September 9, 2002 - Monday
Fereydoon awoke early at about 8:30 am and went out for breakfast. I slept in until 10:30 am, when he brought breakfast back, our first morning here in Yellowstone National Park. We were on the road after a quick coffee, juice and muffin. We drove from Grant Village to West Thumb, around the West side of Yellowstone Lake through Bridge Bay. Then, after a stop at Lake Village, we were onto Mud Volcano, Sulphur Canyon, through Hayden Valley to the mouth of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.
You go to Canyon Village on the north of the Canyon to enter the North Rim Road and Inspiration Point. Then you work your way down the Yellowstone River running through the Canyon to the Lower Falls, cross over and head up the South Rim Road through Upper Falls, the Lower Falls and finally Artist Point.
Both coming and going we saw our share of bison. They are huge beasts, lethargic and fully in control of the Park and all of its highways and byways. On the return, we saw perhaps a mule deer -- it was getting dark.
West Thumb is a mild, colorful introduction to geysers and paint pots. Mud Volcano is a drier, muddier collection. Sulfur Canyon definitely smelled the strongest I've ever experienced.
Lake Village has the Lake Yellowstone Hotel, a large yellow homestead. And there's the smaller Lake Lodge with more rustic cabins behind the main dining lodge. Bridge Bay had a small marina from which small lake cruises depart with hikers and climbers. Hayden Valley is a surprising meadow contrasting with the dense pine growth all along the main loop.
While the fire of 1988 took out over a third of Yellowstone's natural vegetation, there are clearly areas that were hit and others untouched or only slightly burned. But then in the midst of scorched areas, a whole new forest is springing up in the nature-cleared areas beneath huge charred tree stalks. Further north toward Canyon Village, the deep forest is alive and thriving, untouched by either the '80s or the '90s fires.
The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone is worthy of its name. We started at Inspiration Point and saw the canyon reach long and deep in both directions. As often as possible, we stopped and trekked down to Grand View Point, Lookout Point, Lower Falls, Upper Falls -- each time being welcomed by a different terrain, a new vista, brighter colors or deeper shadows.
We next trekked back across the bridge to the South Rim Road. As it was getting late in the day, we went only as far as the road's end at Artist Point and walked the trail just a brief distance to watch the sun and shadows wipe the Canyon asleep. Finally we went back to the head point of Uncle Tom's Trail, viewing Lower Falls up close. At the day's end, we saw the Upper Falls again, but from the south side of the Canyon.
We covered a surprising amount of terrain on our first day out, especially since we expected to rest all day today. The weather was marvelous, giant blue skies and occasional cumulus clouds. Crisp, clear temperatures in the high 50's, low 60's. By the end of the day, though, we were back to the mid-40's.
Wherever we went, we pickup up the NPS guide maps and ended up being the resource for information for the international community of visitors still filling the parking lots. We are pleasantly surprised that crowds are still present, but not intrusive. The Park design and layout does manage to disperse the visiting population very effectively.
Driving back to the hotel, we find deer come to the edge of the roadside in the darkness to nibble at the lush green growth along the side. Headlights catch soft round eyes glistening in the pitch black night and warn us to slow down and take care.
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