Wyoming - Yellow Stone National Park (YSNP)

Published: June 24th 2014
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Madison & West Yellowstone

It’s a slow start to the day as we are moving on from Grand Teton to Yellowstone. It’s a sunny morning & warm. We pack up first then go to the General Store at Colter Bay Village for some great Seattle Coffee and then to the laundry where we have showers in turn. There are no showers where we are staying for the next 4 nights so at least we’ll start clean! And we catch up via the free Wi-Fi available at ‘The Laundry’.

At about 10.30am we start our journey to YSNP (only 28 miles away). Soon after we come across a group of cars by the road side and people all excited. We jump out and join the crowd and have our 1st bear sighting and we aren’t either in Grand Teton NP or YSNP yet. It’s a Black Bear grazing, then it decides to look at us for ages (while we take pictures) and suddenly it scoots off & boy can they run up hill. We definitely wouldn’t wish to try and outrun one!

10mins later and further down the road, another crowd and another bear -a Grizzly this time. Boy it must be our lucky day, having tried in vain for 2 days to see one; now we see 2 in next to no time.

We enter YSNP and are amazed at the amount of snow in the whole area as we drive through the South Entrance and all along the Lewis River. It’s the largest and first ever National Park in the world. It was established in 1872 - that took some vision. The Park area is largely in Wyoming but parts of it are in Montana and Idaho.

The scenery is pretty breath taking but we don’t stop as we are getting late – forecast is for thunderstorms, hail and snow after 3 pm and we nee to get the tent up. We cross the Continental Divide at 7988 feet and think that Pete would have loved to be here.

YSNP is significantly a very large Caldera (35 miles wide and 45 miles long), where the volcano just sunk and left some lakes, high ground and loads of geysers with active magma below helping them to create all sorts of interesting formations – geysers, mud pots, fumaroles. Apparently the land was submerged below 4,000 feet of ice 25,000 years ago

We stop at the Grant Village Visitor Centre – somewhat sparse and unexciting though a ranger did give us a map and some tips on where to go and what to do. Surprisingly we cross The Continental Divide twice more on our journey in at 8391 feet above sea level and at 8262 feet. And they have markers at each point. Pete definitely would have loved it!

Next stop is the Old Faithful Visitor Centre – people are crowded around the geyser with the same name as it’s about to ‘shoot up’. It’s late and the event was a bit disappointing. Whilst people can crowd around a safe area from the geyser, the view from the Visitor’s centre is pretty impressive and a lot warmer. There’s definitely more to discover here including the old historic buildings.

Next it’s Madison Campground where we are booked in. We meet a lone Bison en route eating away unconcerned by the interest in him. Rather unusual to see a Bison on its own we think – though by the time we leave we realise this is quite common. At the campground (near 2.30pm) we get a larger site this time but it’s a bit crap as the water overflow from the washing area runs through the site. However, the fire pit and picnic area are at a better distance from the tent spot which we locate under some trees.

Unfortunately as we are putting up the tent it decides to start raining but we make it just in time. Then the thunder starts and we sit in the car whilst the most amazing hail/sleet storm hits us for 10 min, then it’s all sunshine again.

As the afternoon weather seems a bit off, we decide to drive the 14 miles to West Yellowstone (a small town just outside the park built for tourists). As we are driving, we come across more cars stopped by the wayside – we jump out to discover a Bald Eagle having lunch just across the river and quite unfazed by the crowd, allowing us to take many pictures. Nearby on a tree is its mate wait for the scraps.

West Yellowstone is not in the NP catchment area. It’s just outside and is a town of about 4 streets in a grid. We are pleasantly surprised to learn that we are now in Montana. It reminds us of the ‘new town’ outside the Grand Canyon South Rim – Tusayan. It’s built for and is about tourists. Many gift shops, camping and Fly Fishing (the big activity in Montana) stores, many eateries – some closed – and a lovely little coffee shop called Book Peddler where we stop for some great coffee and blueberry scones. There are also a host of ice cream parlours and Huckleberry seems to be the flavour. Thankfully the rain has passed over while we were enjoying our snack.

We roam around the town for a while and then make our way back to the campground. Suddenly it’s car park junction again. The excitement this time are 5 elks by the river being stalked by a group of wolves (C saw 3, M just the back of 2 – so no pictures) on the opposite side. Unfortunately they vanished into the forest as they had no hope of crossing the river and the elk were onto them. All this excitement on our first day - Wow!

It seems to us the wildlife really aren’t the problem here, just the bloody inconsiderate visitors – Americans and foreign alike (of the visitors the Japanese are the worst offenders). They seem to leave their brains outside the park and every time they spot an animal they will stop in the middle of the road, giving no indication (its single lane), with no thought for other drivers or the fact that there a many pull-ins to make watching wildlife safe.

Back at the campground the weather is kind to us and the sun shines allowing us to cook some dinner in peace, which we enjoy and catch up with blogging etc. before going to bed. It’s cooler at night and the forecast is for some rain or snow and -2C. And this is June!

Despite the forecast, the next day is sunny and warm. We decide to join a Ranger led hike to Mystic Falls. It starts from Biscuit Basin at 9am – near the area of a lot of geothermal activity. We meet Erin, the Ranger who is quite young (she is recovering from open heart surgery she tells us) and was in Zion for the last two years. We are alone with her for about a quarter of the hike (3miles round trip) and she gives us a whole lot of information about the geysers, the park, the forest, the flowers and the ecosystem. We are later joined by a couple from North Carolina.

On the hike we stop at the Sapphire geyser – pretty impressive, large and blue. This one only turned up after a huge explosion of water in 1880 and created the current crater. The park has over 10,000 geysers – the largest number in the world. Oddly enough you don’t get the smell of sulphur here?

The hike leads to Mystic falls which look pretty good. On the way we see an Osprey with a large fish in its claws flying away with breakfast. Bison have become part of nature here – we see them all over, even one at the campground near the tents. Despite their calm exterior they are wild & more people get in trouble with Bison goring them than bears any day. Nearer the falls we see some Marmots who didn’t at all seem frightened of us.

One interesting fact for us was that many Native Indians passed through here and the most famous of the lot was a tribe called Nez Perce led by Chief Joseph who refused to be ‘imprisoned on a reservation’. A community of about 600 defied the US Army who tried to capture and resettle them in the 1870s. The tribe moved through the park on their way to make a life in Canada where they would be free. However, after many battles along the way, they were finally defeated just 40 miles short of Canada. There are a few places in the park named after the tribe and some of the bookstores have literature on them. It’s a tale of US Army brutality and a reflection on the way native Indians were treated by them.

As the weather is still good, we decide to visit The Midway Geyser Basin which has the Grand Prismatic Geyser (famous for its amazing colours). We walk along a boardwalk and see quite a lot of thermal activity. The big one is really colourful but to get a good look we discover we need more of an aerial view and notice a whole bunch of folks on the hill across the way. We decide to join them. Actually we join the start of the Fairy Falls Trail and about a mile in people peel off to climb up the hill which is steep and not a formal trail. We manage it and the views from up high of the geyser are quite spectacular and hopefully we got some good pictures or we risked our necks for nothing. What is noticeable is the number of Japanese tourists here – it feels like half of Japan has turned up for the weekend.

It’s Saturday and we notice that the river is full of people Fly Fishing for trout. We realise that because of the thermal hot water draining into the river, the trout must love it.

For lunch we go to the Old Faithful Inn – which was built in 1904 in rustic style architecture and it’s pretty nice. All timber framed and built on a grand scale and still looks awesome today. From their terrace on the first floor you can see the geysers in the Upper Basin and Old Faithful erupt every 90 minutes or so, spewing between 3700 to 8400 gallons of water 100ft to 180ft into the air. After some coffee at the Inn, we watch it do its thing from pretty close up and it was very impressive. So we go back to the Inn and sit on the terrace in the sun and have our picnic lunch. It feels great.

As the forecast rain hasn’t arrived we decide to drive back towards the South Entrance as we wanted some pictures of the snow covered landscape by the Lewis River. On the way back we stopped off at West Thumb and see the West Thumb Geyser Basin at the edge of Yellowstone Lake. The lake has small craters which send out warm water and the otters feed off these in winter when the lake is snow covered bar these pools of hot water gurgling up. On the way out we see an Elk with its young one.

Once back at camp, the rain holds off till we have had dinner and lit a campfire and then starts to rain a little, and then it settles in for the night.

We get up to a campground with no power, this means that the G & H Loop which we are in has no toilet or washing facilities till Montana Power can fix things which may be hours. Great!

