Yellowstone: Grand Loop Road, Northwest Side

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The drive between Mammoth Hot Springs and Norris provides a very quick lesson in how quickly Yellowstone’s landscape can change.  From Mammoth, the road starts climbing and twisting its way up to the Yellowstone Plateau.  Along the way, you’ll pass by some neat boulder fields…

… and squeeze through the “Golden Gate” at Kingman Pass.

The Golden Gate first became a usable passage for wagons in 1885, when the Corps of Engineers built a wooden trestle to carry the traffic up the side of the golden-colored cliff.  Since then, the viaduct has been replaced twice, and there’s now a very sturdy concrete version.

Once you’ve passed Golden Gate, you’re on top of the Yellowstone Plateau, just below 7,400 feet.  The landscape suddenly seems flat, and mountains are replaced with rounded hills…

… like Bunsen Peak.  There is a trail that leads to the top, where you would probably find an even greater contrast in the views (with big mountains to the north, and the plateau to the south).

There’s a small lake in this area, which might provide a nice reflection of the distant mountains, if conditions are right.  On the right is Sepulcher Mountain (9,632 feet, in Wyoming, just south of the state line), and on the left is Electric Peak (10,961 feet, on the Montana side).

Electric Peak is the tallest mountain in the Gallatin Range, which has its southern end in Yellowstone.  It was named by the Hayden Survey Party in 1872.  As members of the party neared the summit, they started feeling electricity and hearing the crack of sparks. The sensation probably had more to do with a nearby thunderstorm, than the mountain itself.

Roaring Mountain

Just a few miles before Norris Junction, there’s a small geothermal area at the edge of the road, known as Roaring Mountain.  It’s worth a brief stop — but you can’t go any further than the edge of the road.

Many of the hillsides in this area are still recovering from wildfires that ravaged the park — the most devastating of which hit Yellowstone in 1988.

Note: This trip was first published in 2008.

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