Friday, September 6, 2002

We awoke to a cold, rainy morning. Tom wanted to sleep in, but I was ready to explore, rain or no rain. I drove up to the gift shop and fetched some coffee, then I dragged Tom to breakfast in the cafeteria. Last night's cookie dinner just didn't cut it.

Canyon Village is, logically, right by the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. The canyon is 20 miles long and from 1,500 to 4,000 feet wide. Its cliffs drop as much as 1,200 feet on either side. The Yellowstone river flows through the canyon and drops over two massive waterfalls called (with much originality) Upper Falls, 109 feet, and Lower Falls, a fantastic 308 feet.

Upper Falls, Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone

We drove along South Rim Drive and North Rim Drive, stopping at every viewpoint along the way. On sunny days the canyon walls are a colorful yellow, pink, and orange. When we visited, the sky was dark and foreboding, but still the canyon was stunning. The best views are from Artist's Point, where you can see the entirety of Lower Falls framed by the canyon walls. Happily, there was a break in the rain while we were here. We would have liked to do some hiking in the area, but the weather was too dicey to stray far from our car.

Lower Falls

Leaving the canyon area, we headed south, backtracking over the road we had covered yesterday evening in the dark. Hayden Valley is a gently rolling meadow that used to be part of Yellowstone Lake. Yellowstone River flows through the valley. This is a good place to see bison, elk, and waterfowl. We think we spotted an eagle, but it was too far away for us to be sure - So let's just say it was!

Tom at Hayden Valley

South of the valley, we soon reached the Mud Volcano Area. You can smell the hydrogen sulfide from a mile away. Mudpots are acidic hot springs with a limited water supply. The acid breaks down rock into a muddy clay, and gases escaping through the mud cause it to gurgle and burble. It's very cool, I promise - definitely better than it sounds. Just after we reached the end of this two-third-mile loop trail, a herd of bison wandered across the path, blocking the way of the people behind us.

Mudpot, Mud Volcano Area

It started POURING down rain, so we turned back towards our cabin, but as we neared the canyon area again, the sun broke through the clouds. We decided to revisit the canyon, and despite Tom's not feeling well, I goaded him into joining me on a half-mile, steep hike along Red Rock Trail to Red Rock Point, which takes you close enough to Lower Falls to feel the spray. It started to drizzle again as we were hiking, but one good thing about the sketchy weather is we had the point all to ourselves. Awesome!

Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone

We returned to Canyon Village long enough to "treat" ourselves to a couple of pre-made, hermetically sealed sandwiches like you can buy at gas stations. We bought ours at Canyon Village's picnic shop. Same difference. As soon as the rain stopped again, we hit the road, headed for Tower Falls.

Tower Falls, near Roosevelt Junction

Tower Falls is located at the northern end of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. It is a short walk from the Tower Falls parking area to an overlook of the falls and a one-mile hike to visit the base of the falls. On a sunny day you can sometimes see a rainbow from the bottom, but since it wasn't sunny, we skipped it.

Tower Falls area

The falls share a parking lot with a Hamilton Store, a little shop with various souvenirs, supplies, and a small snack bar. Tom ordered what was supposed to be a burger, and I had an alleged barbecue sandwich. Mine looked like one of those McRib sandwiches that I've never been tempted to try and tasted just like you'd expect from such, and Tom's burger was of similar quality. They were pre-made, microwave meals - more gas-station food. Oh, well, we'll just have to feast our eyes instead of our stomachs!

East from Tower Junction you immediately enter Lamar Valley. This valley doesn't have geothermal oddities, but it is a nice, open area with hardly any trees, good for animal watching. Gray wolves have been reintroduced to the park here, and we were hoping we might be lucky enough to see some. We saw several packs of wolf-watchers, but no wolves. Lots of deer and bison, though.

Lamar Valley

Back at the cabin for the evening, we entertained ourselves listening to the European couple in the next room showering together. With all the clouds, there's no stargazing tonight, so we had to entertain ourselves somehow!

99 miles today, and we hardly even left our little corner of the world. This is a large park.


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