Canyon in the morning
Saturday morning we bid farewell to our room at Canyon and headed northwest to Mammoth where we would spend our last two nights in the park. However, before this drive we worked our leg muscles with another switchback trail in the Canyon, this one to the brink of the Lower Falls. It is exciting to stand next to a 308-ft drop off and watch the water rush past; my dad pointed out how shallow the water is at the brink itself.
Our drive took us up and over Mount Washburn which overlooks a valley where bears can be spotted.
Sure, enough cars were pulled over. We stopped as well and learned quickly that a mother grizzly with her two cubs was only about 1000 yards away (keep in mind that park rules are to keep 100 yards from bears). One problem though: the valley is actually a series of shallow gulleys and ridges so at the moment the bears were hidden from view. We waited and after several minutes could make out movement that upon closer inspection with binoculars, revealed the bears.
Over the brink of the Lower Falls
The animal sightings continued when we checked in at Mammoth; a small herd of elk call the historic part of the town (employees live year-round on property just below the campground) home. They do not show much fear of the people coming close to take their pictures, but as the rangers warned, they are still wild animals and visitors need to maintain a 25 yard distance. (To help with animal control, the ranger on duty moves a warning sign around as the animals shift their position.) I was fascinated by the young elk especially one crying out in a high pitch for its mother. Eventually, it located mom and began to nurse.
We had to contend with rain again in the afternoon but we did drive around the Upper Terrace of the Hot Springs and up to Gardiner to see the Roosevelt Arch.
Before the era of the personal car, most visitors arrived to YNP by train. Gardiner had the closest train station, so the North Entrance was the main point of entry to the park.
After dinner at the dining room (good French onion soup), we toured the Lower Terrace of the Hot Springs. These formations are not overly active at this time but years of natural build-up has resulted in some very unique patterns and structures. Liberty Cap stands alone, a rounded obelisk. The terraces especially Minerva fall down the hillside in tempting steps (in older days men and women would pose on the terraces for memorable photographs).
As dusk approached we drove out to Lamar Valley in search of the bison herds that had migrated to better grazing than Hayden Valley had to offer in later summer.
We saw a few pronghorn antelope along with Soda Butte, a cone-like formation near the road. The bison count for the night numbered approximately 1000 including one herd that was crossing a river. The babies were especially fun to watch; one did not like the idea of swimming and stopped halfway until its mom gave it a nudge/push to get moving.
Bison in Lamar Valley
The day also included visits to three sets of falls outside of Canyon. Tower and Undine are basically at pull-outs and easily accessible. Wraith Falls are about a half mile from the road but the hike is easy; the only difficult segment is a short steep uphill at the end. We saw a badger from the distance on this walk.
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We followed the half-mile dirt trail across a meadow, through a copse of trees, over a small stream, and up a steeper hill--the path narrowed consider… read entire review