Night 7: Valleys of Yellowstone

Trip Start Jun 20, 2012
Trip End Jul 18, 2012

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Flag of United States  , Wyoming
Tuesday, June 26, 2012

We drove 44 miles up Paradise Valley and then 125 miles through Yellowstone National Park. Weather was cool and extremely windy in morning. Evening was cold and clear with dying wind.

We woke up and made breakfast of eggs, refreshed from our stay at America's best KOA. Jessica cooked while I broke camp. As I worked the wind began to pick up. Eventually, we were ready to hit the road and off we sped down US-89. We were hoping to get a camping spot at the competitive Mammoth Campground at the north end of Yellowstone Park.

The drive down the road and up Paradise Valley was full of memories of past trips. The Absaroka Mountains have tried to get us down many times. (Like the time our car wouldn't start 10 miles up the mountain in the grizzly bear infested wilderness. Fun times.) The area today was a picture of beauty and peace.

Along the way to the east and the west are two snow-capped mountain ranges, both covered by the Gallatin National Forest. These woods are populated by grizzlies who have killed peoplevery near here for attempting to do the very thing I am doing right now: car camping. Along the road and at the bottom of the valley is the fast-moving Yellowstone River. Sometimes you see rafters attempting the rapids or fly fishermen along the banks. Most of the valley is in the business  
of ranching. Where irrigation permits, there might be a farm here or there. Also present, but in small numbers, is the multi million dollar mansion.

As the valley narrows, the ranches disappear and soon one passes Yankee Jim Canyon, rocky and prone to slides. Ospreys or eagles are not uncommon sights here.

At the end, the valley opens up again and you drive through the last town selling cheap gas: Gardiner, MT. We didn't stop because we were on a mission. We drove past the famous park gate and 5 miles in, across the state line in Wyoming. Here I was surprised to see campsites open at Mammoth, but maybe it was because the wind was incredible.

We bought permits for two nights at a site, the host claimed, might be in a decent spot for wind. As we pulled in, we saw tent after tent blown down or bent away from the wind. It did nit look good. We might have to go into van sleeping mode, a very uncomfortable choice.

So we tried to put up the tent. I faced it to the wind and opened all the flaps so air could flow through. We left the roof fly off and hoped it wouldn't rain. As the poles bent, I secured the two corners facing the wind with an additional cord I was keeping handy. This all seemed to work, but a few boulders placed inside the tent couldn't hurt a bit.Having secured our tent, we drove off into Mammoth town to buy ice and gas. Then our road trip began.

We tried to hike the upper hot springs trails above Mammoth. It was crowded and windy and not very pleasant. This caused us to decide to go on a safari so we did the best route possible for wildlife in the park in my experience. From Mammoth you head east toward Roosevelt-Tower and then continue on the road to the Cooke City Entrance.

The Roosevelt road passes through an area i think a moose would enjoy, having ponds and green grasses and woods. Past Roosevelt, the road passes through the Lamar Valley. Lamar is pretty famous for its wolf rehabilitation. There are several packs, but we saw none. The valley  
was checkered with bison of all sexes and ages. In the middle of the hilly, mostly treeless valley, is the Lamar River. We then made lunch at a picnic ground near the Lamar River. Behind the picnic tables were signs that read: "Bear Danger in Area beyond sign!" indeed, there was  
bear scat at our cooking site.

After fooling around in this area we drove toward Canyon on a road that goes up 8800 feet. The road passes the prime grizzly area of Antelope Creek. We passed and made some time at the overcrowded Canyon area.

Canyon is full of stores and home to a very good visitor center. Andrew gets a kick out of taxidermy for some reason and the VC did not disappoint, with a huge bison and calf up on the second floor and very comfortable seats nearby.

The store was packed with people ending their day. Andrew and Jessica got a sundae. It was chaos all around. A lot of times YNP feels like the suburbs. You are often stuck in traffic here, which ruins the nature vibe a tad... but only a tad. Nothing can ruin the amazing sights of Yellowstone NP. It is kind of like the area around Niagara Falls. With all its circuses, the falls capture you and you can't see anything else. The same happens here. A bison bull or a hot spring cause your heart to beat a bit faster and suddenly, there is no crowd.

Down the road near Canyon is Yellowstone's Upper and Lower Falls, a 100+ and 300+ foot drop resectively. Andrew was not satisfied with the views from the overlook so we hiked down 600 feet fir 3/8 mile zig zagging at a high grade. After a long time we reached the brink of the falls, and I have to thank Andrew for his good idea. The power of the rush over the cliffside, the amount of water! It is incredible that Yellowstone Lake doesn't flow out and empty.

After a temper tantrum, we invented a race to the top. It distracted and motivated Andrew to ascend 600 feet and 3/8 mile back to the van. We continued on to be uninspired by Inspiration Point.

After hiking the falls, we continued South into the Hayden Valley with its blue waters and thousands of geese. Hayden was full of bison herds, all active and by the roadside. We also saw a coyote in the hunt, elk and pronghorn, and there were rumors of a bear sighting earlier. This rumor was enough to cause traffic jams.

Next I unsuccessfully checked the rapids of the Yellowstone  for spawning fish and successfully spotted a bald eagle. After this the sun began dropping and we turned around for Mammoth, stopping once, for Andrew to use the potty at Norris.

After cooking up some ramen and being mindful of our garbage (bears), we went to bed. Every sound outside is a threat. My imagination might keep me up tonight.

Update: It is the morning. Nothing came to eat me. 
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