Day 6 – Mammoth Hot Springs
Our trip to Yellowstone got started today with a drive to Mammoth Hot Springs, where our tour guide Ben dropped us off at the top of the Hot Springs Terrace so that we could walk down past the thermal features. At Mammoth, a large number of hot springs emerge from a hillside, and these have deposited calcium carbonate, creating a series of travertine terraces. Where the springs are still active, thermophile micro-organisms and algaes create streaks and splashes of colour, but elsewhere the terraces have dried out to a white or light grey colour.
After visiting the terraces, we drove part of the way towards the Lamar Valley, stopping for some pictures of Bison. We then returned to our accommodation for the next two nights at Chico Hot Springs, about 40 minutes drive outside the park. Most of the day was bright and sunny with temperatures remaining below freezing. There was only a small covering of snow at Mammoth Hot Springs village, and Ben explained this was often the case as Mammoth is the lowest part of the park, so rarely receives the deep snowfalls associated with Yellowstone in winter.
After visiting the hot springs, we spotted a couple of Elk grazing close to our coach. We then drove along the Northern Grand Loop Road (the only through road open in Yellowstone in the winter) and along the Blacktail Plateau trail looking for wildlife. On the Grand Loop Road we passed a Large group of Bison, probably females with some young. All the bison images were taken from the coach as despite their usual calm appearance, bison can be fast and dangerous, and the park recommends keeping a minimum of 75ft of separation. Finally, as we left the park on our return to Chico Hot Springs, we came across a small group of Pronghorn Antelope.
Day 7 – The Lamar Valley
This morning we had an early start, being picked up at 6am for the drive back to Yellowstone to pick up our wildlife guide Emil, who looked the part of a proper Mountain Man. The main objective of the day was to view one of the wolf packs in Yellowstone, and we drove to the Lamar Valley in search of the wolves. Along the way, we saw herds of Bison, and a large male moose, but no wolves. The drive to the Lamar Valley also took us through areas of deeper snow, and closer to the mountains on the East side of the Yellowstone Park.
Emil then received some information from another guide about one of the wolf packs,and we returned in the direction of Mammoth for a distant view of the wolves through spotting scopes – unfortunately too distant for photography. Later however we came across a Coyote close to the road. Despite the lack of wolf photography opportunities, Emil gave us a lot of information about the re-introduction of wolves to the park in 1996, and how this has helped balance the Elk population who were destroying young tree shoots. Today the wolf population has balanced at about 100 wolves in the park, spread over 11 wolf packs.
This was the coldest day of the holiday with temperatures at -23ºC early in the morning.