10/12/2019 Firehole River, Crystal Springs, day 31

 

Many thermophiles are not liking the cold weather. The Crystal Pool was a disappointment.  Spring snow melt feeds the hot springs that feed the pools. In the fall with less water, the springs are not as active and the thermophiles suffer.  The colorful beds of bacteria that segregate by temperature are muted.  The geysers reliably shoot plumes of steam high in the air.  Steam can be seen rising high in the are south of Madison.   Here we encountered the most traffic we’ve seen in the park. People come for the active geothermal features of the park.  Driving through a super-volcano has its charm.

We drove from West Yellowstone to Old Faithful stopping frequently to take in the sights: an expansive meadow here, geysers there.  Elk were numerous just outside the park.  There were a few bison south of Madison.  Today was a ho-hum day for wildlife sighting.  It was a warm day reaching 70 with bright sunlight.

Dunraven Pass was closed today.  All other roads were open.  Patches of shaded roadway facing north were covered in ice.  Not smooth black ice, rather ice that had pits and divots affording some traction at reasonable speeds.  One particularly dangerous icy curve has a sign posted that reads, “Accident Ahead”.  It’s a valuable marker.  Each time I see it I think, “Yeah, and that accident could be you!”

We’re staying at Buffalo Crossing RV Park tonight,  “four star” rated.  It is not that different than Pony Express Worse, the main roads are dirt and muddy in the afternoon thaw.  For our site fee, we got a discount to the IMAX  theater, a two minute walk away.  We saw Ad Astra this evening. Don’t bother seeing it. Brad Pitt does a reasonable job acting, but he cannot rescue the film from a poor plot line.  Attempts at drama and suspense fall flat.

We may go back to Pony Express tomorrow, assuming we stay another night.  I want to see Hayden Valley.  People compare it to Lamar Valley for wildlife viewing.  It has the largest herd of Bison in the park (and in the world).  That reminds me, while scoping out the Junction Butte pack in Lamar Valley, we were told that two packs got together and took down a bison for the first time in the park. (Who knows if it’s actually the first time …).  This is a huge step in the survival of the wolves.

We took panoramic photos, photos of fly fishermen, some of The Beast, a few of Elk and Bison, and some of us tramping through 6 inches of snow.  I’ll post some tomorrow.  I’m not taking the time to off load photos from five devices.  Some quiet time reading before crawling into bed is far more appealing.

A New Motor Home in our Future?

 

2020 Winnebago View 24J, similar but improved

A few days ago before the weather turned cold in Gardiner Montana, knowing where the plumbing components in our motorhome was critical.  Rather than hauling out our manuals, a web search turned up online copies of manuals for our 2015 Winnebago View.  One of the websites my search turned up was a video review of “the new 2016 Winnebago View” by Lichtsinn RV.  For grins I started watching their video.  Ellen, now curious, stood then sat to watch too.  Many of the new sprinter features are great.  Lane following, adaptive cruise control, automatic breaking.  Mercedes has been busy.  The new View’s interior looks great and has a number of ease of use features that appealed.

I’ve been very impressed with Winnebago’s design of the View and its components.  There are a few things I’d like to see changed.  Not surprisingly, they have been addressed in the 2020 View.  The only thing I saw that I didn’t like is the way the propane tank is mounted. In the 2020 it replaces a storage locker.  It might even be a smaller tank. 

“Maybe we should get a new motorhome”, Ellen said.  Though surprised, I didn’t take that comment too seriously.  Later that same day she mentioned budgeting for a new RV.  That comment I took seriously.  I’ll research pricing and options for the 2020 Winnebago View over the winter.  I hope they retained the cold weather package.

We really enjoy the freedom our motor home gives us.  We can travel all over the Americas.  Retired, we have no schedule to follow.   We stop where and when we want.  We can hunker down if the weather turns sour. Ellen has surprised me.  On our first few trips, being out for a week or two seemed excessive to her.  Now on this trip, we’ve been gone for 31 days.  Yesterday she quipped, “We’ve been gone how long? Really?”  We can go for a few months and it feels natural.  There’s no rush to be anywhere at any time.  We travel in an unhurried, relaxed tempo. 

“ Maybe we should get a new motor home.”   Indeed.

10/12/2019 Early Morning West Yellowstone , day 31

Weather

Another snow storm will roll in next week.  That storm will close the pass to Grand Teton National Park for a few days.  The road between Grand Teton and Yellowstone usually stays open through October, usually.  That storm will force us into Grand Teton probably before Thursday, 10/17.

We are both in excellent spirits.  The Beast is doing extremely well in the cold.  It dropped to 6 F this morning.  Today’s weather for West Yellowstone is partly cloudy at 44 F, Old Faithful shows sunny and 41 F.  Though colder, we’ll drive over the pass toward Prismatic Pool and Old Faithful.   We’ll stop by Firehole River again.

Pony Express RV Park

AllStay’s rating for this park is two stars.  That’s abysmal.  This morning I would rate the park FOUR STARS.  Yes, it is a small parking lot sitting between two motels on a side street with no view.  In high season I’d expect traffic on the street at all hours.  With a few inches of snow on the ground and very cold temps, the bathroom/laundry room is critical.  Both are extremely well heated and close by. There is boat loads of very hot water.  I had a long luxurious shower.

Where Grizzly was full yesterday, only six of the 16 sites are occupied here.   Ellen heard a motor home arrive last night.  Yes, the park does not look inviting when you first see it.

We’ll move to Grizzly RV Park tonight.  I could change my tune then.

Some photos taken over the past few days.

