Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming & Montana - 13 to 19 June 2014 (Part One)

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July 20th 2014
Published: July 30th 2014
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What a tremendous scenic drive through Buffalo Bill State Park and into the East entrance of Yellowstone National Park and on the way we passed Cody Peak with an elevation of 10566 feet. As we drove along following the Shoshone River the hills all around were covered in lovely spring flowers in golden yellows and cobalt blues with towering mountain and snowy peaks all around us - what a lovely vista. Five massive Big Horn Sheepthat were narrowly perched on the mountain edge suddenly came into our view but the road was so narrow we could not stop and a short while later we had arrived at the Sylvan Pass 8530 above sea level. We had so wanted to find these Big Horn Sheep and were fortunate to spot them as we drove along, but a shame we could not stop and get a close up view.

Bighorn Sheep used to number in their millions in North America, including a significant population in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. Now bighorns occupy only a fraction of their former range and their population numbers have dwindled to less than 10%!o(MISSING)f what they were so I think we were lucky to get a sighting of at least five of them.

We passed Eleanor and Sylvan Lake, both of which had ‘splashes’ of snow cover and arrived at Yellowstone Lake. It was overcast, a tad cold, and very windy - the lake was like a sea with waves crashing on the barren shore. A tour group were nearby, their bus had broken down and they were wandering along the lake edge waiting for rescue it reminded us of all the times we broke down travelling in Africa with so many tyre changes - Albert you will remember these!!!

Yellowstone Lake is huge, roughly 20 miles long and 14 miles wide with 141 miles of shoreline - it is frozen for nearly half the year. If you could drain the lake of water at the bottom you would find similar things that are found on land in Yellowstone like geysers, hot springs, and very deep canyons.

We stopped at the Museum and Visitor Centre in Fishing Bridge to gather information on our visit. Yet again the rangers were helpful and gave us lots of useful brochures for our visit. We continued on stopping at Le Hardys Rapids which is part of the Yellowstone River. We walked along the riverside, what a scenic spot this was - Yellowstone was turning out to be a real treat……… The riverbed here drops drastically throwing the water against large rocks and creating white water (rapids). Two small colourful ducks were sun bathing on some of the rocks but we were not sure what they were. We were hoping to see Native Cutthroat Trout leaping into the air, working their way up the rapids during their spawning run as we were in the right season but today the trout were not ‘playing ball’ … … ….

We continued on arriving at Mud Volcano and the Sulphur Caldron where we walked around the thermals with names like Black Dragon's Caldron, Sour Lake, Mud Caldron, Dragon's Mouth Spring and Sulphur Caldron - very apt names. As in New Zealand at their geothermal sites you could smell the ‘rotten eggs’ (hydrogen sulfide) long before you saw any activity.

We pulled into a small lay-by overlooking the Hayden Valley - a large, sub-alpine area straddling the river and where we were told there is is a good chance of seeing wildlife. We saw a couple of large Bison close by and hundreds of Canadian Geese but nothing much else, it was a really scenic place though and we sat and ate lunch with excellent views of the valley and the river meandering through.

Further on we stopped at Norris Geyser Basin which has 193 geysers and walked to Steamboat Geyser which is the largest geyser in the world - it does have long periods of dormancy, but when it erupts it sends jets of water nearly 380 feet high in a spectacular display - but not today. The time was getting late so we decided to continue and return here another day as there were several hikes and plenty of thermal activity to view.

We looked around the small Museum of the National Park Rangers and spoke to a couple of retired rangers, they informed us that if we wanted to camp in the National Park we must get at the campsite really early in the morning and just ‘walk in’ and look around for any vacant sites checking the tags to see if people were leaving that day. We had been unable to book anywhere within the park as most of the sites were on a ‘walk in’ basis. This is sometimes difficult to do as you could arrive and find it fully booked and then have to travels many miles to find another site which could be difficult particularly in the ‘high’ season which we were just going into. These NP sites always fill up quickly as they are about half the cost of other campgrounds and in the best areas. To be safe we had booked a few nights just outside the NP in West Yellowstone to secure somewhere to stay, but hopefully we would be able to get some extra days within the park itself.

We continued our journey heading for the West Entrance but there was a hold up, apparently a tree had fallen down blocking the ‘only’ road and the rangers were trying to cut it away by hand as they had no power tools with them - so we were stuck in a traffic jam for a while - but what a place to be stopped……..We continued on stopping at Madison River and watched a large herd of bison with their young graze on the grassy riverside - a very scenic spot for them and us.

We left the NP through the west gate, crossing into Montana and the town of West Yellowstone. Our Koa Campground was located another six miles along the road (American miles are much longer than UK miles!) but we finally arrived. The campground was OK we had plenty of space and some grass as well as a pit fire and a barbecue. It was another cold night for us though and we were really glad when morning came, we had breakfast and watched a young Coyote wander through the campsite looking for easy pickings but he soon disappeared when people started to appear.

