We entered Yellowstone from the north entrance through the city of Gardner aboout a 45-minute drive south from our Montana cottage and a gorgeous drive through Paradise Valley. To get into Yellowstone park from the north you must pass through the Roosevelt Arch, the site where President Roosevelt gave a speech about the beauty and importance of preserving nature for all to enjoy at its completion in 1903.
Our first stop was the Mammoth Hot Springs, a fascinating geological feature of rock carved out into what looks like “stacks of coins (Jonah)” by super hot water coming to the surface from the volcano below.
After leaving the hot springs, we drove back through the Mammoth visitor center area to find that a group of elk had sauntered into the grassy square to find refuge in the shade of the trees. It took us by complete surprise as we drove by and were amazed by how the elk shared the space so naturally with their human guests.
After leaving Mammoth Hot Springs, we enjoyed a quick picnic of stale deli sandwiches at the trail head of the Boiling River swimming area.
The rest of our day was spent sight-seeing and animal watching along the upper loop of the park. A highlight of our animal watching happened by chance as we pulled onto the road to the Petrified Tree only to get a better luck at a couple of bison that were grazing near by.
Since we had made the turn we figurged we might as well find out what the Petrified Tree was all about. After a couple of minutes driving up the road we came upon a traffic jam of automobiles that we correctly assumed could not be to look at an old tree.
This is where we encountered our first glimpse of black bears in their natural environment. Two small black bears were playing in a lush valley and one even treated us to a climbing demonstration as it grappled 30-40 ft into a tree near by.
Throughout the rest of our drive we saw plenty more bison and elk and came across a third black bear playing in the woods.
Time seems to fly by when traveling the long and windy roads through Yellowstone and before we knew it it was late afternoon and we needed to check into our cabin so we could eat and get ready for the rodeo.