CDT 2021: Day 123, Lava Creek Campsite to Gardner’s Hole Campsite

Somebody calls you, you answer quite slowly

Walking away from Mammoth Hot Springs

Today was our last full day in Yellowstone National Park. It was also our last full day in Wyoming. By the end of tomorrow, we'll be leaving the park and entering Montana.

We spent a short amount of time in Montana yesterday without realizing we crossed the state line. When we followed the Yellowstone River Trail after leaving Hellroaring Creek, it took us briefly into Montana before we re-entered Wyoming to cross the river.

DateFriday, August 13, 2021
WeatherMostly sunny; temperatures from upper-40s to mid-80s
Trail ConditionsRolling hills and short sections of road walking
Today's Miles11.4
Trip Miles1784.7

It's exciting to think about being so close to Montana because it's our last state on the CDT before reaching the Canadian border. We will not go into Idaho, however. The Big Sky/Super Butte Alternate we've been following does not go through that state. The official route barely does, so we're not missing much.

Near the confluence of Gardner River and Lava Creek

Top O' and I left our campsite at 6:30 a.m. We followed Lava Creek for less than 1.5 miles before arriving where it flowed into Gardner River.

A nearby bridge standing high above the river brought traffic into Mammoth Hot Springs on the Grand Loop Road. Construction of the first bridge here started in 1903. It eliminated nearly 2,000 feet of a road section that was considered too dangerous for the horse teams that pulled wagons on the road.

The bridge was replaced in the mid-1930s by the current one, which was better suited for automobiles.

A footbridge over Garner River

Hikers cross the river downstream on a small, steel suspension bridge. Soon after I got to the other side I became confused about where to go next. The trail shown on the map didn't appear to exist, or it wasn't where I thought it should be.

After a few minutes of searching for the trail, I gave up and bushwhacked my way to a road that would take me into Mammoth Hot Springs.

A lone, elk

The lone elk I passed offered me no help to find my way. It seemed lost too.

seismic monitoring station at Mammoth Hot Springs

The road I followed was used for park operations. I first passed a storage area for equipment, then a seismic monitoring station. Seeing where earthquake tremors are logged was a reminder of Yellowstone's unstable geologic history.

The park is one of the most seismically active areas in the country. Between 700 to 3,000 earthquakes are recorded in the Yellowstone area each year, though most are not felt by humans.

The small quakes are caused by many underground faults that have resulted from volcanic and tectonic activity. With all of the hydrothermal activity that goes on here, the small, periodic tremors are helpful because they relieve pressure. Without them, the hot water released from geysers and hot springs could remain sealed underground, building pressure before it would be released in a large explosion.

More than half of the park is covered by what is known as the Yellowstone Caldera. It is sometimes called a supervolcano.

Our route through the park didn't cross the caldera, though if it were to explode while we were here, we'd certainly know about it. Volcanologists say an eruption by the caldera would be thousands of times more powerful than your garden variety volcano.

Three eruptions have already occurred. One was 2.1 million years ago, another one was 1.3 million years ago, and the most recent one was 664,000 years ago. If the caldera were to erupt again, the result would be cataclysmic for a wide part of the U.S.

Nevertheless, Dr. Jacob B. Lowenstern, who served for 15 years as scientist-in-charge of the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory, calls the Yellowstone Caldera a dormant volcano. He says there is no reason to believe an eruption is about to happen anytime soon.

Housing for park rangers

My route through the administrative areas of Mammoth Hot Springs also took me past an elementary school, houses, and dormitories for park rangers, staff, and their families.

I then walked through a campground filled with popup trailers and RVs.

Mammoth Hot Springs Post Office

I arrived at the central part of Mammoth Hot Springs at 9 a.m. This area was called Fort Yellowstone when it was the headquarters for the U.S. Army's administration of the park.

The first building was constructed in 1891, with several more to be built in later years for officer and non-commissioned officer quarters, enlisted men barracks, horse stables, and administrative headquarters. By 1910, 324 soldiers were stationed here, along with some families and civilian employees.

As I walked down the street, a pickup truck passed me, and I heard a female voice shout, “Gravity!” I turned to wave and tried to see who was in the truck, but it was already too far past me.

I wondered at first if maybe it was Beer Goddess who yelled my name but then realized the truck was an official park service vehicle. The person who shouted my name had to have been Ranger Kim, who must have remembered me from when we met yesterday.

Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel

Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel was on the road I followed. This was the first of Yellowstone's grand hotels. It began as the National Hotel from 1883 to 1904.

Developers and investors were still trying to wrestle control of the park during this time. They might have been successful if not for the action taken by Lt. Gen. Philip Sheridan.

Sheridan had become so alarmed by the park's vandalism and commercial development, plus the neglect shown by the government, he organized a tour in 1883 for President Chester A. Arthur. It was the first visit to Yellowstone by a U.S. president and the farthest west any president had traveled at that time.

The tour Sheridan organized was successful in raising awareness of the park's exploitation and mismanagement. It demonstrated to the president how close the country was to lose the park.

President Arthur's visit resulted in new attention put on Yellowstone concession contracts, which were sharply curtailed. Plans to build a railroad through the park were ended.

The hotel's owners went bankrupt in 1886.

