Thursday, July 21, 2011

A Most Excellent Day

IMG_3688July 20 – If things “broke” yesterday, today they sprang forward. I guess I forgot about moody periods and how they can end as quickly as they approach, but today Jordan, and as a result Ellery, were almost giddy, something that had not yet happened on this trip. Jordan, unlike Ellery, is not a talker, not a hugger, and rarely even a smiler, even if she’s enjoying herself. But today, she seemed to come into her own, and a whole new person developed. Even as I type this, at almost eleven in the evening, Ellery, Jordan and two friends they have made here at the Ranch, are off somewhere in the darkness, laughing and having fun.

So today, we finally made it to Yellowstone. What an incredible place. I’m not sure, overall, the beauty exceeds what we’ve seen so far on this trip, but the sheer number of sights and views and wildlife is incredible. It can take over an hour to go 10 miles, because every few miles there’s something to pull off the road to see, whether it is a herd of bison or a bubbling cauldron or a raging waterfall (or two or five or ten). After a while, there’s so much of it, there’s no more pictures you can take, you just have to take it all in.

IMG_3627The thirty mile drive to the park entrance is as majestic as the 22 miles from Cody, jagged rocky peak after peak. Then, once inside the park, it is a winding road along Yellowstone Lake to the first major intersection, at Fishing Bridge. There we stopped to buy sweatshirts as it was below 60 degrees (and to think we were in 110 degree heat just two days ago) and to buy provisions for lunch.

IMG_3633From there, we decided to head north to Mammoth Hot Springs, but there was so much to see along the way. First, it was two Elk just off to the side of the road; we probably should have stopped to take a closer look but instead we pressed onward, hoping it wouldn’t be our only sighting of the day. Just a bit further, we spotted our first bison up close, just two of them, waiting for us – and for the dozens of other cars pulled off to the side of the road.

IMG_3637And not much longer after that, an entire herd of bison, grazing along the Yellowstone River. OK, bison. Check. And this wasn’t the last herd, but as one of the kids staying at the ranch said last night at the campfire, “At this point, a bison would have to be doing a cartwheel for me to stop and take a picture of it.” They are ubiquitous. And getting stuck in the pile up of cars that slow and pull off to the side of the road at every sighting gets very old, very fast.

Our first side trip out of the car was to see the mud volcanos. Yep, mud. Yep, they bubble. Yep, they stink of sulphur. But they’re still fascinating to see from the raised wooden walkways that wind through them.

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IMG_3646Just a little further along, near Otter Creek, we stopped for our picnic lunch. Very lovely setting, but we were clearly outgunned. We had some bread, peanut butter, and chips. Other families had prepared a bit better, with coolers and salads and feasts fit for kings (or a family of six living out of a camper for 2 weeks).

We continued along to Canyon Village, through Hayden Valley, where every guide book assured us was prime wildlife viewing. Um, no. Beautiful rolling hills and valleys of purple and pink and yellow wildflowers, but no wildlife to speak of.

After Canyon Village we pushed north toward Roosevelt, through Dunraven Pass (which still had a fair amount of snow on it) and past Mt. Washburn. We declined to hike up to the peak, at 10,250 ft., admitting to ourselves that we might just be the laziest visitors ever to make it to Yosemite. But, just before arriving at Roosevelt, we came to Tower Falls and did some hiking along the path down to (and up from) the lower falls. The upper falls could be seen crashing down in the distance; the lower falls were crashing down directly below us. The walk was well worth it.

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From here we also had remarkable views of the Yellowstone River and the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone.

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Well, our day was barely half over … but now, I’ve got to get some rest. July 20 will be continued ….