Despite V’s multiple alarms, we had a late start to the morning. I caught up on my blogs while she had a sleep in. We eventually got going around 10am. We both felt terrible with food hangovers from the night/morning before. Neither of us wanted breakfast, we settled for a banana each. V marvelled at the snow-capped mountains around us, oblivious to their existence last night.
We headed south towards the north entrance of Yellowstone. It was so windy along the highway that I stopped to check the bike wouldn’t fly off the roof. It was ok, but despite that it was two hands on the wheel at all times to keep the Astro on the road. The highway weaved gently through the surrounding mountains and V was happy to be out in the wilderness again. After we turned off the main road, she gathered herself up in my down jacket and napped the rest of the drive. Tesla was obviously grinding her down. I stopped for petrol and while we were on the look out for a coffee stop, we didn’t see anyting that tickled V’s fancy.
In Gardiner, the town just outside of Yellowstone, we found the Tumbleweed Café. A cute little place with some chairs by the window and books all about Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons. Yes, this would do. V had a coffee and a breakfast sandwich and I a smoothie. We sat at the window while I pored over the Yellowstone books to see what was accessible during this season and what the recommended hikes were.
By 12noon we head off and drove into the park. I used my NP pass to get in and on the way to the visitor’s center we recon’d the Boiling River (some natural hot springs just after the park entrance) and the Mammoth campground. Both looked like they’d be more than satisfactory. Turns out Mammoth Hot Springs is not just where the visitors center is, it’s a miniature town, complete with a beautiful post office building. It was weird to see such a built up area in the middle of a national park. It must get very popular in summer, but right now, it was like a ghost town, all boarded up for the rest of the season.
Inside, we spoke to a very bitter park ranger. An older lady, she was condescending and seemed to be withholding information. In comparison to other parks, Yellowstone seemed interested in making you buy hiking maps to understand the trails in the area. She wouldn’t even let me use her pen to makes notes, had to retrieve a crappy one for me to use. Anyway, I got what information I could out of her and we had a makeshift plan for the rest of the day. Before we left, I bought a can of bear spray. At $50, it was steep, but I figured I should do the responsible thing, especially since I might be hiking alone in bear country in future. Not sure how it would go against a moose, but I figured I’ve seen enough of those by now I’m probably on for a bear sighting!
V was entertained by my grovellings about the ranger and about the stupid bear spray. When I hung it on my bag I instantly felt an idiot. No one else was carrying any. In my opinion, I just looked like an over-cautious novice. While the hot springs beckoned, we decided to wander around the Mammoth Hot Springs, then do a 5 mile hike on Beaver Pond Loop. After adjusting what we were wearing, booting up and me having lunch, we were packed, bear spray at the ready attached to my backpack.
The Mammoth hot springs are a marvel. It looks like something from under the sea, or giant steps to a natural castle. The steam rising off the top of the ridge made bright waves against the afternoon sun but the formations of the springs were astounding. I wish I knew more about how they formed, I assumed it was from hot/cold cycles, maybe from the geothermal source? Unfortunately the information signs posted around weren’t too informative. I suppose it doesn’t matter too much. Do we have to understand why things are beautiful?
The Beaver Pond trailhead was just by the springs and we were walking in snow from the start. I feared wet socks and shoes again, but the snow wasn’t as fresh and we weren’t the first to pass over it so maybe I’d be ok. V was a happy hiker. Going from California to a winter wonderland lifted her spirit. We chatted while we walked, joking around about the bear spray and keeping a look out for predators. At one point V spotted a bird flying through the trees. On closer inspection it was an owl. A huge brown bird with a plate-like face and big yellow eyes, he squinted at us from atop a small tree which didn’t look set to hold his weight. He made the tree sway from side to side as he flew off. That would be the only wildlife we’d see up close.
Eventually we came to the Beaver Ponds. Being frozen, I immediately had to go for a play on the surface. I only got one foot damp on the approach, but was otherwise ok to hop, step and jump along the ponds’ surface. It was rock solid. We passed a few more like it and I took to throwing rocks into the lake, just to see what would happen. Some bounced off the surface, some went straight through, but the best were the ones that got wedged into the ice. The entertainment was better than any TV, don’t ask me why.
As the sun started to set, we picked up the pace and tried to limit our stops for photos, but it was a hard task considering the beauty all around us. Snow really does make everything pretty. The sky turned pink on the horizon as we finished off the hike and I spotted a herd of elk in the distance grazing amongst the snow. With the sun went a few degrees of temperature and as we walked back thorugh the village I was in dire need of my down jacket, but I left it off because we were in a rush to get to the Boiling River springs. Rules stated you could only be in the pools until 6pm and it was after 5pm when we got back to the car.
Along the short drive we saw multiple elk on the side of the road and eventually there was one right in front of me. Not fazed at all, he moved slowly away from me, showing us his huge hide. Glad I was contained inside a metal box for that encounter. At the carpark, it was getting dark and most people were returning to their cars after their soak. We quickly shoved swimmers and towels into a backpack and munched on Clif Bars on the way to the springs. It was a mile walk along the river to get to them.
Once there, the last group of people were just leaving and we definitely needed our head torches. My body was cold and aching for warm water to rush over it so I did a speed record in getting out of my clothes and shoes and into my swimmers. There was definitely some nudity involved, not that it mattered to me. I hopped in the water and started stumbling downstream trying to find the warm pools. There was a couple coming towards me, getting out of the river and they explained I should go to the third pool down, that was where the good temperatures lay. I hadn’t even reached or seen the first pool yet and my body was being traumatized by contact with both freezing cold water and scolding hot water. It was impossible to find a happy medium. Meanwhile V was yelling out to me, trying to understand what was going on. I fought on for a bit, determined to have a hot bath, but eventually I gave up. It was too dark, the rocks were slippery and we wouldn’t be able to relax much anyway. I head back the way I’d come and managed to find a tiny spot where the water was mostly warm, but it was no use. We abandoned the chase and got dry and dressed.
I was warmer than I had been before getting in, so that part had been a success. Now we just had wet swimmers and wet towels to deal with. But at least we got to experience the springs!
Next was camp. We did the self-registration and paid $20 for our patch. This was my first time paying for accommodation since starting my trip! And at $20 I felt ripped off, but there was a toilet block nearby with flushing toilets so I guess I can’t complain too much.
V relaxed on the bed while I cooked up a storm of fried potatoes, sausages, onions and capsicums (a take on the Christian and Mel special). The wind hindered progress, stopping the pan from getting hot enough, so I rigged up a windbreak with my tarp, which sped the process along nicely. What would have taken twenty minutes to cook in a normal home probably took twice as long, but oh did we enjoy it. After a day of cold and a bit of effort, it filled our tummies nicely. By the time I was done with the dishes, V was ready for bed, so she laid down with her eye-mask and was out like a light. She’s definitely an exhausted girl.
Big Buddy warmed us up before we slept. V, wanting to make the most of her time has optimistically set an alarm for 5:30 tomorrow morning, but we will see how that goes. Either way, it is a nice change to have some permanent company.