Day 6 - Yellowstone: Norris, Mammoth, Tower Falls, Lamar Valley

Highlights: Travertine terraces in Mammoth Hot Springs; Bighorn sheep, coyote, bear and wolves in Lamar Valley

You'd think after yesterday's full schedule of geyser sightseeing, we might be a wee bit tired of seeing them, but noooo, well at least not the adults. Fortunately, the kids have each other and they don't care too much what we're doing as they're just doing there own thing anyway. This is the real beauty of traveling with another family.

So today, we're headed north from Madison Campground to Norris Geyser Basin and Mammoth Hot Springs.

Norris Geyser Basin has some of the hottest and most acidic water in the park. It's also extremely volatile with hot springs changing constantly, sometimes requiring boardwalks to be moved and its geysers are largely unpredictable, some going without an eruption for 5o years.

At Norris, I'm tickled pink when my kids tell me we have to visit Pearl Geyser, but my favorite geyser name is Puff 'n Stuff - really! According to Yellowstone Treasures by Janet Chapple, a park geologist named it after the 1970s TV show H.R. Pufnstuf. Hey, I used to watch that show! Ms. Chapple's book is filled with interesting trivia about the park and its features and she's not shy about throwing in the occasional social commentary, this one re the 1880s:

"Vixen Geyser received its name at a time before feminism was a household word; Superintendent Norris used the then-current word for a shrewish, ill-tempered woman and got away with it! Fortunately, ideas about how to preserve our national treasures (both geysers and women) have come a long way since that time."

Amen to that!

Continuing north, our next stop was Mammoth Hot Springs. After refueling at Mammoth Terrace Grill, we tackled the climbing tour of the Lower and Upper Terraces. At Mammoth there are no geysers because the whole area sits on top of limestone which is not hard enough to create the bottlenecks and pressure needed. Instead hot water brings the limestone to the surface where it is deposited as terraces of travertine. It reminds me a lot of Pamukkale in Turkey although it's not quite as white and pristine, maybe because the water in Pamukkale is not hot enough to support the colorful algae?

Additionally, the chemical composition of travertine is the same as tufa (which we'll see on our Mono Lake trip later this summer). They're both calcium carbonate, but technically there are some differences; generally speaking, travertine is formed in warm water systems while tufa is formed in cool water systems.

At Mammoth, activity at the various hot springs changes constantly. So when we were there, the area around Minerva Terrace, primarily the Lower Terrace, was dead. Not until we reached the Upper Terraces, to Canary Spring, Main Spring and Blue Spring did we see water flowing and algae growing.

Looking at my guide book, I see now that we missed the entire Highland Terrace drive which is further above the Upper Terraces. Huh?!?!? Geeez, I hate it when that happens! Well at least Yellowstone is only 2000 miles away as opposed to Ephesus (again in Turkey) where we forgot to visit the ancient bathhouse and capture us in that classic Thinker pose atop the latrine. Now that's a real bum-mer, pun intended!

Hey, it's only 3pm, that means we're only half way thru our day of sightseeing!

On the road between Mammoth and Tower Falls, there's an unpaved, one-way road called the Blacktail Deer Plateau Drive. Our guidebook describes a drive that climbs 500 ft for gorgeous views and then drops sharply into a small canyon. It sounds wonderful. But as we turn off the main road to take our little side adventure, we're stopped by this sign:

Our disappointment is quickly displaced by peals of hysterical laughter. POOPY, is like, our kids' favorite word!! Everything distasteful is poopy; anything ridiculous or stupid is likewise poopy. I think our kids use it indiscriminately as a noun, verb, adjective and adverb. So to find it on an official park sign, well, that was just about the funniest thing we'd ever seen!

However, if you look very closely at the sign, you'll see someone tampered with the R in the original word POOR, and added a Y to turn it into POOPY. Fortunately, we didn't discover this until we downloaded our photos so we were able to chuckle in ignorant bliss for the duration of our trip. Still, our kids are cheered to know someone else out there thinks POOPY is a word of importance!

Our afternoon concludes with a quick trip to view Tower Falls. Unfortunately, the switchback path to the bottom of the falls was closed so we made do with the view from above.

Then we backtracked just a bit to have dinner at the Roosevelt Lodge. Named after Pres. Teddy Roosevelt, a lifelong supporter of Yellowstone, the porch and rocking chairs take you back to another time. The service at dinner, however, just plain took too much time.

It was past 8pm by the time we got out of there and there was some concern it was getting too late for the last of the day's itinerary - wildlife viewing in Lamar Valley. But we psyched up the kids (and ourselves) with the thought of catching a glimpse of wolves.

Boy were we treated to a great night of wild animals! Within a span of 45 minutes and 15 miles, we saw, in order, Big Horn Sheep, Coyote, Black Bear. I'm not even including the mule deer, elk and bison; we've become so jaded!

And although I don't have a photo of a wolf, we also saw them thru binoculars and spotting scopes courtesy of what I call the Wolf Fan Pack, a group of dedicated, die-hard devotees of Yellowstone wolves. Some of these people have been coming for years to monitor the various packs to the point where they know the individual members; their mating habits, den locations, territorial clashes and so on. One fan had to return home unexpectedly, but called every night from California to get the latest updates.

For an official study, check out the Yellowstone Wolf Project's Annual 2007 report before you visit. I wish I did! It documents the territories and activities of all the packs in the park which can help you determine the best current locations to watch wolves. And even if you're not planning a visit to Yellowstone, I guarantee reading this report, you'll be hooked by the sweeping Godfatheresque storyline of these packs - power, murder, betrayal, affairs - it's not easy being a wolf. Fascinating stuff!

Day's mileage: 135 miles; 13 hours sightseeing and on the road.

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