We drove into Yellowstone via the north entrance where the road had recently melted due to underground superheating. Park officials had removed the melted road with a dozer while simultaneously making a go around our of gray gravel to enter the park. The old Roosevelt Arch still stands at the old entrance trail but is not used aside from hikers. Immediately as we drove into a canyon there were six bighorn sheep grazing on the steep hillside to our left. None of them had big horns. We had followed the Yellowstone River south from Livingston, Montana to the entrance. All the way down it felt as though we were driving downhill whole strangely, just like the Gallatin River, the Yellowstone was flowing north. It is hard to understand how one feels knowing they are going down a slight decline while the river next to you is flowing in the opposite direction, but it does.
We came to the north crossroad in the little 'town' of Mammoth in the park. Here we saw eight or more elk roaming around the town green, grazing or lying down. Only one had horns and they were in velvet and only a foot long, a youngster. From here we took the eastern route thru the northeast quadrant of the enormous park. We had traveled thru the southern loop last summer and we were looking for new sights. By far the northeast part of yellowstone holds the best views. Truly incredible! In the early part of this route we stopped at what is known as the Boiling River (or Springs). A neighbor of Stephen Jacobs had told us this was a sweet hidden little gem to check out. We realized when we saw all the parked cars and campers it was no secret. We noticed when we saw the 300 to 500 people coming and going or in the springs along the Gardner River it may have never been a secret. I walked the kids into the water anyway. They geothermal water flowed from a cave like cavern and made its own short stream towards the river, where it cascaded into the rocked off portions of the river bank, blending scalding hot water with cold river water. If you walked too close to the bank the water was way to hot but if you back off a foot or more the water cooled.
People of every nationality were walking back and forth, watching or soaking in the water farther down from us. We heard French, German, Asian and Spanish dialect and these were just the ones I recognized. Seeing all the people squatted down in the water with steam rising around them reminded me of the National Geographic picture of the Chinese monkeys soaking in a hot spring somewhere in China, only hairless. Kris would not get in the water, not that she did not want to but as she as started to enter a small black snake darter off thru the rocks where she was reaching for balance. She screamed and all around her asked her why and she told them and they all went to the spot where the snake was last seen. Kris sat on a bench and waited. After the kids and I waded around for a while we got out and hiked back to the car. Ethan and I were fifty yards in front of Kris and Summer and I was helping E spell words when he yelled, "Snake!" I look up and on the side of the trail, in the open dirt was a very large snake that at first looked like a rattler but once we got a good look at it, it had no rattle and its head was straight like an extension of its body… not poisonous. It was not small. We watched it until Kris and Summer bought up and Kris cringed and I took a picture of it with her camera phone. See posted a picture of it already.
Then we drove thru the most beautiful part of the park (to us) with far reaching vistas to the north and west as we drove. No wildlife to be seen as all for a time until Kris saw something out on the near plateau and asked what it was. I thought it was a burnt stump but as we drew closer we saw that it was a huge buffalo. We pulled off as a turn out and used my strong hunting binoculars to study it. Though they never moved apart I believe it was a large female nursing a buffalo calf (maybe) because from the distance the swishing tail was too close to her large brown, horned head to be her own tail. After a while we loaded up and continued driving, looking at the vast vistas and the mountains and valleys of evergreen trees that escaped the devastating wildfires more than 15 years ago. When we came to Canyon City we took the crossing road that makes the figure 8 center of the looping routes thru the park. We drove west for 28 more miles to the western entrance. All along the way we followed at first the Gibbon River and several thermal, steaming sites, and then once we came to Madison and the route our of the park, we followed the Madison River and more thermal sights including three steaming geysers clustered together. It was along the Madison River where we saw another buffalo out on the plateau grazing alone.
Once we left the park we stopped in West Yellowstone, a small town at the edge of the park. Here we ate dinner and walked the boardwalks for a bit. THe sun was slowly going down but we were only two hours from the cabin. As it happened, when we entered Yellowstone National Park we went from Montana into Wyoming but when we left the park we left Wyoming for Montana, even though we had traveled south a fair amount. Montana has this 'turkey beard' that hangs down over the northwest corner of Wyoming. Within 20 miles of driving we were back in Idaho and headed south. We drove thru more national and state park systems until we came to the agricultural part of Idaho known as the seedling potato capital of Idaho (or the world for all I know). Potato fields about along with wheat fields.
I had really hoped we would have seen a moose or maybe even a bear in Yellowstone but seeing the buffalo, bighorn sheep and elk was pretty cool. We had seen a few small herds of buffalo before we entered Yellowstone but they were being raised domestically. Maybe an hour before dark and probably 20 minutes before sunset I spied movement off to our left out in a vast rolling wheat field. I slowed the car and realized what I was looking at… a moose! A big hornless, bulbous nosed, humpback moose was loping across the wheat field. Too bad we could not get close enough to get a picture but we saw it well enough with my binoculars. Everyone was excited about it. We speculated what the moose was doing running through this open country and I asked Kris if she thought the moose was thinking, how did I get out here in the wide open and where do I go now? As we watched it for as long as I could see it we wondered if it could see the landscape and decide where to go. It was headed towards the Teton mountain range and we wondered if it saw the mountains and thought, I've got to go there. Well, that was the way it was headed.