Thursday, July 29, 2010

California. Finally!

NOTE: This is the 8th of a multi-part series chronicling my family's two week vacation in the summer of 2010.

For links to the entire series, click here.

When we finally finished drying our clothes at the truck stop in Sparks, NV, we piled back in and pointed our Blazer west on Interstate 80. Even though we were already hours behind schedule, I still hoped to arrive at the trail head in time to start our hike and find a place to camp along the trail. But it wasn't to be.

Our destination was a hiking trail my wife and I had discovered about 15 years earlier. At that time, I was driving a truck for a living. She, I, and our two dogs all rode together in the cab of 1995 long-nosed Peterbilt. We were carrying a load of landscaping stone from Idaho to Stockton, CA and our route carried us along I-80 through Donner Pass. We stopped at the interstate rest area just west of Truckee, CA to walk the dogs. That's when we stumbled across a sign marking the hiking trail to Summit Lake and Warren Lake. From the rest area, we walked with our dogs for a little over a mile and arrived at Summit Lake.

That day, all those years ago, we didn't have enough time to continue the additional five miles to Warren Lake so we turned around and headed back to the truck. As we pulled out of the parking lot of the rest area, we swore to each other that one day, we'd return and make the hike to Warren Lake. Our trip this summer was planned to make good on that oath.

Long before we reached the rest area we'd hiked from so long ago, signs on Interstate 80 informed us the facility was closed. Fortunately, I'd done a little research the night before and knew there was another access to the path via the Pacific Crest Trail at the Castle Peak/Boreal exit on I-80, just west of the closed rest area. We arrived at the trailhead and found snow still covering much of the trail.

The sun was now sinking lower and lower in the sky. My wife suggested we abandon our plan to camp on the partially snow-covered trail and search for other accommodations that night. Reluctantly, I turned the vehicle back toward the freeway and admitted to myself our Warren Lake goal wouldn't be reached on this trip. With a long face, I resigned to return to Truckee and head south hoping to find a campground where we could pitch our tents.

Lake Tahoe lay several miles to the south and I thought we'd be able to find a place there. But only two or three miles south of Truckee on Highway 267, we passed a sign informing us a left turn would take us to a campground. As we turned off the road, we noticed a small lake to the south at the base of a north-facing wooded slope. A half-mile or so from the highway, another road intersected our path and led to the lake. A sign there indicated the road would lead to the Alpine Meadows Campground.

The campground was situated in a large clump of pines on a hill just north of Martis Creek Lake, the lake we saw on our way in. We stopped at the self-service pay station at the entrance and learned that for $16 per night, we secure any vacant site we chose. Climbing back in the car, we drove around the paved loop and realized, though primitive, the place was nice and clean with a cozy feel. We decided to pay for two nights and attempt our hike again the next day.

As usual, it turned out the good Lord had his hand on our shoulder, guiding us, the entire way. Things were now looking up, much brighter than only a few minutes before. And they'd quickly get even better. The next day when we actually set out on our hike, we'd really come to discover He had delayed us for our benefit. The long day may have interrupted our plans, but God knew what was best for us the whole time and refused to let my stubbornness get in the way.

As we drove into the campground, we noticed a small cave high on the side of the hill above the lake. Once we had our tents pitched and finished a camp stove supper of Spaghetti-O's for the girls and canned beef stew for me and my wife, she and I decided to make the short hike to the cave. Our daughters, anxious to charge their cell phones using the electrical outlets available in the primitive restrooms, chose to remain behind.

We walked back to the campground entrance and down the drive of the lake access. To skirt the body of water that separated us from the hill, we angled toward the base of the mountain of rocks and boulders that cover the Martis Creek Dam. We could have chosen to climb out of the draw to the top of the near side of the dam and walked the road that traversed it, but took the more adventurous route around the end of the lake and climbed the steep, brushy slope leading to the cave above.

The road we didn't take led across the dam and the length of the hill that held the cave we wanted to visit. But from our position on the slope, it didn't appear to lead to the cavern. So we switch-backed our way up the mountain via game trails and breaks in the brush. Then, once we'd worked our way to within 20 feet of the elevation of the cave, we saw the trail leading down the finger of our hill to the road we'd crossed on the way up.

