Predictably, the multiple alarms that V had set went off from 5:30am till about 8:30am. I explained later that instead of false optimism, she would have been better off having an extra 2 hours of uninterrupted sleep, instead of three hours of the interrupted kind. I got up with the sun, the mountains creating a gorgeous view all around us. By the time I’d been to the bathroom and cooked breakfast, V was still just taking her eye mask off. She was treated to breakfast in bed. We left camp around 9am, not quite making the most of the day as V had intended.
Just before we left, we were joined by a heard of elk in our camp. They’d totally snuck up on us and were grazing all around, totally unfazed by us humans. After a few photos of our camp buddies, we drove east through the park and the scenery was beautiful. Snow everywhere and bison all over the road. I was glad I hadn’t stopped too long at that Bison Range a few days before, Yellowstone was full of the beasts. They came in every size, some of the half the size of my car.
After the bison excitement, it was only me enjoying the views, V was asleep again in the passenger seat. Such a shame. We stopped at Wraith Falls and walked a half-mile to walk through some snow and see a trickle of a waterfall since it was mostly frozen. Still, it was nice to get out and stretch our legs. It felt colder than yesterday, maybe because of the wind. I couldn’t feel the tip of my nose when we got back to the car.
V slept some more while I drove on. After an hour trek we were at the Yellowstone Picnic Area, the trailhead to Specimen Ridge. We wouldn’t have time to walk out on the ridge, but there was a 4 mile loop we could do. At the trailhead, I sensed V wasn’t up for doing any hiking. She was re-consulting the map to see what the other options were. Eventually she came to the conclusion that there was nothing much else on offer, but remained sceptical that we would see any good views. She was wrong.
Within a mile, we were walking on top of a ridge that ran alongside the Yellowstone River and looked down into the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. We had been able to smell sulphur in the air and when we came upon the river it was obvious where it was coming from. There were a few steaming spots that fed into the river. More untapped hotsprings. As we walked along the ridge, solid sandy pillars rose from the sides of the river bed, rising high above the water. I marvelled at the formations. They grew from mounds of rock and dirt, then a layer of compact rock, then tall columns of solid rock formed in some unknown way to create a barrier.
As ever, the snow gave everything more definition and emphasised the beauty of this place. I can only imagine what the rest of the park offers, we’d probably seen less than 5% of it and were in awe.
Somewhere along the top of the ridge, V was on facebook and noticed that our friend James had responded to an earlier post of mine when we were enjoying coffee in Gardiner yesterday. He just said “I’m in Livingston”. Livingston is right next to Bozeman, we’d driven past it to get to Yellowstone. Huh! I called him immediately. He was in Livingston with his family for Thanksgiving, he would be there the rest of the week. Him and the family were planning to visit the Boiling River that afternoon. That worked out just perfect for us, if we had time, I said we’d try and meet him down there.
At the halfway point of the hike, we left the ridge and completed the loop through scarce forest and fields, trying to stick to the trail and not just follow animal tracks, which there were plenty of. The orange tags stuck to the trees were an essential guide. Without them, we’d have been ambling.
As we neared the end of the hike, we came across three people heading towards us across the field. We waved and they called out to us, they didn’t look prepared for any sort of hiking and didn’t seem to know where they were going. I directed them to the picnic area where they could do that start of the hike and enjoy views of the canyon without doing the full loop. They were grateful for the advice.
We finished our walk along the road, waving to everyone who passed by to see who would wave back. Most did, but some were harder to convince. Back at the picnic area, a group of people were enjoying a huge spread on a table under a tree. It looked like they had enough food for a whole party, but none for us. While I was replacing my wet hiking boots and socks with the dry kind, I nearly got hit with a dump of snow from the tree I’d parked the car under. With the sun out, snow had been falling in sprinkles and huge globs all day. Every now and then there would be a thud on the roof or the solar panel.
It was our turn for lunch. V cut some cheese and tomato and I got the grill going for hot wraps. They hit the spot nicely. We were keeping to our rough timetable to make sure V got back to Bozeman for her 6pm flight. We drove back the way we’d come. I guessed that we would see five animals on the road for the return journey. After a few miles I was proved wrong when there was about a dozen bison on the road. Amazing creatures, I would be scared to encounter one on foot.
