Our Mammoth Hot Springs pamphlet
Wednesday, August 16, 1995
Today would be our second, and last, full day in the park. We started the day with breakfast at The Yellowstone Mine Restaurant, which was right beside our hotel. Fortified, we were ready to start our day.
Our first stop was at Mammoth Hot Springs which is about five miles from the north entrance. Mammoth Hot Springs is a giant and every changing hot mineral spring, with spectacular stone formations.
What that means is that water from rain and melting snow seeps into the ground and runs into a series of underground cracks and faults in the limestone under the surface. That water becomes both hot and acidic from the hot gases that come from the magma under the limestone. The now mineral rich water rises up to the surface. There on the surface, the dissolved calcium carbonate from the limestone is deposited on top. Over the course of many years terraces and other formations are formed. These are constantly changing as more minerals are added and seismic activity changes where the hot water bubbles to the surface. The terraces are very interesting. The whole area looks out of place. It’s like some alien landscape was transported and beamed into a mountain valley. Very surreal.
Mammoth Hot Springs (photo by Nando Stoecklin used with permission)
We looked at the various formations for a while, and then decided to continue deeper into the park.
Yesterday, when we were on our way to Old Faithful we noticed a parking area, and a waterfall off on the side of the road. We pulled in and soon discovered that the waterfall was called Rustic Falls. We could tell that this was low season for the river, due to all of the discolored rock that was relatively dry. The falls were about 50 feet in height and emptied into a pretty valley with a lot of trees and shrubs. We took a couple of pictures, after admiring the scenery, and then moved on again.
Margo and the girls looking at Rustic Falls
Next on tour was going to be the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. But first we had to experience another wildlife road closure. We had one yesterday, and we ran into another today. A wildlife road closure happens when a deer, elk, buffalo, bear, or other large mammal is spotted near a road.
Then the first person going one direction on the road pulls over to take pictures. Behind him a line develops. Car not wanting to stop, still at least slow down to see the animal and to drive through the maze of people and cars. The same thing happens in the other direction, so traffic comes to a standstill at some point down the line. I think the practice is frowned upon by the Park Service, but people are still going to pull over to see Yogi or his friends.
We saw plenty of elk and buffalo while we were in the park, but strangely (at least to my expectations) not one bear. Growing up I would see a documentary or Disney program on TV, telling of the wonders of Yellowstone. Right after the shot of Old Faithful hurling water to the heavens, would be a car chocked road, with bears everywhere trying to mooch a snack from the tourists.
I certainly got the impression that bears were everywhere, and actually came looking for you. I guess that over time the park officials had relocated the bruins, and modified the behavior of both the two legged and four legged creatures so as to not have them interact. When a bear gets into an altercation with a human, the bear wins. But, then because the bear hurt the human he gets to be dead. Plenty of incentive to keep them a safe distance apart. Still, I would have hoped for at least a distant sighting. Nope. I would have to be happy with the pictures in my head.
Me looking down into the canyon at Rustic Falls
We continued our journey into the Canyon area of the park. It is truly awesome scenery. I don’t like the name “Grand Canyon of Yellowstone”. The canyon has plenty of character and grandeur of its own. It should have a unique name. Carving the canyon all these past eons is the Yellowstone River.
Unlike the original Grand Canyon in Arizona, the Yellowstone incarnation is much narrower. But, the river is much wilder and at the northern end of the canyon (where we were) is Yellowstone Falls. The Yellowstone Falls are two separate falls, about a half mile apart.
Our Canyon pamphlet
We were going to hike to the Lower Falls, because that was the first one we came to. I really didn’t know anything about the falls or the hiking trails to get to them. So chance decided that we were to hike to most treacherous of the two “Brink of the Falls” trails, to see the more spectacular of the two falls.
According to the pamphlet that we picked up, after the hike, the trail we trekked was not recommended for those “with heart, lung, or other health conditions”. We could see why. Some parts were steep, some were narrow, and some were close to the edge. There were stairs and it was uneven. By the time we got to the viewing area, we had started to wonder is this had been a mistake.
The Lower Falls (photo by Scott Cantron used with permission)
We arrived at the viewing area and got our first look at the waterfall. Powerful is the best word to describe it. Intimidating was a close second. I was overwhelmed by the unstoppable onslaught of the water and the sheer volume. All I could think about when I looked at it was “Wow”! I was very glad that there were guardrails. The falls had a magnetic quality to them as well. I was drawn to them, as equally as I was awed by them. The rails added that measure of security that said something bad could not happen. We watched the water, following pieces of canyon debris fall to its doom, over the 308 foot drop. It was easy to lose yourself in thought and wonder just watching a particular rock, as the water washed over it. I lost track over how long we were there, but soon we decided it was time for the long hike back.