Yellowstone Wilderness

Picture of meadows We entered Yellowstone at the South Entrance. The southern section of the park is mostly wilderness that is best seen on foot. There are a tremendous number of waterfalls in this part of the park, only a few of which can be seen from the road. This is a relatively calm section of the Lewis River - we're saving the waterfall pictures for the Canyon area farther down the page.
Picture of bison_herd Bison and elk are everywhere in the park, by which we mean everywhere. We saw elk wandering through the town of Mammoth Hot Springs, and bison standing in parking lots and even one that appeared to be waiting to use the restroom. In the winter they're especially fond of the geothermally heated geyser basins. This herd was just outside of the Lower Geyser Basin. Speaking of which, here's our supposedly obvious fundamental rule of Yellowstone's wildlife: It's dangerous, do not touch. This is not nearly as obvious as you'd think, we saw several people posing with bison for pictures, one man filming himself touching the antlers of a large elk, and another hiker told us he'd seen a family arranging themselves in front of a grizzly bear for a group photo. Natural selection did not choose to take a role in any of these occurrences but it's amazing the wildlife injury total isn't higher.
Picture of coyote This coyote came down a hill to take a swim in the Gibbon River. Afterwards he stood on this log surveying the area for a bit before disappearing back over the hill. Coyote are fairly common in the park but are not seen by visitors as often as bison, elk and bears. Wolves are perhaps the most elusive large mammals in the park, we spent a fair amount of time in Lamar Valley looking for them but never spotted any.
Picture of campsite Our campsite was in the Canyon area which, if a bit chaotic, was not a bad place to camp. A general store with a couple restaurants is located just across the main road. We later learned that all of the lodge restaurants in Yellowstone are more or less the same regardless of which lodge you're at, as they're all run by the same company.
Picture of yellowstone_canyon One nice thing about Canyon campground is that you're an easy walk (or drive) from the grand canyon of the Yellowstone River. There are several overlooks on both sides of the canyon. In the far distance of this photo you can just make out the lower falls. The canyon runs for about 20 miles (32 km) and averages around 1000 ft (300m) deep.
Picture of lower_falls A closer view of Lower Falls as seen from Red Rock Point. There is a viewing platform just at the top of the falls on the right-hand side but it was closed during our visit due to recent rock slides. There are trails along both rims of the canyon but none descend to the canyon floor.
Picture of bison When we went to the Upper Falls overlook we found several bison hanging out in the parking lot. This one had apparently had a hard day and flopped over to take a nap while we working our way around them. (No, it wasn't dead, and no we weren't very close.)
Picture of upper_falls The Upper Falls is not quite as high as Lower Falls but it is still impressive. This can also be viewed from a platform just above the falls on the right-hand side. There is also thermal activity in the canyon vicinity, and from several of the canyon overlooks steam can be seen rising from hot springs in the area.
Picture of washburn_hike A popular day-hike in the Canyon-Tower area is Mount Washburn. It took us about five hours to hike up, have lunch at the top and hike back down. We took the south approach which is shorter but steeper than the old logging road that makes up the north approach. Either way is a relatively difficult hike with about 2000 ft (600 m) of elevation gain to the watchtower at the top. This is early in the hike, the trail follows an old carriage road before beginning a series of switchbacks up the hill in the foreground. Mount Washburn rises in the back left portion of this picture and the highest point is a small weather/ranger station at the top.
Picture of washburn_snow At a certain altitude the trail ran under several feet of snow making it even more treacherous (notice the large drop off to the left). This was in late June and in some years the snow never disappears completely. One week before our hike, Mt Washburn was hit with snow and hail in mid-June.
Picture of pika_leap The little furry blur in this picture is a pika. Pikas are small rodents that look sort of like stunted rabbits. They're extremely fast and never seem to stop moving for more than half a second, which is why this has to be an action photo.
Picture of washburn_view The view from near the top of Mount Washburn. The rift in the distance is the canyon of the Yellowstone River. On the far left a waterfall descends a side canyon into the Yellowstone River and is called Silver Cord Cascade. There are hiking trails which lead up to it from Canyon and from Mount Washburn. By the time we reached the top, the temperature had dropped substantially and we spent some time inside the ranger station (which also has restrooms) before heading back down.
Picture of washburn_us The last section of the hike from the south approaches the top across a narrow ridge with huge dropoffs to either side. There are quite a few marmots on the rock piles at the higher altitudes as well.
Picture of yellowstone_lake Yellowstone Lake dominates the southeast quadrant of the park and several developed areas can be found on its shores (Grant, Lake, and Fishing Bridge). Fishing Bridge is popular with spawning cutthroat trout and in the summer they can be seen lurking just beneath the surface. We came down to Lake village one evening partially to eat dinner there and partially as an excuse to drive through the wildlife-rich Hayden Valley. There are various types of boat cruises out into the lake as well.
Picture of virginia_meadows After seeing many of the major sites accessible by road in Yellowstone we felt we ought to have at least one backcountry experience, even if it was a relatively short one. We chose the Virgina Meadows area between Canyon and Norris. There's a short hike to Ice Lake where a longer east-west trail runs across central Yellowstone. We hiked east along this for a couple miles. The Gibbon River here must be forded several times, or one can cross on a log like Melanie did. David attempted the log-crossing (difficulty rating: 3.1) but failed miserably and ended up inadvertently fording the river resulting in wet hiking boots (and a 1.5 from the East German judge). A small little-used trail connects back on a diagonal to the road near Virginia Cascades. This is Melanie on one of the more obvious section of trail. Other parts disappeared in the pine forest entirely.
Picture of vm_falls Eventually though the trail comes to this waterfall (the river must be forded again just above the falls) which probably has a name but we don't know what it is. In fact, there's a large ongoing project at Yellowstone to visit and catalog all the waterfalls in the park. The trail then leads across a huge open (soggy) meadow along the river before ending unceremoniously on the road. After that we had to hike along the road back to the parking area. Despite the lovely big (soggy) meadow that would be a fine place to spend the afternoon if you happen to be a moose, we saw no wildlife there.
Picture of black_bear Bear jams they're called when traffic stops to watch a bear, which truth be told is very rarely all that interesting since they're mostly just foraging. We saw three black bears, all in the Tower area and none of them so much as ate one single tourist despite their best efforts to get eaten. That's black bears for you. We left the park through the spectacular Northeast entrance along the Lamar Valley that has amazing scenery and more bison than you could throw, well, anything at.

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