The next day our plan was to return to the NP and follow the road south which passes through most of the main Geysers Basins in Yellowstone. As well as the basins Yellowstone also has other geothermal features such as hot springs, mud pots and fumaroles. The number of geothermal features in Yellowstone is estimated to be about 10000, with a total of about 1283 geysers, 465 of these being active during an average year, distributed among nine geyser basins throughout the Park. There is no way we are going to seem them all..........

We stopped at the Lower Geyser Basin first which had about 283 geysers. It is the largest geyser basin in Yellowstone National Park and covers about eleven square miles. By comparison, the Upper Geyser Basin only covers about one square mile (but does have Old Faithful). Because of its large size, the thermal features in the Lower Geyser Basin tend to be clumped in widely spaced groups. We explored the Fountain Paint Pot area and drove along the Firehole Lake Drive where we met Roy and Jessica Minear from Salt Lake City who were travelling with their friends from Australia. They had spotted our van and wanted to know where it came from - the van is still proving to be a good stopping point and time for a chat…… As mentioned before we are always getting stopped and asked what is the ‘story’ with our van. Paul has started to tell everyone that he is a retired optician before I get a chance to tell them the ‘true story’ - but he has got many laughs particularly from the rangers when we enter the National Parks. Everywhere we go people come up to us to chat or say they saw us a few days ago at ‘so and so’ …… … We will have to ensure that we do not do anything ‘wrong’, or the police will know where to find us - but I know some good lawyers at Shentons where I used to work in the UK before we started our travels - was that 2010!!!!! Living out of suitcases for four years - seems like only yesterday that we set off to go around this huge world.........

Roy and Jessica were great and we chatted to them for ages as we stood beside a boiling geyser. They invited us to ‘come and stay’ with them when we passed through their town (SLC) in a few days. They were such a friendly couple and interesting to chat too so we hoped we may be able to meet up with them when we arrived in Salt Lake City later on our journey.

We continued on and stopped at Midway Geyser Basin which has 59 geysers - this basin is much smaller that other basins found alongside the Firehole River. Despite its small size, it contains two large features, the Excelsior Geyser which pours over 4000 gallons per minute into the river and the Grand Prismatic Spring, which is the largest hot spring in Yellowstone and is considered to be the third largest hot spring in the world - New Zealand has the two largest springs. We took the trail where we saw several streams of steaming water pouring from the terraces above into the Firehole River below - just astonishing. Also in the area were the Opal and Turquoise Pools which were showing some lovely colourings even though the light was not too good.

Biscuit Basin was the next stop, home to Sapphire Pool, Mustard Spring, Avoca Spring, Shell Geyser, Jewel Geyser, and many other features. The name Biscuit Basin was adopted in the late 1880s because of the unusual biscuit-shaped formations that used to surround Sapphire Pool. Following the 1959 Hebgen Lake earthquake, the pool erupted and the ‘biscuits’ were literally blown away - but we still thought that this was a good name for the basin or maybe it should be ‘crumbs’ … … …

Black Sand Basin was named for the black obsidian sand which cover parts of this basin. It is one of the smaller basins with just a short trail but The Emerald Pool was the most colourful and very beautiful, and yes did look like an emerald fringed by an outer ring of yellows and oranges. Another colourful area was the Opalescent Pool which was only recently created - these areas can change rapidly. The Cliff Geyser (named after you Cliff) goes off quite often erupting 30 to 40 feet high but we did not see this on our visit which was a pity - it then discharges into Iron Creek.

Upper Geyser Basin which has 410 of Yellowstone’s geysers is where everyone that visits here want to be as this is the home of Old Faithful Geyser. We must admit we had thought before our visit that this was the main geyser in the park and had not realised that there were so many others located across several Basins within such a small area of Yellowstone.

By the time we had got to this basin we were quite tired but had to sit and watch Old Faithful ‘go off’, and as if on queue it did so just after we arrived. We only sat amongst the hundreds of others for a few minutes before she spouted. It was great to watch but we were a bit ‘geysered out’ by then so decided that we would return here tomorrow and do some hiking and view all the other geysers close by.

We headed back to our campsite which as mentioned was a little way out of the national park, only to be held up in another traffic jam, for one and half hours this time as 300 Bison decided to wander along the road to find some better grazing … … …

Bison are the largest mammals in Yellowstone National Park and are nomadic grazers. They are strictly vegetarian, grazing on grasslands and sedges in the meadows, the foothills, and even the high grassy plateaus in summer as well as the forested plateaus of Yellowstone. Bison males, called bulls, can weigh upwards of 1,800 pounds. Females (cows) average about 1,300 pounds. Both stand approximately six feet tall at the shoulder, and can move with surprising speed to defend their young or when approached too closely by people. They are one of the most dangerous animals to watch out for in Yellowstone even though they look harmless.