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The Lone Maple, Rocky Mountain RV Park

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Moonrise, Rocky Mountain RV Park

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Hot Spring Pool before Gibbon Falls

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Steam Frozen on the Pines

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Gibbon Falls

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Fly Fishing Madison River

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Firehole River and Meadows

10/11/2019 Leaving Gardiner for points South, day 30

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At Cowboys

Morning

What a gloriously sunny morning.  There is not a cloud in the sky. It is quite cold at 18 F outside.  Sunshine will warm things up considerably.

“Yes, we will be open until 1PM today”, the local LP company answered the phone, YAY! I called Jessica to say we would be leaving today. We had a chat about Gardiner and Yellowstone.  I asked about getting water before we leave. “Curtis is home. You can use the hose by our front door to fill up.”

Curtis met us as we drove the 200 feet to their house.  We attached the hose, turned the water on, and got NOTHING!  The hose was frozen.  Curtis moved the hose to the road waiting for it to thaw.  He banged the hose to free up ice and bent the fitting out of round.  I used a monkey wrench to true up the fitting.  That worked.  About the fifth thing we tried to thaw the hose worked.  We filled to 2/3 quickly.  Their water pressure is impressive.

Curtis talked about Rocky Mountain RV Park saying this is not typical for them.  It’s usually busy with children running around.  He described how he and Jessica found the property and the leap of faith they made when the bank approved the purchase.  They have a few folks who come up for the three seasons.  One couple loves bear, they arrive late April as the bears come to the lowlands to forage.  “This is one of the best seasons to visit the park, but you should see it in May.  Animal behavior in spring is fascinating.  I wish our cabins were setup for winter use.  Perhaps we’ll make that change.  We have so many projects planned.”  Since the road to Lamar Valley is open year round, we could easily fly into Gardiner and drive to Lamar Valley.  We were sorry to be leaving Rocky Mountain RV Park, Curtis, and Jessica.  It was time to move south a bit.  The weather was wonderful.

We reached the bottom of the hill at 12:44.  Bridge work held traffic up for maybe 20 minutes.   Would the local propane company close before we got there.  Once across the bridge, I drove right to the propane dealer. They were open and we topped up.  In two extremely cold days with the propane heater on constantly we used 3.5 Gal of propane.  Our heater is extremely efficient.  No worries on the propane front!

We drove to RV parking at the top of the hill, “our parking spot”, and walked to Wonderland Café for cappuccino and scones.  The café is a very friendly, liberal feeling shop.  We feel at home there.  The coffee and scones are quite good.

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Wonderland Café

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Ellen Talking Bear with New Friends

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A Bit of Yellowstone History

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At Gibbon Falls

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Falls in the Background

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All filled up: propane, gas, water, scones, & coffee, off we went to West Yellowstone and a hew home.  We stopped at turn outs a number of times on the way, often for the view, as often to let traffic pass.  I drove slowly.  We drove right to Buffalo Crossing RV Park, our first choice.  Grizzly RV Park is far too expensive.  Buffalo was full.  I spoke with the manager.  There was nothing available.  That there are so many hearty people visiting the park in this weather was a surprise.  “Can you recommend any other park?”  “You might try Pony Express RV Park, they looked to have openings when I drove by.”  He gave us directions. “Good Luck”.  Pony Express is a two star park.  Normally we would skip even looking.   We found the park behind a hotel/motel.  They have 16 sites, two were taken.  We chose site #5.  I wonder if Buffalo has sites open tomorrow.  I called and took the last available site.  They’ll have seven sites open the next day.  Cool, we can stay three days if we want.

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Riverside Drive headed To West Yellowstone

We drove back into Yellowstone and off to a favorite spot south of Madison.  There the Firehole River veers away from Rt 191 and runs along the north side of a wide meadow.  Fountain Flat Drive runs along the river.  This is a gorgeous location and a favorite for fishermen.   The herd of bison we encountered last year was nowhere to be seen this evening.  The snow crunched underfoot as we walked along the river.

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A Short Walk in the Snow

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Li’l Beast Playing in the Snow

The road from Madison Campground to West Yellowstone is mostly clear.  There are patches of ice in the shade here and there.  One turn was all ice, not smooth slippery ice, but chunky uneven ice with some traction.  Hitting this at high speed would be trouble.  I drive slowly in Yellowstone. Too much can go wrong: Ice, snow, potholes, and the wildlife.

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Got One!  Can You See the Fish in His Net?

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Fishermen Packing it In, Firehole River

Today was a glorious day.  We’re home after a meal at Slippery Otter Pub. We’re snug and warm as the outdoor temperature drops to 21 F and lower.  Tomorrow promises to be better than today.

Plans?

West Yellowstone will be home base for a while. We will let the weather dictate our next move.  I hope we get to Hayden Valley.  The road there from Madison was open today and should remain open for a few days.   The last time we were in mid-Yellowstone, the sky was a dreary gray with occasional rain.  Now each day is cold but sunny. Each day is a bit warmer than the last.

Mountain Mama’s is still closed.  Bummer.

10/10/2019 Rocky Mountain RV Park day 29

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Headed Home along the Gibbon River

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Pools and Terraces Upper Mammoth Hot Springs

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Sunset Over Gardiner Mt

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Winter Came Early

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No Snowy Wet Boots Inside!

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Sunrise Yesterday, Cold and Overcast

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Local Mule Deer

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Rocky Mountain RV Park

Jessica returned my call yesterday.  She was overnighting with family in Bozeman.  The roads back to camp were treacherous.  “Day called on account of snow!  We’re hunkerin’ down here. Curtis is at the park.”   I told her we’d stay last night and tonight while the weather breaks.  We could stay over Friday to Saturday too.  Rocky Mountain Park closes October 15th. 

Today, Thursday, is cold with temps in the mid teens.   We had clear skies this morning for sunrise, though clouds are moving in.  It is calm, there is no wind. The Navion couple left this morning.  They tow a vehicle so I figure they’re gone.

