Biologist on a Bike

Day 23: Baker’s Hole Campground, MT to Madison Campground, Yellowstone National Park, WY


Distance 39.96 mi (only 18 mi fully loaded)
Average Speed: 12.0 mph; Max Speed: 34.6 mph
Elevation Gain: 1,192 ft
Average Temp: 84.3 F; Temp Range: 23.0-98.6 F (I don’t believe this)

It was a cold night, the first time I woke up curled into a ball for warmth, probably because I was only wearing one layer of pants. I woke up somewhere around 1AM needing to go to the bathroom, but didn’t immediately climb out of my semi-warm cocoon. As I lay there dithering, I heard a sound like a close-mouthed sigh, but from something large. Immediately, I was wide awake. Was there a bear in the campground? Was it looking for food from my tent?

I didn’t hear anything else for a while so the bladder won the battle. I got out of the tent with my headlamp and bear spray and saw…

Absolutely nothing. No wildlife at all. But the stars were stunning and bright. I could have stared at them for much longer if it hadn’t been so chilly. Back to bed I went for the remainder of the night.

I made a late start of it, not leaving the campground until a little after 9, but all was good with that, since today was going to be a short day. I chatted a bit with Deb and Ed again, and they renewed the invitation they made to me last night to share their campsite at Madison today. Deb had checked and they had a large site that would allow one 12×12 tent or two 8×8 tents. Their tent was less than 8×8 and mine is certainly less than that, so it would be allowable.

Where I woke up, Day 23

They were packing up as I rode out, but I figured they’d beat me there anyway because I had some errands to run.

West Yellowstone was only 3 short miles away, and as I rode in I saw a store named Yellowstone Adventures. I stopped, thinking they might sell gas for my MSR Pocket Rocket. They didn’t, but they did sell electronics. Sometime yesterday I lost my only mini-USB cable, the one that charges my GPS. Kinda important, that. And a week or so ago I broke one of my power banks, and I’ve been looking for a new one so that I have a spare just in case. I bought a cord and a powerbank, and the employee directed me two doors down to a place that sells camp stove gas. The lady at that store directed me to a place where I could get some pancakes for breakfast.

At the restaurant, I leaned my bike against the front and asked the hostess for a booth by the window so I could keep an eye on it. She obliged, but also assured me that it was a safe town. I responded that I wasn’t worried about the residents but the tourists. She gave me a high-five in response.

I ordered two breakfasts, again. Two eggs with hashbrowns and toast with three pancakes and coffee. I plugged in to charge and only then discovered that I had bought the wrong cable at the store. It was USB to USB not USB to mini-USB. I’d have to go back and exchange it.

While I enjoyed my breakfast, I checked in with the parents, since West Yellowstone has cell service and Madison campground would not. The waitress was very patient having to deal with me being on the phone the whole time. She got a good tip.

Next errand was a stop at the grocery store for more granola and trail mix (I do go through that stuff), a few bananas, and some mushroom soup for tonight. Then it was back to the place where I bought the electronics. They have a terrible exchange policy, sad to say. Without the original undamaged packaging, they wouldn’t do a refund or store credit. Pfft. Perhaps they get away with it because there are so many tourists and they don’t really have to worry about earning customer loyalty.

Finally it was off to Yellowstone. Or off to the line to get into Yellowstone. I got in line like a car and waited my turn, occasionally chatting with people who wanted to know what I was doing or how far I was riding.

The line to get in.

No way was I getting out of line for a selfie in front of the sign

People found interesting ways to stay entertained while inching forward.

Eventually I paid my $20 fee and got into the park. It wasn’t the worst riding I’ve done on this tour. The shoulder wasn’t particularly wide, but it was wide enough that most of the time my wheels could be on the far side of the white line. And most of the cars were considerate.

It wasn’t a long ride to Madison, only 14 miles, but as lovely as I remember it. I took the opportunity to duck into most of the little pullouts and loops off the road just to see what was happening along the river, but all I saw in terms of wildlife were a few bison.

Another state down. 7 more to go! There must have been some goop on my lens, sorry for the blur.

