Tour de Detour (USA Day 73)
Maybe it was obvious in yesterday’s blog, but we were pretty conflicted last night about leaving the park without seeing any violent wildlife. Late, late in the evening, we put the conversation to bed, banning all further talk of whether we should change our route.
Well, we woke up even less sure than how we’d left it. Instead of getting up to cycle the hundred planned miles to our hosts near Ennis, we sat in our tent, fretting about what manner of regret we’d feel, and if we’d ever get a chance to come back and see the rest of the park. Hours later, after frantic phone calls and map study and bargaining, the decision was made. We’re going on a three-day loop of Yellowstone, and you can’t do anything about it.
I hate to spoil the conclusion of the blog here, but I’m not sure we’ve ever made a better decision in our lives.
A minute after we left the campground travelling northeast, not west, we came across a small herd of massive Bison, all shaggy front legs and massive helmet-faces, grunting repetitively and licking the air with these stiff grey tongues. After that the forest opened up for the first time in earnest since entering Yellowstone, revealing huge aromatic hillsides of sagebrush and wild flowers, canyons that dropped forever into glittering streams, strange rock formations that teetered on the edges of cliffs like a Roadrunner cartoon.
Our road into Mammoth took the prize for World’s best descent. Plunging thousands of feet on the edge of a canyon, you pass through layers of moonrock, pine forest and sulphur-stained rock that steamed and bubbled, with a constant view off to the right of a gargantuan yellow hillside with tiny volcanic streams that fed down to the Gardner river. By the time we’d navigated the final switchback and tumbled into Mammoth’s touristic streets we were both giggling. None of it felt real.
On the other side of the town, down another eye-popping descent, lay the natural phenomenon of the Boiling River Hot Springs (two missions in two days complete, both set us by Charlie and Amy). Here, a stream emerges from deep underground and feeds into the Gardner river, creating a natural jacuzzi. We picked our way tentatively into the torrent of crystal-clear water, aware that stepping too far to the left would scald our legs, but too far right would whisk us off our feet with the current. Eventually we found our perfect place, a Goldilocks fantasy of temperatures, where hot replaced cold every second, often merging into a pleasant bath-warm, all the while pummeling our tired shoulders better than any lousy masseur ever could.
Shortly after I’d climbed out, a family of four elk climbed in to join Amy, lapping at the water and squeaking at each other. They didn’t seem bothered at all by Amy’s presence, which is impressive.
Inevitably, what goes down must come up, so we hefted ourselves back up the cliff to Mammoth, and then, already exhausted, attacked the final twenty miles to Tower Falls, which looked pretty simple on the map given the similar altitudes of the two towns, but actually comprised thousands of feet of climbing, up and down the most incredible canyons and river valleys. We gasped, we moaned, we failed to put into words how beautiful it all was, and we took absolutely no pictures because a thunderstorm chased us all the way.
We made it unscathed and unsogged, but with four thousand feet of climbing under our belts for a relatively short day. Now on the opposite side of the park, but amongst so much more of what we’ve come here to see, we’re absolutely thrilled. And we still have two days left before we re-join the TAT.
Today: 58 Miles
Total: 3,437 Miles