Church Trip 2023

Yellowstone National Park

Day 13

Today was our last full day in Yellowstone National Park, and the last full day of our trip out west. It’ll be bittersweet to head home; it’s been a great trip, but we are all very tired.


Early this morning, we woke up in Canyon Village, scraped the frost off our windshield, and drove back to the Canyon Eatery to get some breakfast from the cafeteria. It was pretty typical for a cafeteria breakfast, reminiscent of a camp meal you might’ve had sometime in years past. While not amazing by any means, it was satisfying, and most importantly, convenient.

Hayden Valley

Leaving Canyon Village, we decided we’d try to drive south back to Mud Volcano, where there was an elk carcass across the river – hoping we might spot a bear. As we passed through the Hayden Valley, we were greeted by a stunning sunrise over the frosted landscape.

Unfortunately, when we arrived at Mud Volcano, it was so foggy you could barely see you hand in front of your face, let alone across the river. There was a huge crowd waiting, hoping that the fog would lift. Someone mentioned a grizzly had shown up for about 5 minutes the night before, but then disappeared back into the woods.

Thinking the fog might break after 30 minutes or so, we opted to kill some time by continuing our drive south, stopping at LeHardy Rapids. The geothermal-heated water offers a refuge for birds to warm themselves in the river. Many waterfowl gather here; this morning it was primarily Canadian Geese.

Leaving the rapids, we turned around and headed back north, but the fog was still thick at Mud Volcano, so we decided to move on. We continued north into the heart of the Hayden Valley, stopping to enjoy the landscape adorned by the waning fog and morning light.

Mount Washburn

Continuing north on the Grand Loop Road, we drove the Chittenden Road up Mount Washburn. We’d thought about hiking to the top from the parking area, but it was so windy and cold, we decided it was best to skip it. It was so windy that I could barely stand to be outside of the car to take pictures. The views from the end of the road were magnificent; it was an exceptionally clear day, probably because of the high winds.

Dunraven Pass

On the other side of Mount Washburn and the Dunraven Pass, we noticed another small crowd looking through spotting scopes. We stopped, and saw they were observing the same wolf pack down in the Antelope Valley. This time, the wolves appeared to be napping in the meadows down below. If you look closely at the pictures, you can see their silhouettes in the grass, far in the valley below.

Calcite Springs Overlook

Next, we stopped at Calcite Spring Overlook again, because Mom and Dad didn’t get out of the car last time, and Faith and I told them they should definitely go see the view. I meandered down to the lower levels of the overlook to get a slightly different view.


We turned west at Tower Junction, and drove to Gardiner, MT to seek lunch. As we drove into town, we noticed a large elk herd at the Roosevelt Arch, so we stopped to take some pictures of them and drive through the arch one more time.


For lunch, we headed to Wonderland Cafe, the source of yesterday’s scones. We’d hoped to eat here for dinner, but realized it wouldn’t work out with our schedule if we wanted to see a final sunset in the park.

To start, Faith got a Caesar salad, Mom got an organic salad with honey-lime cilantro dressing, and I got a bowl of the wild game chili (bison, elk, jalapeño corn bread, maple infused mascarpone, roasted jalapeños, and a dash of powdered sugar). The chili was exceptionally good – maybe the best I’ve ever had, but was quite spicy. My lips were bright red after eating it! Faith and Mom both loved their salads. It was great to have a solid meal after last night’s food fiasco.

For the main course, we all got burgers. Mom, Faith, and I got  “Montana Burgers”, with white cheddar, local bacon, a fried onion ring, and huckleberry barbecue sauce. Dad got a “Wonderland Burger”, with white cheddar, basil aioli, lettuce, tomato, and onion. All were very good.

We all got some coffees to go from Wonderland. Overall, the meal was excellent, and I would definitely go back.

Wonderland Cafe & Lodge
Gardiner, MT

Excellent restaurant, bakery, and coffee bar with a simple menu. Be sure to try to wild game chili!

* – Would definitely visit again

** – Exceptional, must visit if you’re in the area

*** – Worth making a special trip to eat there

For more info on food ratings, click here.

Mammoth Hot Springs

After lunch, we drove up to Mammoth Hot Springs, and drove through the scenic loop around the Upper Terrace. Faith and I took Walker and walked down the boardwalks towards the Mammoth General Store, where we caught up with Mom and Dad.

