Day 5: Our day started with a strenuous hike to the top of Mount Washburn, a 10,000 foot mountain located smack dab in the middle of the park. The top rewards with spectacular 360 degree views of the entire park - if you can brave the 40 degree drop in temperature! We celebrated at the top with cheap mini-bottles of wine, invoking jealousy from the other hikers. One guy remarked, "You're a genius!" Our next stop was the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, which in many ways, was as impressive as the actual grand canyon. I found the contrast of the turquoise blue river and burnt orange canyon walls especially beautiful. The area we hiked had two large waterfalls, one that was even taller than Niagra Falls. We took a trail called Uncle Tom's Trail, which takes you down over 300 steps to the bottom of the falls. While we struggled our way up, someone asked me "Was it worth it?" My response - "Oh yes! But it still sucks coming back up!"
Day 6: We drove through Lamar Valley in the morning for mostly unsuccessful wildlife watching, although we get caught in a bison related traffic jam. The rest of the day was spent outside the park, driving the scenic Beartooth Highway and Chief Joseph Parkway. The Beartooth Highway curved through the Beartooth mountains, high alpine plateaus, and glacial valleys strewn with rocks and icy clear lakes. One overlook was so gorgeous, it literally brought a tear to my eye. Chief Joseph Highway was named for Chief Joseph, a legendary Nez Perce chief who took this route in a fighting retreat from the US Army in 1877. The road started just outside Yellowstone over what seemed like a massive canyon, but as we wound our way up the nearby mountains, the canyons, lakes and rock formations that once seemed so enormous, were dwarfed by the elevation. The mountains slowly slipped away and eventually we found ourselves in wide open plains interrupted by random, orange juts of rock spiking out of the ground. We stopped for a quick dinner in Cody, Wyoming, a cute little town that's all about it's old west heritage, then drove back to Yellowstone through the 50 million year old Absaroka mountains. Once back in the park, we watched sunset over Lake Yellowstone and made it to Hayden Valley at dusk, just in time to see wolves, recently reintroduced to the area, hunting an elk. Okay, so all we saw was a dot chasing another dot cause it was so far away, but still very cool!