Oh well, we took the road less traveled I guess. And we were nearly to the cave.

Now we followed the trail along the side of the hill to a point directly below the mouth of the cave. As we drew closer, the regulations regarding the storage of food in bear country I'd read at the campground came to mind. I began to wonder if we might be planning to invade the living quarters of an animal we'd rather not disturb. But we'd come too far to turn back without checking out the alluring hole in the wall of this mountain.

The trail ran along the side of the hill about 8-10 feet below the floor of the cave, but the rocks provided an easy climb into the yawning gap in the cliff above. Just to be safe, I threw several rocks into the cave from below in case some surly beast resided inside and didn't want visitors. But my thrown stones drew no response from the empty cavern.

So we climbed up and into the opening. It was nothing spectacular, not deep at all. Others had apparently been drawn to this spot judging by the tracks and markings left behind. But as we looked back across the small lake to our campground, we were glad we'd decided to make the impromptu trek.

We made our way back to the campsite as the night overtook the day. During the descent, we were blessed with seeing two otters paddling playfully across the lake. We were too far from the swimming creatures to get a decent picture, but the sight of them was yet another gift from God. Walking on, it became clear He was in total control and we were meant to pass the night here according to His plan.

The next morning we'd try the hike we had looked forward to for the past 15 years.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Don't ever stay at the Comfort Inn in Carlin, NV!

NOTE: This is the 7th of a multi-part series chronicling my family's two week vacation in the summer of 2010.

For links to the entire series, click here.

We departed Yellowstone National Park content with the many experiences we'd enjoyed there. Exiting the western entrance, we crossed a small strip of scenic Montana before breaching the border of Idaho.

Originally, we'd planned to drive from here to the City of Rocks National Reserve near Almo, ID. There we had intended to pass two nights camping and a day hiking. Once again, we took advantage of the flexible nature of itinerary and adapted our overly ambitious plans to spend more time sight-seeing and less time driving. Deciding to skip the City of Rocks, we chose to proceed to our next destination, northern California.

Our late start on that day's journey meant too many miles to cover in one stretch, so I made a call to Choice Hotels to find a place to stay that night. I booked a room at the Comfort Inn in Carlin, NV. That proved to be a mistake!

First, it was farther away than I realized and we didn't arrive until around 1:00 in the morning. But that was only the beginning of our first ever bad experience with Choice Hotels. Everything seemed okay at check-in, but my discontent with this hotel began to build soon after.

We entered the room and our ears were assaulted by an obnoxious and loud low-pitched buzz. Investigating, we discovered the offending appliance from which emanated the agitating sound was the small refrigerator in the room. Deciding we'd leave our perishable items in the ice chest, we unplugged the source and killed the noise. The room seemed okay after that, but we'd soon find several more reasons to discourage ANYONE from ever choosing this as a resting place for a night.

I'd forgotten something in the Blazer and went to retrieve it before turning in. I exited the elevator and entered the lobby to see another guest arguing with the desk clerk. He was angry and shouting so I couldn't help but hear his complaints as I made my way to the front door. (Remember, this is between 1:00 and 2:00 in the morning.) The other guest wanted to change rooms because whoever was in the adjacent room was throwing a loud party. The clerk informed him there was nothing he could do. He would not give the customer a different room, and he would not confront the offending occupants. There was no attempt made to satisfy the customer by the desk clerk. Customer service at the Comfort Inn of Carlin, NV was nonexistent.

Fortunately, I slept through the night without being further disturbed. But the next morning, the spark of dissatisfaction I felt for the hotel exploded to a full-fledged conflagration. I arose early because we planned to drive to Truckee, CA that night and begin a hike to Warren Lake near Donner Pass. We needed to arrive by early afternoon to pack our gear and hike in early enough to find and set up a camp site along the trail. But first, we needed to wash some clothes.

So I gathered all our dirty clothes and fed coins to the washing machine in the guest laundry at the end of our hall. My Facebook-deprived daughter and I went downstairs where I grabbed a cup of coffee and she stationed herself at the guest computer in the lobby. Once the washer had completed its cycle, I switched our clothes to the dryer. The digital display told me my garments would be ready in 45 minutes.

My wife and other daughter were now up and we all went downstairs for the deluxe continental breakfast. Though the meal was nothing special. It turned out to be the best part of our stay in Carlin. But once my daughter left the lobby computer, an apparent boyfriend of one of the hotel maids appropriated it. This didn't bother me, but the brown bag containing the bottle he was nursing did. It wasn't that he was a drinker that irritated me. It was where and when he was drinking. Early in the morning at breakfast in a hotel lobby where families with children are staying is not the place for anyone to imbibe, but especially not an employee or someone who's there with an employee!

I was completely dissatisfied with the hotel by this point, but the bad experience wasn't yet over.

Returning to the guest laundry I found the timer on the dryer nearly expired. I waited the remaining few minutes, ready to retrieve and pack our things so we could escape this disgrace of a lodging place and get on with our trip. The buzzer finally sounded and I threw open the door of the dryer. But when I grabbed the first handful of raiment, I knew we would be here a while longer yet. They were nowhere near dry. They were warm, but still soaking wet.

Wanting now only to escape this hell-hole of a hotel, and operating more on hope at this point than rational thinking, I went to the desk clerk to get more quarters to run the malfunctioning dryer one more time. With the coins in my hand, I headed back to try again. My daughter, who had remained in the lobby with hopes of getting a turn at the guest computer, rode up the elevator with me. She told me while she was waiting in lobby, the desk clerk and hotel maids were all gathered around the front desk laughing about who had been fired the week before and wondering aloud who would be fired that week. She also asked me about the boyfriend's brown bag.

I fed the so-called dryer again, but may as well have thrown the money down the drain. After another hours-long 45 minutes, our clothes were still only warm and wet. But I decided then and there we were leaving, dry clothes or no. I stuffed the still-wet garments into plastic bags and we loaded our things into the Blazer. I didn't say a word to the clerk as I handed over my key cards because he'd been so unconcerned about the guest the night before. But I swore I'd do whatever I could to warn travelers this was NOT the place to stay.

At the next opportunity on our trip, I posted the following review of the hotel on Google Maps:

This was my absolute worst experience with ANY Choice Hotel I've patronized. I exclusively use them because I previously had nothing but positive experiences. The Comfort Inn at Carlin, NV should be sold or shut down if corporate can't fix the problems.

The refrigerator in our room made an annoying loud buzzing sound all night, the guest dryer didn't dry (I wasted 2 dollars and 2 hours and still left with sopping wet clothes). The hotel staff were all loitering in the lobby in the morning, laughing about who was fired this week, and an apparent boyfriend of one of the maids was using the lobby computer while nursing a bottle of beer while breakfast was being served to guests in the same lobby.

This hotel is terrible! DO NOT STAY HERE!

When we finally freed ourselves from the clutches of this hotel from Hell, we headed west. In Sparks, NV we stopped at the Petro truck stop where we dried our clothes in machines that worked. But by the time we'd repacked our Blazer, it would be after 5:00 PM before we'd be able to reach our the trail head of our planned hike. We'd have to adjust our plans, this time due to the horrible accommodations offered by the Comfort Inn of Carlin, NV.

If you're traveling through Nevada on Interstate 80 and looking for a nice place to stay, you won't find it at this hotel!

Monday, July 26, 2010

Final Day in Yellowstone

NOTE: This is the 6th of a multi-part series chronicling my family's two week vacation in the summer of 2010.

For links to the entire series, click here.

As dawn broke at the end of our second night in Yellowstone, I regretted having only planned for two full days at the park. We'd experienced quite a lot since arriving the afternoon two days earlier, but we now realized we would leave the 2.2 million acre park with many of its wonders still unknown to us. Still, we looked forward to what we'd discover as we made our way to the western gate.

We roused the girls and packed our reliable Blazer once again. Today, Old Faithful was first on our list of things to do. We arrived around 9:20 am local time, only 20 minutes before the geyser's next predicted eruption. Once again our Lord was scouting our path, because we had no idea what time to expect the spout to spew when we left Lewis Lake. Once we found a parking place and made it to the ranger station, it was only a short walk and minutes to spare before the tower of water and steam was expelled from the most famous of Yellowstone's geysers.

