Northern Loop of Yellowstone

Cooke City Travel Blog

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Steam rising from "Old Faithful"
For those of you not familiar with Yellowstone National Park, I'll try to give you a brief overview of this very special place.  Yellowstone National Park was created in 1872, being the very first National Park in the United States.  Located mostly in Wyoming, it does extend into Montana and Idaho and spans an area of 3,472 square miles.  It is known all over the world for its abundant and magnificent wildlife.  Visitors might see buffalo, elk, bear, wolf, and moose and all in the same day.  Yellowstone is also known for its unusual geothermal features of which "Old Faithful" is the best known.  Actually, over half of the world's geothermal features are located in Yellowstone, being fueled by an active volcano far below the earth's surface.
Liberty Cap situated next to walkway. It was created by a hot spring that was active and in one location for a long time. Estimated to be 2,500 years old and now dormant.
  Yellowstone Lake is one of the largest high-altitude lakes in North America with over 100 miles of shoreline.  The lake is simply a mammoth depression that was formed over 600,000 years ago after an enormous volcanic eruption.  This depression was eventually filled with water, creating a lake with a depth of over 400 feet.

Today we entered the Park from Cooke City through the northeast gate.   The gate attendant gave us several brochures with good information and a detailed map of the Park.  We would be passing through Lamar Valley, the home to several large herds of bison.  One of the brochures made it very clear that bison are dangerous.
Opal Terrace. Up close it looks much like a layer cake.
  It simply read, "MANY VISITORS HAVE BEEN GORED BY BUFFALO.  Buffalo weigh 2000 pounds and can sprint at 30 mph."   This was easy to understand.   We felt very vulnerable on our motorcycles and didn't stop to get a closer look at the bison or to take any pictures.   None of us wanted to be taking a ride to the nearest hospital, wherever that might be.   Although the creatures appear to be very placid and gentle, they are still wild animals and unpredictable.

The northern loop road would take us to the Mammoth Hot Springs and to the overlook where we could view the Yellowstone River flowing through the Yellowstone Canyon.  The day had warmd up nicely, making for perfect riding weather.
Young buck elk resting in the shade, separated from the rest of the herd by a larger, more dominant buck. Enlarge the picture to see the herd lying in the distance.
  There was still evidence of the devastating forest fires from 1988 which destroyed 36% of Yellowstone's forestland.  This was the worst forest fire in the Park's long history.  It consumed vegetation at such a rapid rate, no number of fire fighters, aircraft, fire engines and gallons of fire retardant could stop it.  Only the rains and snow of autumn finally brought it under control.   This fire has now been proven to be beneficial in the cycle of life in the Park, leaving large tracts of land open to the sun where new pine seedlings can grow at a rapid rate.   The ash from the fire has valuable nutrients that make for stronger and healthier vegetation.  We could see new forest growth among the old, charred tree skeletons.   Patches of green grass had pushed its way through the burnt forest floor.
Winding trail through hot springs.
   The elk population has bounced back to its pre-fire numbers and it was obvious to us that  Yellowstone is not dead but very much alive.

Mammoth Hot Springs is a popular spot for tourists as well as elk.  There was a large elk herd resting peacefully in the lush green grass beside the modern Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel.   One little buck was all alone while the rest of the herd was being controlled by a full-grown buck with a prize-winning rack.  The little guy clearly knew the "rules" and was content to be left out for now.  At least until he has his own large rack so he can take up for himself. 

The beauty of these hot springs come from heat, a natural underground  "plumbing" system, water, and limestone.
View of hot springs and clouds.
  Volcanic activity supplies the heat and a network of fractures and fissures form the natural plumbing system.  The water comes from rain and snow falling on the surrounding mountains and seeping deep into the earth where it is heated.  The bubbling hot water mixes with underground limestone and then comes to the surface through the "pipes" where it forms a mineral known as travertine.  The build-up of this mineral over the years has formed the beautiful terraces that can be seen today.

There is a wooden walkway across these hot springs so that visitors can get up close without being in any danger.  "Danger" signs are posted all along the path in order to remind folks to walk only on the marked trails and walkways.   Steam can be seen rising from the ground in numerous spots.
Yellowstone River making its way through the canyon.
  Where there is steam, there is boiling water and only a thin crust of dirt covering the spring.  We were perfectly content to view this wonder from a distance, not caring to be boiled alive like a lobster.  No thank you.

The road system in Yellowstone is in desperate need of repair.  I would imagine that it freezes and thaws over and over again every year and that the damage is just about impossible to keep repaired.  It was a bumpy ride.  We don't mind the bumps but loose gravel is another story.  Loose gravel can throw a motorcycle sideways before you can say Jiminy Cricket!  Slow was our pace on these roads, but we didn't mind.  The sun was starting to sink low and we had about an hour's ride back to Cooke City and our room for the night.  We had just enough time to stop at the Yellowstone Canyon overlook for a picture.  I would imagine that in the spring and early summer when the snows are melting, the Yellowstone River would be rushing through the canyon below.  Today it was a little bit quieter and more subdued.   The late evening sun was casting long shadows on the canyon walls, creating every shade of yellow and gold ~~ Yellowstone ~~ get it?
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Steam rising from Old Faithful
Steam rising from "Old Faithful"
Liberty Cap situated next to walkw…
Liberty Cap situated next to walk…
Opal Terrace.  Up close it looks m…
Opal Terrace. Up close it looks …
Young buck elk resting in the shad…
Young buck elk resting in the sha…
Winding trail through hot springs.
Winding trail through hot springs.
View of hot springs and clouds.
View of hot springs and clouds.
Yellowstone River making its way t…
Yellowstone River making its way …
Cooke City
photo by: kingelvis14