We may take Li’l Beast down the hill to Gardiner for a change of scenery. The road between Gardiner and Cooke through the park and Lamar Valley is open.  I mentioned this to Ellen, who was not impressed.  It’s too cold to have fun there today.  That is the only road open in Yellowstone.  All roads south are closed.

There are RV Parks open going south. In West Yellowstone there’s Buffalo Crossing with electricity.  They close on the 20th.  In Jackson there’s Fireside Resort which is expensive, but could be our only choice to stay near Grand Teton.  They are open year ‘round.  The Virginian (also expensive in season) closes 10/15 and will not be there for us.

Weather going south out of the high plains and mountains will be fine with daytime temps in the 40’s or more.  We’re in no rush to flee Yellowstone.

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Ellen’s Lunch, Huckleberry Sauce Left Background

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Cowboy’s

Late Morning

First off I headed to Antlers at the other end of town.  I wanted to check their menu.  It’s a lodge and bar/restaurant across the street from Outlaw’s Pizza and Casino.  Parking was easy, the lot was empty.  Antlers looked closed, but the front door opened and in I went.  I found a gal in the back room packing sandwiches into bags.  I startled her.  “You’re closed, right?”  They were, she had left the door unlocked.  I slip-slid to Outlaw’s and the local mall.  They too are closed.  In fact the entire mall was shut down.

We drove into Gardiner to top-up our propane and find something to eat.  The local propane company is family owned and has erratic hours.  A sign states “Open 7AM to 1AM Monday – Friday”.  That’s more a suggestion.  they were closed when we arrived at 12:20 AM.   We parked up the hill in an RV parking spot and walked down to Wonderland for lunch. 

Wonderland was closed.  They’ve changed their hours to 7AM to 11AM.  Gardiner is slowly shutting down.  We went to Cowboy’s with an “oh well, let’s see what this is like”.  We both had pork, mine in a BBQ sandwich, Ellen’s with mashed potato.  It was very good.  On the menu was a huckleberry Habanero sauce for a dollar more.   It sounds strange having huckleberry with BBQ sauce, but how could I pass up Huckleberry habanero?   It was so good I asked if they sold it.  “No, we make it ourselves here and don’t sell it.”  I had another “order” in a togo cup.  This sauce is great.  It has a heavy huckleberry flavor, probably a reduction, with just the right touch of habanero to give it a kick.  Scrumptious!

We dropped in at Yellowstone Wild to chat with Chris, but saw the Yellowstone Visitors Center was open and went there first.  A tall woman welcomed us in from her desk by the window to our left.  The visitor center is huge, walled with literally hundreds of brochures and maps of the area.  The massive fireplace stands mid-room.    I chatted with her as Ellen perused the literature.  “I’d get up to greet you, but my dog’s asleep on my lap.”  “Oh what kind of dog to you have”, Ellen perked up.  She rose to bring her baby dachshund over.  She was wrapped in a blanket and so tiny.  Ellen and I have both had dachshunds.  The three of us bonded over her dog.  “What’s her name?”   “Mango”

Chris had company, a local woman he was hiring to manage his shop.  We chatted a bit then headed off.

Back home four of the five other campers were gone.   We’ll head out tomorrow for points south.

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Man in the Moon

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Overnight Low

On our cold evening walk we met Rudi, the dog, and Kevin and Mindy.  “The only Rudi I know of is Rudi Giuliani” Ellen quipped.  “Let’s not talk politics”, I said. Kevin and Mindy live a few houses down the hill from Rocky Mountain RV Park.  Ellen and I dispute where they said they live.  Ellen says Indiana, I think Louisiana.  Either way they had been coming to Gardiner & Yellowstone for years then decided to boy here in Gardiner.  They stay a few months in the spring and a few months in the fall and rent the house out in the summer..  “It pays for itself”, said Kevin.  They invited us to join them for pool night at the Two Bit Saloon.

We have proven that Li’l Beast can sustain sub freezing temperatures better than we can!  Diesel gel has not been a problem either. Winnebago’s cold weather package does work.  On 10/10 the daytime temperature never rose above 28 F!  So long as we have an electric hookup to run resistive heaters on our tanks and adequate propane for our heater, we’ll be fine.

10/9/2019 Rocky Mountain RV Park day 28

It was a Dark and Stormy Night

It howled (unfortunately the wind, not wolves), blew,, and pelted snow in the morning.  It grew cold getting down to 7 F during the early morning and hardly rose during the day.

We read, chatted, watched old episodes of Law & Order SVU.  We had fun.  Thoughts of walking to town for dinner faded as the temperature held steady well below 28 F.  Ellen cooked (microwaved) eggs & bacon for lunch.  For dinner we cooked some frozen burritos I smuggled in the shopping cart a few days ago.  They’re often barely edible.  We were hungry and these were good with cilantro and fresh lime juice on top:  EVOL Carnitas Big Burrito and EVOL Cilantro Lime Chicken Burrito.

Our little space heater really helps, though at 10 F outside it’s never toasty in Li’l Beast.  There’s always some cold air seeping through from somewhere.

10/7 & 8/2019 Lamar Valley, Day 26 & 27

 

Video of coyote in Lamar Valley 10/8/19

https://youtu.be/YgwCZ-eiqk8

 

Video of the Junction Butte Wolf Pack Lamar Valley 10/8/19

https://youtu.be/Bn5VPnfFmmc

 

2nd Video of the Junction Butte Wolf Pack Lamar Valley 10/8/19

https://youtu.be/d3LBVZKVLSY

 

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Fall Colors, Cottonwoods in the Cold Valley

 

Lamar Valley 10/7

This morning the alarm jolted us awake and we rolled over.  We can go later, let’s sleep in a bit.  We did.

