Thursday, May 21, 2015

Day 6 - Yellowstone Lake to Gardiner, Montana

Weather: intermittent sun and rain, with a high of 57F
Steps: Shaun - 9,167; Shannon - 10,029
Varmints: Sandhill crane, redheads (ducks with red heads, get it?), ruddy ducks, which are super cool with the males boasting a blue bill, American coots, bison, elk, bighorn sheep, our first pronghorn, an unverified badger (Shannon didn't see it, but Shaun did), and a mamma black bear with two cubs!

First off, we just want to apologize for the posts on this blog being out of order. We didn't have wifi for a couple of days, and when we went to post the back-logged entries, they went up in a weird way. Sorry about that!

We started our sixth day in Wyoming at the car repair shop getting the tire on our rental car patched. We didn't mind too much because we spent our time (and money) in the Fishing Bridge General Store while we waited. 45 minutes and $45 dollars later, the screw causing us so much trouble was removed, the tire was patched, and we were on our way to Gardiner, Montana by way of Mammoth Hot Springs. 

Of course, as with any journey, a few obstacles stood in our way. We had to travel along the road to Norris again, and we experienced The Second Great Bison Enounter, closely followed by The Mediocre Elk Incident. We were more familiar with the protocol this time, so when we got the opportunity, we navigated around the animals in the road and continued on our way.

Once we passed Norris, we were in virgin territory for us. Unfortunately, the road between Norris and Mammoth is under construction, so a lot of the things we were planning on seeing were closed. We managed to look around the Willow Creek area a bit when we stopped at a roadside bathroom, but we didn't see any of the moose the marshy territory is known for. 

We actually didn't see much of anything until we arrived at Mammoth Hot Springs. This is another area of great hydrothermal activity, but rather than expressing in the form of geysers, mud pots, and steam vents, the hot springs have created high terraces made of travertine. The Mammoth area is rich in limestone, which is dissolved under the ground by acidic water. Once the water comes to the surface in the spring, the limestone is redeposited aboveground as travertine.

The travertine forms beautiful rippling swaths of rock that are brightly colored when active (due to the microorganisms living in the water) but turn white and then gray when dry. The terraces are continuously growing, on average an inch a day, and they are always in flux as mineral buildup closes some springs and new ones open. 

The place was fascinating, but a thunderstorm developed as we were going around the lower terrace, so we had to cut our walk short. We drove around the upper terrace in the rain and then decided it was time for lunch. Funny thing about lunch though: the power for the entire town of Mammoth went out when we were eating, so we were some of the last who could be served. We went to the visitor's center, and the poor rangers were trying to show people maps using their flashlights. We had to go to the bathroom in the dark (thank goodness the toilets and sinks still worked), and the woman at the gift shop was using an old-timey credit card imprinter with the carbon slips and everything. We decided it was time to continue on our way.

We still had plenty of time in our day, so we bypassed the turnoff for Gardiner and took the road to Tower to see what we could see. Well, boy, did we see a lot, maybe enough to make up for the lack of sights at the beginning of our day. First stop was a beautiful three-tiered waterfall called Undine Falls. The air was so fresh and clean there, and the rushing of the water and lack of people made the area so peaceful. Then we left the falls, drove around the corner, and found this:

Because of these:

Our first black bears! And our first babies of either bear denomination! They were pretty far away, so even with Shaun's mega-mondo camera, these were the best images we got. Still, they are beautiful, aren't they?

We eventually left the bears to their meal and continued down the road. We saw some beautiful views of the Gardner Valley and then we stopped at the petrified tree. Really it's just a petrified stump (and pretty anticlimactic), but it's guarded more than anything else in the park! Apparently back in the day, there were three petrified trees, but tourists took so many souvenirs through the years that only the stump is left and is now surrounded by a high fence.

After we left the tree, we went back the way we came to end the day in Gardiner, Montana where our accommodations for the night are located. On the way, we saw our first pronghorn! It was just sitting on a hill, as nonchalant as you please, waiting for us to take its picture. It was quite a trick getting its picture because it was not near a pull-out, but we persevered! This was also where Shaun saw her badger that Shannon missed (dang it!), and there were lots of different waterfowl to observe.  Finally, we saw four more big horn sheep as well.  All in all, a pretty red letter varmint day if you ask me.

Finally we made it to Gardiner, Montana, which is located directly outside of the North Gate of Yellowstone. It's a quaint little town that has embraced its western roots and looks like how I imagine a boom town would look. We are staying in a little hobbit-hole-like cabin connected to a B & B, and what should we find in the driveway of the cabin?

Elk! Three of them, to be precise. They were just hanging out in the yard, and the proprietor of the B & B had to run them off so that we could go inside. She really didn't want them to have their babies in the yard like they did last year(!) So, welcome to Montana, here are some elk to sleep with.

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