Thursday, July 14, 2011

Great American Road Trip - Part 5

Yellowstone National Park - Mammoth and Odds and Ends

Yellowstone National Park is divided into five sections - Mammoth, Tower, Canyon, Old Faithful and Lake Village. I'll focus on the Mammoth section today as that was the area where we spent a large part of our first day in the park. Since we couldn't secure lodging within YNP, we stayed .5 mile outside in the north entrance, in Gardiner, Montana.

Each day when we drove into the park, we crossed through the historic North Entrance Arch, or Roosevelt Arch, as it's sometimes called due to it's association with President Theodore Roosevelt. Back in The Day, almost all the park's guests arrived by train via Gardiner, so this impressive structure was built to welcome them, with the cornerstone laid by President Roosevelt in 1903.

After we passed under the arch, we checked in at the Ranger Station, where we showed them our America the Beautiful Annual Pass, which grants us access to all the National Parks, a pretty good bargain for $80. A better deal if you have a buddy with the pass who allows you to be the second name on the card. The rangers gave us maps and the park newspaper and let us know if any of the roads were closed, as the road to the northeast entrance was for most of our visit.

After the ranger station, the roads began to climb and wind, wind and climb. At times there was very little shoulder and never was there a guard rail alongside the cliffside roads. I drove it once, but was distracted by the beauty and then terrified by my distraction. Michael thought this was likely to lead to a reenactment of the final scene of Thelma and Louise, so I stuck to the passenger's seat after that. I found ways to get into trouble over there, too. More later.

Before long, we got to the Fort Yellowstone portion of the Mammoth Hot Springs area. When the park was first established in 1872, a small staff of civilians was in charge. However, many people refused to stop hunting and poaching in the area, this staff felt ill equipped to bring the level of desired respect to this wild area. A military presence was brought in and Fort Yellowstone was born in 1886.

The Visitors' Center is in the building which formerly housed the bachelor officers. This area is the only place in the park where you will see green grass lawns. I'm not sure why. Maybe it was brought in for the homesick troops, a hundred years ago. In any case, the elk love to hang out and graze there, instead of in the rest of the park, which is left to be as wild as possible.

Here is the lovely chapel which was added to the Fort Yellowstone area in 1913. It has always been non-denominational and still offers Catholic mass and Sundays services each week. It is the last stone building before you enter the untamed portion of the park.

Further down the road are the hot springs themselves. The most interesting part, in my opinion, is the this mound of travertine built by years of the calcium deposits formed when the hot water cools.

I had marked in my guide book an area to check out called Sheepeater Cliff. The book said that kids love to climb the cliffs. Indeed, when we got there, there were parents tiredly looking at maps at the picnic tables with their bottled water, while the young ones scampered up to the very tip top.

When we first parked at Sheepeater Cliff, only Ava and I started to climb. The columns were sort of honeycomb-shaped, and we could see where the columns fell over and broke into individual stones, lying in a row. Chipmunks clambered in and out of the crevices. Before long, Michael and Brooks started climbing too, no nonsense and headed straight for the top. Eventually Sophia joined in, too. What a great time. It was a good place to get out of the car and explore.


These are a kind of trash can that you see in the park. It is meant to be bear resistant. We did learn from Mike The River Guide, however, that they are not necessarily raven resistant. He told us several stories of how crafty those birds are. In the trash can story, several ravens will work together to pull open the door of a trash can. Another raven goes into the receptacle to throw out the yummy bits of garbage. This may be well and good as long as all birds remain at their posts, but there have been several instances of the outer birds being frightened away from their posts, leaving the scavenger trapped inside. Imagine the surprise of the next human to use the trash can, only to have a claustrophobic, enraged raven fly out at them.

We played the license plate game on this trip and found them all in the first week. On the day we drove around Mammoth Hot Springs, we saw this car with the ever-elusive Hawaii plates on them. We wondered under what circumstances the car came to the mainland and never saw the owners to ask.

But Hawaii wasn't the last plate we found. It actually took us ages to find Connecticut. But here it was, in the parking lot of the Roosevelt Lodge.

Why is all this traffic stopped? We slowed to a stop and waited. Some of us even got out of our vehicles and wandered up a little ways to see if we could identify the holdup. Eh, the line of cars stretched all the way up and around a curve. Couldn't see nothin'.

Eventually, one guy came walking quickly back to his car with a sense of purpose I hadn't seen from the others who returned. "What's up?" I asked him. Do you see in this photo why we were all at a standstill?

Holy Crap!

They were all around the van, marching down the street, big as you please. And here is how I managed to get into trouble even in the passenger seat. Throughout the park are warnings that the animals are WILD and do not wish to be molested in any way. But my window was open for picture taking and I just wondered what one felt like. I thought it would be like with cattle? You know, they are not used to be touched either, but when they are touched they seem to think it's no different than a fly. So I just reached out and grazed the coat of the one outside my window...

And it Lost. It's. Mind. So startled was I by the bison's kick and jump that I hit my head on the frame of the van window. A moment later the kids said something about the buffalo kicking the van. "No," I said, "that thud you heard was me hitting my head."

But, no. Further inspection of the van showed where the hoof dragged across a length of the side door. I was the butt of jokes for the rest of the trip.

"Do not approach the animals, Mom. That's what the sign said!"

"Welllll, I don't think they meant the buffalo."

1 comment:

  1. DB, I cannot. believe. you. did. that. Laughing!!! don't get the hoof mark fixed -that's unbelieveable!


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