We drove off a full hour later as the sun was rising over the ridges.  It was over 50 F this morning.  Weird.  As we drove through Tower and toward Lamar Valley, the temp dropped to near freezing.

We drove to our now favorite spot for seeing the Junction Butte wolf pack.  As we neared the turn-out it was apparent we were too late to park.  There was no room for us.   As I drove by slowly, a ranger U-turned behind me.  He had just finished doling out a ticket.  I moved on, he followed.  There were no turnouts with available parking headed toward pebble creek. A large turnout appeared to our left and I turned in to turn around.  The ranger turned in behind.  Oh Crap, not again.  And again this time the ranger drove back toward the popular turn-outs.  I turned about and followed.  We passed “our spot” where the ranger had another customer.  The next spot up the valley had an opening for us.  There were people with spotting scopes out.  We stopped. 

We could see gray wolves in the far distance.  They were bedding down and not very active. Three tan colored creatures moved in from the right.  The gal beside us trained her scope on them and declared, “Wolf”.  While it is unusual to have three coyote ranging together, these were clearly coyote.   They were great to watch at less than half a mile.  The wolves were about 2 miles away.

Typical for us, though we were freezing at temps around 26 F, we were enchanted with the Valley and stayed for hours.  After a while we drove back down the valley, found more people out with spotting scopes, and stopped.  This turnout is huge and easily accommodated us.  “What are you seeing?”  “There’s a grizzly over there, in the tree line.”  It was far off.  Training our scopes on the bear, we saw the brown lump.  “There he is”, but the bear didn’t move at all.  Ellen walked up a nearby hill and motioned me over.  From there we could clearly see “the bear”.  A fellow photographer said, “That’s a Glacial Rock Bear, it moves at glacial speed.”  We all laughed.  It was a large brown rock.  Interestingly, the gal who spotted and watched the bear was the same one who cried “wolf” earlier.  Often we see what we want to see.

After watching coyote at (relatively) close range, I am convinced that last year’s light colored wolf was a coyote.

We headed back “home” sometime after noon.  Ellen wanted to find some hand warmers (she had one left over from last year that worked marvelously well).  I agreed.

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Wolves, Far Far Away

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See The Wolves? Not the Rocks!

 

Lamar Valley 10/8

Each visit to Lamar Valley is a treat.  The Junction Butte pack is very active this year.  It is optimal to arrive before sunrise both for a good parking spot and to see the wolves at their most active.  Yesterday, we failed the early arrival goal.  Last night I set the alarm another 20 minutes earlier.  We were determined to go back to “our spot”.

We left Rocky Mountain RV Park at 6 am.  It was cold at 24 F in Gardiner.  We expected far lower temps in the drive ahead.  Though we were early, three cars were ahead of us at the park entrance.   At Mammoth Hot Springs, the split off.  They were probably park employees.  The roads in Yellowstone are well maintained and easy to drive.  Often the speed limit seems far lower than the road could handle.  The speed limit is not about the road, it’s about the animals.  Around any turn we could be confronted by a bison, prong horn, or even bear.  I took driving the roads at less than the posted speed limit.  There’s no need to rush past would could be fantastic sightings.  In the near dark, we had no sightings and still no need for speed.

We scanned for bear where we saw the grizzly a few days ago; no sighting.  Dropping into Lamar Valley, just past the small sign, the pre-sunrise glow was showing over the ridges to the east.  We found a spot at our favorite spot and parked with Li’l Beast canted to the right enough to be problematic for the ‘fridge.  We turned the fridge off.

Watching the sunlight change as the sun rises over the valley is rewarding in itself.  About a mile and a half distant we could see wolves cavorting in the early morning.  If you know what to look for, you could see them with your naked eye.  Tiny black dots moving about in tall yellow grasses.  We could see head, body, legs, tail wagging with the spotting scope.  I took some video with the phone scope that is “ok”.  Even in the early morning, heat shimmer over a one to two mile range makes focus nearly impossible.

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Much Closer than the Wolves

While looking at the wolves, I heard a bugle behind. I uttered, “elk bugle” and was immediately corrected, “Coyote Howl”.  In my defense, the first few moments of the call did sound like an elk.  “The coyote is right there, on the near ridge beside that aspen.”  I trained the scope high on a far ridge and saw nothing.  Down a ridge, I saw nothing.  Then at the near ridge there was a small aspen and the coyote.  He filled the field of view and looked right at me.  Gorgeous.  He howled again as I mounted the phone scope.  At this distance focus was perfect.  With IPhone attached to the scope I found the coyote had gone.  I had another near miss.  No complaints, just seeing him up close like that was great.

Back to the wolves someone called out “grizzly, there near the tree line by the two rocks”.  Finding the two rocks at the tree line was easy.  To the right I saw the bear ambling about.  He was further out than the wolves and focus was a problem.  After a while he went back into the trees.

Daniel the photographer appeared beside us at some point.  He had a 500mm lens with a doubler on a 7D body.  Even so he didn’t have the  reach to get good photos of the wolves.  He dragged out a sigma 600mm on the doubler for comparison.  He said the added range was disappointing.  The 500 was better.  We had a wide ranging discussion of travel, photography, and how the best photos tell a story. 

More wolves arrived from the left and the right.  We counted ten, there could have been more.  While watching, a family parked behind us and was curious about what we were seeing.  I asked her youngest child, “would you like to see a wolf?”  Wide eyed she nodded her head.  I broke down my tripod to being it down to her level, centered one of the wolves, and asked her to look.  Her immediate reaction was to hold the scope that threw the wolf off screen.  I tried a few times, then her mom held her and helped her see the wolf.   We share our views with anyone interested, there’s something special about seeing the wolves through this little girl.

