Monday, July 16, 2007 ;
10:39 AM
14 July
Last day in Yellowstone

Woke very early, checked out, then set off northwards. Stopped at Tower Fall first. Great panoramic view of surroundings. Antelope Creek below is supposed to be prime bear country. We used binos and tried to find some, but no success.

But the bleached cliff formations all ard, the plateau and canyon below, with the falls and the river, was still worth the stop.
Below left: high altitude, plus early morn, very cold...
Below right: the berries growing all ard.. what bears love to eat? :-)

Then we headed northeast towards Lamar Valley where wildlife was also abundant. Took a dirt road towards Slough Creek. Kind of really bumpy and narrow with a lot of rocks. Sometimes there's be a steep slope to get up, and we worried for the laden van, but we made it, and there were lots of colourful wildflowers. Beautiful. It was not exactly secluded though, cos we met several pple who were fishing. Fishing seems very good ard here.

Went through Lamar Valley, and got our first reward. For rising early and taking this out of the way route. We were so happy and excited to see pronghorn! Pronghorn can run at very high speeds and they're beautiful because of their body markings and their antlers are so unique (curvy). We were careful not to get too close for their discomfort. So this picture has to be big, else you won't see them. Hope you can spot them. 4 of them, sitting amongst the grass.

After that, we saw more bison. And continued on to Pebble Creek, then decided to backtrack since it was getting late and we need to actually get out of Yellowstone via the West entrance, and so far we'd been travelling eastward. Didn't want to get too far off, incase we reach our Idaho motel too late at night.

By the time we reached the Roosevelt Junction, it was around 10.30am, and we stopped for a toilet break, for ice cream and to see the horses and wagons. Some tourists were taking horse-drawn wagon rides.

Then we continued east, and stopped to view the "Petrified Tree". It is the fossil of an ancient redwood, which gives a glimpse of Yellowstone's past. Then, the climate was different, and different species of plants (and animals) flourished here. Now, they are just remains, but at least they are still present to tell a story.

The stump was petrified because it was buried by sediments long ago. Due to lack of oxygen, the wood is preserved, and mineral-rich water replaced the organic materials, turning the components into a stone mould. The original wood structure with all the details (like tree rings) are all preserved. There are whole forests of petrified trees elsewhere too, like in Utah and in Arizona.

Below: you can see the petrified tree stump to the upper right section of the photo.

Now comes one of the highlights of the day. We took the one-way narrow Blacktail Plateau Drive. It is kind of winding, and cuts into the forest. Because of the sharp turns, trailers and long vehicles are prohibited.

Along the way, we see a lot of wildflowers too.

Then, we hit jackpot. We saw 2 cars that stopped in front of us, so we stopped and got down too. Usually that means someone has spotted something. Anyway the path was so narrow, no other car could pass. Dh asked what is it they saw, and they said bears!

Dh just had to mouth the word to me, and I immediately got the videocam, digicam and binos and hopped out of the van in a flash. The moment has come! ds2 was napping, but ds1 was hauled off his car seat too.

We saw it after scanning where the 2 other families were looking at. There it was. A black bear. I didn't see any other, but obviously there are more. This one was just ambling about, then stopping to pick up something, maybe a seed or fruit, then put it in its mouth. Then it'd move towards the bush and check it out too. It was like rummaging about the bush, found something again, then put it in the mouth too. Then it pranced about the grass, and did the same things above again. We watched for a long time, mesmerised, intrigued and just very interested in how the bear went about its daily life. It didn't see us at all.

After about 25min, it went behind some trees and perhaps farther off into the forested area, cos we waited but didn't see any bears anymore. The 1st 2 cars continued off, and so we did. This was definitely a highlight.

We didn't want to meet any bear up close, like while on a secluded trail at night... But we did relish this kind of encounter, from a safe distance, without it knowing... Being among other humans also gave us some sense of security, so we could all observe the bear together. It was the ideal situation.

We took many pics of the bear, but they all kind of looked like the one below. Due to the distance, and the type of camera lens we had, this was the best we could manage. The black bear is the small black speck you see in the center of the photo. :-) With the binos though, it was very clear and more magnified.

After this, we stopped at Mammoth Hot Springs for lunch. Was about 1.30pm then.
Mammoth Hot Springs is very different from the rest of the park. It seemed very built up and commercial/ touristy. There were lots of houses, hotels/ motels/ lodges, like a small city by itself in the middle of wilderness.

Below left: the mini-town of Mammoth Hot Springs, framed by the mountains.
Below right: after lunch, we viewed the upper and lower terraces, formed by the run off from hot springs.
Looks like another world, with the white and orange colours.

Above: more terraces... and to show how the trees were killed due to the deposits.

After that, we continued south towards the west entrance of YNP. We stopped at the Willow Park, cos that's the fav food/ habitat of moose. But it was in the afternoon, and there wasn't any moose ard. After about 20min, we set off again. Below: the willows and creek of Willow Park.

Stopped again at Obsidian Cliff and Beaver Lake. Obsidian is a type of volcanic glass. It is produced when felsic lava erupted from a volcano cools rapidly through the glass transition temp and freezes without sufficient time for crystal growth. (Got this from Wiki, and you can see the picture of the black obsidian there.)

There were signs placed ard there saying that no one should collect the obsidian. I guess maybe many wanted a pretty souvenir huh? :-)

We continued on, hit Norris Geyser Basin, then procceeded to Madison. Even though we are almost reaching the exit of YNP, we had more wildlife sightings!

This was another highlight. Seeing a bull elk with its antlers in full glory. I watched Bambi before, and Bambi's father always looked very graceful and majestic at the same time, with the beautiful antlers. Now, I finally saw one in the flesh.

This one is very dramatic, because it was by the main road, not like Blacktail Drive, just a off-shoot dirt road. So, there were so many cars that pulled over to gawk. Quite amusing. Picture below: the effect may not be great from the picture, but trust me, the bull elk looked magnificent.

Now wonder it needed it for mating... it is impressive-looking. Other than that, it is quite a nuisance, for moving ard, for fleeing from enemies... It is a "cost" and "energy/ resource-waste" in biological terms.

Somewhere father along the same road, we saw many female elk and mule deer grazing beside the Madison River. It helped that it rained in the afternoon, that made the weather cooler, and it was cloudy (not hot), so many animals were out in the open.

Then it was bye bye Yellowstone, hopefully "see you again"! We still had many areas we want to explore more.

It was a 4-5 hour journey after that, and we reached Idaho Falls at dinnertime, saw Outback and couldn't resist dining there. It was super child-friendly, which helped a lot, since we were all tired and just wanted to have a good meal. I had the most delicious lamb chops. Yum yum. Dh had ribs. Kids shared macaroni and cheese. And they had toys and beads and colouring sheets, all courtesy of our server, who was very family-service-oriented.

Then it was another 45min before we reached Pocatello, Idaho, where our motel was. We liked hiking and nature a lot; but I think, being brought up in the city, somehow, being back in "civilisation", with the TV and heater, we felt very comfortable and slept very well that night.

rainbows every day, do not worry for the morrow

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