We will spend our second day in Yellowstone entirely on the northern Grand Loop Road. Through the Norris Geyser Basin we will head to Mommoth Hot Springs and Tower-Roosevelt.
You can find the first day of sightseeing in Yellowstone, together with weather and lodging information here:
Norris Geyser Basin
Norris Basin is going to be our first stop of the day. Here you will have to walk 2.5 miles (3,6 km) on wooden walkways. Norris Basin consists of two parts. The first one is the Black Basin and there are no exceptionally spectacular geothermal formations here, but there are some that do deserve some attention.
From the parking lot we first go left. Right at the beginning it is worth to stop at the Emerald Spring. Just as the name suggests, it is dyed to a greenish-emerald color. The water filters the sunlight producing a blue color, which then reflects from the yellow sulpfur at the bottom, producing this green tint.
Slightly further, on the right, you will pass the Steamboat Geyser. It currently holds the record for being the highest erupting geyser in the world. Its eruption reaches over 300 feet (91 m) high. Unfortunately you have to be extremely lucky to witness it. The geyser goes off very irregularly, sometimes with 4, and sometimes 50 days between eruptions. It is thus very unpredictable (small 3-12 meter high eruptions happen from time to time). But it is worth a shot, perhaps it will be your lucky day…
Going further we reach the Echinus Geyser. It looks as it was just another colorful lake. In the past it used to erupt regularly every several dozen minutes, but now it is highly unpredictable and the eruptions happen very rarely. Echinus is the largest known sour-water geyser in the world. Its water is almost as sour as vinegar. It is perhaps fortunate that it doesn’t erupt too frequently, as it is located very close to the walkway and in case of an eruption there is a risk of getting marinated. Sour geysers are extremely rare, and the Norris Geyser Basin has the biggest number of them in the world.
Porcelain Basin is the second part of the Norris Basin. First we will pass the constantly steaming Fumaroles. The entire hill looks as if it was boiling. Later we descend towards a couple of pastel-blue springs. You should also go and see the Whirligig Geyser while you are at the Norris Basin. Although this geyser recently stopped being active, its vivid colors are worth seeing. In addition to the common yellows and oranges, there are also lime-green stripes produced by algae living in the water.
The road to Mommoth Hot Springs
Mommoth Hot Springs are going to be our next destination. This is one of my favorite spots in the entire park. The Roaring Mountain, that we will be passing on our right, will be a little foreshadowing of what awaits us further down the road. It is a completely white mountain with no vegetation at all, covered in fumaroles. Fumaroles are hot effluviums that release gasses from volcanic crevices. They include water vapor and gasses such as sulfur, carbon dioxide, chlorine, hydrogen sulfide. Because of geothermal activity, this mountain constantly produces a range of hissing, groaning and buzzing sounds. This is why it is called the Roaring Mountain.
Further down the Grand Loop Road you will pass the Obsidian Cliffs – a precipice created by lava. Obsidian Cliffs are not really that spectacular, the Sheepeater Cliff is much more worthy of our attention. To get here we must drive off from the main road to the right just behind the Indian Creek Campground. The road will be marked only by a “road narrows” caution sign and nothing else. After a short ride you will reach a parking just next to the cliffs. From here you can take a walk along the Gardiner River with a view of meadows filled with all kinds of wildlife. Sheepeater Cliffs are built from basalt columns in hexagonal shape. They were created as a result of lava congealing. They are very similar to those located in Devils Postpile. If you have never visited this park, I highly recommend you to do so. After the walk you can eat your lunch on picnic tables with a view of the river.
Right before our destination you will pass through the Golden Gate Canyon. The road through the canyon leads via a spectacular mountain slope supported by concrete props.
Mommoth Hot Springs
You will have to drive for about 22 miles to reach the Mommoth Hot Springs from Norris Basin, which should take you approximately 45 minutes without any stops. At our destination you will be immediately greeted by the Liberty Cap. It is a cone created by the flow of hot water, which over time accumulated layers of travertine. It kept growing as long as there was a water source. Now water no longer flows out of the cone and it does not further alter its shape. Right in front of the Liberty Cap there is a large parking, where I’d recommend you to leave your car.
Mommoth Hot Springs is a complex of travertine terraces created by hot water accumulating calcium carbonite throughout thousands of years. Calcium carbonite is the main ingredient of travertine, limestone and chalk.
You can begin your tour by stopping at the Opal Terrace, which is located on the opposite side of the parking and the rest of the terraces. Its name is a reference to the incredible pastel-blue water which gathers on travertine steps If you have little time you can skip it, the main terraces are much more spectacular.
We now go to the other side and begin with the Lower Terrace. This is probably the most interesting and the prettiest part of the terraces. A walk on wooden walkways is around 1.5 miles (2,5km) long and will take you about an hour. Everything here is absolutely breathtaking, with every step you submerge into a surrealistic landscape, which looks as if it was taken straight from a fantasy movie.
The Palette Spring is exceptionally worthy of your attention. It is a colorful hill with terraces, with the Devil’s Thumb, a grey cone created by a hot spring, located right next to it. Palette Springs is also a place known for its high activity of thermophilic bacteria, which dye the travertine yellow, orange and brown. In my opinion, this is the most beautiful spot in Mommoth Hot Springs.
Further down the road you will see travertine terraces mythologically and anciently named Minerva, Cleopatra and Jupiter Terraces. I think that the Minerva Terrace is the prettiest here. The whole walk will lead on elevated wooden walkways built out of planks. Unfortunately there are often large spans between the planks so be careful not to drop anything. I myself managed to drop my camera lens cover here, which of course had to slip through a gap and fall into a hot stream, which slowly started carrying it towards the Pacific Ocean. Luckily my brother’s son, Miłosz, who is not only fit but also can keep kalm , jumped down and managed to grab the cover and climb back up. He received a cheerful applause from other tourists, who were eagerly waiting to see the result of this struggle, thinking that he would surely boil.
Now passing through the Main Terraces we head towards the Canary Spring. This is one of the most beautiful places in the entire Mommoth Springs, because here together with the well-known terraces you can also see a number of dead trees. The black logs beautifully contrast with the white of the travertine.
Now the only thing we have left to see are the Upper Terraces and you need to chose if you want to do it by car or by foot. Upper Terraces are entwined by a one way car loop called the Upper Terrace Loop Drive, but there is also a walkway, which gives you the possibility to go for a walk. If you choose the walk you can continue going on foot from the Canary Spring. If you prefer to do it by car you will have to walk back to the parking and enter the Upper Terrace Loop Drive from the Grand Loop Road.
We chose to drive, which might not have been the best of ideas. We kept spotting beautiful places too late to safely stop the car, and we had to do the loop again and again, as there was no possibility of turning back. You should definitely stop at the New Highland Terrace, where you will see a forest of dead trees growing out of the travertine surface. This place has a strong apocalyptic feel to it. Further it is worth to see the Orange Spring Mound (we even managed to bring our car to a stop here), a beautiful hill, created by water leaking from inside of it. Right next to it we have the Tangerin Spring, which was born in the same way. Both springs are a mandatory stop. Further you will pass the Bath lake, which is usually dry, and the White Elephant Black Terrace. You can skip both of them. At the end of the ride you will arrive at the Angel Terrace, a terrace as white as snow which makes it highly photogenic.
Na koniec zwiedzania Mommoth Hot Springs możemy zajrzeć do Albright Visitor Center, znajdującego się w jednym z budynków historycznego Fortu Yellowstone.
Something about the Mommoth Hot Springs
The terraces are constantly evolving. Their shape changes relatively to thermal activity of the underground waters. When the activity increases or decreases, the terraces can loose their colors, as the bacteria responsible for them loose the environment that they require to survive. The same terraces can look very differently after a few years.
Mommoth Hot Springs is a subject of intensive biological and even astrobiological research. The organisms that can be found here are a representation of the earliest existing life forms on Earth. Here many scientists study the paths of evolution, and analyze the possibilities for extra-terrestrial life to exist.
Now you will have to choose: you can either leave Wyoming and head to Montana to see the Roosevelt Arch, or keep going down the Grand Loop Road towards the area of the park called the Tower-Roosevelt. The drive to Montana will take you no more than 15 minutes, as it is only 5 miles away, and you will reach Gardiner – a town established in 1880 which used to serve as a base for tourists visiting Yellowstone. At that time huge crowds of one thousand of them would come to Yellowstone every year. 😉
In 1903 railroads reached Yellowstone. The tourists were finally able to disembark on a train station and they kept sightseeing the park on horses. None of the railroads reaching Yellowstone survived to this day, as they had all been demolished.