Because it was still relatively early, the wooden walk encircling the famous geyser wasn't too crowded. When we spotted the sign pointing us in the direction of Observation Point, we couldn't resist the one mile round trip hike. Since we still had another hike planned that morning, the girls stayed behind in the lobby of the Lodge where they located an electrical outlet and seized the opportunity to charge their cell phones.

My wife and I headed down the trail to the overlook. The trail brochure we obtained at the ranger station placed this trail in the strenuous category, but that's a little misleading. Though it's a relatively steep climb of 160 feet in a short distance, the trail is good and the walk wasn't so tough I'd consider it a strenuous hike.

The overlook wasn't particularly impressive compared to what we'd already seen in the park. It more or less provided a different vantage point to view Old Faithful's eruption. But we were glad we made the climb and decided to take the long way back rather than simply retrace our steps.

The trail to Solitary Geyser added an extra half mile to our unplanned hike, but was an easy walk through the forest that led us past several other geysers and thermal features. By the time we arrived back at the lodge, our daughters' phones were charged and they were ready to move on.

Our planned hike that day was a 2.5 mile hike to Mystic Falls, a moderately strenuous hike according to our brochure. We had a little trouble locating the trail because our map showed the trail head began at the boardwalk behind Biscuit Basin. But the entire Biscuit Basin attraction was closed due to construction and the alternate trail head wasn't clearly marked along the highway. Once we realized we had passed the trail head, we studied our map more closely and realized we could access the Mystic Falls trail from the Daisy Geyser trail head on the highway. We backtracked and found the alternate entrance we'd use to access the back country of Yellowstone.

The trail to the falls offered a different kind of scenery due to the scars inflicted by a 1988 conflagration. Charred bits of logs remain scattered along the trail, giving evidence of the fire that scorched the landscape. But interspersed along the trail were gaps in the the young and surviving evergreens that offered still spectacular views of the valley through which flowed the Little Firehole River. Then we came to the falls and were aptly rewarded for the 1.6 miles we'd walked to find them.

From where we parked, the trek in to Mystic Falls covered about 1.3 miles. About half that distance down the trail, we came to a fork. A sign posted there pointed west and told us we were 0.7 miles from our destination. Beside the arrow pointing north, it said 0.7 miles to the Biscuit Basin Overlook and 1.7 miles to Mystic Falls. We followed our plan and took the westward path, but not knowing what lay on the upper trail had me intrigued.

At the base of the 70 foot falls, a mountain towered above us. From where we stood, it appeared the alternate trail back ascended about 70 feet and skirted the face.To satisfy my curiosity, I led my family through the switchbacks that climbed the steep slope of the Little Firehole River. But the trail passed by what I'd thought was the route and continued to up toward the soft, white clouds above. And it climbed, and climbed, and climbed some more.

Each time we thought we'd reached the top only to find the ascent continued, the girls wondered aloud if we'd bitten off more than we could chew. They'd convinced themselves I had gotten us lost. I knew we weren't lost, but as we climbed the steep mountain face, wondering how they would handle the inevitable descent weighed heavily on my mind.

When we reached the overlook, it was past the time we had planned to be on the highway. Our daughters were tired and somewhat agitated, ready to be back in the air conditioned Blazer and on our way. But we were still hundreds of feet above the basin floor where our vehicle was parked. In fact, we could see the Blazer from the overlook. And it appeared far enough away, the girls wondered if we could reach it by dark.

To top it off, our location on the trail was off our map. The only trail at the overlook other than the one we'd followed to get here looked to go the wrong way, apparently the same direction from which we'd come. Luckily though, a group of scouts were resting at the overlook. Their guide had been there before and knew the trail. He assured us the trail was the correct one and only deceptively appeared to lead the wrong way. We headed down.

The trail was steep and narrow, but not nearly as difficult to navigate as I'd worried it would be. Though we proceeded slowly, we made good time and had no trouble on the way down. We were back in our Blazer by 4:00 PM and on our way, headed to the west gate. We thought our adventures in the park were over, but we were wrong.

We'd learned early in our visit that wildlife could appear practically anywhere, at any time. Bison were especially common, so spotting them had ceased to impress us as it had that first day. Even close encounters had been so common that we didn't even reach for the camera now when the huge brown beasts appeared. But that would change on our way to the exit.

As we approached a herd spread across both sides of the road, we slowed to avoid ramming any that might cross. But sighting them failed to stir our enthusiasm, until we spotted the baby bison playing close to the edge of the highway. We'd seen plenty of young buffalo in the past two days, but only from afar. None had been close enough to get a really good picture. But as we drew close, the two buffalo calves crossed the road in front of us to give us a great shot.

Once again, our falling behind schedule had proved divine intervention as God used it to bless us with more impressive sightings of his creation. The calves had even seemed to draw our hike-weary teenage daughters out of their somber moods. We had been so blessed to this point, we were certain our limit of Yellowstone experience had been reached. But we'd be greatly blessed once again before we'd cross the boundary and exit the park.

About halfway between Madison and the west gate, the highway runs parallel beside the Madison River. Traveling west, the river was on our left. On the opposite bank, the terrain was relatively flat and the trees of the forest reached almost to the water's edge. The river, these trees, and the steep slope of a mountain formed a small clearing in the shape of a triangle. Directly across the river from this clearing, we encountered a parking lot on the highway. Traffic was at a standstill.

Once again, traffic on both sides of the highway had come to a halt. The east bound and west bound shoulders were lined with parked cars. One westbound pickup had even turned across the opposing lane of traffic and parked perpendicular to the edge of the roadway, completely blocking the east bound lane. A huge crowd of people who had abandoned their vehicles was gathered on the south side of the highway peering across the river with cameras, binoculars, and spotting scopes. Our time at Yellowstone told us this most likely meant a bear sighting. And our instinct was proven right when we spotted the golden glow of the grizzly gleaming in the afternoon sun.

Though we'd seen a distant grizzly the day before, this was truly a blessing from above. The Madison River was about 40 yards wide here, providing a barrier that offered an opportunity to leave our vehicle and get some really great pictures of an animal we didn't want to get too close to. We stayed for quite a spell as the beast ambled to and fro along the riverbank before moving west along the base of the rocky mountain and out of sight.

What a way to close out a visit to Yellowstone! This up close encounter with the king of the beasts that reside in this 2.2 million acre wilderness gave us a spectacular ending to a spectacular trip!

There is no doubt in my mind the hand of God was guiding us throughout our visit. When one considers arriving at any of these spots a few minutes earlier or a few minutes later would have prevented us from seeing these majestic animals, mere coincidence offers too weak an explanation for the unplanned delays that placed us in just the right place at the exact moment in time to witness these beautiful beasts.

As we exited through the west gate, I thanked God for the opportunity to visit His vast work of art we know as Yellowstone National Park.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Yellowstone, Day 2

NOTE: This is the 5th of a multi-part series chronicling my family's two week vacation in the summer of 2010.

For links to the entire series, click here.

The time had finally arrived! On this day, we'd make our first hike at Yellowstone. Though our teenage daughters weren't so enthused as my wife and I, our experience at the park was about to enter the next phase. But first, we needed to take care of a few things.

I had promised the girls they could begin the day with a shower, and we needed to wash some clothes. So we headed north to Grant Village, the nearest developed area to our camp site, where we could take advantage of the coin-operated showers and laundry. We passed a couple of hours here as I became ever more anxious to hit the trails. Finally, around 11:00, our chores were finished and we could head out.

The day before, during our semi-sprint to locate a place to pass the night, we had passed numerous interesting attractions in the park. One of these was Mud Volcano, located between Canyon Village and Lake Yellowstone. Our daughters weren't crazy about the idea of spending a lot of time here when the pungent odor of sulfur assaulted their sense of smell. Still, thermal features such as this were new to us so my wife and I were determined to get a closer look.

The wooden boardwalk constructed to allow visitors to work their way up and around the numerous stinking cauldrons here made the walking pretty easy. The warning signs telling us to stay on the walkway explained the dangers of falling through what might be a thin crust concealing more superheated pits just beneath the surface. Illustrations informed us of the potential for a terrible scalding death if one were to stray from the wooden planks and fall through the fragile covering of the hidden subsurface cauldrons.

By the time we left Mud Volcano, hunger pains were informing us it was past lunchtime. Not far north, but beyond the stench of sulfur, we found a crowded picnic area on the bank of the Yellowstone River. God again was looking out for us. As we pulled in, another vehicle pulled out and left us with a vacant slot. We climbed out and noticed all the picnic tables were occupied, but the outdoor diners at a nearby table soon headed for their vehicle as well.

As I busied myself preparing lunch for our crew, we were treated to yet another experience we'll likely never encounter outside the boundaries of Yellowstone. A huge bison lumbered across the highway, oblivious to the passing motorists who swerved and slammed on their brakes to avoid a collision. The gigantic beast galloped right onto the picnic grounds situated on a narrow strip of land bounded on one side by the highway and the other by the river.

Tourists began nervously standing up, apparently preparing to bolt if the animal charged. My wife and 17-year-old broke out their cameras and snapped some photos of the mass of hide and muscle on hooves when he halted his advance. Their window of opportunity didn't stay open long as the beast became agitated when he realized he'd trapped himself among the crowd of two-legged creatures occupying this practical isthmus. They retreated when the bison began dancing, swinging his head and stepping side-to-side. Then as suddenly as he entered our peaceful picnic area, he withdrew to the seclusion offered by the trees across the highway.

Once lunch was over, we hit the road for the trailhead where we would leave the highway and enter Yellowstone's back country for the first time. We had chosen for our first hike the Lost Lake Trail in the Tower Area. This is a 4 mile hike with the trailhead located directly behind Roosevelt Lodge. The trail is well-marked and easy to follow. According to the brochure we'd picked up at the ranger station, this would be a moderately difficult hike. It began with a series of switchbacks climbing roughly 300 feet up a fairly steep forested mountain side. Once we reached the top, the most difficult part of the hike was behind us.

When the trail leveled off, it joined the horse trail leading to the Roosevelt Corral and Tower Campground. We veered to the right here and continued through the forest until we emerged on the banks of Lost Lake, a small body of water nestled in a small mountain valley. The trail continued along the length of the lake and then meandered through the bottom of the valley until we reached the Petrified Tree parking area.

Though the description accompanying our trail map said this trail offered opportunity to spot black bear and other wildlife, we'd yet to spot any at this point. That would soon change but it wouldn't be bison, elk, and bears we'd see on this hike. Instead, smaller animals not shown in the girls' checklists would cross our path.

From the Petrified Tree parking area, the trail took a short but steep climb to a high meadow. As we ascended above the crowded parking lot, we spotted a badger running across the pavement below. Crossing the meadow offered beautiful vistas of the valley below. When we began the descent in the final stage of our hike, we were surprised by a red fox that came trotting down the hillside not 20 feet from us and paying us not the least bit of attention. We didn't get a picture of the fox because we weren't expecting him and didn't have the camera set correctly to shoot a quick picture. This experience taught us to always be prepared with your camera in Yellowstone.

Farther down the mountain, as the terrain transitioned from meadow to forest, a groundhog came running toward us as we approached a large pile of fallen trees. Wondering what possessed the animal to approach rather than retreat, we brought out the camera to photograph the curious spectator. That's when we noticed her babies moving about inside the tangle of trees atop which she lay watching. Her maternal instincts were stronger than her fear of humans and offered us an excellent photo opportunity.

The trail dropped off the mountain behind the Tower Junction ranger station. It emptied right into a lot crowded with small buildings, vehicles, and equipment. Here things were a little confusing because all trail markings ceased to exist once we entered this compound. But only a little confusing because we were in sight of the cabins situated adjacent to Roosevelt Lodge, where we'd embarked upon our hike. Though not certain we were on "the" trail, we made our way back to the vehicle with no trouble at all from here. Our first Yellowstone Hike was complete!

There was still plenty of daylight left, so we decided to drive the loop around the northern part of the park. We still had blessings to receive before the day would wane.

