Exploring America's First National Park

Trip Start Sep 07, 2012
Trip End Ongoing

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What I did
Nature, animals, geothermal features

Flag of United States  , Wyoming
Wednesday, September 12, 2012

After our brief, unexpected stay in Butte, Montana to fix a flat on the trailer, we finally made it to Yellowstone on 9/12. On the drive toward the West Entrance, we passed Hebgen Lake and learned that in 1959, there was a 7.5 magnitude earthquake centered just to the NW of Yellowstone, and that it cause a landslide that buried an entire campground where Hebgen Lake now resides, killing 28 unlucky souls, including a few entire families. In a ranger program on the subject that we attended later, we learned that the force of the slide was so intense that boulders from the North bank moved across the valley and ended up in a higher position on the South bank than they started on the North bank. Our hearts went out to the lives and families affected by this tragedy. It's a not-so-subtle reminder of nature's awesome and sometimes frightening power.

When we arrived at Madison Campground, we were a day later than we were supposed to be, and we nearly lost our registration. Someone online has just nabbed it, but the lady ranger I talked to managed to wrestle it back for us (I think she was sweet on me). We were lucky, because all the campgrounds were otherwise full.

Our campground perched on the bank of the Madison River, and it became a tradition for Wren and I to wake up early and take walks together down the river valley. I valued this time we spent together, because during the past year, I was working outside the home for the first time in seven years, and we didn't get much time together. It was so peaceful in the valley on those mornings, like the World was, at that moment, simply about being alive and having a sense of connection to the natural beauty of life in all its many forms. At least for a few days, it wasn't about work, money, technology, or responsibilities.

Although the mornings were beautiful, they were also cold! It dipped into the low 20s several times during our stay. Since there was no electric hookup, we were using a propane heater, which had a tendency of running out of propane in the wee hours of the morning. We would sometimes wake up and be able to see our breath. I have to say, this wasn't the kind of adventure we were looking for, but we trudged through and kept piling on blankets as needed.

Naturally, spending four days in Yellowstone, we saw our share of wildlife, including bison, elk, coyote, ravens, and a bald eagle. We didn't see any wolves or bears, but we did see a recent bison kill, and people were saying that wolves, bears, ravens, and eagles were all taking turns at the carcass (when we were there, we only saw the ravens and the one bald eagle).

We saw so many bison and elk on the first two days (including a bison calf and a close encounter with an elk stag) that pretty soon, we stopped pulling over to take pictures of them. The elk stag that I got close to...Kat thought it was about to charge me. I was so busy taking pics and video that I forgot that the elks were in rutting season. Luckily, I made it out without being...rutted?

Our days were spent driving the loops and viewing wildlife, and of course the geothermal features, including geysers, mud pots, and hot springs. Yellowstone is basically one incredibly  immense active volcano, where water and clay bubble up out of the ground, and hot steam and water spray out of geysers - some of which, like Old Faithful, can be predicted within 10 minutes as to when they will erupt. Others, like Steamboat Geyser, only have a big eruption once every several years. Some of our favorite features were the sapphire pool, the artist paint pots, and the ponderosa pines, with their white "socks", formed by secreted mineral deposits. We learned something interesting about the pines in Yellowstone. They've adapted to actually needing the forest fires to propagate their seeds. They form a hard resin over the seeds within their cones, which can only be released by fire. This is a great example of species adaptation to the environment. The tree have figured out the fires will be frequent in the park (speaking of, there were a few active fires while we were there, but nowhere near anywhere we traveled).

Each night, we would attend the ranger program at the campground amphitheater. Over the four nights, we learned about beavers, big cats, wolves, coyote, and bison, as well as getting more details about the 1959 quake. The beaver talk inspired us to take a hike out at Harlequin Lake, hoping to catch site of some beavers. While we did see their bank home, there was no sign of its builders. One interesting fact about the beavers at Harlequin Lake is that they've adapted to eat the lilypads, having none of their usual staple, aspen or willow, around. They apparently build with the pine, but don't eat it.

On day four, Wren completed the Junior Ranger program and we celebrated Kat's birthday by visiting Mammoth Hot Springs and eating at the Terrace Grille there. I thought the Mammoth Hot Springs were a little disappointing, really, being mostly dry beds, with not much activity. But the view from the top was definitely worth the the effort of the climb.

All in all, our stay at Yellowstone was one we'll treasure for years to come. It's a very special place, and we felt fortunate to have the opportunity to spend time together there exploring it.

Stay tuned for some weird and interesting tidbits in our next blog, from Cody and Sundance, WY, including our trip to Devil's Tower.
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