September 13, 2002 - Friday
Up early again, today, in order to get out to the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River for a climb down the 368 steps of Uncle Tom's Trail to see the Lower Falls from a perspective near the base of the Canyon. We took it slowly, but were able to do the full set of steps in their entirety. The base provides a lovely view of the length of the Canyon. The path all the way down is wonderfully tree-lined. Throughout, you do see how the Yellowstone came to be named that way.
Afterwards we headed west to Norris to see another Geyser Basin.We walked around the Back Basin and saw milder geysers and springs, but much more colorful compared to those in the Old Faithful area.
We next headed north to Mammoth Hot Springs, near the northern entry to the Park. At first, the route was lined with trees, then rocky obsidian cliffs, followed by rocky uplifts, then a twisty, windy road back down to the plateau level.
The Golden Gate area was especially rocky and jagged. On the return, we took the one way road through the middle of the rock formations.
Mammoth Hot Springs is a much larger town compared to the others -- partially because the Park Headquarters are here at the location of the former Army Fort Yellowstone. We had a nice lunch in the dining room, then walked the lower terrace area where water flows have deposited sulfur and other minerals for decades, making it a colorful tiered series of whitish ledges. Before, tourists would climb up the formation (even taking bikes up there for posed pictures), but now the walkways preserve the multicolored and delicate pools and mineral layers.
The vista points are exceedingly well-placed for the best possible picture taking. The highest point provides a fascinating panoramic view of the entire Mammoth Hot Springs basin.
Afterward, we took the car on the one way Upper Terrace route, stopping, climbing wherever permitted. Colors and surfaces continued to hypnotize us both.
On the return trip, we tried to find Virginia Cascades but concluded it was too dry, after the long drought, and would have to await another rainy season to return.
En route, we frequently came across tourists parked on the road side or actually IN the road, watching and photographing elk, moose, and a mother bear with cub on the hillside. All told, this is the 4th and 5th bear sighting for us during this visit.
The tourists seem to be much saner when there is a ranger around to manage the cars when "bear watching". Without ranger guidance, visitors simply park their cars in the middle of the road and go off with their cameras.
The rangers reported that the natural food source for bears was essentially wiped out by some infestation, so the bears are coming down lower than usual to try to find food to fatten up for hibernation.
The mother and cub that we saw looked extremely thin, with ribs showing through their fur. Being this close to a hungry momma bear with cub is a little too intimate for my preferences.
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