Purple Mountain

Been getting a lot of rain this week

Been getting a lot of rain this week, feels like I have a house boat instead of an RV sometimes.

Thursday, June 4

What a lovely morning! The sun is shining and the temperature is already steadily climbing. Things have finally been warming up the past week or so, but we’ve been getting strong thunderstorms along with. I’m hoping today won’t be one of those days, because it’s my weekend and I want to go hiking!

Blog reader and fellow full-timer Jayne is working up at Mammoth and we’ve been trying to arrange a time to go hiking together since I arrived. Today the stars have finally aligned.

Purple Mountain is 6 miles round trip and climbs 1,500 feet to a scenic view over the Madison area. It’s not one of the most visited trails, in fact the pullout can only fit five cars at most and you’d never notice the sign if you weren’t looking for it. It’s about a quarter mile east of Madison junction.

Purple Mountain, that 5th wheel barely visible through the trees is part of a NPS housing complex

Purple Mountain, that RV barely visible through the trees is part of a NPS housing complex

Water? Check. Food? Check. Bear spray? Check. Sunscreen? Check. Bug spray? Check. Jayne and I pull into the lot at almost the exact same time and get our gear together. Before long, we’re on the trail!

Like most of the park, Purple Mountain is covered in pine forest. From a distance it looks purple and that’s where the name comes from โ€“ or so Jayne tells me. I wouldn’t have had a clue where the name came from otherwise. The trees are tall at the base, the big fires of ’88 skipped here, and the underbrush is thick with a short dense shrub that’s no taller than myย knees. It’s just starting to leaf out and has that beautiful bright green spring look that I enjoy so much.



Starting to get a view

Birds sing continuously in the trees, mostly hidden. The few I glimpse could be warblers, but they never close enough for a positive identification. There is a warning posted that bears can be found in this area, but the only large animal indicators we see are big ol’ bison plops. As the trail becomes steeper, the bison signs disappear.

Some publications rate this trail as moderate, and some as strenuous. There are no stairs or extremely steep sections, but once you get to the climbing maybe half a mile in, it’s constant all the way to the top.

“Oh, I wonder which one that is.” As the trees thin a view of the valley looking down towards Old Faithful starts coming into view. A thin trail of steam issues from over a rise, it must be a geyser, but it’s impossible to say which at this distance.

Jayne takes the lead, notice the gravel-dirt

Jayne takes the lead, notice the gravel-dirt

We loop through numerous lazy switchbacks, the trees getting shorter and less dense as we go. The ground changes too, the underbrush disappearing as the mountainside becomes more exposed. Before long there isn’t even any grass, just a coarse light gray gravel that is probably slick when the ground is wet. I cross my fingers that if it rains today (40% chance), it holds off until we’re back down.

One last loop, and we’ve run out of up. The trail levels out along the wooded top of Purple Mountain and opens up facing south over Madison, and the canyon heading towards West Yellowstone.

You can see where the road crosses the Gibbon River to head south toward Old Faithful, and the Madison campground is visible as a few white spots in a field of green.

A few clouds start coming in, but they’re not the kind that promises rain. We spend nearly an hour up there, eating and talking and enjoying the view. Neither of us have anywhere we need to be today, it’s a fine way to spend the morning.

Towards the road leading to West Yellowstone

Towards the road leading to West Yellowstone

Gibbon river snaking through the foreground, geyser activity barely visible further back

Gibbon river snaking through the foreground, geyser activity barely visible further back

About two hours later, I come home to a hostage situation in progress.

A shaggy bull bison is laying in my neighbors’ campsite, right where they park their truck in front of the RV. My neighbors are still inside their truck, idling farther down the road watching. Every now and then, a yip comes from inside the RV. My neighbors have two dogs, and they can hear their parents’ truck outside, and can’t understand why their mom and dad aren’t coming in. Or maybe they know the bison is there, and they don’t like it.

Taken from my doorway as the bison moves off

Taken from my doorway as the bison moves off

“We’ve been waiting nearly two hours for him to leave”, she says to me. “Twice he’s gotten up, but then he lays back down. We tried to wave down a NPS vehicle that came through a little while ago, but he didn’t notice.”

How do you make a bison move without pissing it off? We start discussing driving down to the ranger headquarters near OF when the bison stands for a third time, and drops a load in their front yard. Then he finally ambles off, munching on grass as he goes. The hostage situation is resolved, and my neighbors can finally let their dogs out to use the bathroom.

Never a dull moment around here.

* * *

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At IO I teach people how to ditch the status quo and travel full-time before retirement, and share stories of my adventures (and misadventures) to inspire future nomads and armchair travelers alike. Included at no additional charge: seizing your dreams, living boldly, and making a difference.


  1. Steve w. (sdw) on June 9, 2015 at 10:47 am

    Most Elk are not all that tall. Usually 4 to 5 ft at the shoulder they just look bigger because of the huge rack they carry. The males depending on the breed usually weigh between 6 and 750 lbs.

    Now a bull Moose can be as tall as a horse and easily weigh 1300 lbs. And their the most dangerous animal at Yellowstone during rutting season.

    • Becky on June 9, 2015 at 10:49 pm

      Moose are actually rarely spotted in Yellowstone, they prefer Grand Teton to the south where there is more leafy foliage to munch on. You bet I wouldn’t hang around if I ever discovered one nearby though. ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. Janett on June 9, 2015 at 9:20 am

    Scamp and I just made our way to Ohio so I’m playing IO catch up! Love the tour of Purple Mountain and pics as always. Nothing compares to your description of the camping bison…too funny! What is protocol for the NPS when this happens…do they have a way of convincing the big guy to chill elsewhere?

    Keychain getting closer.. Great Post!

    • Becky on June 9, 2015 at 10:46 pm

      Glad you enjoyed this Janett and I hope you’re adventures are going well.

      I’m actually not sure if they do or not! I heard one story from last year about a YA employee who repeatedly had a bison hang out outside his RV door, he got trapped inside his RV several times.

      The first three times it happened, he banged on his front door and hollered, and the bison got up and left.

      The fourth time when he banged and hollered, the bison got up, snorted at him, head butted the front of his car – punching holes through the fender and lifting it off the ground – and then left.

      He opted not to get the fender replaced, it made too good of a story.

  3. Blaize Sun on June 8, 2015 at 8:24 am

    Thanks for the story! I really liked the part about the bison. Great photo! Animals have their own reasons, even if we humans can’t figure them out. How cool to see the creature, but I’m sure the neighbors were ready to get home to their doggies.

    • Becky on June 8, 2015 at 1:06 pm

      You’re welcome Blaize, glad you liked this!

  4. Jodee Gravel on June 6, 2015 at 10:47 am

    Looks like a wonderful hike, love all that green! Glad the rain held off for the downhill return. Interesting that the one bison is hanging out there so often. Wonder if the other bison are being mean to it? Pretty rude to leave behind such a “gift” after hanging out there for so long!
    Jodee Gravel recently posted..Rock and Roll ReptilesMy Profile

    • Becky on June 6, 2015 at 12:09 pm

      The cows and calves stay in herds for protection this time of year, usually north of here in the Madison area. It’s very common for the bulls to stay solitary or in small groups though, and that’s what you find in the Old Faithful area. I’m more perplexed not that he’s alone but that he’s hanging around the campground, this isn’t a very grassy area. Yeah the neighbors had a bit of mess to clean up, but at least their dogs were okay. ๐Ÿ™‚

  5. Gary Gerhard on June 6, 2015 at 2:59 am

    Hello Becky

    Found your site a few weeks ago, and love it.
    I’ll be about 4 hrs. south of Yellowstone along I-80 for a refinery job lasting 60 days.
    Was wondering if its possible to get a campsite during the summer months without reservations months in advance? Would love to spend a few days there after the job is finished, as I might not get out that way again.
    I know this is not your bailiwick, just looking for an informed opinion.

    Thanks and look forward to your postings


    • Becky on June 6, 2015 at 12:04 pm

      Hello Gary, welcome to IO and glad you’re enjoying it!

      I really couldn’t tell you as YA has nothing to do with the campgrounds. I just did a Google search for “camping in Yellowstone” and turned up this site though which looks promising:

      Hope the job goes well and you’re able to come up and see the park when you’re done, safe travels and happy trails.

  6. Bon on June 5, 2015 at 7:00 am

    As always, great post Becky! I especially like the glimpses into the daily… grind? Keep it up!
    Bon recently posted..Here I SitMy Profile

    • Becky on June 5, 2015 at 9:51 am

      You’re welcome Bon, glad you enjoyed this!

  7. Oystein on June 5, 2015 at 1:23 am

    Does the Bison usually come that close to your area? I saw an Elk at the Grand Canyon as we were going to the shower area. The Elk was massive and very tall. How large are the Bison? Great post and pictures.

    • Becky on June 5, 2015 at 9:50 am

      This particular one has been frequenting the campground area for the past week or so, not even sure why as there isn’t a lot of grass here.

      Bison are the largest land mammals in North America, they’re definitely heavier than elk and moose, but possibly not as tall. I haven’t seen an elk or moose up close to get a sense of the height.

  8. Jay on June 4, 2015 at 11:41 pm

    HI Becky,
    I found your site a few weeks ago and though I would say HI and that I like your adventures and I will be checking in to see what you are up too.
    We have a 17′ Casita SD and live in Southern Oregon and have been to Yellowstone 3 times with the Casita and it’s our favorite NP. Jay

    • Becky on June 5, 2015 at 9:46 am

      Hello Jay, welcome to IO. ๐Ÿ™‚

      I haven’t made it out to Oregon yet in my travels, but I definitely want to some day. Yellowstone is a very neat park, it’s definitely near the top of my list but I’m not sure I can put a finger on my number 1 favorite. I hope you enjoy your Casita as much as I enjoy mine!

  9. Ron on June 4, 2015 at 10:07 pm

    Great hike, Great description of the hike, great views and as usual great photos, PS I guessed the hostage taker first try.

    • Becky on June 5, 2015 at 9:43 am

      Glad you enjoyed it Ron. Poor neighbor dogs, they really weren’t happy with the situation.

  10. Susie A. on June 4, 2015 at 8:52 pm

    Hey IO,

    From Little Rock, Arkansas. Not full-timing yet but that’s our goal for next year. My husband turned me on to IO A FEW WEEKS BACK. Thoroughly enjoy your blog because I live everything Yellowstone. Great memories from my past with my parents camping in a Layton trailer next to hot water spring. Seeing OF, the wildlife, the spectacular scenery. I’m living right now vicariously through your blog and appreciate the precious time it takes to write for us. My brother worked at Yellowstone herding buffalo and was also a ferrier there. Currently I have a friend from here who has spent several years working there and I am enjoying his pictures on FB of bears, bison, elk, fish being caught, waterfalls and other views when he hiked as you do. So keep it coming! ~Susie

    • Becky on June 5, 2015 at 9:42 am

      Hello Susie! Welcome to IO and I’m glad you’re enjoying it.

      Sounds like your family is pretty closely connected to Yellowstone, I hope you get the chance to come back and see it again sometimes. I’m really enjoying my time here so far, it’s a special place.

  11. TooManyCats (Dan) on June 4, 2015 at 8:34 pm

    Did Jayne drive her scooter or motorhome to meet with you?
    TooManyCats (Dan) recently posted..Traveling Through Northern Florida (Mayport NAS, FL)My Profile

    • Becky on June 5, 2015 at 9:39 am

      Jayne drove her car. She bought one when she got here for easier transportation, it’s a temporary thing from my understanding.

  12. Gary on June 4, 2015 at 8:20 pm

    How about a graphic “hike-o-meter” to show us your progress on the 100 mile hike goal? Really enjoying you Yellowstone experiences. Be safe.


    • Becky on June 5, 2015 at 9:37 am

      Oh, that is a fun idea Gary, I’ll see what I can do. ๐Ÿ™‚

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