There is an excellent visitor's center with a video, displays and great view; also where people were protesting Yellowstone National Park's bison management, and where I almost lost my bag with all important wallet, phone, etc inside. Note to the world: there are still some honest folks out there. The bag was turned in - a relief! As for the protesters, we never did get a chance to ask them more about their views - seems they didn't appreciate the herd being culled each year and keeping the bison in the Park instead of letting them roam the prairies. Folks, it may not be perfect, but we can't go back. Got in the ever-present park wildlife-jam as people spotted a moose and inevitably violated all "do not approach wildlife" laws whilst taking pictures and ooing. We took a nice 6 mile hike into Paintbrush Canyon, up and over a ridge and then along a canyon with snow-topped spires on three sides. Gotta love those mountain views! As the day drew to a close, wished we had time to head up further.The Tetons are definitely a spot to return and backcountry camp. We stayed that night at a horrible campground - dusty, dirty, loud - Flagg Ranch. NEVER CAMP THERE. Once again, proves that the sites you pay the least for, tend to be the best (free site at Sage Creek in the Badlands maintained by the Park Service being the best, $37 for this nasty privately owned place being the worst). Luckily next morning, we got a good spot at Lewis Lake (Park service maintained) near the south entrance after leaving Flagg Ranch early.
Driving in, there were thousands of acres of 20+ year old lodgepole pine regeneration that came in after the 1988 fires that burned 36% of the park. On my last visit here with my family, it was 1989, and I can still remember the fire-scared landscape we saw at the time. Now, I can see what growth has occurred in 22 years. Slow-growing trees on poor soil are mostly 6-8' tall, and the skeletons of their predecessors lean precariously above them or lie tangled on the ground. I find post-fire landscapes lovely and fascinating. The number of pictures I take of them would illustrate that. That first day we spent in the Old Faithful area, watching the famous geyser erupt,
and looking at all the other strange and wonderful thermal features. Yellowstone, is, indeed, a volcano, just of a different sort than the iconic cone. Magma below the surface interacting with water creates the features, and creatures unique to hot water vents fill them with color. I can still smell the sulfur coming from the ground...
On our second day in the park, we debated whether the poor condition of our feet from prior boot use would allow for a hike. We decided no, but then saw a hike listing that was too good to pass up. The Avalanche Mountain hike took us from around 8,000 feet to 10,566 in 2 miles. Scenery went from densely forested spruce/fir/pine to mostly dead whitebark pine with a grass and flower covered understory, to wind-tattered (subalpine?) fir and snowfields, and then above tree line. One of my favorite parts of hiking is seeing the scenery change in this way. It was a beautiful day with some clouds, little wind at the summit and clear views in every direction.
We stayed at the top a while and marveled. There was even a little pika there to greet us. The pika is a threatened alpine rodent like a chinchilla or hamster found above tree-line that makes a high-pitched squeak. They are cute. The views were spectacular and yes, worth the awful blisters we both had on our heels afterward.
After the hike, we drove north from Yellowstone Lake and up into the more prairie-like section of the park, following the Yellowstone River and counting the number of states represented in the traffic jam we encountered due to construction. I think 23 was the final count. Lots of Recovery Act money going into the parks for infrastructure this summer, it is good to see. We stayed overnight at a Canyon Village cabin maintained by Xanterra.
They are a big private company that deals with hospitality in the western Parks. The little room was basic but neat and clean, and the dinner we ate at the lodge (both had a bison dish) was impressive.
We put in a long last day in the park, determining that the benefit of another night in the park was limited since we would have the leave early the next day anyway. We explored the Canyon area, taking in the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone,
which has rocks of the color for which the Park is named. Our last stop was Mammoth Hot Springs, which was, even after all the other park thermal features, very impressive. A series of springs flows out of a hillside forming multi-layered terraces as the minerals in the water drop out of solution. Just incredible, and nothing else like it in the world. We headed out of the Park not long before sunset, stopping to get a photo of Brian entering Montana. The state has been a life-long fascination of his, and it was a big milestone for him to finally arrive.
And Montana does not disappoint. Valley walls filled with formations, giving way to forested slopes and snow-topped mountains. And lots of open farmland in the valleys between. A thunderstorm passed as we drove through the mountain valleys and we saw a full double rainbow.
Our day in Grand Tetons was relatively short, as we were slow to leave the hotel because of planning for the next leg of the trip. Road access in the National Park is limited to the valley floor, following the Teton range, and we progressed from south to north.