Yellowstone is a marvel of geothermal activity. The park is enormous (3,468.4 square miles (8,983 km)), and with two days of exploring, I still didn’t see anywhere nearly as much as I wanted to. Coming in from South Dakota, I ended up taking the East entrance, from Cody, Wyoming on a sunday afternoon. There were a number of gorgeous waterfalls cascading down the rocks on the side of the road throughout the ride in. It was fantastic. Lots o’ canyon, lots o’ waterfalls. Just how I like it.
The drive is a little steep in parts, but is a visually brilliant drive. After awhile, the road winds around Yellowstone Lake (The Yellowstone Caldera – which is currently full of Yellowstone Lake, is apparently the largest active supervolcano on the continent). The visitor’s center in Fishing Bridge is nicely shaded, and has decent looking camping areas that fill up quickly. Here, I was able to fill up on some more water and get something to eat.
From there I headed down around West Thumb, and on to Old Faithful.
I was lucky to have arrived at the Old Faithful viewing area about ten minutes before the geyser erupted, so yay for not having to stand around in crowds for 90 minutes in the heat! 🙂 It was pretty spectacular to see a large steaming waterspout shoot up out of billowing clouds of steam that were simply pouring out of the ground moments earlier. People crowded around the viewing area, everybody with their cameras out.
I then checked out the Artist Paint Pots, then headed on to Madison – heading out to West Yellowstone to camp for the week. All in all, I spent about three hours in the park that day.
The following friday, I headed back to the west entrance, then dipped down to check out Grand Teton National Park, before backtracking and again camping overnight in West Yellowstone. On this trip, I tried to check out the points along the route that I wasn’t able to hit the previous sunday.
As it turns out – the Midway Geyser basin is easily one of my favorite parts of the park. The various brightly colored springs, pools and mud pots are fascinating. The major features, Grand Prismatic Spring, Excelsior Geyser and the Turquoise Pool are phenomenal. Several of the springs had waters easily as blue as that surrounding the Florida Keys. Out of all of these, I think the Grand Prismatic Spring is my favorite. It’s also one of the most well known images of the park, other than Old Faithful. The areas around the springs fairly reek of sulphur, and when the wind shifts, blowing clouds of steam towards you, it can get almost choking. My sunglasses fogged up, as did my camera lens.
There’s also a bubbling mud pit that’s so overly eager that you can see where far flung splatters of boiling hot mud show up in dots all along the railings and boardwalk.
Saturday, I finally started heading north, through Norris, Mammoth, and swinging around to see Tower Falls.
I did run around in the Norris geyser basin a little bit, but again – the sun was trying to kill me (as it always does), and there’s NO shade at all as you make your way along the wooden walkways throughout the area in the Porcelain basin. The Norris geyser basin is apparently the hottest geyser basin in the park. I could only do so much walking around before I started feeling dizzy and weak. I really should visit the park sometime in spring/fall. There was a great deal more to Norris that I just couldn’t explore because of the heat.
As I made my way along the trails (boardwalks, really) throughout the geyser basins, I stayed very aware of the danger in the marked fragile thermal areas, making sure to stay on the boardwalks. I had no desire to take any detours onto the actual ground anywhere near the geysers and springs, and several times saw signs stating that there have been many visitors scalded to death throughout the years. Apparently the ground can be quite thin around some of these areas, and I have absolutely no desire to plant a foot down and have it crack through, only to have my foot cooked off, thank you very much.
Mammoth Hot Springs… my god, this place was so beautiful, it almost made me cry. I adore waterfalls, and watching boiling hot water flowing over the various travertine terrace levels here was just… I was actually stunned. The tiers are so white that it almost looks like snow, and the stone drips down from the terraces in a manner that almost looks like icicles – but you can see the steam wicking off the falls as they trail down the levels. The terraces are just as lovely when viewed from the parking lots below, and there’s a little village area there, as well as a visitor’s center, that you can run around in – getting food/drink/etc.
It was then on to Tower falls. While driving through Mammoth, there was a full herd of elk just hanging out, eating grass in one of the roundabouts. People were parked along the sides, capturing the moment for posterity with their cameras. I just drove through, having seen elk before, and really being more interested in the landscape than the fauna.
The road to Tower Falls is currently under construction, so traffic was kind of a pain in the ass, but the view of the falls is completely worth it. Seeing the falls from the platform a short walk behind the Gift Shop is fantastic – but there’s a rather strenuous path that switchbacks all the way down to the river at the bottom – where you can catch a full view of the falls from there. Unfortunately, I was only able to make it halfway down this path before I knew I couldn’t go any further and then successfully make my way back up without having a major medical episode. I really need to get back into shape, dammit. Someday I’ll make it down and back up in the same day. On the way back to Mammoth from Tower Falls, there was a bear cub romping around in the grass. There were a surprising amount of people out of their cars, taking pictures of the cute baby bear as it cavorted with whatever it was grasping in its paws. Although it really was adorable, I shuddered, wondering where the mother was. Yeah, I’ll stay in my car, thanks anyway.
Along any of the roads throughout the park, people will simply stop driving entirely – not bothering to pull over at all, to take copious pictures of wildlife – buffalo, elk, bears, etc. It’s kinda insane. Every once in awhile, I’d run into a ‘nature induced’ traffic backup. I even snapped a pic or two of buffalo while stopped in the conga line of ‘making memories’. Eh, when in Rome…
I spent as much time as I could checking everything out – even though, being especially heat sensitive, the last thing I should be doing is trotting around an area full of active geysers and hot springs in the middle of summer. The sun in this area of the country seems particularly brutal, coupled with the inhospitable, but sometimes really colorful, looking landscape around the geysers and springs. Dead trees with extensive, wonderfully creepy looking root systems were upended everywhere against an almost bleached backdrop in places. Fluffs of flowers would crop up, as if giving the finger to the barren ground in defiance. It’s completely wonderful.
I’m really kicking myself about not being able to find suitable camping space so that I could romp around inside the park at sunset. Each day I spent hours walking around in the heat, ending up exhausted well before 6 or 7pm and having to pack it in for the night. At some point in the future, I’d really like to get out there for a week or so and just take my time with exploration. There’s so much more to see that I wasn’t able to get to. When I go back at some point in my life, I’ll be going early in the morning – bunking off during the hottest hours of the day, then back out to catch the sunset colors as they dance across the hills.