Roosevelt Arch is one of the most famous landmarks in Yellowstone. It was built in 1903 to thank President Roosevelt for the establishment of the national park, but also to commemorate all of his other contributions. The construction was overseen by the military stationed in Fort Yellowstone, and the President himself placed the cornerstone. A time capsule containing a bible, a local newspaper and a picture of Roosevelt had also been placed there. At the top of the arch it states: “For the Benefit and Enjoyment of the People”, and the park serves this purpose up to this day.
I personally think that you should go and see this arch, but we ourselves were not too excited about it, as wee stayed in a hotel right next to it, and after driving underneath it we focused solely on how not to fall into a hole in our room’s floor.
No matter if you took a trip to Montana or not, we now head towards the Tower-Roosevelt. The Undine Falls are going to be our first stop. This is a very scenic waterfall with a couple of cascades. You can already see it from the parking lot. You can reach the waterfall itself by going on a 8.7 mile (14 km) hike both ways. We did not go there, but I feel like it wouldn’t be worth it. Still, there are some waterfalls in Yellowstone which are definitely worth a 15 mile (25 km) hike, which can rise up to 18.5 miles (30 km) if you get lost, but I will write about them in future posts. 😉
One mile further, on the other side of the road, the Wraith Falls are located. You can reach them after a short 0.8 mile (1,3km) hike both ways. During our visit here in August the waterfall almost disappeared , with only small water streams dripping from the rocks. If you are not visiting in spring or early summer I suggest skipping these falls.
And Perhaps you would like to see a bear?
Now a little insider tip – in a moment we will be passing through a place, where it is said that you are guaranteed to meet a bear. After a 2.8 mile drive, right behind the Blacktail Creek trailhead, you will notice a parking lot covered in rubble, and behind it – infinite meadows. These meadows are said to be a popular place among bears. So let us go for a walk and look around, bringing binoculars might be a good idea.
We ourselves didn’t even need to look around. What is the most obvious sign of bear presence? A park ranger’s car. If you happen to notice a park ranger car parked at the side of the road, you can be almost certain that next to it you will find a bear. This is a well-known fact among tourists, so the area around the ranger’s car is usually quickly filled with tourist vehicles. This was the case for us, there were both the bear and the ranger. It was taking a walk on the meadow, and later it climbed a tree and posed beautifully for pictures.
In our case the visit here payed off and I hope that you will be lucky as well. But keep in mind that bears are dangerous animals and you have to watch them from a distance. When you are going into the wild be sure to equip yourself with a bear spray and learn how to use it. In case a bear starts charging at you, you will not have time to read the manual. Generally, when you can clearly see that the animal intends to attack, grab your spray, unlock it, and release it in the bear’s direction, aiming below its head. You should always carry your spray on your belt, as it has to be easily accessible. Searching for it inside your backpack is an easy way to try out your medical insurance.
Now we will be heading towards the Calcite Spring Overlook. A short trail measuring 0,25 miles (0,4 km) both ways will take you to the ridge of the Yellowstone River Canyon. There is a viewing platform at the end of the trail. From here you will have a beautiful view of the yellow cliffs, the emerald river and the hydrothermal springs dyeing the colorful canyon walls. A row of basalt columns decorates the upper canyon walls. The view from the Calcite Spring Overlook is a subject of many paintings.
The Overhanging Cliff is going to be our next stop. It is a canyon slope with basalt columns unveiled by erosion. The pretties view awaits at the other side of the road. From here we have a panorama of the canyon and Yellowstone River . The walls of the canyon are decorated with rows of hexagonal columns.
The Tower Fall will be our last stop of the day. You should stop at a large parking lot in front of the Tower Fall General Store. Here we have a fairly large viewing platform with an excellent view of the 130 feet (40 m) high waterfall. What is exceptionally charming about this cascade are the volcanic columns looking like stone teeth, from between which the waterfall flows. The Tower Fall got its name from one of those stone teeth. It once stood right at the beginning of the cascade but in 1986 it fell down. After leaving the viewing platform you will have the possibility to take a 1 mile (1,6 km) trail descending to the Yellowstone River, but it is a steep trail, as you will have to beat 230 feet (70 m) of elevation change. Given that nothing amazing awaits at down at canyon, as the trail to the bottom of the waterfall has been closed by the park, you can skip this walk.
Now we head back to our base of operations via the eastern side of the loop. We will be passing through the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, so if you missed somethig the last day, you can catch up now.
In the next post I will describe the third day in Yellowstone and I will prepare a sightseeing plan for people with only 2 days to spare for a visit.
You can find day 3 of visiting Yellowstone here: