Wow! Now we are really camping. After a leisurely morning at the Ponderosa, we broke camp and headed to the the East Entrance of Yellowstone. This road wound between gigantic mountains with sheer cliffs that were only a few feet from the road. There were snow drifts still on the side of the road and the melt made the river a torrent.
As we completed the relatively short 55 mile drive from Cody, we entered the park and with that super value Golden Age Pass were admitted for free. The ranger warned us of bears and buffalo and also said that the construction would be slow and involve 800 foot sheer drops with no guard rails. When we came to this construction, we were told that the wait for the pilot truck would be about half an hour, so we had lunch.
The ranger was right! The pilot truck lead us over the reconstruction of this part of the park road that climbed, dipped, and wound on and on. At last, we saw the end. This was more amazing than anything we had driven through up to this time. The snow was even deeper than on the road from Cody with 4 foot drifts that had been cut by the plows. As we approached Yellowstone Lake where we had planned to go kayaking during our stay, we were astonished to see that it was frozen over, with a fair amount of open water all along the shoreline. Our hope for kayaking was rekindled.
Along the way to the Madison Campground, we ran into a traffic jam. Unlike the construction problems in Chicago, this was caused by a large herd of buffalo that was using the road as a route to a meadow. They had the traffic in the opposite direction stopped for over a mile. Fortunately, we got past the bison relatively easily as they threaded their way within a few inches of our van.
Madison Campground is one of the few open at this early time of the year and is centrally located and serves as our base for exploring Yellowstone.
After dinner, Anne walked down to the Madison River that bordered our camp. There she saw more bison and a herd of elk.
We decided to visit Old Faithful on our first full day. On the way to Old Faithful, we took a spur road along the Firehole River that had been formed by lava flows. The falls was spectacular and much further upstream is a very popular swimming hole.
There were many geological attractions on our way to the Old Faithful area and we whetted our senses with a stop at Lower Geyser Basin. Because of the thin crust and thermal activity, all walks are on boardwalks for protection. The walk was about half a mile and we saw several geysers, the Fountain Paint Pots, and deeply hued pools. We reached the Old Faithful area around lunch time.
Old Faithful lived up to its expectation as we witnessed the 1:09 PM (plus or minus 10 minutes) eruption. We had a good view without the steam in our faces. Although it is still early in the season (many stores and lodges are still closed), there were many tour buses and visitors. Imagine what this place must be like in the summer!
We then began our "wild goose chase" to obtain our boating permit. At Old Faithful Village the ranger said to go to Grant Village. When we got there the backcountry office was closed and the helpful people at the store called around and after many forwarded calls in the bureaucracy said we could buy a permit, but until the ice was all gone from the lakes, we could not kayak on them. It was evident that there were a lot of new rangers who had not acquired all the straight information in this "opening of a new season" time. In talking with the store personnel, we were amazed to hear that the store had been buried in snow only a few weeks before. One of them was still shoveling the sidewalk when we arrived.
After feeling disappointed that kayaking was not a option, we made one last stop for the day at the West Thumb (of Yellowstone Lake) Geyser Basin. This is a unique geyser area that sits spectacularly on the shoreline of Yellowstone Lake. The reflected mountains in the relatively large amount of open-water were a beautiful backdrop to the geysers and hot springs that flowed right into the lake.
We got up early on Tuesday and headed out to visit the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. Despite being delayed by a herd of buffalo in the road again, we reached the beautiful Artist Point in time to catch the early morning light. This location has a stunning view of the lower falls in the canyon and provided a wonderful opportunity to photograph and paint watercolor. As the sun moved across the sky, it suddenly hit the mist from the waterfall which burst into a rainbow. We were virtually alone and were just finishing up when bus loads of tourists invaded the solitude. We retreated to the van in the parking lot to enjoy a delicious breakfast of SPAM and eggs.
We proceeded to several other viewpoints of this Grand Canyon before visiting the Norris Geyser Basin on our way back to camp.
Wednesday morning, we drove down to a bicycle path near the Old Faithful geyser area where we unloaded the bikes and rode across a landscape made barren by the devastating wildfire of 1988 which burned a large area of Yellowstone. There is a lot of new growth, but the charred remains of the tall trees are still a reminder of this disaster. Our gravel bike path joined up with the main bike path from Old Faithful after about a mile where we surprised some elk in a forest thicket. We parked out bikes and walked to Morning Glory Pool and returned via the sculpted- rock Grotto Geyser.
It was still only late morning, so we drove the 75 extra miles to the Grand Tetons. Compared with the Rockies in Yellowstone, these peaks are taller and lots more rugged looking. This beautiful sight was well worth the extra drive.
On Thursday, we headed north leaving Yellowstone. The last stop was Mammoth Hot Springs at the north entrance of the park. Here the scalding water that has filtered through the limestone in the earth deposits a new rock formation travertine which is snow-white and makes the landscape look like a winter day. We then traveled to Montana toward Canada and closer to our jumping off spot to Alaska.