After a couple of days fighting with the crowds on the west side, we drove to the north side of the park through Norris and up to Mammoth Hot Springs. We stopped at Artists Paintpot which contains a nice array of geological formations: fumeroles (stinky gas and steam, no water… we were making fumerole jokes all week), springs, pretty colored bacteria, and mudpots which I found to be strangely mesmerizing. The whole area looked like it came straight out scene of a sci-fi desolate planet. Driving around the park, there are steam vents everywhere, dead trees, and boiling water. Frankly, it’s a little disconcerting to know that we’re stepping on top of an active supervolcano.
On that cheery note, we continued driving and stopped at Norris, a small area with a good info station on the various types of geological features in the park and how they are created. There’s a good walking loop around the area where we saw multiple geysers and fumeroles.
We made it up to Mammoth Hot Springs, which actually falls outside of the Yellowstone caldera and looks very different from the other formations we’ve seen so far. In this area, the carbonic acid (created when CO2 and hot water are mixed) dissolves the limestone till it reaches the surface. The CO2 escapes and the limestone solidifies and makes these amazing terraces.
Mammoth Hot Springs is divided into the Upper and Lower Terraces. The upper terrace is accessed through a 1.5 mile one-way drive. At the beginning of the drive is a large parking lot and a lot of wooden walkways above the hot springs. The drive meanders back through some woods and to a couple of thermal features that aren’t visible from the main road. The lower terrace can be accessed by parking by the main road and walking around wooden boardwalks in the area. They are both worth stopping to visit, the views are different from each section.
After walking around the area, we got back in the car and took Old Gardiner Road (instead of the main road) from Mammoth to the north entrance. Originally established as an 1880s stagecoach route, it’s a 5-mile stretch of dirt road that travels through the hills and offers dramatic views of the area. The road starts behind the Mammoth Springs hotel and ends right at the north entrance. We continued out of the park to see the Roosevelt Arch, created in 1903.
After a week in West Yellowstone, we packed up our stuff and moved into the park to stay at Fishing Bridge campground for a couple of days. This is definitely one of those packed campgrounds with very few amenities but it is right inside the park so it’s more convenient to see the central/east side of Yellowstone.
We took a drive to the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. It’s a spectacular 20-mile canyon with colors of yellow and red throughout the rocks. The Yellowstone river passes right through it and creates the upper and lower falls. During this time of year, the falls were full of snow melt and rushing past us with deafening noise. Geologists think the canyon was created when the ice dams melted at the mouth of Yellowstone lake. The resultant flash floods caused massive erosion of the brittle rocks at the canyon causing the v-shaped canyon.
Even though we spent a week at Grand Teton and 10 days at Yellowstone, we never did see any bears. We saw elk, moose, deer, bison (so many bison), and coyote. Then as we left Yellowstone through the East Entrance, we saw an RV pulled on the side of the road waving at us madly and pointing. We pulled over out of curiosity and she pointed out a bear on the side of the hill. She was so excited to see the bear that she was waving everyone over to share in the delight. So while we didn’t see any bears in the parks, we did finally get to see one after we left!