon’s Mouth Spring for the water that surges from the mouth of the cave like
lashing of a dragon’s tongue. The Mud
Volcano blew itself apart around 1872.
Now it is a pool of muddy, bubbling water.
We continued further north to the same area, Hayden Valley,
known for wildlife where I finally spotted, along with 100 other visitors, a
grizzly mama with two cubs across the river.
They moved quickly. I sped
VANilla up and squeezed in for a parking spot a handful of times, and I hardly
ever got a good shot from the front.
When I had the angle the sage brush or hills would be in the way. I did get a few of them in the clearing which
was very exciting. I only wish it were a
bit lighter outside and I was a bit closer…had to resort to Photoshop again. Regardless, I enjoyed watching them lope
through the meadow. ETB