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Off the Road and Into the Sage Brush

 

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Crossing the Lamar River

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Idyllic Turnout headed Home

 

By around 12:30 we headed off to Mammoth in search of propane.  We had two days of very cold weather ahead and wanted a full tank to be safe.   Gardiner’s sole propane vendor was on vacation.  There is none available in Mammoth.  West Yellowstone was our only option.  I called ahead before we left.  We also called Jessica at Rocky Mountain RV Park to say we would be staying at least another two nights.

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West Yellowstone

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What is a Hong Kong waffle

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Mexican Food, Closed

As I mentioned earlier, Mountain Momma’s was closed.  We had no take-out chicken pot pie. We filled with propane, only 2.5 Gal and drove back toward Mammoth and home.  We stopped at most of the turn-outs between West Yellowstone and Madison Campground.  The road runs along the Madison River with amazing views  We missed taking photos of elk crossing the river and shaking the water off.

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The Madison River

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Upper Mammoth Hot Springs

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Terraces Upper Mammoth Hot Springs

Winter Coats.

At this time of year, elk take on their winter coat.  It starts off as thick brown nubs appearing along their backs.  Over time that fills out to a heavy fur coat.  Even bison develop a heavy coat over their fore body.  It’s amazing to see the daily change in our “home” elk.  I’m sure wolves develop a winter coat too, but we’ve not been able to see that much detail over such distance.

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Check Out These Winter Coats

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His Coat is Filling In Up Top

If you slow down, wait, and go back numerous times to favorite spots you may be rewarded with a once in a lifetime happening.   Now and then you may get a ‘one off’, just being in the right place at the right time.  More typically that exquisite experience goes to those who spend the time looking for it.  That throw away phrase popular 20 years ago, “been there, done that” is so revealing.  “There” is different each time if you’re open to the experience.

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Trophic Cascade Explained

Hayden Valley

Hayden Valley and Lamar Valley are often mentioned together.  One fellow I spoke with had wolves walk within 20 yards of him in Hayden Valley.  He hikes.  Before we go and if we can find campsites in Madison, we will visit Hayden Valley before moving to Grand Teton.

There is a citizen’s science group that keeps track of wolves in the park.  It is illegal for non park personnel to tag and track the wolves.  This citizens group gathers information from rangers and citizen sightings and presents the information on line here.

Rocky Mountain RV Park

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Luxury, Cappuccino in Bed

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Plans

It is 8:54 pm on 10/8/2019.  The expected snow arrived early in the morning and kept up until 3:00 in the afternoon.  We’ve had about 3 inches here in Gardiner.  I’m sure Yellowstone has seen from 6” to two feet in higher elevations.  We were concerned about our water tanks and lines.  Our water tank was warm to the touch.  We’ve left all cabinets that house water lines open. The light bulb in the outside water cabinet has kept it toasty warm.  So long as our propane lasts we’ll be fine in very low temps for a few days.

We have a small space heater that keeps us warm.  The propane heater doesn’t come on as much.  Tonight we’ll turn off the space heater for safety and keep the propane heater at 50 or 55.  We have had no condensation on the inside, though there could be some in the walls we’re not aware of.  I’m quite satisfied with Li’l Beast’s performance in sub freezing temps.  I’m a bit concerned with our diesel gelling, though that’s self correcting in higher temperatures. We should see temps in the 40’s on Friday.  If so we’ll push on to Madison (after getting propane in West Yellowstone).

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A Penny for Your Thoughts?

Snowballs Anyone?

Tuesday

Wouldn’t you know, the one propane provider in Gardiner is on vacation.  Our tank read 1/2.  With very cold weather expected for the next two days, it was time to top-up our propane. From Lamar Valley we drove to West Yellowstone yesterday.  The town of Gardiner has grown on me.  It contrasts with West Yellowstone, which is neither quaint, nor eclectic,

“Remember those pot pies from West Yellowstone?   Maybe we can find that shop!”.  Though West Yellowstone has wide streets that feel like a bustling city, it is a very small town.  “Oh, over there,  That’s where we got the pies.”  Mountain Mama’s Coffee House and Bakery, announced a prominent sigh over the entrance.  Great!  But no….   a small, hand written sign read “We are closed due to lack of staff. We would rather close than provide poor service to our friends.”   Bummer, no chicken pot pie for dinner.

We found a bookstore/coffee shop & bakery that was open.  Most of West Yellowstone is closed for the winter.  There was nothing special about their coffee.  Their croissants were good. Firehole Fill  Up had propane and took care of us.  Surprisingly we took 2.5 gallons of propane.  Stunning, why so little?

Back home as we settled in for the night, the wind gods had some fun.  The wind picked up with gusts that must have been 50 mph.  We were rockin’ and rollin’.   I pulled in our satellite antenna and our push-out.  I was concerned the wind would damage the push out awning.   We opened all under sink cabinet doors, placed a light bulb in the outside water cabinet, and set the heat to 60 overnight.

Wednesday Morning

Last night’s windstorm gave way to light snow early this morning.  Snowfall is growing more significant.  We have maybe an inch on the ground already.   I’m confident we’ll be fine in 1 F temperatures expected later today, provided we stay tethered to electric power to heat our gray and black tanks.  Our propane tank read full this morning.  Weird, it read 2/3 last night and now full after running the heater all night.   We’ll need to run the heater non-stop for at least 40 hours.   Weather forecast for Gardiner is for highs of 31 F Thursday then 44 Friday.

Later, we’ll walk Gardiner in the snow.  I’m feeling unsettled having to leave Li’l Beast with the heat on when we go out.

I’ll have lots of time later today to write about our fantastic Lamar Valley experiences.   There’s a camaraderie among the wildlife watchers that makes for a fun experience, though watching animal behavior is what its all about.

