The first stop of the day is to take a short, quick hike through Artists Paintpot which is a small thermal area with some small geysers and bubbling mudpots. The soldiers that were stationed there back in the late 1800's used to use some of the mud from this area in the paint they used to paint the fort and such. Interesting. There is of course the requisite boardwalk which takes you through the areas pools, geysers, fumaroles and mudpots. About halfway through there was a good-sized pool which was threatening to erupt - it would periodically splash some water a few feet high - but unfortunately never actually went all the way (like me - I never go ALL the way! ;-) ). Just beyond the teasing geyser, on the hill above, there was a couple a hissing fumaroles (a fumarole is a steam vent) which made for a nice noisy backdrop to all the cool sights to see on the short walk around the area. The biggest mudpot, from which I believe the paint material was formerly obtained was a very chalky-white, large pool of bubbling mud - as if someone had turned up the burner underneath a large pot of cream to heat for... whatever you boil cream for. Very impressive-looking!
Back on the road to the next stop which was a place called SheepEater Cliff. Now I forget why it's called this - I think it has something to do with a Native American tribe which used to live in the area - but the cliff is composed of lava which cooled in such a way that it cracked into six-sided columns. The color of the columns is a dark, grayish-black, but is colored (discolored?) by a multitude of lichens growing them. At the foot of the cliffs are huge piles of former columns which have broken off and tumbled down breaking into many smaller pieces before settling into the heap at your feet. All of this is right beside a very pretty creek flowing rapidly down to who knows where. A very picturesque and interesting sight. Anyone who has been to Devil's Postpile would immediately recognize this type of geologic feature and would also know how rare it is - it only occurs in a few places in the whole wide world!
I finally arrive at the Mammoth Area whose main attraction is the many level, multicolored terraces created by hot springs and waters which bubble to the surface here. The terraces are composed mainly of travertine, which is a white rock, but you are able to see many and bright colors among the terraces due to the presence of colonies of bacteria and algae living in the channels and runoff areas. As I understand the activity here is constantly changing. While I was there things were fairly quiet so I didn't stay long. I took a quick hike down to Canary Spring which was fairly active; there were multiple streams of hot water streaming down the creamy-white sides of the formation, which was composed of many little knobs and runoff channels created by the deposition of travertine as the waters splashed and ran down to the main pool and channel at the bottom. This was, in my opinion, the most impressive sight in this area; certainly the most active at the time.
I next headed off towards the Tower Roosevelt area in the northeastern section of the park - just because I've never been there. The road from Mammoth to there is fairly straight and fast and after 4 miles passes by Undine Falls which you can see from the parking area down in the canyon below. Pretty. Not great, but pretty. Soon after the falls the road takes me past a couple of large ponds, Blacktail Ponds, where I stop briefly to drink in the now open view of the mountains rising to the north and south of me. I whipped out the binoculars (a gift a few years back from Ken & Mary) to spy on the many waterfowl floating and swimming on the ponds' waters. About 7 miles before the Tower Roosevelt area I get off the main road to take a scenic-backway dirt road. Here the pace of the drive is much slower and less crowded and I am able to admire the sagebrush-covered hills which soon give way to forests of conifers. Here and about there are a few different kinds of wildflowers including this really pretty magenta one - I wouldn't mind growing it in my garden. Once I got into the trees I was struck again how massive the area consumed by the fires was. On my left mostly (north) were just dead, burned tree trunks, up close and personal. The area was recovering of course, but still....
I got to the turn-off south to Canyon Village which I took. I would have to save the Lamar Valley and the wolves 'til next time. I soon came to the Tower Falls, but, "My god! The people!" Way, way too many people and cars to deal with today so I just blasted through the area. I was starting to feel like I was back in LA - there a re a lot of people visiting Yellowstone at any one time. Shortly after I escaped from the hordes at Tower I came to an overlook above the Yellowstone River (which by the way I had crossed a week ago just after leaving Theodore Roosevelt NP - cool huh?) which I stopped at to take a look-see and snap some pictures. Looking downstream I could see where seeping hot water had discolored the canyon walls into a veritable palette of oranges, yellows, reds and browns. At some points you could see the steaming hot springs emanating from the cliff sides.
