Saturday, August 30, 2014

Vacation 2014: Yellowstone Grand Loop: Day 7

The roads in Yellowstone are basically shaped like a number 8. We entered at the south part of the lower circle, and drove up the left side, passing by Old Faithful, which is about halfway up the bottom loop. Madison, where we were camping, is located on the left side, just before the bottom loop meets the top loop.

Today’s adventure was to drive the upper loop clockwise.

Gregory had today planned out that we would end at some of the prettiest stuff that Yellowstone has to offer. Our first stop was at Gibbon Falls. There were no monkeys involved here. Just water trickling over rocks. There is a cool wall though. The focus of this stop seems to be more about the history of the man for whom it was named, rather than on the feature itself. On the waterfall scale, I give it a 5.

A couple of small stops later we arrived at the Artist Paint Pots, which are a variety of colorful bubbling mud bogs. White, red and milky blue pools dotted the landscape, and smelled more like an easter egg painting party. Big thick mud glopped and splatted with boiling hot goop. There was not enough parking here, so we triple parked, hoping the minivan driver would have enough prowess to get out without mangling all the cars in the lot. When we returned to the car they were apparently successful.

Our next stop was at the Norris Geyser Basin. There were some incredible colors here. Big pools of that mysterious milky blue with rusty edges, and also dark brown, white, yellow, and bright green lined the shallow waterways. Gregory remarked that if someone were Imagineering a Yellowstone Park re-creation and painted the rocks to match these colors, people would probably complain that it didn’t look natural.

Mammoth, our next stop, has some of the most iconic images associated with Yellowstone, which are those colorful terraced fountains. Being late in the summer, only one was really boiling over. The landscape was mostly white and gray with orange-rusty accents. By this time it was hot and the sun was rather unmerciful. Thankfully there wasn’t any shade and lots of stairs. Perfect! And I really had to pee.

Along the way to the next location we stopped occasionally to admire the scenery and breathe in the incredible fresh mountain air. There was a fire several years ago, and the remnants of it are still evident as dead limbless trees rise eerily above the dense copses of eager new growth.

The next several stops were along the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone and here the reason for the name of the park became clear. The walls of this incredible canyon are comprised largely of yellow stone and large dramatic falls cascade down the river in bluish-green. We stopped at Tower Falls, (waterfall scale: 8) and a couple of other overlooks, one of which included an appearance by a couple of female bighorn sheep.

The grand finale for the day was the upper and lower falls at Canyon Village. This is just a spectacular part of the park, and I was so thankful that Bear had saved it for last. We decided to start out along the south rim first and would back track to the north rim later (and eat dinner there too).

We stopped at the upper falls (waterfall scale 9) and it was an okay view from across the river, decided to hike down “Uncle Tom’s Trail,” which provided a view of the lower falls. Don’t be put off by the name; this is a different Uncle Tom. And don’t be fooled by the map, which shows a small straight line. That shit is straight down for what feels like three miles.

Just before we headed down, to the bottom, there were a couple of fawns, still with their spots, at the top of the mountain.

And with mama.

The trail was originally constructed from ropes, which after traversing the 328 steps down on an easy metal stairway, I can’t even imagine. And heading down was the easy part. The landscape was lush from the humidity of the falls, and the air was full of delicious pine and mossy earth. It was intoxicating.

At the bottom of the stairs, the view was spectacular. I have never seen a waterfall like this! There was so much water! And it fell so far! This was the most amazing waterfall I have ever seen. As a bonus to the experience, there was a cute chipmunk trying to get into a girl’s backpack.

So just to the right of the falls at the top, there is a small platform, and that was where we would go next, right after Artist Point, which is just a bit further along the south rim. But first we had to reascend the 328 steps, and they were super steep, by the way. Lots of rest stops and taking it slow and steady.

Here is the view from Artist point, a little further down river and much easier to get to than the bottom of Uncle Tom’s Trail.

We decided to back track up to the north rim, and check out the falls from the different angles. So we hopped in the car and headed back to the appropriately named North Rim Drive. Getting to the upper falls was a short walk, but it required walking down some stairs I can only call “treacherous.” They were very uneven and the hand rails became our friend.

The lower falls, once again had the more challenging hike. After about 12 switchbacks on a shakily paved path, we made it to the top of the lower falls, with nothing but a chain link fence separating us from a seven-mile plunge to our doom. I don’t know how high these falls actually are, but it was such a spectacular view.

Finally blind from having used up our eyesight by looking at too much amazing stuff, we decided it was time for prime rib at the dining hall. Unfortunately it wasn’t nearly as good as last night’s, but we had the help of a bold spicy Syrah to get us through. While we were eating a storm had rolled in over the park, and as we drove through the night, lightning gave hints to the surrounding landscape and horizon, and intermittent rain made that amazing air smell even more amazinger. We rolled down the windows on a number of occasions until it got too wet or too cold. Eventually we would warm up and the windows would have to be rolled down again.

Once back at our campsite, we quickly got ready for bed knowing we would sleep well, after the fifty miles of walking up and down a million stairs. Once comfy in our blankets and sleeping bags, we drifted off to the sound of rain.

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