10/6/2019 Lamar Valley at Sunrise, Day 26

 

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The American Serengeti

The last time we tried this, heavy snow over the very first pass turned us back.

We awoke at 5:35 AM in pitch darkness.  Stars were out.  The sky was clear and the morning felt abysmally cold, though “only” 31F.  We made coffee, put “everything” away, pulled the push-out in, brought the Antenna down, disconnected, and drove off.  We left at 6;25, not a stellar departure, but good  enough.  “Next time we’ll setup to leave before bed.”

We stopped briefly at the park entrance and headed up the hill.  To get to Lamar Valley take the first left in Mammoth onto Grand Loop Road toward Tower.  Temp when we left Gardiner was 31 F.  As we climbed from Mammoth it dropped to 26 then 24.  At tower the road to Lamar Valley branches left.  We were beginning a climb with a drop off to a narrow field and trees to our right when Ellen nearly shouted, “Bear” , then ‘Grizzly”.  First light was breaking over the ridges.  We could see clearly, yup, a grizzly.  It ran across the road maybe 50 yards ahead, scampered down to and across the field, and disappeared into the tree line.   I immediately stopped right on the road at the first sight of bear, well before it crossed the road.  The car behind us also stopped.   Our sighting was on the rise to Slough Creek.

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What Happens When You’re Unprepared for “the shot”

From Slough Creek, the road runs along the Lamar River, through a canyon.  It rises through pine trees curving left and right, then descends into and rises from a small valley (that could be part of Lamar Valley).  It then rises and drops into a stunning vista. Lamar Valley is a long expansive plain of grasses and sage, cottonwood and aspen groves along the Lamar River, and evergreen trees rising up the slops in the distance.  The sun had risen, but was still below the ridge line.

We stopped at the first paved pullout on the valley floor and scanned the tree line.  Nothing.  We skipped the next few turnouts.  One turnout ahead was busy.  Ellen and I both thought a. We’re too late and b.There won’t be parking for us.  I slowed to a crawl and pulled into a space big enough.  I had to pull forward barely scraping a rock with the left suspension. OOps. 

There was a small cluster of people, three or four with spotting scopes trained on the sagebrush.  “What are you seeing?”  “Wolves, there are four of them in the sage brush just behind the near short tree right there.”  And there they were. There were four gray wolves, two cavorting about and two more interested in bedding down.  A while later two more moved in from the left, a white and a gray.  While we watched a covey of grouse appeared in the foreground and jumped about.  Ellen noticed a pair of bald eagles in a cottonwood by the Lamar River. Two bison ambled by in the background.  Back to the wolves, a seventh ambled in from the left.  Then a fellow who had been on the hill behind us mentioned there was a wolf coming in from the right near the cottonwoods.  He/she was close enough to see without glass.  Under the spotting scope we saw a large, well fed coyote.  Just as I focused on the eagles to take a “phone-scope” pic, they flew out of the tree.

The wolves disappeared into the grasses and sage.  The eagles flew off.  The bison had wondered to the far right.  We were about to move on when a herd ( harem, herd, group, flock? ) of prong horn ( antelope, deer, sheep ? ) charged out of the pine trees and ran at high speed through the sage and grasses.  Seen in a full gallop, these are magnificent animals.  They are very fast.  In no time they had run out of sight.

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Typical Yellowstone Traffic Jam

We drove further down Lamar Valley, slowed then stopped for a herd of Bison, then turned back.  We ate at Mammoth Dining Room, which has a limited, way overpriced menu; then headed to Gardiner for more hand warmers, cough drops, and whatever else we might need/want.

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Boiling River

Along the way we pass the turnoff for Boiling River. We’d seen crowds at the river each time we passed.  Yesterday we tried to stop for a “look-see”.  The two parking lots limit size to 20’ and road side parking was full.  Today it was nearly empty!  We had no trouble parking and walked the quarter mile to the “boiling river’”. It is a spot along the Gardiner River where hot springs flow into the cold river.  People have piled rocks in circles creating warm bathing pools that go from cool, to warm, to hot.   Ellen soaked her feet while I watched our gear.  The trick is to go with a bathing suit, towel, the clothes on your back, and little else.  We passed one woman walking back wearing a resort-style terry robe.  Smart.  We’ll go back in the next day or so better prepared.

I felt a wee bit strange taking photos here.

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Can You Spot the Snake?

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Strangely Inappropriate

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Mid Sized Bull Snake Warming Itself

That Bull Snake was remarkable.  It slowly extended its head and maybe 6” of its body over the hot water.  Then it dipped just touching the water and rose back.  It did this three times. Then it got brave and submerged into the water.  Like a baby touching a hot stove.  It snapped back in a U shape and buried its head.  One Smart Snake, assuming it didn’t badly burn itself.

Parks Fly Shop

Finding specialized equipment in Gardiner off season is practically impossible.  The shops/outfitters who would carry such things are all closed.  Every last one.  Looking for river shoes, a local recommended we try Parks Fly Shop.  “They’ll have stuff for wading for sure!”   Well, no, they don’t.  In fact the friendly guy manning the counter said, “You don’t want to go wading in river shoes.  You’ll break your toes.” He went on to say his pinkie sticks out like his thumb, he’s broken it so many times.  “Don’t wear river shoes and no we don’t carry any, sorry.”  He was not trying to up-sell us.  He was seriously saying “don’t do it”.  We’ll use our old sneakers instead.  As for a fly fishing outfitter and based on what I know about fishing, I can very highly recommend these guys.

Rocky Mountain RV Park

We’re back “home”.  Water, electric, and cable are all connected.  This day has tired us out.  Jessica came by with her one year old, June, to settle up.  They’ll stay open through the 15th, though the water will be shut off tomorrow.  Water will be available near the office after that.  Yes, we can use the sewer, just run a bunch of water.  

