Orlando Bingles’ Rocky Mountain High: Day 5

by Bingle on May.23, 2009, under Richard Bingle Family

We headed back into Yellowstone National Park on day five with no real plan other than “seeing stuff” and “looking for animals”. We swung by the Upper Terrace Drive at Mammoth Hot Springs, but the road was still closed despite it being a holiday weekend. Since we’d already started going south, we decided to continue down the western side of the park.

Buffalo on the road

There seemed to be a lot of buffalo out and about (we didn’t think they celebrated holidays). We saw several herds of 20+ buffalo (complete with cute baby buffalo), including one herd of over 30 buffalo that blocked the entire road. They seemed to show no fear of vehicles and at times seemed to prefer using the road rather than the grass for getting from place to place. Over the course of the day we probably saw over 120 yearling or adult buffalo and 15 or so babies.

Paint Pot

Just south of Norris Geyser Basin we stopped off to see Artists Paint Pots (only ½ mile or so of walking). The most interesting pool was a pit of white viscous mud that almost looked like wet drywall mud. Every few seconds, it would belch up a handful of mud from one of two different spots to deposit the goop on the inside of the short cone surrounding the pool.

You could tell it was a holiday weekend as traffic in the park had definitely increased. We made a side trip over to the west entrance (with the thought of maybe going into West Yellowstone to grab something for lunch). On the way west, we passed by a mile plus long “buffalo jam” going eastbound, and were a bit worried about getting caught in it coming back. But it was the sight of the cars backed up going into the park at the western entrance that made us turn around and head back into the park before we actually left it and got stuck in the traffic jam entering the park.

Next was Lower Geyser Basin. We tried stopping at the Fountain Paint Pots next, but the walkway was closed so you really couldn’t see very much, so we decided to take the Firehole Lake drive instead and just missed seeing White Dome Geyser erupt.

Buffalo butting heads

On the road from Madison to Old Faithful, it wasn’t long till we came upon 2 buffalo “fighting” (mostly just butting heads) by a river. The loser (we figured that the one that walked away first must be the loser), waded/swam the river to the far side where two other buffalo were waiting. A few minutes later the victor also crossed the river. We thought we might see a continuation of their jousting, but they just peacefully grazed on the fresh grass.

Grand Prismatic Spring

At Midway Geyser Basin, we stopped to take a short walk up to Excelsior Geyser Crater (pretty much just a hot spring and no longer a geyser) and Grand Prismatic Spring. Grand Prismatic Spring is huge! Combined he two springs pour something like 4000 gallons of hot water a minute into the Firehole River.

Old Faithful

We stopped at the Old Faithful area and again just missed seeing Beehive erupt. We waited about 30 minutes and watched Old Faithful erupt from a slightly different viewing point than on day four of the trip. We wanted to drive around the lower loop past Yellowstone Lake and it was already close to 4:00 p.m., so we decided that we would skip hiking around the other geyers near Old Faithful and hope to see them another day.

Yellowstone Lake

It turned out that Yellowstone Lake still had a thin layer of ice on most of it! We stopped for some pictures and as Rich was setting the timer for a family shot, Karen and the girls spotted an otter in the water. Rich ran over, everyone quickly turned to the camera, and then back towards the otter. A couple seconds later it swam under some ice and disappeared.

North of tower of tower we started encountering bear jams. First up was a female grizzly and her two year old cub. They were quite a ways off the road over on a treeless hill. Luckily a park ranger had a couple of spotting scopes set up so that people could get a chance to see that there actually were bears way out there.

A couple miles farther down the road, there was a black bear walking along a ridge. He didn’t stay around too long though, so we continued on.

The next bear we believe was a grizzly. It was a ways up on the snow covered side of the mountain and appeared to be digging something out of the ground, presumably looking for something to eat.

Black bear on hill

The next two bears were both black bears and were within a couple of miles of each other (but definitely different bears). The second bear stayed around for a while, despite somebody who decided to try to get too close for a picture. We were shooed away by the same ranger from both sites. Definitely not the same attitude as the ranger who had set up the spotting scopes for the grizzlies, but these bears were much closer to the road.

Moose near Petrified Tree

We decided to turn in at the turnout for the Petrified Tree on the road from Tower Junction to Mammoth and it was a good thing we did. As we turned in we noticed that there were several cars parked about two hundred feet from the main road (and the tree is actually about ¼ of a mile from the main road). Karen spotted the reason almost instantly. It was a moose! He was a few hundred feet away amidst some fallen trees, but we spent quite a while trying to take a good picture before heading on.

Next we spotted a black bear (our seventh and last bear of the day) near the same pond we had seen a bear at the day before.

Right before reaching Mammoth Hot Springs we encountered lots of elk including exactly one elk baby. Unfortunately, it was too dark for pictures.

Back in Gardnier, we had pizza at the western themed (and apparently Bulgarian run) Outlaws Pizza right across the street from our motel.

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