June 2018 Badlands and Beyond, part 3, YELLOWSTONE

JUNE 9, 2018 – I woke up to the mouth-watering aromas of sizzling eggs, bacon, and hot coffee. My husband is the BEST! ❤ We talked over our hiking options and decided that the closest trail to Canyon Village that looked interesting was the Ice Lake – Wolf Lake trail.

The Ice Lake trail and the connecting Wolf Lake cutoff trail were what we would consider relatively easy with no great climbs or descents in elevation. The most challenging part would be crossing the Gibbon river in two different areas along the way.

The morning was crisp, cool, and sunny… perfect for hiking! We filled our day packs with water bottles, granola bars, bug spray, head nets, and rain gear, strapped on our bear spray and we were ready to go! We travel everywhere in our 1992 GMC Vandura camper van, so everything we need is always with us. Two coolers full of food and beverages, all of our hiking equipment, maps, anything and everything we need and more.

Hiking along the trail, we came upon what looked like large dog prints, but then realized they must be wolf because dogs are not allowed on this trail. Most trails in Yellowstone do not allow dogs because of the many predators that view man’s best friend as a yummy snack. We took some photos and journeyed on, finding more prints the size of my hand and hair-filled scat along the trail. One of the piles of scat had part of an elk hoof in it! That’s when we knew without a doubt that we were walking on the same path that wolves had taken. Exciting!!

The trail led us to two different river crossings without any man-made foot bridges. We used downed trees to get across and we took our time, not wanting to fall into the swift-moving current. Phil always goes first, then encourages and guides me along, sometimes providing his nearly 6-foot-long walking stick (I call it the Yeti stick) for stabilization.

We came upon a couple of back country campsites next to Ice Lake. We thought about coming back and possibly camping here in the future. At this point in our travels, we hadn’t lost our fear of tent camping in grizzly territory. We really wanted to camp in the back country, and we didn’t mind being in the wilderness with wolves or black bears but grizzly bears were another matter.

Taking a break along Ice Lake with Lamar

Bears are animals that we are always aware of and by that I mean, we take bear safety very seriously. Whenever we find ourselves hiking through dense forest or undergrowth, we talk loudly to each other and Phil will bang his hiking stick on trees or rocks to let bears know that we are in the area. The worst thing a hiker can do is surprise one of these magnificent beasts and cause them to attack out of fear. We’ve had the opportunity to see many bears from the safety of the van, and witnessed bear sign along the trails, but have never had a close encounter with a bruin. I’d like to keep it that way! 🙂

Having eaten our snack of granola bars while sitting next to Ice Lake and soaking up the gorgeous sunshine, we continued down the trail until we were back at the road with a short walk to our van. It was still early in the day and we needed to do some laundry, so we drove back to Canyon Village where the laundry facilities are located conveniently in the same building as the nice, hot showers.

I had not seen the Grand Prismatic Pool, geysers or Old Faithful on our past trips to Yellowstone. Since our home base at Canyon Village was in close proximity, we decided to visit them this afternoon and catch Old Faithful erupting at sunset.

First stop, Norris Basin, where wooden boardwalks kept us safely above the obvious dangers below. It looked like a scene out of a sci-fi movie! Geysers erupting, mud pots boiling and spouting off , green, orange and yellow colors mixing with the brown, oozing mud, crystal clear springs interspersed throughout this hotbed of geothermal activity. All of my senses seemed to be on high alert, waiting for the next geyser to blow!

Warning signs made us keenly aware that stepping off of the boardwalk could be risking injury or death. So how is it that the bison, and certain birds, could roam freely throughout this area and didn’t seem to be suffering from the harsh environment? We pondered that question as a bison jumped up on the boardwalk just a few yards in front of us! We snapped photos as he meandered over the wooden boards, then lumbered up the hill to our left. Such a thrilling and amazing sight!

The drive to the Grand Prismatic Pool/Hot Spring area seemed to take longer than we had planned but we made it before sundown. The Fairy Falls trail rises to a popular lookout where people can get a decent view of the Grand Prismatic Pool. As we got out of the van, cameras and day packs strapped on our bodies, we noticed that there were some mosquitoes buzzing around. We put on bug spray and started the walk from the parking lot to the trailhead, passing people who were literally being chased by swarms of blood-thirsty skeeters.

Pressing on, we finally made it to the top of the one-mile hike and got some pictures of this incredibly colorful pool. A nice young Asian couple asked us to take their pictures, so we did, then they returned the favor. We would have liked to continue admiring the strikingly exquisite colors, but the mosquitoes were just so aggressive! We relented… sprinting back to the van, desperately trying to out run them.

Grand Prismatic Pool

Phil thought we could squeeze in Old Faithful before it got too late for pictures, so we boogied on down the road, getting there with time to spare. Venturing into the majestic Old Faithful Inn, which is over 100 years old, we noticed they had an ice cream parlor which is extremely popular with the tourists. We purchased our ice cream cones and then checked the schedule to see when the next eruption was going to take place. The Old Faithful time schedule showed that the next eruption was set to take place in 20 minutes. We were just in time!

Waiting for Old Faithful to spout off

Sitting on a bench, outside Old Faithful Inn, we were able to see Castle Geyser erupting from a distance. If we find ourselves in this area again, I’d like to get closer to that geyser for better pictures.

Castle geyser

We ended up waiting an hour and a half until Old Faithful finally blew (Old Faithful is sometimes fashionably late), but we talked to friendly fellow tourists to pass the time. Just after the sun set, and there was still a warm glow in the horizon, we got our pictures of Old Faithful shooting off her stream of vapor high into the air!

Old Faithful starting her show
The climax of Old Faithful’s demonstration

June 10, 2018 – After a quick breakfast of cereal and coffee, we drove over to Mammoth Hot Springs so that I could see that part of Yellowstone. Words cannot describe the beauty of this area…

Mammoth Hot Springs

Phil and I tend to stay away from the more “touristy areas” like Mammoth but you have to visit them at least once to see with your own eyes what makes them so popular with people from all over the world. Driving through the madhouse that is the town of Mammoth Hot Springs, we got out of there as quickly as possible and drove towards our happy place, Lamar Valley.

Soda Butte in Lamar Valley

Continuing on through the northeast entrance of Yellowstone until we reached Silver Gate, MT, we then stopped for lunch at The Log Cabin Cafe. This is a cute little restaurant that has many soups and sandwiches to appease the appetite, but without the typical side of french fries. They offer a much healthier option on the menu… salad! I opted for the elk burger with a mixed green salad and Phil ordered the angus peppered-steak sandwich with a cup of homemade vegetable soup. Delish!

Phil giving the Mayor of Silver Gate, MT, (Rommel), a back rub in front of The Log Cabin Cafe

Silver Gate is where we had bought our stuffed bigfoot, Lamar, the previous year. So, after finishing our delicious and nutritious lunch at The Log Cabin Cafe, we walked across the street to the store with unique gifts in search of a companion for Lamar. Thankfully, female stuffed bigfoots with pink flannel shirts, pink bows and pink toes were in stock and we found Lamar’s better half, Lamarla. (Granddaughter, Selena, christened her with the fitting name.)

Lamarla and Lamar

Just a couple of miles further lies Cooke City, MT and is another favorite destination for us. The year before, we had stayed in Two Rib Cabin with friends of ours, Mark and Madeline, and had gotten better acquainted with the cozy little mountain town. There are several good places to eat and The General Store is reminiscent of the old dime stores found in all small towns a generation ago. I always find something I “need” there, lol!

There is a beautiful view of Pilot and Index Mountains down the road from Cooke City along a bend in the river. We always make time to spend a few minutes there, basking in that glorious view, while the mountain stream rushes by, cascading into a mesmerizing waterfall.

Pilot and Index Mountains

Further down is a spectacular waterfall that can be seen from the road. There is a parking area for hikers and horseback riders which leads to a trail that continues for miles, back into the bush. We walked for about a half an hour along the trail, taking pictures of the gorgeous wildflowers and just enjoying the beautiful sunny day in God’s country! We met a fellow hiker whom we learned worked at a lodge/ranch just down the road. She was a student at Hillsdale College (a neighboring town less than 30 miles from us) who was working at the ranch for the summer… such a small world!

On the drive back to Canyon Village, we stopped along the road in Lamar Valley to scope for any big predators. Phil had talked with some people with scopes out and they pointed to a female grizzly with a cub, many miles away. We could just make them out with our binoculars and watched them meander up the side of the mountain.

We watched the young bison chase each other around in the valley, then decided to drive towards Canyon and watch for other animals.

I told Phil that I hoped we could see some black bears and not five minutes later, we came upon a few cars lined up at the side of the road and we could see two black bears walking just beyond the cars. Phil jumped out with his camera and got to within 25 feet of these bruins! People were following close behind him, using him as a human shield, while I looked on in utter amazement!

After thanking the Creator for hearing and granting my request, we drove on and saw a mother black bear with triplets! They were so close to the road that we were able to watch them without the aid of binoculars, but the light was getting low and our pictures didn’t turn out as we’d hoped. What a thrill to see six black bears in less than an hour’s time!

In my next blog, the adventures of Yellowstone continue with our hike on the Mary Mountain trail. This is the same trail where a lone hiker was killed by a grizzly bear a couple of years ago. This is also the area where we watched the wolf pack frolic in the valley our first evening in Yellowstone. Until then, carpe diem! 😀

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