After I walked past the hotel, I came to a large restaurant but discovered it was closed. It was operating with limited hours and services because of COVID-19 restrictions and related staffing issues. Top O' and I decided to stay until it opened at 11:30 a.m. to buy lunch.

While we waited, I walked next door to what was called a general store. Although the inventory consisted mostly of souvenirs, t-shirts, ice cream, and other snacks, some groceries were also sold there. I did surprisingly well at resupplying. I only needed to add a little to what I still had on hand, and the store had a sufficient variety of items.

I also wanted to buy a birthday card for my wife but had to settle on a generic Yellowstone-themed card. Then I walked to the post office to mail the card. Her birthday wasn't for a couple more weeks, but I figured this would be my only opportunity to find a card and a post office before then.

Besides the card, I bought an envelope and a stamp, then mailed the cabin key I inadvertently took from Pahaska Teepee.

Leaving Mammoth Hot Springs

Our lunch at the restaurant wasn't worth the wait. My bratwurst was mediocre.

We saw Hollywood again while we were eating, however. This was the first time we bumped into him since we left Pahaska Teepee on Day 119.

He left with us when we began hiking again. Mammoth Hot Springs had become crowded with tourists by now. We elected to not follow a route that went on boardwalks over a series of travertine terraces.

The terraces were formed from the largest known carbonate-depositing spring in the world. Going that way would require negotiating our way through too many people, so we decided to take a side trail instead, then a road around the terraces.

Mammoth Hot Springs terraces

Our route wasn't nearly as noteworthy as the terraces but was much faster. With COVID-19 still a health threat, it seemed like steering clear of tourists was a wise move.

We were still able to see the terraces on the route we took. The white calcium carbonate deposits looked like sheets of ice and snow. Now and then there was a steam vent or pool of hot water. Trees were blackened by the hot flow that cooled to a white crust.

Mammoth Hot Springs terraces

We soon got a closer look at this bleak landscape. Although we skipped the boardwalk route filled with tourists, I felt like I still had a chance to experience this unusual geologic feature of the park.

If we had remained on the official CDT north through the park, we would have missed the terraces but walked past Old Faithful, the famous geyser that erupts about 20 times a day. That is the most popular spot in the park and is usually jam-packed with tourists. I was not sorry we didn't go that way.

Leaving Mammoth Hot Springs

We eventually found our way to the Snow Pass Trail. It led us away from the terraces and in the direction we needed to go to reach our next campsite.

Soon after we started walking on the trail, we met some young men out for a long day hike. They told us they were employed in the park and loved their jobs. They used their time off to explore the park.

We lost track of Hollywood when we stopped to talk to the park employees.

Mormon cricket

The trail had many ups and downs, and the temperature was much warmer than we had experienced in the last few days.

When I passed a Mormon cricket, I was unsure if it was alive. It stood motionless on the trail and didn't jump away when I approached it.

Mormon crickets are not true crickets. They are flightless and voracious eaters, though they are picky about the type of plants they eat. I figured the one I saw was dead because it wasn't eating anything and was standing on the dry trail, away from vegetation.

Gardner's Hole

As we continued walking across a wide sagebrush field, I could see Gardner's Hole, which is a landlocked subalpine basin. It is named after Johnson Gardner, a fur trapper who claimed to have found the hole in the early 1830s.

Gardner’s Hole is reported to be a favorable place for seeing black bears and grizzlies.

Smokey sky

Besides the hole, the other thing I noticed was how smokey the sky had become today. It was relatively clear earlier today and for most of yesterday. This view told me the fires we were walking around were still not contained.

Trilobite Point (10,010 feet), Mount Holmes (10,336 feet), Antler Peak (10,068 feet), and Quadrant Mountain (10,218 feet) were all standing between two and five miles away from me, but they looked farther than that because of the smokey air.

Tents in Gardner's Hole Campsite

We made another turn to follow Fawn Pass Trail, which led us to our campsite. We arrived there at 5:30 p.m. Once again we had a site to ourselves. This one happened to be even nicer than last night's site. It was large and flat.

elk skulls in Gardner's Hole Campsite

The site was decorated with a couple of elk skulls. The antlers were intact.

Antler Peak, which I saw on the approach to the campsite, was given that name in 1885 by Arnold Hague on a surveying expedition. He gave the mountain that name because of the number of elk and deer antlers that had been shed there.

Gardner River

Our campsite was next to Gardner River, the same river we crossed before arriving this morning in Mammoth Hot Springs. It was also named after Johnson Gardner, the fur trapper. Like the Lamar River, which we camped near on Day 119, all of the Gardner is located within Yellowstone National Park.

I was a little concerned a few days ago about whether I was beginning to run low on energy. Then I had a brief, mystery illness the next day. Now I feel completely fine.

Better still, it looks like my hike is about to get a lot easier.

Picture yourself a boat on a river
With tangerine trees and marmalade skies
Somebody calls you, you answer quite slowly
A girl with kaleidoscope eyes

Cellophane flowers of yellow and green
Towering over your head
Look for the girl with the sun in her eyes
And she's gone

Lucy in the sky with diamonds
Lucy in the sky with diamonds
Lucy in the sky with diamonds, ah, ah


"Nothing to tell now. Let the words be yours, I'm done with mine."ref.