Bison ‘grazing’ in Hayden Valley
Comfortable night, was toasty warm and I slept well. It was bitterly cold overnight and I had no desire to get out of my pit until the latest moment. Breakfast was a real treat, fresh fruit, a yummy hot gruel with various dried fruit, bacon and eggs for those that wanted and some caramel pastries to start us off. Normal start time was delayed by half an hour to let the temps warm up a tad.
We decided to go snow shoeing today as I really wanted to see a classic geothermal area framed by blue skies. In our group were John, Blair (brothers), Scott & Jeff (father and son). John and Blair had never been snowshoeing before, it was Blair’s birthday we found out later (when Connie presented a cake with candles after dinner) and I am not sure if he regarded this as a treat or not! For a first timer this was a hard trail to navigate, not helped as his bindings slipped off a couple of times. However, it was a beautiful day and a wonderful experience.
We were not disappointed with our choice. Our trail started on the south rim of the Canyon, broadly opposite the lookout point that we stopped at yesterday to look at the frozen falls. We then headed along the Rim for a while which was great, excellent views of the Canyon and lovely wending through the trees in dappled sunshine. We took a right fork off the trail down to Lily Pad Lake which was just before the Forest Springs thermal area
It was beautiful walking up from the snow covered lake to a large mound venting steam. As we got closer we took off our snowshoes so we could explore the area more easily. The mound turned into a small lake bubbling away. The landscape was classically beautiful, fern ice growing through the ground looking like tendrils of new growth ferns. There were steam vents, mud pots bubbling away, algae in hot streams. We decided to clamber through the deeper snow up to a higher steam vent further up the slope. This was a great choice as it opened up to a more extensive thermal area. We found a large bubbling / boiling mud pot pool where we sat in the sun and had an early lunch. Behind us was another geothermal area featuring lots of rocks capped with snow looking like giant mushrooms.
We still had some energy when we reached the trail junction on our return and agreed to head right (east) carrying along the Rim trail to Sublime Point. Piper (our guide) had to break trail and I was glad when we got to the lookout station as it was fairly hard going. That saying it was worth it for the views down into the Canyon on the way. At spots we could see the Yellowstone River carving its way through the cliffs far below us. Coming back was largely downhill, much easier and given the warm afternoon sunshine a very pleasant hike. We only did 4.5 miles but it felt much longer!
As it was a lovely afternoon Piper offered to drive us down the Hayden Valley for wildlife spotting. We stopped off at the bridge over Yellowstone River at the bottom of the Canyon in the hope of seeing some otters. Saw lots of tracks but no otters.
Instead we were rewarded with views of a herd of bison – which on our return were moving down onto the Grand Loop Road we were travelling along so we had good views of some youngish calves. We were also lucky to spot a bald eagle perched on a snag high above the river below. Apparently a favourite fishing ground. We stopped off to visit Dragons Breath / Mouth and Mud Volcano. Caused amusement among the group given my desire to see mud pots etc. I was in seventh heaven.
See the following link for a nice description of the area https://www.hikespeak.com/trails/mud-volcano-area-yellowstone/
Dragons Breath was a neat hot spring, one could hear the thundering of water swells in the cave behind the opening that we walked up to. At times waves would emerge from the mouth of the cave into a pool at the foot of the opening. The temperature of the spring is 170 F, within the cavern as hot water rises to the surface hydrogen sulphide, carbon dioxide and water vapour gases expand causing a pressure explosion in the cavern. The resulting activity is sloshing, belching and steaming.
Nice way to finish the day. Made time for a hot shower followed by a fun evening, with the rest of our group. They had done a ski to Grebe and Cascade Lakes which as it happened we did the following week.
See below for a video of our day followed by a compilation of photos. Press play to view