Despite their slow gait, bison are surprisingly fast for animals that weigh more than half a ton and we noticed this when we saw them cross the road and run for the river back in Custer State Park. In winter, they use their large heads like a plough to push aside snow and find winter food. In the park interior where snows are deep, they winter in thermally influenced areas and around the geyser basins, some also move to winter ranges in the northern part of Yellowstone. Later on our visit to Yellowstone we were to see a large herd of bison come down into the thermal mud which we found quite astounding as they strolled amongst the hot mud.

Yellowstone is the only place in the ‘lower 48 states’ where a population of wild American bison has existed since prehistoric times, although fewer than 50 native bison remained in 1902. Fearing extinction the park imported 21 bison from two privately owned herds, as foundation stock. Currently the park's bison population is estimated at about 4000 so a lovely success story for the bison.

We have heard this, ‘Lower 48 States’ mentioned a few times, apparently it refers to the continental United States - all the states that are connected. Alaska and Hawaii are the other two states that are not included in that 48 because they are 'detached' from the rest of the country.

We finally arrive back at our campground, really tired and could not be bothered to start supper so we order a giant 16 inch Pizza from the Koa Campsite up the road and enjoyed this for our supper - it also fed us for lunch the next day….. … had not realised yet again the size of American portions.

The next morning we headed back to the Upper Geyser Basin to spend the day hiking around them. At the visitor centre the park rangers gave us an indication of when the more predictable geysers might erupt. Although Old Faithful is the most famous geyser in Yellowstone there were a number of others that we found to be much more spectacular. We were lucky again as ‘Old Faithful’ went off ‘on queue’ just after we arrived.

Some of the larger thermal features in the Upper Geyser Basin are very active while others may erupt with a little less frequency. We set off on the numerous boardwalks and trails to visit some of these, including the Beehive Geyser, Castle Geyser, Grand Geyser, Grotto Geyser, Riverside Geyser, Sawmill and Daisy Geyser. We luckily saw the Riverside, Castle and Grand (tallest) erupt although we missed the Beehive which had erupted early that morning.

Many people sit and wait for ages for these geysers to erupt but we were really lucky with our timing that day and we were able to see most of the main ones erupt without too long a wait. You always know when one is about to 'blow' as a crowd start to form beforehand although this can sometime backfire……….

Whilst we waited for a geyser to ‘blow’ we were entertained by several Marmots basking in the sunshine and skimming over the rocks (yes the sun had come out). There were not that many birds around which was a disappointment but we did spot a vivid Mountain Bluebird and with my new camera lens managed to get quite a good shot.

We hiked up to Observation Point the weather now much improved and even got really close to a large male Marmot as well as a delightful Chipmunk posing on a rock right in front of us (obviously waiting to be fed by those naughty tourist who came up here every day). The view from here gave us a birds-eye view of the huge thermal basin that surrounds the historic Old Faithful Inn.

We had such a wonderful day walking and taking in the Upper Geyser Basin’s delightful vista - so much to see and do and with such wonderful views all around who could ask for more before calling into the Old Faithful Inn for some hot chocolate and a good rest.

Our favourite geyser in this basin was probably Riverside and our favourite hot spring pool had to be Morning Glory which was just stunning and got it name from an early story which raved, ‘It is precisely like a morning glory flower, its long and slender throat, like the tube of the blossom, reaching from unknown depths below, branches out in ever-widening snowy walls, forming at last a perfectly symmetrical and exquisite chalice, which is filled with water of the loveliest, clearest, robin's egg blue.’ Such a poetic phrase but so apt for this wonderful natural phenomena. The Morning Glory, along with the Grape Hyacinth were my paternal grandmother’s favourite flowers, so this helped as it become my favourite too … … … My grandmother who was an art teacher in Devizes, Wiltshire used to love to paint flowers and I can still remember some of her stunning watercolours of many different types of blooms - they were just lovely.

This blog is getting far too long so I will take a break now, but if you want to read more I will continue our travels around Yellowstone shortly - see you there.


31st July 2014
Mountain Blue Bird

Blue Bird
Now that is a beauty.
1st August 2014
Mountain Blue Bird

Blue Bird
Totally agree - such an awesome coloured little bird.
31st July 2014

I would like to know how you did the drive. Is there a marked route inside the park? Or you just drove freely? I think I am going there sometime in the future with a friend of mine who lives in Oregon. Thank you for your help. Hugs from Argentina.
1st August 2014

When you enter the park they supply a park leaflet as they do in all the NP that we visited. This enable us to plan the route quite easily travelling around the various basins and lookouts points - such an easy place to drive around and quite staggering - enjoy enjoy when you get there, remember though it is quite big and allow plenty of time.
31st July 2014
Morning Glory

Stunning photos!
I'm with you and your grandmother--this Morning Glory is my favorite! Your new camera lens is a winner--those bluebird photos are exquisite--something I could never get with my little cameras. Also, how amazing that there was snow on the ground in July--what a magical place!
1st August 2014
Morning Glory

Thanks for your lovely comments and glad you enjoyed the blog - it was just magical - more soon on yellowstone as it was such a large national park and one of our favourites but then they all have something to offer........

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