Soon after we passed Tower Junction, the road began climbing. On the left, a mountain rose above us and on the right, an expansive meadow on the floor the valley floor. The car in front of us slowed then stopped, with a long line of vehicles parked in front of it. Both lanes of traffic were blocked as people piled out of vehicles and rushed to peer into the valley below. The object that so fascinated visitors causing them to abandon their vehicles practically before they were fully stopped was far below in the valley--a black bear.

From our parking spot in the middle of the highway, through the trees along the edge of the road, the bear appeared to be thrashing around at the bottom of the long, steep slope that separated us. From outside the vehicle, a less-obstructed view showed us exactly why the bear seemed engaged in some sort of seizure-like dance. His thrashing about was occurring as he tore what appeared to be a small deer to pieces. We were observing a Yellowstone bear devouring a meal!

The bear was so far from us, our not-too-fancy camera wasn't able to get a great shot. But the black spot in the middle of the picture above is the first bear we saw in Yellowstone. This is when we learned that a bear sighting was a really big deal, even in Yellowstone. No other wildlife stopped traffic like that!

Finally, a ranger forced his way in between the cars parked on the highway and motioned to everyone to get moving. We obliged and proceeded toward Mammoth Hot Springs in the northwest corner of the park. It didn't take long before we were stopped again to photograph an awesome example of the abundant wildlife in Yellowstone.

This time, we'd halt for a monstrous bull elk. This creature dwarfed the one that so impressed us our first day in the park. He grazed only yards from the side of the road and never seemed to notice the crowd gathered to add his to their collection of photos. We didn't linger long here and moved on to see what other wonders lay in upper regions of Yellowstone.

Before we reached Mammoth Hot Springs, we stopped once more. Not for wildlife this time, but for another beautiful waterfall alongside the highway. By now, waterfalls were like buffalo to our teenage daughters. They were no longer impressed by either because we'd seen so many in our short visit. But my wife and I were still awed by these marvelous creations sculpted by the hands of our Maker. So she and I made our way to the overlook to take pictures and admire yet another beautiful gift from God.

We left there and made it to the white mountain formed by Mammoth Hot Springs before we stopped. We parked in the lot at the base of the mountain, not realizing how much of a hike it would be to tour the site. Not so far in miles, but from the bottom it wasn't obvious the boardwalk through the site climbed all the way to the top on a meandering, but often steep course. We began our ascent without realizing we'd take more than an hour viewing and photographing the beautiful pools and falls formed by another of Yellowstone's thermal features.

It wasn't until we made it almost all the way to the top that we discovered a road and parking area that would have allowed us to avoid the trek and still see the same beautiful vistas. But the walk through the thermal formations was a lot more rewarding than would have been a drive to the top, and a lot better for us too.

When we finished here, we were nearly as distant from our campsite as was possible and still remain inside the park. It was getting late so we decided to finish our loop and head back. We headed south to Norris where we turned east. According to our map, the road between Norris and Old Faithful was under construction and we could have expected long delays if we'd taken this route. So viewing Yellowstone's most famous feature would have to wait until the next day.

It was a pretty long drive, but we once we made it to Canyon we were back in now familiar territory. Driving through a large open area alongside the Yellowstone River, we were no longer amazed at the numerous bison we saw in the distance. But this drive would offer us another treat that evening, the opportunity to view our first grizzly.

Once again we were alerted to the presence of a bear by the crowd gathered to look. This time though, we pulled into a real parking area alongside the road. Scanning the distant hillside, we saw nothing but more buffalo and a herd of elk. On our side of the river, only bison grazed. We asked a fellow visitor what everyone was looking at and he explained exactly where on the opposite slope to look to see the bear.

The grizzly bear was maybe a mile distant, so a picture wasn't possible. But my family and I were able to view him through binoculars as ambled along the grassy slope above the river. Though we wished we could photograph it, we left thanking the Lord for the opportunity to see the magnificent creature and our daughters checked one more thing off their wildlife list.

We finished the drive to Lewis Lake, made supper, and settled in for the night. Our second day at Yellowstone was a long one, but God had truly blessed us with the opportunity to see so much of its beauty and so many of its inhabitants. We drifted off to sleep, wondering what wonders we'd experience on our last day in the park.