Saturday was another bright and early Montana morning. Actually, it was still pitch black dark when we woke at 5 o'clock, and forty frigid degrees out. As we drove toward the stables, the sun woke and the fog dissipated. It was an hour and a half drive. The kids slept while Coach and I spotted bison and big antlered elk alongside the road in the park. Despite the frequency with which it happens, spotting wildlife never got old.
Fog over the Hayden River Valley.
We had reserves for a 7:45 back country trail ride. We were all excited to enjoy the quiet morning hours in the park on horseback. I recommend getting to the park early and spending a good 6 hour stretch there, leaving during the heat and congestion of the afternoon, and coming back in the evening when the crowds thin out, the sun starts to descend and the wild life wakes up. Before and after peak hours, it feels more sacred and pristine.
Lily greets Casino.
This is old hat for her.
Mike meets Big Thunder.
Ted was paired up with Pugsley.
We nicknamed him Pigsley soon after we started out.
Ready to ride.
The ride was leisurely, much to the kids' dismay, but I have to say that I appreciated the lolling gait. There were some steep and hairy spots near Cascade Canyon so speed would have quite literally put me over the edge. The most excitement of the ride was caused by a lone bison who we happened upon in Jenna's Meadow. He kept an eye on us while we kept many eyes on him without incident. Our guides, Amy and Casey, were full of stories, knowledge (Google Old Man's Beard, but don't eat it unless stranded and starving), and a genuine love for this majestic park. They tried to talk the kids into returning for a summer job one day. I'd support that.
Initially we booked a half day ride, but due to time constraints we switched it to an hour. That was a good thing too because by 9:00, things were heating up and we were ready to shed some layers. The temperatures rose 25 degrees in an hour and a half.
We stopped off at Tower Falls and hiked down to the banks of the Yellowstone River into which Tower Creek flows.
The fall plunges 132 feet and gets its name from the rock pinnacles on top of the fall.
The river is named for the yellow colored sandstone bluffs surrounding it.
As we hiked down behind the kids, we spotted a lone bull in a meadow.
Too close for comfort, Mike kept watch and prepared to fly down the bluff if the bison started to
charge come closer.
Yellowstone River panorama.
Calcite Springs Panorama.
Also in the Tower-Roosevelt area is this lookout that features volcanic rock formations that resemble fence posts or soldiers at attention.
The basalt columns are so orderly that they appear precisely measured and carefully carved.
Our last stop at YNP for the day was Mammoth Hot Springs. We arrived close to 2:00 and it was pushing 90 degrees so we only explored the sulfur smelling, heat emanating travertine terraces for about an hour. Although this was a must see in many guide books, we just didn't love it, but I'm also not sure how much that review was affected by the fact we hadn't eaten all day, and were already hot and sweaty.
The hill was created over thousands of years by the deposits left by the cooling of hot spring water.
The volcanic heat source for the springs remains a mystery.
The algae that thrives in hot pools is responsible for the reds, browns, yellows and greens.
Despite warnings of an extremely thin crust, we did see people venture off the boardwalks with selfie sticks trying to get a better photo. In one word...asinine.
In one word...otherworldly.
We left the park and arrived at the Yellowstone Grill just before closing. It's only open for breakfast and lunch, which is too bad because it's a great place for fast, fresh food. We ordered sandwiches and burritos. I loved my Gardiner Special.
No food pictures...it was gone too fast, but I give you this mural instead.
Souvenir shopping. Boy and bucket hat, or Teddy at Teddy's.
The best place for information and souvenirs was The National Park Gift Shop. They informed us about wildlife sightings and had all things Yellowstone for sale. No we didn't buy this hat, but I would have.
Once fed, we decided we needed to cool off, and knew just the place. Theron pointed out a local swim spot on The Yellowstone River when we were rafting the day before so to the river we went. Local and swim are two important words when on vacation.
Lily was the first one in the cool, refreshing water, which comes as zero surprise.
She quickly made a canine companion - also no surprise. There were more dogs swimming than people and she was quite smitten with that fact.
As far as her pal Romeo was concerned, Lily was Juliet he so adored her for throwing him sticks for 2 hours straight.
Eventually Ted waded in. Mike and I followed and it was heavenly: the water, the view, the chill beach vibe.
I'm pretty sure even our resident teenager was speechless and smiling. Or perhaps, squinting in this shot.
This one's called: And I Should Complain?
No complaints on my part. After cooling off, I sipped my chardonnay and spent some time with my friend Mary. I'm pretty sure there were several "universe" moments in the 2 hours we spent at the river.
We stayed until 6:30, which meant that our initial plan to head to the Lamar River Valley (1 1/2 hours away before sundown) had to be scrapped. We decided that we were having too much fun too get back in the car and drive across the park at the prospect of seeing wolves and bear. I think it was a wise choice, but it was still a difficult one.
Instead we cleaned up and went back into Gardiner for dinner on our last night. We ate at the Iron Horse Bar and Grill on the patio overlooking the Yellowstone River. A for ambiance and the food was decent too. I regret ordering pork instead of elk or bison, but something inside me just could not order the beasts I had admired in the wild over the past few days.
We all slept like babies that night. Full in every way. We woke on Sunday to another sublime Montana morning: crisp, clear, cerulean. We were sad to go and a little bit dreading the drive home, but Mike and I realized that the pace we had sustained over the past 3 days would not be possible on a fourth. Go big or go home, so we went home. But before we got on the road, we took these family selfies and I think that they capture the connection we felt with one another and this place.
The trip was really beyond words although in these three entries, I've conjured up quite a few. It was beyond pictures too, but it's true that we took many. That about wraps up my job as family historian for Road Trip 2015. There will be another road trip, but Ted was quick to lobby for a week at Webb Lake next year. He was convincing, and smartly made his pitch somewhere between Fargo and Milwaukee, which is to say we were a captive and carphobic audience. They had the week we wanted and only that week so we sent the check and now our road trip next summer will not take us out of state bounds. I'm good with that...for now.