State 16: Wyoming - September 27, 2017
We woke up in the parking lot directly in front of the Mammoth Falls Lodge with a thick layer of frost blanketing Rosie’s windshield. It’s was currently a crisp 28 degrees outside, and we fired up Rosie’s heater to take the chill out of the air. With the help of our merino wool long johns, sleeping bags, lots of blankets and tons of cuddling, we survived another night in below freezing temperatures! Surprisingly, it was not the cold robbing us of a restful night sleep. Instead, it was a high pitched screeching noise “EEEEeeeeEEEEeeee”, which stalked us all night long! We were jolted awake, sat upright in bed, looked at each other and simultaneously said, "What the HELL was that?". It was the most bizarre sound either of us had ever heard! For the life of us, we could not figure what that noise was, and more importantly, where was the noise was coming from! We made our way into the Mammoth Lodge to use the restrooms, and indulged in an offered cup of complimentary hot tea in the lobby. We both agreed it was the best cup of tea we ever drank!
We had a very ambitious agenda for the day. First, we headed over to the Mammoth Falls Visitor Center to learn more about this area of the park, and discovered we were currently standing in Fort Yellowstone. There are 6 visitor centers within Yellowstone, and each tell a different aspect of the park's history. We learned about the park's wildlife, geothermal features, past volcanic eruptions, and much more from the other Yellowstone visitor centers. However, it was not until we visited the Mammoth Falls Visitor's Center we discovered the story of how Yellowstone became our countries first National Park. As true of most American history, the region was once inhabited by Native Americans for over 12000 years! In fact, over 27 tribes trace their ancestry back to the parks original Native American inhabitants. The first Europeans to visit the region were mountain men and fur trappers. In 1807, a mountain man named John Colter was the first documented European visitor, who accidentally, stumbled upon the area we now know as Yellowstone. He described the region as having “steaming hillsides and boiling springs”, but no one took him seriously. In 1860, the California gold rush was at it's height, and the American population headed West in unprecedented numbers. Among them was a Civil Engineer; Walter Washington who was the first to map out the hot springs within the area. Additional expeditions continued in the following years. In 1871, Ferdinand Hayden; Head of the US Geological Survey of the Territories, embarked on the first official expedition accompanied by photographers and artists to report back to congress with their findings. On March 1, 1872, President Ulysses S. Grant signed in to law the Yellowstone Park Act establishing Yellowstone as the first National Park in the country and in the world! Soon thereafter, Nathaniel Langford became Yellowstone’s first superintendant. His position was unpaid, and there were no funds to hire additional help. Langford’s job was an impossible task for one man to accomplish. Squatters took up residence in Yellowstone, and vandals and poachers were destroying the park! The hot springs were clogged, and the travertine were graffitied destroying the beauty which took mother nature millions of years to create. On August 17,1886, help was finally on the way! 50 US Army solders marched into Mammoth Hot Springs, and their commanding officer Captain Harris assumed the responsibilities of Superintendent of Yellowstone. Due to the ease of year-round access and comparatively mild winters, Mammoth Hot Springs has always been the Yellowstone’s headquarters. Soon thereafter, construction of Fort Yellowstone began, and the original red roofed stone buildings are still in use today. Actually, the visitor center we were currently standing in was once the Bachelor Officer Quarters. In the following 32 years, the Army restored order, and protected Yellowstone by evicting squatters, prosecuting poachers, educating visitors, fighting fires, and managing wildlife! The Army's occupation of Yellowstone ended on August 25, 1916, which was the day the National Park Service was born to protect the then 30 parks and monuments across the country. Even to this very day, A Yellowstone Park Ranger’s work is never finished. After exiting the visitor center, we saw two Rangers directing traffic while a herd of elk crossed the street. Please see the pictures below.
Next, we set off for a 45-minute self-guided walking tour around Fort Yellowstone. The majority of buildings are now private residences for year round Park Rangers, so we were unable to go inside. It is too bad they did didn’t keep one of the building’s interior preserved to show what it would have looked like back in the day. Nonetheless, they did a spectacular job preserving the exterior of the buildings to their original late 19th century appearance. I also appreciate they re-purposed the use of original buildings instead of tearing them down and erecting new ones! My favorite structure in Fort Yellowstone is the stone church, which is one of the few buildings still used as it was originally intended. Please see the pictures below.
After departing Fort Yellowstone, we crossed the street to view the main attraction of Northern Yellowstone; Mammoth Hot Springs. While the geyser basins throughout Yellowstone are harsh and violent, Mammoth Hot Springs represents a gentle and intimate expression of the park's volatile volcanic forces. Mammoth Hot Springs is a large complex of hot springs and travertine on Terrace Mountain, which is the largest known carbonate-depositing spring in the world. The Norris Geyser Basin supplies the super heated water feeding Mammoth Hot Springs. The water travels underground between Norris and Mammoth via a limestone fault line. The limestone along this fault is the source of the calcium carbonate creating the travertine. The algae living in the warm pools tint the travertine creating the brilliant shades of brown, orange, red, and green. The combined efforts of the heated spring water, calcium carbonate, and algae create the spectacular images pictured below. Mammoth Hot Springs are divided into 2 sections: The Upper Terrace, and the Lower Terrace. We began our exploration with the Upper Terrace.
After we finished exploring the Upper Terrace, we proceeded to the Lower Terrace. Please enjoy the pictures below.
Sometimes to see the beauty in Yellowstone you have to look close. Please enjoy the close up pictures below of the Lower Terrace.
After leaving Mammoth falls, we drove to 25 miles South to Yellowstone Lake. On the way to the lake we made a few additional stops. Tower Falls Overlook was our first pull off, which is the best vantage point for the 132-foot-tall Towers Falls Waterfall. However, what made this stop most interesting is not the view, but the people who were viewing the falls with us. As we stood at the edge of a cliff taking in another memorable Yellowstone moment, we heard the strange sounds of adults laughing and footsteps running toward us. I wasn’t particularly scared for my safety, because who gets mugged or murdered by a laughing criminal? Nevertheless, it was a strange sound disrupting the parks serenity. A few moments later the source of the laughing and approaching footsteps became evident. A freshly married Asian couple, her in a wedding dress and he in suit, came up running up the pathway towards us hand in hand. Although they were speaking to each other a language I did not understand, the way they looked at each other clearly expressed the love they shared. Whether you are black or white, gay or straight, Muslim or Christian, or speak English or Mandarin the language of love is universally understood, and is always beautiful to witness! Please see the pictures below of Tower Falls, and I couldn’t help but sneak a few pictures of the bride and groom!
After departing the Tower Falls, we drove to the Calcite Springs Overlook. After parking Rosie, we walked an 800 ft trail to the edge of a deep canyon where the Yellowstone River flows swiftly hundreds of feet below. Mountain backdrops, unique cliff formations, and a thermal feature in the distance on the banks of the river all contributed to making this a memorable stop. Please see the pictures below.
Upon leaving Calcite Springs Overlook, we drove to Sulfur Caldron. The Sulfur Caldron is a thermal pool of boiling sulfuric acid with a PH of 1.2. Yellowstone's underground magma heats water that rises through layers of the earth, and brings sulfur gases with it to the surface. The sulfur gas mixes with the boiling water at the surface creating sulfuric acid. The result is a nauseating stench, and an impressive and powerful boiling thermal pool! Please see the pictures below!
Next, we walked across the road and visited Mud Volcano. Mud Volcano features a 2/3 mile trail up an extremely geothermically active hillside. The most memorable feature was Dragon Mouth Spring, which was named by a park visitor in 1919. Water sporadically splashed from the cave resembling the lashing of a dragon’s tongue! If that wasn’t creepy enough, exploding steam and gasses in the water of the spring created the sound of a monster living within. Although Dragon Mouth Spring might not be much to look, between it's loud grumbling sounds and lashing water tongue is was absolutely terrifying to witness! Please see the pictures below.
Please see additional pictures of Mud Volcano below.
We continued on our journey to Yellowstone Lake and pulled over when we saw a buck and doe standing together in the shallows of the lake drinking water. After snapping a few pictures, the buck looked up, and gave us the stink eye for crashing his date. We decided to give them some privacy, and let them have their romantic moment. Please see the pictures below.
We proceeded on to the next overlook to take in the spectacular reflections of the mountains in the lake. All of a sudden, we heard that same “EEEEeeeeEEEEeeee” sound that kept waking us up last night! In the middle of the road holding up traffic was a cow (female) elk continuously calling out “EEEEEeeeeEEEEeeee”. Apparently, she had lost her baby, and although neither Nate nor I speak elk, she sounded very worried. To complicate matters further, we saw the cute calf (baby) elk nearby on the shores of the lake eating grass. Despite our best efforts gesturing, the mommy elk was not getting our message, and just stood there in the street continuing to make the most heart breaking sound we have ever heard. Eventually, we just up and left because there was nothing else we could do. Please see the pictures below.
A few miles down the road, we saw a bull (male) elk with huge antlers on the lakes' shore making the same “EEEEeeeeEEEEeeee” sound. Across from him was a sandbar extending 300 feet into Yellowstone Lake, and on it was a cow elk and her calf. The bull elk could not figure out how to reach the sandbar, and we watched as he attempted to unsuccessfully swim out there. The bull elk just stood on the shore, and just kept calling out to the cow and the calf. Again, I wished we spoke elk, so we could direct him to his family. Please see the pictures below!
Below are additional pictures of Yellowstone Lake.
These elk scenarios were heart breaking, and I could not take it anymore! After departing our third and final elk encounter, it was beginning to get dark, so we headed to the Yellowstone Lake Lodge to stealth park in their parking lot for the night! Please see the pictures below.