Another cool morning with the promise of rain. We decided to drive north to Norris and visit Artist Paintpots on the way. With flat lighting, we knew colors would not be vibrant. Taking what the weather gives us, we chose to go in spite of the weather.
On the way over the first low pass between plains we encountered our first traffic jam in Yellowstone. A herd of Bison were making their way over the pass to the second plain. We crept forward a few miles an hour for thirty minutes. With the bison off the road we seemingly sped on. We stopped at Gibbon Falls. There is ample parking and a paved walkway. Many others had stopped and were walking to the falls.
Gibbon Falls in Flat Light
While we watched the falls, there was a commotion and a few people raced past us down the walkway. Turning we saw the bison coming up the road. It was a dramatic sight. We took a few photos and video. Then it dawned on me. If we stay here and watch the bison go by, we will be stuck behind them again and for who knows how long. With people hurrying down toward the bison, we literally ran back to Li’l Beast and got away. A group of young people were standing behind a steel railing as the bison walked up. They were too close to be safe.
Bundled Up Against the Cold
We drove on to Artist Paint pots. Artist Paint Pots is a group of geysers and colorful mud pots. We walked the path and boardwalk up and around the geysers, hot springs, fumaroles, and mud pots. Some smelled heavily of sulfur. Our photographs do not do this area justice.
Mud Pot Hurling Mud
Mid Basin Pool
Mid Basin Geyser
A Bus Load Arrives
Geothermal Activity Mid Basin
We left Madison Campground at a reasonable hour. We dawdled a bit; we had our Nespresso and breakfast, packed up, and drove away. After not being able to back into the site because an oversized pickup truck blocked the street, I was certain I’d have to back out this morning. Surprisingly, it was easy to pull out. I guess I should have been able to back in last night.
Oddly for October, Yellowstone is busy, not crowded, but busy. There are no lines of cars on the roads. Most turn-outs have spots to park, but there are lots of people taking in the sights. All the campgrounds report going full every day. We had had no problem getting sites at campgrounds by checking in early. We wanted to do the same at Mammoth Campground and we boogied, while taking time to visit a few geothermal sights along the way.
A typical day on the road between Madison and Norris
The first time we drove north from Madison Campground, we had a 30 minute wait as a herd of Bison meandered along the road getting from one grassy plain through a pass to a second plain. Once we passed the herd, we stopped at a dramatic waterfall overlook. Some time later a group of tourists rushed past us to photograph Bison coming up the road. It was a great photo op and we succumbed to the urge. Then it occurred to me. If this herd walks past us, we will be stuck behind them for another 30 minutes or more! We ran, literally ran, to Li’l Beast and headed out. We passed a number of people moving quickly the other way for photographs. I imagine the wondered what we were up to!
Unlike the last time we took this road, there was no bison traffic jam. We sailed past both grassy plains with no bison on the road. We did encounter road work and a 30 minute delay. A road crew had torn up the old road and was widening a long section. For now the single lane that was open was packed earth and very bouncy. The old road in this section of the park is very narrow, practically unsafe for wide vehicles. I learned later that this is the original road of 1903. I assume that means the road has not been widened, not that it has not been repaved since 1903.
Rain, Jamboree, and Wolves
The weather report at the visitor’s center yesterday called for rain today, rain and snow tomorrow and the following day. We slept through the night comfortably and awoke around 6:30 to the sound of rain drops on Li’l Beast’s roof. The thermometer showed outside temp of 38 degrees F. The rain was sporadic and light. I asked Ellen how she felt about heading to Lamar Valley. “Sure, if you want to”. That was enough for me. With Ellen comfortable in bed, I backed up a few feet, pulled the few leveling blocks I put out last night, and prepared to go. In the evening we stow everything we don’t use. That makes it easy to get started in the morning. “Jamboree” pulled past as I was setting up to leave.
I imagine sunrise over the Lamar Valley is spectacular. On an overcast day, the sky simply goes lighter with time. The aspen along the road glowed even without direct sunlight. There was no traffic: I took the drive slowly and enjoyed the view around each bend as dark gray became steel gray.
After the Roosevelt Turn, Ellen perked up and joined me in the cab. We stopped at a few turnouts and scanned the tree line for motion. We saw nothing each time and drove on. Sitting at a turnout was “Jamboree” with people scanning the tree line for motion. We pulled in and a few moments later jamboree left. We played hop-scotch down the Lamar Valley for a few miles.