So a quick breakfast and we are off to Mammoth Springs – which is in the North of the Park about 30 miles away. When we get there we drive to the Upper Terrace of the Mammoth Hot Springs – awesome. This is a drive around but also gives access via boardwalks to the lower terraces where the formations are amazing and colourful.

Mammoth Hot Springs is a large complex of hot springs on a hill of travertine adjacent to Fort Yellowstone and the Mammoth Hot Springs Historic District. It was created over thousands of years as hot water from the spring cooled and deposited calcium carbonate (over two tons flow into Mammoth each day in a solution). Although these springs lie outside the caldera boundary, their energy has been attributed to the same magmatic system that fuels other Yellowstone geothermal areas.

The hot water that feeds Mammoth comes from Norris Geyser Basin after traveling underground via a fault line that runs through limestone and roughly parallel to the Norris-to-Mammoth road. Shallow circulation along this corridor allows Norris' superheated water to slightly cool before surfacing at Mammoth, generally at about 170 °F (80 °C). Algae living in the warm pools have tinted the travertine shades of brown, orange, red, and green.

Terrace Mountain at Mammoth Hot Springs is the largest known carbonate-depositing spring in the world. The most famous feature at the springs is the Minerva Terrace, a series of travertine terraces. It’s incredibly photogenic and fascinating. As are Orange Mound and Angel Terrace. Very different structures and so impressive.

After a couple of hours walking around ad taking pics, we head into Mammoth itself. First stop, Mammoth Hotel to wash in their Restrooms!! Feeling refreshed and as it’s a lovely sunny day we grab some coffee from the Terrace grill (we are surprised to see some black guys working here and a few black people on tour – very unusual in our park visits to date hence this observation) which tasted great but was cold as hell so we used their microwave to make it hot and it went down a treat with our picnic lunch on seats in front of the hotel while we watch life go by and listen to a NP Guide talking to some folks about what he does during the winter months & how the climate has changed in the Park over the last few years and the impact this has on the trees and animal life. Interesting stuff!

After lunch, we drive back and stop at Norris Basin – full of geysers, Porcelain basin and Steamboat are the main draws, then it’s off to Artist Paintpots (an interesting way to describe an area of thermal activity). It’s been a long day and it starts to rain so back to the campground it is.

It’s been a cold night and C is having trouble with her hips again. So we rethink our travel plan to get some breaks in at Motels between camping sessions – depending on the weather. We decide to leave YSNP one day early and stay a night in a Motel in Cody (everyone recommends it) and see the nightly Rodeo – a precursor to the stampede in Calgary perhaps?

As it’s our last day in the East of the NP we go to watch Old Faithful do its thing again. Later we take the boardwalk hike around the Upper Geyser Basin and it’s pretty impressive in places – more vivid colours and this time skeletons of Bison who have fallen foul of the boiling hot water or water with minerals in it.

We then go for a drive to Firehole Lake Drive – more colourful geysers and lakes with steam coming out of them. Same same but different!

Then it’s off to West Yellowstone for lunch but on the way we come across a large herd of Bison with their young crossing the road – this of course causes a traffic jam on both sides, but it’s fun to watch and take pictures from the car window. Lunch is at Book Peddler – they make a mean coffee, Blueberry scones and a triple berry muffin. Great! There’s also free Wi-Fi so we email family and then organise the revised travel plan to Oregon. C decided she must have the home made Huckleberry Ice Cream from across the street - 2 scoops and 1 of chocolate almond in a waffle cone $4.50. Not bad. Before dinner we try an evening drive to see any wildlife but no luck.

Next morning after a great sleep as it was warmer we pack up and head for Canyon Village on the East side of the Park – central for areas such as Haydn Valley & Lamar Valley which is supposed to be awesome for wildlife – so we are looking forward to it.

We get to the Canyon Village campground (not without a couple of brushes with inconsiderate drivers stopping suddenly on the road. Real F*** W**s!). The Campground about 8,300 feet up is better than Madison & we get a good little spot among the pine trees. (As an aside, camping in pine forests is as bad as camping on a beach. We are amazed at the amount of dust and pine needles that get everywhere – camera, glasses, tent, clothes etc.) One the positive side we get a load more facilities including Laundry (the cost of which is included in the daily rate) & Showers. Great – some degree of normality at last. So that’s what we do first after getting the tent up! Laundry & Showers – it feels good to be clean again!

We venture to the Visitor Centre not far away and the heavens open so we go into the Fountain & Grill joint & are surprised to see that they have a diner in there so we stop for a quick bite – black bean burger for a change. Later we walk around the well-stocked stores (such a change from Madison) & buy Olive a little gift. After some tips on hikes and wildlife from the Ranger we take a drive to Fishing Bridge 14 miles away along the Haydn valley. We see loads more Bison (boring now really), some elk with their young, loads of Canada Geese and some pelicans. No bears - even though some of this is Grizzly Country! However, the landscape in the valley with the River Yellowstone running through is pretty breathtaking.

It starts to rain just when it’s time to cook – thankfully we have a plan B and some food cooked from the day before. It rains pretty much all night and gets cold – freezing really. The morning is no better re the cold but at least the sun is out.

We decide to go to the Tower-Roosevelt area about 19 miles away, then onto the Lamar Valley a further 29 miles across to the North East Entrance. The drive to T-R is winding and we go through the Dunraven Pass at 8895feet and there’s plenty of snow that hasn’t melted. The River flows through a canyon along the road with many rapids and falls. The rock formations change surprisingly a lot and all in all it’s impressive. No wildlife but a few Bison.

Then it’s the Lamar Valley which most people recommend and we can see why. The Valley opens up with the Yellowstone River and later the Lamar running through it. There are more Bison than you would hope to see anywhere. We see a Pronghorn deer with 2 sprightly young ones – they must have been only a week or so old but full of life and running.

We have decided to try the Beartooth Scenic Byway from the NE Entrance through Silver Gate (a village just outside the park, catering for folks who can’t find a place in the park with lodges and cabins) to Ref Lodge. 4 miles outside the entrance is Cooke City a small town geared to tourism all year round. We stop for a coffee at the local café – okish and then we start the 64 mile drive to Red Lodge called ‘The All- American Road’. The landscape soon gets whiter with snow and we come across a lake which is ½ frozen & this is June guys! Looks great though! As we travel on the snow gets thicker and only the road is clear with everything around us being white.

Its an indication of what we have seen and experienced that despite the beauty of it all, this seems rather samey – for others this would be awesome and spectacular. We have been spoiled and suspect we are National Parked out.

We keep climbing and it’s white all around us till we get to the summit and the other side looks tame and boring and devoid of any snow – so we turn back as we feel we have seen the more interesting bits of the trip.

We pass more completely iced covered lakes and snow covered mountain ranges, then as we approach Cooke City, the valleys get greener and the river flows with a rush. We stop at Silver Gate to have a quick picnic lunch and move on to the Lamar valley again.

Once into the valley after ‘customs clearance at the entrance’ we soon come across a lone wolf pretty close up and track him/her for a long time including swimming across the river. Later we see 2 coyotes – one pretty close up on the road side - and finally the main event at Tower we see a Black Bear and her 3 cubs – pretty nice way to finish the day. It’s a once in a life time experience. Not sure what we will do the next day after this.

The evening is so much warmer and the snow near the tent has melted a lot. We have dinner with a camp fire which is fun and hope that the temperature will be kinder to us.

C gets up not feeling too good so we decide a ‘slow’ day may be best. It’s a pretty cold morning. So after a quick wash at the shower stop (as they have warm water) we go to explore the South Rim of The YSNP Grand Canyon. There are 2 very large falls here – the Upper and Lower falls. The former you can see not far from the parking area and the latter you can drive to or take a 2 mile round trip hike along the south rim to the Artists Point. Foolishly and on the spur of the moment we agree to the hike route. It’s pretty up and down the rim & a bit strenuous if not prepared.

The Canyon is quite impressive as are the falls. The Canyon’s colours are really nice – because this was and still is a thermal area and this gives the side the various colours of beige, pink, red, brown, white, black etc against a green coloured stream rushing past at the bottom and green pines sparsely covering the sides. It’s up to 1200 feet deep and a max of 4,000 feet wide.

We then travel to the North rim to get a look from the ‘Grand View’ – and it’s worth the trip (about 2 miles in all). The Inspiration Point here however, needs to be given a miss as the main viewing point is closed so the views are obscured.

As C isn’t feeling too good, we have a quiet afternoon in the Valley and on the way back bump into a wolf crossing the road and get some good pictures for a change.

The last night is a bit warmer and we get up to a bright day, get our gear together and head for some coffee before making our way to Cody in Wyoming for a night’s stop in a Motel before making our way to Montana…….see you there.

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