Every day of our trip has either started or ended with a fight over “Mr. Lumpy”. Mr. Lumpy is the most lumptastic pillow you have ever felt, and all three kids have a desire to sleep with it. Our solution is that whoever gets to use Mr. Lumpy has to sit in the back seat of the van the next day. Real problems demand real solutions.
Today was moving day for us. We remain in Yellowstone National Park but are moving from the Grant Village campground to the Canyon campground. My thoughts on the Grant campground is that it met all our needs. It had clean bathrooms, a dishwashing station and easy access to fresh water. Our campsite was probably 1/8 of a mile from Yellowstone Lake, yet we could only see glimpses of it as we were leaving the camp, and not at all from our site.
The drive from Grant to Canyon was estimated to take about 90 minutes, based on the park maps. However, I would not say that traffic in the park is heavy at all, and we made good time. Well, we made good time until we hit our traffic jam involving migrating bison – or in other words, a buffalo jam.
We ran into our bison in the Hayden Valley. The scenery was spectacular in this area. As we’re driving along, we always know when there is a wildlife sighting if there is a large crowd of people. In this case, there were maybe 20 cars each way at a dead stop in the highway to see the bison.
Any person that has been to Yellowstone has probably been involved in one of these situations. But let me tell you, it was a pretty neat experience and I’m glad that it happened to us. As the migration continued its way across the highway, the traffic began to stretch out even longer.
We eventually cleared the jam and continued on our way. After seeing that herd of bison, it would take something special to make us pull over for just one or two of them, but we found a single bison walking into the river and we had to check it out.
We arrived at the Canyon campground right on time. We were glad to hear that our spot was ready so we immediately setup our tent and had some lunch. The camping spots are a bit more isolated from each other at this site, and the bathroom & dishwashing station are top-notch. Much better than at Grant.
With a full belly, we set out on today’s activity, which was to drive the northern circle of the Grand Loop. If you’re not familiar with how Yellowstone is set up, there is a main road called the Grand Loop and it is in the shape of a figure 8. We had already driven all over the “bottom circle” of the loop, and this was our first opportunity to check out the features of the “top circle”.
The drive from Canyon to Mammoth (top left of figure 8) is not as thrilling as the part of the park we have seen so far. Not to say it is not beautiful, but it is scenery that you could perhaps see in other places.
However, just a few miles south of the Mammoth Visitor Center is the “Golden Gate”. In the 1800s a road was built through this canyon which cut a ½ day off the ride from the North Entrance to the southern portions of the park. The canyon was referred to as “Golden Gate” because of the color of the rocks present there.
Our next stop was the Mammoth Hot Springs. I had high hopes for this stop as it is a unique feature within Yellowstone. The Mammoth area is dominated predominantly by limestone rock, and the hot spring water bubbles through the limestone and leaves the deposits which give us Mammoth.
After a 30 minute walk (in the heat) we had seen everything there was to see except for part of Mammoth tour that is done in your car. While walking to our car, Miles told me, “Unless there is something interesting still to see, I am giving this place a D minus.” We have come to expect a high degree of entertainment in exchange for our presence.
We made our way down the road a short distance to the Mammoth Visitor Center, which was formerly Fort Yellowstone. Back in the day, prior to the creation of the National Park Service, the U.S. Army was charged with keeping order in the new National Park. The Army provided protection against poachers or treasure hunters and other similar dangers.
When we arrived at the Visitor Center, we could not help but notice that the grounds were overrun with elk. You couldn’t help but notice it since they probably numbered 20 to 30 and they were wandering around anywhere they pleased.
We made our way into the Visitor Center where we browsed around and checked out the exhibits. There were several rooms filled with reproductions of early paintings and drawings of the Yellowstone area.
While waiting on the rest of the family to finish, I was looking at a map of Yellowstone on the wall when another man came walking up next to me. It was one of my good Oklahoma State tailgating friends, Tim Leger!
About a month ago, Stephanie and Tim’s wife, Terri, figured out that we were both going to Yellowstone this summer and our visits might even overlap by a few days. We were never able to coordinate a meeting, but we knew we were both in the park today. The odds of us running into each other just a few miles from Montana can’t be that high!
We must have visited for close to an hour and a half. Some of that time was spent enjoying ice cream from the general store down the street. It was fun to hear some of their travel stories and we shared some of ours.
As we parted ways, Marissa tried to trade Mallory to the Legers in exchange for Allison, who is Marissa’s age. Too bad for Marissa, but we did not make any trades.
Our next stop was the North Entrance to the park, which is highlighted by the Roosevelt Arch. This was the original entrance into the park when it opened in 1872. In 1903 train service was provided to this entrance and attendance increased dramatically.
The director of road construction for the park decided that the park’s primary entrance deserved a formal structure to improve and dramatize the appearance of the dusty staging area. So in 1903, a fifty foot stone archway was built to face the train depot. It is still a significant landmark at the park.
While we were preparing to take our picture, we witnessed some Asian tourists getting their picture taken while they were jumping in the air. Mallory really wanted to try that, so we took a few pictures. That was a lot of fun. And tiring. And the fact we took a dozen pictures helps illustrate how little traffic there was at this historic entrance.
We drove on into Gardiner to get a few items at the Food Farm grocery store. We ultimately probably spent more time pirating wifi from the Super 8 motel across the street.
Just a few miles inside the park is a roadside sign indicating the 45th parallel of latitude, which would be halfway between the North Pole and Equator. We had to stop for a photo op here! Of course, about this time, the rain had come in and giant raindrops were pelting us.
The remaining drive back to our camp was new scenery for us. The views were great and the rain continued to fall for the rest of the evening.
We bought some firewood inside the park, and even though it was raining, Mallory & Miles wanted to start a campfire. To their credit, they were able to get the fire started, which allowed us to roast hot dogs and have smores tonight.
What an unexpected day we had! Seeing our friends in Yellowstone was a great surprise and we saw quite a bit of the park today. We are hoping that the rain which fell all evening will clear and we can have great weather for our final day in Yellowstone tomorrow.