After the overlook the road comes upon an area of wide-open meadows carpeting the sides of Mt Washburn as the road rises to take you over the crest at Dunraven Pass where you are presented with an expansive view of the Yellowstone caldera and multiple mountain ranges to the east, south, and west, including the Grand Tetons 50 miles away! Wonderful! As I climbed up the road to the pass I noticed quite a few people stopped, sitting in chairs by their cars with binoculars and spotting scopes. I wondered what it was they were looking for. Perhaps grizzly bears as this area is considered prime grizzly habitat. I stopped briefly myself, but could not see anything so I drove on southward. Near the top, looking to the right I was once again imprinted with the starkness still present due to the fires, but over the pass looking to the left it was the bounteous green view I remembered from my previous trips to Yellowstone.
I passed through the Canyon Village area and headed towards the Hayden Valley just south of it which is a huge, meadow area which actually used to be part of Lake Yellowstone way, way long ago. The Yellowstone River is to the east of you here as it meanders slowly northward. Last time I was here (18 years ago) I saw a moose so I was hoping to repeat that - I hadn't seen one yet - but alas, no moose today. I did see several small herds of bison which was pretty cool, and with all the water, lots of waterfowl. I also saw a coyote a little bit off in the distance which I though a bit unusual since it was still daylight and out in the open. I wondered where his buds were.
I next came to the Sulphur Cauldron which announced its presence to me way before getting a visual by the strong sulphur smell which the day's breezes wafted up my nose. Stinkaroonie! The cauldron a is very large bubbling pool the color of molten sulphur. Actually very pretty looking. It's a hot spring which comes to the surface into a large pool and it comes up violently at times. There were a couple of spots where the spring was spouting up out of the pool; and quite loudly. Steam was all about and I couldn't help but think how eerie this area must look at night with the moon shining down upon the belching springs as the steam rises off the waters to disappear into the night's cool air; the stillness broken only by the lonesome call of a coyote to its pack off in the distance. Spooky!
Across and down the road was the Mud Volcano area. Just as I arrived a bus full of tourists pulled up. Arrgh! They all pretty much headed up to the Dragon's Mouth Spring so I headed in the other direction where I almost immediately came to Mud Volcano which does look like a mini-volcano except that it spews mud instead of lava. Today though it was just kind of burbling; not too scary. Next along the boardwalk was Grizzly Fumarole which was venting like an overheated pressure cooker. Loud and impressive! A quick jaunt brought me to Sour Lake which is a fairly large body of shallow water fed by the underground hot springs in the area whose color is generally a grayish green - due to bacteria and algae I suppose - which had engulfed various trees and left them standing, dead, like a bunch ghostly sentinels. The waters were totally calm and it's mirror like was reflecting the sky and surrounding scenery on it's hostile surface. Right adjacent to the lake was Black Dragon's Caldron which is a large seething mass of dark-colored mud. I wouldn't want to fall in there! Continuing on I passed a series of hot, steaming pools with some small eruptions punctuating their surfaces periodically. As I walked by I heard a ranger relating a story about a bison that had fallen into one of the muddy pools and unable to climb out due to the steepness and slipperiness of the sides. When a group returned in the morning it was gone - eaten by a grizzly! Be careful!!
I ended the loop after passing by Mud Geyser which was "boiling" away, but not much else, and Mud Caldron which is the pool below Dragon's Mouth Spring collecting its runoff. It was brightly colored by the various organisms living within it and "boiling" furiously at places, which I found out is due to rising gases and not heat. I then proceeded up to Dragon's Mouth and the Dragon was awake! The spring emanates from the ground from a small cave-like entrance and belches great sprays of water rather furiously times; all the meanwhile "roaring" it's displeasure at being disturbed. How utterly fascinating it must have been to be the first ones to come across such a "monster"!
Heading back to my truck I decided to call it a day and drove back north, along the Yellowstone River and through the Hayden Valley. I stopped briefly to snap a few shots of some Bison - still no mooses, then cut across to Norton and on to the West Entrance at West Yellowstone. I had laundry to do that night plus plan my next day (which I figured would take me to the Old Faithful area). A very nice day! Can't wait until tomorrow - big-time thermal action!