On Saturday, we began the drive to Yellowstone. Lots of prairie – rolling hills covered in grass. We ended up in Helena for the night. There was smoke from a nearby fire; Montana has as many fires as California, many of them started by lightning. We continued south the next day and ended up at the Missouri Headwaters State Park. This is the point at which the Gallatin, Jefferson and Madison Rivers converge into the Missouri River. Lewis and Clark were looking for the beginning of the Missouri for quite a while and camped at this spot. We decided to camp there because I had a recommendation that it’s beautiful in low light. After setting up camp (during which I almost stepped on a pretty green and yellow garter snake), we drove around. It’s a narrow strip of a park, with a highway running through it and lots of electric wires strung around. Photographically, it is not magical. Then we found out that there was no water available at all. But we went out at sunset, and found a nice spot to photograph. We got up early the next morning to photograph, and found a chilly, heavy ground fog, creating a spooky, mystical effect.
In very warm weather, we made it down to Gardiner, the town adjacent to the northwest entrance to Yellowstone. We decided to stay in an RV park, which was lucky because the Mammoth Campground in Yellowstone was full. We visited the Mammoth Hot Springs Terraces, and were again surprised at how much things change in three years. Some of the terraces that were wet and beautifully colored are now completely dry and white. Some geysers that were throwing out hot water are now just dry blowholes, rumbling, but not spitting. It was Dave’s birthday dinner and we were enjoying a nice bottle of our favorite Karmere Zinfandel. There was a knock on our door. A campground neighbor said he had seen us “hoisting glasses of wine” and offered us a 5-liter box of Franzia Wine that he said they didn’t care for. Never one to turn down something free, I gladly accepted. After tasting it, I realized I had made a mistake. Since 5 liters is too much even for cooking wine, I will have to find a way to pawn it off on someone else.
Yesterday, on a warm, breezy day with lots of little clouds in the sky, we drove the upper loop of Yellowstone. It’s only 70 miles, but with the many stops we made, it took eight hours. We won’t see Old Faithful or anything in the lower loop. One west side road is closed for construction and one east side road is closed because of a fire that was caused by lightning. The fire isn’t threatening buildings but is large and casting a pall of smoke that drifts here and there depending on which way the wind blows. Driving south, we came up behind a bison, walking gingerly down the middle of the road, ignoring the cars stopping all around him. He looked like his hooves hurt. We stopped by a little stream, attracted by the emerald green grasses growing in the water. And after edging down the steep incline, careful not to get my feet wet, I decided to step on the grass so I could get a better image, and sank a foot into water. I fortunately didn’t lose my balance and get my camera wet. My jeans, shoe and sock all dried pretty quickly, but next time I’ll make sure a spare pair of socks is in the car. We walked around the Norris Geyser Basin, marveling at a small stream that was jello green. We went up to one of favorite spots at the top of Mt. Washburn, but the light wasn’t optimal, with smoke hanging over the valleys. Dave was looking for a grizzly bear, but no go. We did see another huge bison, limping down the middle of the road. He was almost as big as our Rav4.
Last night was balmy, but a big storm was coming in. After some showers last night, we woke up to rain this morning. It’s gotten progressively colder and there now is snow sprinkled on top of the mountains. We’re staying in today and hoping tomorrow is nicer.