The last time we caught up with them, there were hundreds of people stopped along the road. There were spotting scopes on tripods, people with binoculars and umbrellas all staring at a spot in the distance. Great I thought, but there was no room for us to park. I drove by slowly, looking for anything we could squeeze into. The roadside was too steep to risk pulling over. There was little room for us to stop. I drove on slowly passing scattered groups of onlookers. Eventually I found a turnout well past the action and with a a back-and-forth-and-back-and-forth U-turned. A woman, stopped in the turnout, stared in disbelief with a grimace of distain. Oh well, onward.
There were no places to park all the way back to jamboree, but there beside them was a spot easily large enough for us. I pulled in, dressed for rain, and jumped out with the spotting scope. “What are you seeing?” jamboree’s driver (name long since forgotten) said, “wolves, three of them.” I setup the scope and scanned the valley. “Look in the yellow above the left most Bison, then scan right to a fallen tree. The wolves are about 50 yards further to the right”. Without his help I might still be looking for the wolves. It took a while to find them, but there they were. Two large black wolves that were visible at 20x and were clearly wolves at 60x. “Jamboree” said there were three; I saw two wolves. They frolicked in the grass. One mounted the other, then one ran off followed closely by the other. All the action was framed in the eyepiece. Fantastic.
Typical Traffic in Lamar Valley (September, off Season)
Quite The Dapper Guy.
Yellowstone’s Version of Ox Peckers?
It was not a brief encounter. There was time for me to adjust the scope for Ellen to see. Jamboree said they were headed to look for moose next. “Where?” “Near cook toward or past the NW Entrance. There’s report of a big bull moose there.” Jamboree left in search of their next adventure. We drove back down the road toward Mammoth, found an unoccupied turnout, and with the generator rumbling away I made cappuccinos for us both. We celebrated our second wolf sighting. Hopefully the spotting scope adapter had arrived at the post office.
UPS, USPS, SNAFU, IPA
We drove on to the visitor center at Mammoth to talk abut wolves and visit the post office to inquire about my delivery. I left Ellen at the visitors center and headed to the post office. “Can I help you”, asked a white haired fellow with four bright front teeth and a number of missing side teeth. I asked they had a package for me. “What’s your name” I told him and he went through his packages. “No package is here for you. What address was on the package?” “Ron Leavitt, General delivery, Yellowstone Post Office”, I said. He asked again, “what is the street address for the package”. I said, “General Delivery. The package was shipped by UPS.” He said, “Oh, we cannot accept packages shipped UPS. They will not pay us for processing any packages” We went round and round about this. I finally said that I would pay the post office whatever reasonable fee they wanted to accept the package addressed to me and that I would pick the package up. No delivery past arrival at the post office was necessary.” He agreed that this was reasonable and suggested I track the package. He would look the package info up on the web, “What is the tracking number?”
One Herd Makes Mammoth Their Home
Tracking number? Right, I didn’t have one! I went back to the visitors center to contact phoneskope for the tracking number and to look for Ellen. It took two calls, but eventually Jerome answered and agreed to message me the tracking number. Ellen was nowhere to be found. I went back to the post office, tracking number in hand. The fellow I had been dealing with is the Postmaster General for Yellowstone. His name is Matt. Matt looked up the package and found there was no delivery address assigned. He printed out the info and showed me a blank where the address should have been! “What The Hell?” I thought. Things were growing stranger.
I looked up UPS and called their 800 number. The fellow I spoke with was apologetic and said he would look into this and call me back. He found that the package had arrived at Bozeman Montana. He asked what the delivery address should be and I gave him General Delivery Yellowstone Post Office. He assured me that was all he needed, the address was now in the system, and all was good. Great. I explained to Matt what was going on. Matt said there were two drivers in the park and that one of them goes to Old Faithful. If the package finds its way onto the other truck who knows where it will wind up. He also said that he will look for the package in the next UPS delivery. Everything seemed reasonable now, except that the package was late and I could be out a “Handling fee” at the post office.
As I walked out thinking I’d now have to track down Ellen, I called her and she picked up! She was at the hotel and would join me at the post office. Cool. Just then I received a call from UPS. The caller verified my name and the tracking number, then asked what address I wanted the package shipped to. “???” I thought. I regurgitated the “General Delivery” address and she said UPS cannot ship to a Post Office. She needs a street address to deliver it or it will go back to the sender! “Where are you?”, she asked. “Yellowstone NP, Mammoth Campground” “What is their address” I checked AllStays (our campsite app), no street address was listed. Ellen walked up as I was searching for an address. “It’s probably on the reservation papers, oh we didn’t get one.”, she said. Talking to the UPS gal, I suggested she call me back in 15 minutes. I’ll drive down to the campground, get a physical address, and drive back where I have ATT coverage. That should take less than 15 minutes.
At the campground, the registration woman said visitors often get prescriptions shipped to the campground, and gave me their address. On the drive back to the visitors center, I thought I’d give Matt a piece offering, a beer. He was a gentleman throughout and probably puts up with any number of irate park visitors. UPS did call back and I gave them the campground address. She assured me the package would arrive on the truck tomorrow. I asked if this happens often in the national park. She said very often and that many people are not very understanding. I thought of Matt who has to deal with people face to face.
I walked back into the post office, IPA in hand. “Don’t take this the wrong way,” I said, “I would like to give you a beer.” Matt replied with a grin, “I cannot accept that”. I said, “OK. I am leaving this beer on the counter over there. I am not giving you this beer.” Matt said, “Ok, that works for me.” A woman who witness this exchange laughed merrily.
Ellen and I spent the afternoon in Mammoth generally hanging out, charging our devices, writing, reading, and enjoying an afternoon’s down time.
For dinner we had leftover Michelangelo’s Lasagna mixed with the remains of Beth’s pasta. It was a better dinner we had last night at the Mammoth Hotel’s dining room! We saved some of last night’s salted caramel ice cream Sunday and had that for desert.
The wind has picked up this evening as a front moves in. The awning above the push out was making noise, flapping about. I took the push out in! We’re getting serious rain now. The temperature will drop overnight and we’ll get snow.
Perhaps tomorrow evening I’ll be able to take photos through our spotting scope.
Yellowstone North Entrance & Gardiner
The heater kicked on three times in the early morning. I set the thermostat to 55 deg. F “just in case”. We love to sleep in a cool to cold environment. Most nights the internal temp doesn’t drop below 60. Today was different. A strong wind blew in around 7PM. It shook Li’’l Beast and dropped the temperature too. We awoke to the sound of rain at 2:26AM, to the heater going off around 5AM, and to the trumpeting of 12-pt before sunrise. 12-pt was on a tare. He trumpeted off and on for an hour or so. He must have walked right by. The weather forecast for today was rain in the lower elevations and snow above 6800 ft. Perhaps 12-pt was reacting to the weather? More likely another male was encroaching.
Today is the day I should get my new toy, a phoneskope adapter for my Pentax spotting scope (assuming all goes without a hitch after yesterday’s adventure). Should we head out to Lamar Valley and look for wolves or wait until the adapter arrives? The cold of the morning won out. No wolf hunt today. Instead we parked in our “usual spot” near the visitors center to use their facilities and ask about the weather going forward and wolf sightings.
Coffee first! We fired up the generator, pushed out the “push out” and had “wake up” cappuccinos. With Ellen in Li’l Beast keeping warm. I walked over to the visitors center. Surprise: it opens at 9 AM, forty minutes away. I headed over to the Mammoth Hotel to “make a donation”.
Back at the RV, we decided to check out Gardiner Montana, and headed back down the hill. Just past the park entrance there were a number of people photographing wildlife to the left. Some were taking selfies with the Yellowstone sign and arch in the background. It was the antelope that interested me. We stopped. I headed toward the antelope; Ellen went the other direction. I had never seen pronghorn antelope. They are remarkable. The females looks somewhat like impala. The males are dramatically different.
