Cody, WY to Tower Fall Campground, Yellowstone National Park, WY
Wednesday, August 23, 2006 … 114 Camper Miles – Total 6,074
Sunny but hazy, high 80s
Yellowstone was next on our list so we got showered, had breakfast and got on the road by 9:15. After a short drive up WY-120, we turned onto Chief Joseph Scenic Highway, WY-296. This is a wonderful, scenic highway that ascends the mountains east of the greater Yellowstone basin and then plummets 2,100 ft via a series of huge switchbacks into the valley below. It is gorgeous. (We would have loved to drive the road across the Beartooth Mountains but, alas, it was not on our way to anywhere. Maybe later.)
After a brief piece of highway in southern Montana, we entered the NE entrance of Yellowstone National Park, the one that started it all. This corner of the park is less visited than the geyser, lake and canyon areas but it has a beauty of it’s own. We did the drive along Soda Butte Creek & the Lamar River, gazing at the huge herds of bison and antelope that live in the area. We stopped and took a few photos of Tower Falls and the surrounding rock formations before heading to Tower Fall campground for the night.
After setting up camp, we hiked the Lost Lake Trail. 300 ft vertical in 0.5 mile didn’t sound like much but even at only a 6,500 ft elevation, it got our attention. Back at the camper we prepared a dinner of chicken stir-fry with Thai sweet chili sauce.
Tower Fall Campground to Norris Campground, Yellowstone National Park, WY
Thursday, August 24, 2006 … 40 Camper Miles – Total 6,114
Sunny but hazy, Low 70s
Yellowstone is a HUGE place, too big to camp in just one area and see it via day trips. So, we’ll move from campground-to-campground with the camper and do short day-trips from our moving base. We left Tower campground about 9:15, heading west toward the Mammoth Hot Springs area. Along the way, we drove through a huge area that burned in 1988. We’re actually getting to appreciate the “beauty” of burned out areas. With any moisture at all, they seem to redevelop rapidly. We wish we were here during the peak of wildflower season, though, because those are often much more profuse after fires because the sun can finally reach the floor of what had been dense forest. One problem we have noticed, though, is that the mountains are pretty dim due to the large number of active wildfires this year. Smoke from the fires travels for hundreds of miles, obscuring the long views.
Along our drive we did a short hike to Wraith Falls. We admit to being a bit disappointed; it was not really much more than a modest cascade. Soon, though, we came to the Mammoth Hot Springs area. This area is home to Fort Mammoth which dates from soon after the inception of the park. There was no park service at that time, of course. Congress appointed a caretaker but he had no funding nor did he have law enforcement capability. People disregarded hunting restrictions that were part of the park’s reason to be. Eventually Congress saw the light and assigned the Army to take care of the park. Nice duty, eh? They built a lovely “fort” and managed the park for years until the Park Service was created. The old fort buildings survive and are still in use. It is a lovely place, bucolic, with a herd of elk lounging in the shade on one of the beautifully manicured lawns.
Next stop was the adjacent drive and boardwalk through Mammoth Springs. The hot springs cover a very large area. They are not as active as they were years ago, though there are still lots of active springs to see. The deposits left by the hot water have formed HUGE mounds and lovely terraced areas. The walks around them were pretty long but we enjoyed them very much.
We then headed south, along the western side of the park toward the Norris area. Along the way we saw a large flock of sand hill cranes some distance off the road. We chose a site in the Norris campground, set up the camper and headed out to see the Norris Geyser Basin.
The Norris geysers were the first geysers we’d seen since our visit to Rotorura, New Zealand, which has the world’s second largest concentration of geothermal features after Yellowstone. We couldn’t help but make comparisons. The geyser basin in Rotorura is very active and is mostly concentrated in one small area. Many of the geysers seemed to spout frequently and there were mud pots galore, so it was a fairly intense experience (and very intense sulfur odors). Yellowstone is much more spread out. But, there are several major geyser basins in Yellowstone, each one huge. However, they don’t seem to be as active, in terms of eruptions, as in New Zealand, so it didn’t seem as exciting as our recollections from New Zealand. That said, the geyser basin was beautiful with enough activity to be interesting and a display of color and form that is hard to take in.
After walking the geyser basin, we headed east, across the middle of the park, via a side road past the Virginia Cascade. We wanted to spend some time in the famed Yellowstone Canyon area in the east central area, so we made campground reservations for Friday and Saturday nights. We saw the outside of the new Visitor center that was slated for a grand opening ceremony on Friday. We also encountered Fabian and Jan, a couple from FL, who’d been camped next to us in Tower Falls campground.
After driving back to Norris, we did leftovers for supper.