We woke up the next morning for a full day of exploring Yellowstone. "Bright and early," as they say, since it's impossible to sleep too long in a tent once the sun comes up. After a quick but tasty breakfast, we were on our way.
The Grand Loop road runs a figure 8 pattern around the entire park, so we started on it north with some destinations in mind and a more general plan to stop anywhere that looked interesting.
A common sight in Yellowstone National Park is that of a half dozen cars pulled off on the side of the road in some random spot. Usually, this means people have spotted some kind of wildlife and are seizing a photo opportunity. (Though we concluded that the people in the car from New Jersey were stopping to play in the snow.) We quickly came upon someone stopped for a bison and pulled over to join them. It turns out that whether or not you stop for one or two bison is a sign of how long you've been at Yellowstone. By the end of that day -- and countless sightings later -- even a full herd wasn't necessarily enough to warrant a stop. But at that point, we were still early in our tour.
Within a mile or two, the road curved to follow the path of the Yellowstone River as it flowed north from the Lake, and that soon brought us to our next unplanned stop, the LeHardy Rapids. It's the first point north of Yellowstone Lake where the waters are something other than serene.
Onward north, to our first intended destination, the Mud Volcano. It's an area of features with sinister, fantasy-setting names. The Dragon Mouth Spring is a seething, hissing cave one could imagine a creature inside.
The Sour Lake is among the most acidic water anywhere in the park.
And yet we didn't quite get the full gurgling mud experience we were hoping for. Both the Black Dragon's Cauldron and the Mud Volcano itself were a bit more water than mud. (Fortunately, later in the trip, we'd find more what we had in mind.
Still, the view was amazing...
...and there was a fun encounter with wildlife that was hanging out in the area near the boardwalk.
After walking around the area for about an hour, we hopped back in the truck and continued north. Within a few minutes, Yellowstone showed off just how like the Genesis Planet (from the Star Trek movies) it could be: you could be in one kind of environment, then just a few miles later be in something completely different. The mostly stark Mud Volcano gave way to the lush Hayden Valley.
And then, just a few miles further north, we'd arrive at the stunning Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone...