A week in Yellowstone

Published: August 23rd 2013
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WOW! One whole week in Yellowstone, a place that seems to have it all in regards of nature. Scenic views, volcanic hydrothermal features, increadible wildlife. There were also a lot of other people sharing the fun and at times it felt crowded, but what can you do, the place is so exceptional so people arrive from all over the world to see it.

Our first night we stayed at Madison campground, near the west entrance. This was the first time we used our newly acquired tent, and it turned out to be easy to set up, well breathing and rainproof. It was just big enough, my toes are touching the tent cloth when the pillow we bought from Ikea is touching the tent in the other end. The only thing that wasn't coping with the Yellowstone weather were our sleeping bags, rated at +13 degrees celcius they were a little cold when the temperature dropped to +5 degrees in the early morning. After the first night we slept with all our warm winter clothes on.

After the first night we shifted campground to Grant, a fully equiped (read: showers and laundry) campground next to Lake Yellowstone. It turned out that although the nights were cold the days were warm, temperatures were rising above 30 degrees in the afternoon in the lower grounds. We also encountered one of the nuisances of the park while moving between campgrounds; when wildlife is near the road people tend to stop in the middle of the road to take pictures. If the wildlife would be sparse this wouldn't bother that much, but as you will easily see a few hundred bisons when driving throught the park it starts to bug you after a while.

While driving between the campgrounds we stopped at the Lower Basin and saw our first geysirs and bubbling pools of water. Already that little area, one of the smallest we visited, was more impressive than what we had seen in Iceland. When we also stopped by Old Faithful Inn for a coffee and a geysir eruption we were sold, if you want geothermal, go Yellowstone!

Once we had set up our tent (our campsite was 30 meters from western shore of the lake, really nice for morning coffee!), we set out for the Bear Tooth Highway, a scenic drive through the mountains from the northeast entrance to a small town called Red Lodge. Even though the drive isn't that long in distance, it still takes close to 3 hours, mostly because it goes over the mountains east of Yellowstone. This also means the views are great, the highest point of the road is at 3335 meters, with views over the mountains nearby. On our way we also saw a bison herd for the first time, some of them even on the road. Having bison on the road is more of an rule than an exception when driving longer distances through Yellowstone, the animals mainly ignores the cars and crosses the road in their own pace.

After a good nights sleep in all our warmest clothes we felt much refreshed and set out with the ambition to go hiking. Lonely Planet had recommended a hike to Lone Star Geysir, and as it was marked as easy and quite short we thought it would be a good first hike in the mountains (the elevations in Yellowstone are between 2000 and 3000 meter). Yes, it was easy and quite short, but also boring. 3 miles through forrest quite similar to what we have in Finland just to see a geysir that had erupted half an hour ago and wouldn't do anything for a few more hours. We walked back and set off to Upper Basin, the area near the Old Faithful geysir hoping for some more action.

The Upper Basin delivered. Old Faithful erupted 10 minutes after we started the trail, we saw pools in every colour of the rainbow, and all kind of other hydrothermal wonders. Compared to the other sites we went to the Upper Basin is probably the one with the most complete set of features. The Mid Basin has got larger and more beautiful pools in every colour, but no geysirs and all pools in the Mud Volcano area are more or less muddy. Mammoth has got incredible terrace like rock formations created by water flowing down, but not really anything else. Norris has got the biggest and meanest geysirs, but they are not predictable as the geysirs in the Upper Basin. The West Thumb has got hot pools out in the lake and beautyful pools, but is a little bit lacking on the geysir side. All are worth seeing, but if time is limited, go for the Upper Basin!

We continued our geysir sightseeing the next two days before heading for the South Rim of the Yellowstone Canyon on our fifth day in the basin. We were a little bit sceptical as this was again a hike recommended by Lonely Planet, but when we walked out on Artists Point where the trail started we were stunned. The view looked almost unreal, the colours felt like old someone had painted them with water colours, and in the end of the canyon a huge waterfall was thundering. The trail took us closer to the waterfall through amazing landscapes, and almost next to the waterfall we took a trail down for the most colourful rainbows I have ever seen. The hike back went through bear country which felt a little nervous, it was however in the middle of the day and there were other people walking the trail, so we still went. No bears sighted, luckily not at that time and regrettably not at all.

Even though we didn't spot any bears during our stay, we saw all kind of other wild life. The bisons I already mentioned, in addition to them we saw elks, pronghorns, deers, an otter, coyotes, ospreys, hawks, a pelican, marmots, pikas, and a lot of chipmunks and squirrels. During our second evening in Grant an elk bull walked straight through our camp with people all around it taking as many pictures as they could, and on our last night when we drove to Lamar valley, a valley known for its wildlife I saw a wolf through a borrowed telescope. I'm not sure if it counts as all I could see was a dot that moved a little, but I was told it was a wolf!

On our last full day we decided to climb Mount Washburn, the highest point in the center of the park. There was a sand road all the way to the top, the mountain is used as a fire spotting station, and spotting fires was one of the reasons we were eager to get to a higher destination. Already a few days earlier we had spotted a smoke plume on the other sid of the lake, and as we had seen more signs of fires lately (a clear smoke smell around the lake the day before, and a huge smoke cloud rising from Hayden valley, the place we had initially planned to go looking for wildlife at) we wanted to see more of it. From above we could actually see four separate fires, the largest 3000 acres (what ever that might mean in the metric system) and threatening to close the shortest road back to our campground. This threat didn't actualize, so when returning from the wildlife spotting we went for later that day we still were able to take the shortest route.

We enjoyed our time in Yellowstone a lot. Apparently the opportunities to see wildlife are even better in Grand Teton park just south of Yellowstone, and we are looking forward to even more exceptional canyon views in southern Utah and Arizona, but Yellowstone is still very good for both of these activities. Combined with the exceptional geothermal activity in the area (it was several times pointed out that more than half of the worlds geysirs are in Yellowstone) this easily has been the highlight of our trip this far and something we warmly recommend to everyone!

Additional photos below
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6th April 2014

What excellent photographs. I cannot wait to go in September this year.

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