At the bottom of the lower terraces, we saw a large bull elk lounging by the Liberty Cap. See if you can spot him in the photos below.


Down at Mammoth, we got somewhat trapped by an elk herd on the lawn of a house right next to the general store and restrooms. The bull had begun to move his herd to new pasture, which, we learned, was quite the process. He’ll roam around and rally the cows, who will in turn rally the calves, and the whole herd will move on to their next destination. Many of the cows are stubborn and don’t want to go, so it takes a while. The bull will begin by bugling to alert the herd, but if verbal cues don’t work, he’ll begin prodding the stubborn ones until they get up and start moving.

Traffic is often held up by elk and bison herds, and there are rangers specifically assigned to the elk herds in Mammoth this time of year, when the elk are close to their rut, and are thus more aggressive than normal. There were three rangers with bullhorns and radios managing the crowd around this particular herd. One of the rangers told us there are almost 400 vehicle/large animal incidents in Yellowstone annually, and that people frequently wind up with antler holes in their vehicles because the elk feel threatened by them.

We tried to check into our cabin at Mammoth, but it wasn’t ready yet because of a shortage in cleaning staff. So, we had to kill some more time and come back later.

Blacktail Plateau Drive

Since we enjoyed the drive so much yesterday, we decided to go back to Blacktail Plateau. Once again, it was a gorgeous drive – the bright yellow aspens dotted the landscape, illuminated by the afternoon sun.

After completing the loop drive, we headed back to Gardiner.

Ice Cream

Back in Gardiner, we went back to Yellowstone Perk to get some Wilcoxson’s ice cream. Faith got a mixed berry smoothie; I got strawberry cheesecake and “Chocolate Runs Through It”; Mom and Dad both got maple nut.

Mammoth Cabins

We’d booked a couple of efficiency cabins at Mammoth Hotel. All guests check in at the main hotel building, which boasts a beautiful lobby. The hotel is also famous for its Map Room, which showcases a 17ft map of the United States. Constructed with the hotel in 1936, it is made from 15 different woods from 9 countries around the world.

After getting the keys to adjacent cabins, we unloaded our luggage, rested for a while, and prepared to head back out. The cabins are basic, but comfortable and cozy. Most importantly, they are convenient to many locations on the north end of the park.

Lamar Valley Sunset

For our final evening in Yellowstone, we decided to go out to the Lamar Valley to see the sunset.

We eventually drove down Slough Creek Campground Road, a dirt road that leads to a trailhead closer to the mountain to the north. It was a gorgeous spot to watch a sunset, and a memorable end to our journeys in Yellowstone. We didn’t see much wildlife other than some bison, but it was a worthwhile journey nonetheless.

Back at the cabins, we spent the rest of the evening sorting through our belongings and packing up our luggage. The cabins had much nicer beds than Canyon Lodge, but the insulation was very lacking. Faith and I froze all night long, and poor Walker didn’t sleep very well because it was so cold. I guess that’s why they close them down for the winter. Even so, I would stay there again – they are a great value for lodging in/near Yellowstone. I would just make better use of the radiator next time.


Here’s a video from today’s adventures.

The Best Things we Saw Today


The best thing I saw today was… “sunrise in the Hayden Valley and sunset in the Lamar Valley”.

The best thing I ate today was… “wild game chili at Wonderland Cafe”.


The best thing I saw today was… “the elk in Mammoth”.

The best thing I ate today was… “wild game chili at Wonderland Cafe”.


The best thing I saw today was… “elk herd crossing in Mammoth and Calcite Springs Overlook”.

The best thing I ate today was… “the elk burger”.


The best thing I saw today was… “Calcite Springs Overlook”.

The best thing I ate today was… “the salad at Wonderland with honey lime cilantro dressing”.


Tomorrow will be our final day out west. We’ll drive to the airport in the morning and spend most of the day traveling, but we hope to see a few sights along the way.

– Isaac & Co.

One Response

  1. I enjoyed the pictures of Artist Point, Calcite Springs, Mammoth Hot Springs, Lamar Valley sunset and Roosevelt Arch.
    As always, the elk were amazing!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *