Day 5, Canyon Village, Yellowstone National Park through Twin Falls, ID:
Beth and I slept much better the second night in Yellowstone, but only relative to the previous night. It was still very cold and uncomfortable. I used my new blanket to cover my head and trap in my body heat. Our new wool socks were nice to have too. We woke up early again and broke camp. Our tent is quite small but I’m really glad I bought one that can be set up and taken down quickly. The tent I still have from my Boy Scout days is enormous (folded up it’s as large as our suitcase). We had a quick breakfast and checked out. With our last partial day in Yellowstone I wanted to see a couple of places we’d previously missed and retread parts of the North Loop.
I was still driving to give Beth maximum ankle recovery time. That meant this time she got to experience this stretch of the North Loop without having to focus on hairpin turns and the lack of guardrails. Right as we drove through Tower, we were stopped by a white truck in front of us. We looked around for their reason for stopping and for a brief moment we saw a small bear before it ran off into the trees. It wasn’t very big but it was hard to tell just how old it was. It may have been old enough to be on its own or perhaps its mother was nearby. I also couldn’t tell for sure what type of bear it was. It was most likely a black bear but it also may have been a brown bear or grizzly. We didn’t get any pictures before it ran away but that white truck must have gotten a fantastic shot. Either way, it was awesome to see our first (and only) bear in Yellowstone!
Since we were traveling the North Loop again, we had to check out the one-way side road called Blacktail Plateau Drive! It was a little later in the day than I had hoped and there were no other bears out and about (no Park Rangers driving backwards this time either). At least we got to see Phillip again! Phillip, the renegade buffalo. He lives alone, grazing on the best meadow for miles, the only one brave enough and smart enough to do it on his own! I miss Phillip. He’s a cool dude when he’s not surprising you with his hiding skills (read Day 3 if you haven’t already for that story).
Having struck out seeing any more bears, the three of us left Blacktail Plateau and continued West towards Mammoth again. This time we stopped to take a closer look at the Grand Loop Bridge over the Gardner River. The river has carved a deep but gradual ravine in the surrounding hills that necessitates a tall bridge. The sides of the ravine are grass covered as opposed to the rocky cliffs common throughout the park. I walked over to the edge of the bridge where the views of the little river below were excellent. We could also see the white and orange rock of the Mammoth Terraces off in the distance. It’s a cool little spot. I’d like to hike the ravine some day. I don’t have a lot of hiking experience in my past but the appeal is definitely there. Beautiful areas like Yellowstone bring out that desire.
It was time for lunch so Beth and I drove into Mammoth and found a parking spot next to the Mammoth Hot Springs Dining Room (no easy task). Part of the local elk herd was grazing nearby. Beth went inside to order food while I set up the car for the dog to be alone. We did this anytime we needed to both leave the car. I cracked all the windows (except the one that doesn’t work), put the sun shade in the windshield, hid all the food, and filled Maeby’s water bowl. We parked in the shade or close to the front whenever possible and she got treats whenever we got back. We forgot to hide the food once or twice and she took full advantage, once with a bag of chips and once with Beth’s spicy chicken jerky. At least we didn’t have loose chocolate in the car! Anyway, I joined Beth inside and enjoyed a bacon cheeseburger and big portion of fries. It was the first hot food we had eaten since the Malmberg’s two days earlier. Cold cuts and PBJ can only get you so far, especially when the nights are so cold.
After lunch we drove South to Norris, home of another massive Geyser Basin (first getting stuck in a little road construction by Twin Lakes). The parking lot at Norris wasn’t very big and it took us three laps around to find someone leaving. Worse yet, there were at least three separate trucks where people had decided to sit and eat in the back of their pickups. They were in chairs and everything. There are picnic grounds in scenic locations throughout the park and these three groups were living it up in limited, coveted parking spots. Quite annoying! Beth and I finally parked and set off to tour the Porcelain Basin, one small portion of the Norris Geyser Basin.
The stairs down to the start of the boardwalk were pretty steep, which was fun with Beth’s ankle. At the bottom of the hill was Valentine Geyser. It was steaming and bubbling profusely. The boardwalk around Porcelain is very long. Like always, Beth didn’t stick around while I took pictures, counting on me to catch up with my longer stride. The various geysers, springs, and pools were similar to the ones we had seen throughout our trip but in no way did that make me think less of the experience. A couple of the pools were milky, which was less common. We crossed over algae-filled Tantalus Creek. The water was warm, obviously, but cool enough that the green algae thrived. Remember, colors in Yellowstone can indicate certain temperatures. There was very little shade on the walk and the sun was killing me. I guess I didn’t wear enough sunblock. My pink face and neck the next morning would confirm that thought. Back up the steep steps there was small museum. We decided we didn’t have enough time to fully explore the Back Basin, the larger portion of Norris, but Steamboat Geyser was within reach.
From Artist Paint Pots we drove to the road junction of Madison. There’s a small (like 300 square foot, small) ranger station and a campground in Madison but not much else. Inside the ranger station they had a telescope looking out over the prairie beyond. I don’t know if they aim it manually every couple minutes or what, but it was perfectly aimed at a grazing antelope. It was yet another animal to cross off our list! Antelope are a beautiful, graceful species. Too bad I couldn’t see them running. From Madison we left the Grand Loop Road and drove West towards the Western park entrance. The road follows the Madison River most of the way. We saw half a dozen elk crossing it, which was really cool. The male was large but it was far enough away that it was hard to tell if he was any bigger than the one in Mammoth. There were fifty people along the shore watching them so we went up a little closer too. If you ignored the other tourists (including the weirdos laying down in the reeds), it was a majestic scene. Further down the road a bridge crosses to the South side of the river and we saw a couple more elk. This time the male was hiding in the reeds. Only his antlers were visible. We crossed into Montana at 4pm and a hot tick later we were leaving Yellowstone National Park.
Beth and I stopped in a small town called Rexburg, ID and chose Wendy’s for dinner because we didn’t like the other options. The dog was happy with the little bit of Frosty and French fries I let her have. Back on the road, I wasn’t exactly assuming Idaho was the most picturesque state in the Union but I was at least hoping for something interesting at which to look. I didn’t see a single roadside potato stand! We picked up Interstate 15 in Idaho Falls and then Interstate 86 in Pocatello. West of Pocatello the Snake River joins the road and finally gave me something to see. The sun was setting right in our eyes and making it difficult for Beth to see (scary with her driving and all). There were hundreds of bugs splattered on our windshield. I took pictures through it anyway. I called the series of photos “Bugs of America”, my splat period. The last bit of driving was in the dark on I-84. The bugs were bad enough that we made a special stop just to clean the windshield. The high gas prices certainly didn’t entice us to fill up just yet. We didn’t arrive at our hotel in Twin Falls, ID until just before 11pm. It was a long day overall and a long evening of driving, but with the distance we had to travel the next day it was very, very necessary. This was Maeby’s first hotel experience. She reacted a couple of times to noises in the hallway but did alright. I’m very proud of her. For Beth and I it was fantastic to sleep in a bed again, even a hard hotel bed. End of day five.