Beartooth Pass, outside of Red Lodge, MT: Highway 212 switchbacks its way up the side of this canyon as it climbs over five-thousand feet in less than 19 miles. Even with several years of mountain-driving experience, I feel moments of vertigo negotiating the dozens of hairpin turns.
Satterlee Pond, Beartooth National Wilderness, WY: Wind churns the surface of Satterlee Pond while Picas chirp from the boulder fields. As I approach Beartooth Pass, the road winds out of the forest of lodgepole pine and into soft, mossy tundra similar to what what one might find within the Arctic Circle.
Satterlee Pond, Beartooth National Wilderness, WY: The granite exposed at the top of Beartooth Pass is some of the oldest on Earth, dating back 2 billion years. Hearty wildflowers spring up through the rocky ground, adding color to even the starkest stone outcrops.
Lamar Valley, Yellowstone National Park, WY: Highway 212 drops into Cooke City, MT, then descends into the Lamar Valley in Yellowstone Park. The valley is one of the most ecologically diverse areas of the Park and a prime location for spotting bear, elk, bison, coyotes, and wolves. Tourists and wildlife biologists crowd together along roadside pullouts scanning for the valley's more elusive animals.
Lamar Valley, Yellowstone NP, WY: A now-dormant geyser cone stands at the head of the Lamar Valley with Norris Mountain and The Thunderer in the background. Building storm clouds threaten to bring rain to the valley.
West Thumb Geyser Basin, Yellowstone NP, WY: The odor of Sulfur hangs heavy in the air and clouds of steam wet my skin as I stare into the depths of this hot spring. The vibrant colors of the hot springs often contrast with the stark, barren soil that surrounds them.
West Thumb Geyser Basin, Yellowstone NP, WY: Kayakers glide past runoff from one of the hot springs near Yellowstone Lake, America's biggest mountain lake. The mountains on the far side show the edge of the vast volcanic caldera, a crater so large that the lake only takes up one quarter of the area.
West Thumb Geyser Basin, Yellowstone NP, WY: Paddlers check out a dormant geyser a few feet off shore. The thermal features and high sediment temperatures suggest a shallow geothermal network here kept in check by the lake's cold waters. If the water level of the lake were to drop even a few feet, a major hydrothermal explosion could create another crater like the ones that make up Mary Bay and Indian Pond to the north which formed the same way.
Artist Paint Pots, Yellowstone NP, WY: The boardwalk seems on the verge of collapsing into this mostly underground hot spring. As impressive as the geysers and hot springs are, there are even more impressive forces going down below. The super-volcano that fuels these features is pushing up on the surface once again, building pressure and threatening the same type of catastrophic explosion that formed Yellowstone's 45 mile caldera.
Next leg: Back into Montana – Red Lodge through Bozeman