Female Prong Horn Antelope
The Male Prong Horn Antelope
I spent some time framing the herd when a fellow asked, “Get any keepers?”. I said, “I hope so”. He stopped and we chatted about the pronghorn males. He said, “The males have a gland either side of their head that exudes a waxy substance that smells like popcorn. They rub it on shrubs to mark their territory.” I asked about the nature of the haram, thinking knows a bit about these antelope. He said, “The males herd the females to a location of their choosing and keep them there. Another male who encroaches on the marked territory is asking for a fight to the death”
He asked if I was from Whidbey Island II was wearing a Whidbey Island hat that Jerry had given me). I said no, I’m from Hercules hear Berkeley. He own 23 acres on an island in 1000 Islands. We talked about Salt Lake City and how the air quality has deteriorated. I mentioned the San Francisco Peninsula and how the air quality has changed dramatically since air pollution laws have been enacted. We talked about Jerry Brown and how politics has become so divisive. We spoke of the way instant media and sound bite communication is wreaking havoc with a nuanced understanding of practically anything. All in all it was fun talking with him. I hardly noticed that his face was tragically disfigured, probably by an automobile or motorcycle accident in his past. It is unusual to reach such a depth of mutual understanding in such a short time. He is an unusual human being.
Bison, these Fellows were Distant
The town of Gardiner is small and rustic in appearance. Perhaps it was never prosperous; it has a run-down feeling around the edges. It is an extremely slow-paced town. We drove through the town, found a grocery store, and stocked up. The rip-stop waterproof nylon cover over Ellen’s Catrike had ripped somehow. I purchased some Gorilla Tape and tried to make a repair. A local hardware store had duct tape. That actually holds better in the cold. With the repair in place, we headed back to explore Gardiner.
Ellen walked the main street while I waited for the diesel pump to free up. She came running back saying, ‘”You have to see this gallery!” She had found Christopher Thomas Hoff’s gallery. He has lived in Gardiner for 15 years and has taken many remarkable photographs of wildlife in action. His is perhaps the most remarkable collection of photographs of American Wildlife I have ever seen. I highly recommend visiting Gardiner just to talk with Chris. He is not very forthcoming when you first engage him, but he comes ‘round. We had a late morning cappuccino at “the apothecary” a coffee and ice cream shop on the main drag. Jason was making waffle cones when we walked in. The aroma was intoxicating. We had our coffees and Ellen asked for a waffle cone, just the cone.
It is amazing how quickly time escapes us. It was now 11:15. The UPS truck was expected to visit the campsite around 11. With any luck my spotting scope adapter for my iPhone had arrived. Ellen quipped, “I hope they sent the right adapter!”. Me too!
Back at the campsite, we asked about availability for yet another night. Yes, we could stay another night if we like and YES, there was a package for me. Here you go! Sitting in a plain manila shipping envelope were three pieces of plastic and two sheets of “how to” instructions. My phone fit snugly into the cradle and it appeared to be the correct size to mount on the scope’s eyepiece! Excellent. Now let’s go find some wolves! But first we stopped at the visitors center for Wi-Fi access and we had a bite to eat.
Mammoth & Motorhome Wreck
At Mammoth parked along the center divider sat a tow truck with a wrecked RV in tow. It was one of those RV Across America rentals that are so common. It looked as if it had been rolled. I asked the tow truck driver if they had rolled it. He said, “They put it on its side” just as two Asian fellows came up to get their belongings out. I hope they opted for extended insurance.
There have been numerous times I’ve wanted to pull off the road, but the drop off on the side is too steep to safely negotiate with an RV. In such cases I’ve always driven on and not forced the issue. Just a moment of carelessness or inattention can be extremely destructive. Just last week a bison was hit and killed on a road. How the hell do you hit a bison? They are HUGE and if one is near the side of the road, I go slowly. I don’t want 800 to 2000 pounds of animal jumping in front of my rig.
Driving Lamar Valley, we stopped at every turn-out that could accommodate Li’l Beast and scanned the valley and tree line for motion. We drove down the valley and back up and saw nothing. There were numerous people with binoculars looking and looking, but nobody had a spotting scope out. No luck and no chance to use my “new toy”. We packed it in.
Sickening, Bison Skulls used for Fertilizer.
At the Mammoth visitors center, we checked the weather report. It looks like snow tonight dropping to 5200 feet (we’re well above that) with overcast skies tomorrow, snow Saturday night, rain Sunday and clearing on Monday. Do we hang out in Yellowstone for another three days or do we boogie on through Montana? We’ll see how we feel tomorrow morning.
We took showers at the Mammoth Hotel (for a modest fee) and returned to Mammoth Campground. We have no idea when this campground closes. I’ll have to ask tomorrow. For dinner we had a bit of leftover pulled pork with julienned onion and peppers and avocado. it was so good.
Today was a good day. No wolves, but pronghorn antelope are cool.