Rocky Mountain RV Park is outside Yellowstone Park.  We have to drive a bit more to access Mammoth and other points of interest.  However, unlike campgrounds within the park, we have electricity, sewer, and water here.  Then too, we use our Senior Pass for free access to the park.  We go in and out of Yellowstone as often as we want and at no charge.

Say Hi to Curtis, Jessica, Payton, and June when you visit. 

Weather

Today was a cold and gloriously sunny day. Low temp going to Lamar Valley hit 24 F.  High temp today hit 69 F.  That’s a huge temp swing. Tomorrow should be even better than today.   Wednesday will be tough.  We’ve heard temps as low as 1f overnight with sub freezing temps for 24 hours.  Ouch.  I expect we’ll be tethered to electricity  all day Wednesday to run our tank heaters.  They would drain the batteries in under 6 hours.  Running the generator overnight is not an option.  So an electric hook-up is necessary.

Plans

We’ll stay in Gardiner through Wednesday.  We’ll go to Lamar Valley again tomorrow.  Today was glorious.

10/5/2019 Rocky Mountain RV Park, Gardiner, & Mammoth, Day 25

 

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Sign in Wonderland Cafe

What’s the Zygote Say

That phrase comes from my college days when my girl friend, half awake first thing in the morning asked, “What’s it like out today” and one of the guys took a double take and said, “What’s the Zygote say? Huh? What?”  Ever since that moment “What’s the Zygote say.” has become legend.

Today the Zygote says it’s gloriously sunny with a few high wispy clouds.  It’s also cold.  Temp shows 33 F.  It dropped to 30 overnight, not cold enough to freeze our lines; not yet.  I’ll have to read about Winnebago View’s cold package and how it does its magic.

The weather report is for rain and 44 F today.  It sure does not look like we’ll get rain. Tomorrow a fully sunny day is expected.  Monday and Tuesday should be warm and partly sunny. Wednesday & Thursday will be trouble.  Wednesday a high of 30 and a low of 9 is expected in Gardiner.  Thursday is not so bad with a high of 35, low of 9.  I might be able to get by with additional heating like 100 watt light bulbs strategically placed near the water tank and the outside shower.  We’d have to keep the heat on at night as well.  Set the thermostat to 50 at night.  So far the heater stays off all night.

Happy Birthday!

The first words Ellen spoke this morning.  Sounds great to me.

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Gardiner, not downtown

Car Rental Gardiner

In short, there are none.

This morning Ellen said, we could rent a car to drive to Lamar Valley tomorrow morning.  It turns out there are no car rental companies in Gardiner.  There is a web personal car rental group, but all the cars are located in Bozeman or West Yellowstone.  They’ll deliver, but I doubt that offer extends to Gardiner.

I’ll ask Curtis if anyone he knows would rent their car for a day.

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Early Morning at Rocky Mountain RV Park

Rocky Mountain RV Park

This park is very well done.  The showers are tiled and look brand new.  At 38 F outside, they’re heated sort-of.  An on demand heater provides boat loads of hot water.   Curtis and Jessica, his wife, put thought and feminine attention into the design of this park.  The views from the bluff are an added bonus.

I walked to the shower with a couple who were walking down the hill for breakfast.  We had a chat about elk and bunnies (there was one sitting under a car).  I mentioned walking to breakfast to Ellen, but she’d already eaten by the time I got back.

Elk rut is ongoing.  Males are bugling; females are running about.  The elk are very successful near and in the park. This morning about an hour before sunrise we heard elk bugling, some at a distance and the male here at camp responded.  He was just outside or motorhome.  I was awake enough to notice, not to make a recording.

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What was a glorious morning has turned overcast and cool.  The prospect of rain is increasingly likely.

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We’d Plan on This, but We’ll be Long Gone

Plans

We’ll walk downtown this morning.  We may drive to Lamar Valley to check drive time and “just” to be there.  Our plan is to leave Gardiner for Lamar Valley around 6AM.  We should arrive well before sunrise.  We’ll scan the tree line for wolves and bear.  I’m sure we will encounter elk and bison as well. 

We’ll head over to Chris’ photo gallery to take delivery of our photograph later today.  It’s a big print, 6 ft wide.  He caught elk walking on a ridge with four wolves in pursuit printed in ecru.  The photo is in muted grays.  I could feel the cold just looking at the print.  It’s a wonderful photograph, but not the one we chose. 

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Sign Sitting in the Entrance, Wonderland Cafe

Wonderland Café

We walked into downtown Gardiner after scones at the Wonderland Café.  Yesterday their huckleberry were sold out.  We walked around town, Chris had customers at his gallery.  We walked on to  Yellowstone Forever and chatted with park representatives.  There were overnight road closures.  Dunraven Pass between Tower and Canyon is closed as is the road south to Grand Teton.  Road conditions in the park are variable and change by the hour.  We’re being careful not to venture out in a storm and not be able to get back.  “Is there an ATM in town?”, I wanted to pay in cash for our campsite to save them the processing fee. “Yes, I think there’s one in the Two Bit Saloon.  It’s probably the only one in town now.”  Ellen asked about local car rentals.  There are none in Gardiner.

 

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Whiteboard Sketch at Yellowstone Forever

Leaving Yellowstone Forever, we walked past Wonderland to Two BIt and the ATM.  Back at Wonderland with cash in hand we ordered three huckleberry scones, one Raspberry, and a double cappuccino.  The sampled the scones with the cappuccino.  That cap was exceptional.  I’ve made it a point when we travel to always let people know when something is exceptional.  Ellen said, “You just wanted to talk to that young girl.”  We both had a good laugh.  I carried that theme along conversationally for a few minutes.