Madison river



At the campsite, I stood in line to register. I had forgotten the name of the man Ed told me to talk to at the counter, but there were three windows and only one staffed by a man. I was lucky enough that he ended up being the one to finish first when I was next in line. I had been concerned about going up to the counter and asking the location of two people—sounds a bit shady, doesn’t it?—but Ed and Deb had arrived not long before me and had given him my name. He’s had an interesting life, spending over 20 years working in South America working to retrieve kidnapping victims. He gave me his card, and I’m definitely going to have to look up some of his work. He asked for mine as well, and said he might ask me some questions for his books some time. Win-win.

I found Ed and Deb with no problem, and got myself set up in the wind. Then, with the food stored in the bear-resistant box, I took one pannier (snacks and electronics) and my handlebar bag (camera) and rode the 11 miles to Grand Prismatic Spring. It was uphill a bit and the wind was against me, not the most easy of rest day rides, but it was worth it. The day was warm and although there’s pretty much always going to be steam off a hot spring that hot, I got a better look at it than I did two years ago when it was still cold out.

I’m glad I did this today, because I was able to spend a relaxing half hour just observing the colors without worrying about how many more hills I had to climb or how many miles to my destination. Grand Prismatic Spring is the United States and the third largest in the world. The water wells up in the center of the spring sterile at temperatures close to boiling. As the water moves towards the edge of the pool, it cools. The temperatures are still high enough to cook most life forms, but there are bands of different species of thermophilic Archaea (single-celled prokaryotic organisms that were one time classed as part of domain Bacteria, but which are biochemically actually a bit like our own eukaryotic cells) and Bacteria. The different species are what gives the spring it’s characteristic rainbow or “prismatic” edge.

Edge of Grand Prismatic Spring

The bacterial mat leading up to Grand Prismatic Spring

Seriously, it’s so lovely I couldn’t stop taking pictures

One of the things about Yellowstone is that it’s dangerous. What looks like solid ground might actually be only a thin crust of soil over a boiling cauldron of acidic water. Today was windy, and the area around Grand Prismatic Spring was littered with hats.

Okay, now, Dad, I want you to stop reading right now and get Mom. She’s going to have to scroll the screen past the next picture for you.

I’m waiting.

No, really, I mean it.

Okay then, be that way, but don’t say I didn’t warn you.

I aimed my camera to get a picture of a bunch of the lost hats and caught this instead.

Well done. I hope your hat was worth breaking the law and risking death.

The ride back to the campground was much easier as it was primarily downhill and with a tailwind. For the rest of the night, I intend to write out postcards, read a book, and eat as many calories as I can in preparation for crossing the continental divide 3 times tomorrow.

Roadkill count: 1 unknown mammal.

Map Day 23

5 thoughts on “Day 23: Baker’s Hole Campground, MT to Madison Campground, Yellowstone National Park, WY


    Awesome, Cindy. Yellowstone is definitely on my bucket list. I am sorry to tell you that you’ll be having some cold, wet weather ahead. Stay warm, dry and watch out for possible thunderstorms.

    Showers likely and possibly a thunderstorm. Some of the storms could produce small hail, gusty winds, and heavy rain. Cloudy, with a high near 58. Breezy, with a west southwest wind 7 to 16 mph, with gusts as high as 22 mph. Chance of precipitation is 70%. New rainfall amounts between a tenth and quarter of an inch, except higher amounts possible in thunderstorms.

    Scattered showers and thunderstorms. Some of the storms could produce small hail, gusty winds, and heavy rain. Mostly cloudy, with a low around 41. West wind 6 to 11 mph becoming light and variable. Chance of precipitation is 40%.

    A chance of showers, with thunderstorms also possible afternoon. Cloudy, with a high near 52. East wind 6 to 8 mph. Chance of precipitation is 50%.

  2. Leslie Diamond

    I believe someone was killed doing something similar in the last couple of years. Idiot! Glad you’re enjoying Yellowstone!

  3. Jan Ashton

    One of the most popular books in my house (when kids are around) is Death In Yellowstone. We bought it in the park, and it details all the dumb, gory, silly demises there over the past century or so.

    1. Spin Doctor Post author

      I skimmed through a similar book about the Grand Canyon when I was there. Sounds like a fun read.

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