V slept AGAIN on the way back through the park. Honestly, she was missing all she came to see! We were back at the Boiling River carpark just before 2pm, which was James’ ETA. V did not want to move, so I got out the driver’s window to have a look around, then decided I was going for a hot spring, even if V wasn’t. Eventually she decided she’d come along. Just as we were about to walk off, James rolled in to the carpark! We greeted him, his girlfriend Jesse and he introduced us to his sister and brother and their kids. It was a lively group and we were all walking to the hot springs within minutes. James and I had worked together at Tesla so we reminisced a little about that, but mostly talked about my trip and the drive that James and Jesse had taken to get here. They’d done it in two days but hit some of the spots I had on my three week journey here.
At the pools, it was the same story as the night before, hot, cold, scalding, freezing. With kids it was a little more treacherous, but we helped each other out to get across to the pools. It was much easier in the daylight. The pools were popular, but we managed to find a spot in the first pool and channel hot water towards us to mediate the temperature so everyone could be comfortable. In the warm water, we all chatted, new friends and old, and relished the hot bath we were having.
After a few minutes, the pools were emptied out when two rangers came by and scolded everyone that had drinks and had jumped the fence for access to the pools. Mostly young people, they were all told to get out and I think they may have had to pay some fines. More than half the people had exited the pools. More space for us law-abiding citizens!
A few of our party moved on to the second pool for some warmer water while I asked a girl the time. She informed us it was nearly 3pm so V and I had to head off. We said our goodbyes then made the treacherous scramble back upstream. V grabbed onto my arm more than once, her small body being pulled away by the current. We felt cold when we initially got out but our bodies had been warmed to the core so we felt nice and toasty in our dry clothes.
We waved goodbye to our mates, who we’d been so lucky to run into, walked back to the car and got going. It would take us an hour and a half to get back to Bozeman. It felt like longer, having done the drive in reverse, but the scenery changed under the setting sun.
We were at the airport just before 5pm so we’d timed it perfectly. I parked and walked V inside, but I didn’t stay. We’d toyed with the idea of having a quick beer before she boarded but there weren’t many options. We said our goodbyes and she was whisked away on the escalator. Back to just me.
I made for the rest stop from the night before last but stopped off at Walmart for a few groceries beforehand. At the rest stop I made the same dinner we’d had last night. I was so hungry I ate two portions. I was going to hang around at the rest stop until 8pm, when there was to be a bonfire part in Bozeman that James’ sister Sylvia had told us about. I hate waiting around for an event to start and with a full stomach, I was feeling lethargic. It took everything I had to get out of the van to do the dishes after dinner.
While I was drying up, a guy came over to me and asked if I knew anywhere he could make camp for the night where he could pitch a tent. I suggested he drive towards Yellowstone since north of it was all national forest. He was glad for the advice, then we got talking about our travels. Eric was on his way to Standing Rock in North Dakota, to support protestors there trying to stop the construction of an oil pipeline on an Indian Reservation. I’d heard about this on the news and he wasn’t the first person I’d met that was heading to or from there to provide support. I was in awe and told him I thought it was big of him to do such a thing. Turns out the older couple sitting in their van beside us were charting the same course. They all had different provisions to offer the protestors, like blankets, food, chairs. There was quite a movement going on. While Eric went off to chat to his fellow supporters, another guy had pulled up in an Astro van. I’d seen him there two nights before and told him so. He’d seen me too and was keen to take a look in my van. Wyah (probably not how you spell his name correctly) had only had his 2001 AWD Astro for two months and he’d paid $2,400 for it. A solid deal if you ask me. His was pretty bare on the interior, but he had the essentials. He was keen to get ideas from me. We talked for ages about possible van mods. He was interested in making his robust for winter since he was headed to Colorado to work there for a ski season.
Speaking to those two guys had lifted my spirits, I was ready for a bonfire party! When I checked my phone, James had messaged me and said they were staying in Livingston for the night. No bonfire party. Sad face. Oh well, I had free Wifi from the rest stop and a Formula 1 race to watch! I settled in, sprawled out on the double bed and watched all of qualifying and the race. I got to about lap 28 when my eyes started drooping, so I called it a night.