I very highly recommend Wonderland Café.  It’s a step above hamburgers and fries.  Off-season Gardiner closes up.  Even in high season, Wonderland would be a great place for a bite to eat.  Try their cappuccino in the morning.

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Happy Camper

Back “home” we walked the camp.  The elk were nowhere to be seen.  I called Jessica and arranged to stay for a day or two.  We’ll settle up at her convenience when we’re “home”. 

Funny, Ellen just asked if I remembered where she had her blueberry whatchamacallit.  Saved by our blog!  She had a blueberry pizza at Wine Down Dog in Castle Rock on Sept 13.  When we revisit cities and towns  I’ll read past blog entries.  That way we can avoid the bad, and get reacquainted with the great.   I think in this case El wanted to post about her experience in Castle Rock.

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Back into the Park

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Why Stop and Read Signs?  Because…

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Having a Jog at the Forty Fifth Parallel

Mammoth, Perhaps Lamar Valley?

There is a turnout on the left just inside Yellowstone’s north entrance.  From parking a trail leads along the Yellowstone River.  Every time we’ve driven past, there have been a number of cars parked and people along the trail.  Today we’ll go there first.  Perhaps we’ll get to Mammoth.  I’ve considered driving to Lamar Valley today.  The road between Gardiner and Cooke City runs through Lamar Valley.  It is kept open all winter.  It was a snowstorm over the pass toward Lamar Valley that turned us away last year. We’re not so easily deterred now.

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Traffic Stopped for These Guys

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Along the Yellowstone, Lower Road to Mammoth

Retrospective

We lounged about until about 1 PM.  Weather didn’t improve or degrade.  We “broke camp”, which meant pulling in our DirecTv antenna, disconnecting the cable wire, bringing the push-out in, and disconnecting power.  We have a “pre-flight check list” to avoid major mistakes.  After a walk around (did we leave anything, is the antenna really down, how do the tires look), we drove off to Yellowstone Wild to pay for and pick up our photo.  Chris had the photo packaged up and waiting.  We talked about Yellowstone, how he came to photograph “the hunt”, his amazing shot of four wolves chasing a herd of elk.  We had to look closely to see the stones the elk kicked up as they ran and one of the wolves was practically airborne with one foot on the ground.  We talked about how quickly a situation changes and how photographing it is so difficult.  You cannot predict lighting or animal behavior.   Chris said he spent four days getting that shot.  The ridge was the only place in that area the snow had melted.  There was nothing to eat in the valleys.  The elk congregated on the ridge and a wolf pack did too, but a quarter mile away.  This is an amazing photo, and it is not ours.  Chris took “our” photo on October 2, 2015.

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Our Package Safely Stowed in our Shower

Ellen mentioned to Chris that there’s a turnoff just inside the park where she’s seen gaggles of people hiking in.  “Oh, you mean bubbling waters.  It’s a place that hot springs feeds the Yellowstone River.  There are hot pools in the river that people soak or swim in.  They’re comfortable and  very popular.”  We chose to drop by on our way to Mammoth.  Chris offered to help load the photo in our motorhome.  “No, it’s ok”, I said, “I can handle it”.  I was surprised at the weight of the packaging.

The photo would not fit in the back of the shower stall.  The specs I saw for the Winnie View shower must have been for a different year or model.  There was no way.  We considered putting it in the bunk over cab though what a pain that would be.  We’d constantly bonk our heads getting to/from the cab.  Ellen said, let’s try the  shower again.  We managed to get it into the shower kitty-cornered.  Whew.  What a mess it would be otherwise.  The photo will sit in the shower until we get home (or until we reach San Diego, whichever comes first).

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No Crowds at All

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Mammoth’s Travertine Steps

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Mammoth, Yellowstone

This time entering the park, I gave the ranger my senior pass and license. “Will you need maps for the park?”  “No, we’ve been before.”  “It looks to be snowing in Mammoth.  It’s higher than here.  Those rigs handle snow pretty well though.”  “I try to avoid driving in snow.  We’ll see how this goes.”  He gave my pass back and smiled. “Have a good one.”

We drove off to find the hot springs.  The turnout was impossible to miss.  A sign read “Congested Area Ahead”.  There was a roadside strip on the right that was full and two parking areas left and right.  A sign read “20 ft vehicles only”.  Unhappily, we drove past.  “Another day, another time” we said.

Snowflakes.  Mammoth was gray with very light snow falling.  There was some wind as we stepped down from Li’l Beast.  Temps read 38F; we dressed for it.  “Should we stop for hot chocolate and a pretzel?”  “How about on the way back”, I said.  We walked the middle section of the Mammoth Travertine steps.   The more we walked, the warmer we became. It’s hard to describe Mammoth Hot Springs.  I suppose it is a lesson in how travertine is created.  I could never put travertine in a home without thinking of Mammoth.  I was impressed by one little fellow who ran past his dad, “Wow, look at that.”  Dad, “Isn’t this amazing” “Really cool, WoW”.   It IS really cool. 

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The Pools of Thermophile Are Fascinating

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Toward the end of our walk, the sun broke through.  Clouds started to disperse.  I love sunshine.  It lifted our mood mightily.  At the general store we skipped hot chocolate for a double scoop of Huckleberry Ice Cream!  Ice cream in the winter?  You Betcha!

Driving back the Hot Springs turnout was full.  “Let’s drive west from Gardiner to the Cottonwood grove we saw last year.”  We found the turnout at a bend in the Yellowstone River fronted by a line of cottonwoods with a grassy field across the river.  A herd of elk were feeding on the fresh grass.  The cottonwood are beginning to turn.  We’ll check back before we leave Gardiner/Mammoth.

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Home

Our resident elk are out and about.  It’s about 7 pm, just around dusk.  The bull has been bugling like crazy.

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