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Yellowstone National Park, WY
Tuesday, July 25, 2000 - 12:00pm by Lolo
330 miles and 7.5 hours from our last stop - 3 night stay
This was not our first visit to Yellowstone. We had been here back in 1992 when the kids were just 3 and 1 years old--now that I look back on it, we had to be crazy. Although Andrew claims to remember it well, we thought it was well worth another visit for them to see it again.
This time we were traveling with our friends from home, the Kalchbrenners, who had flown out to Idaho and rented an RV to join us on the Glacier/Yellowstone portion of our trip. Our plan was to stay 3 nights at the Bridge Bay Campground near Yellowstone Lake and to try to see as much of the park highlights as we reasonably could in that all too short timeframe.
We entered the park from the north through the impressive Theodore Roosevelt Arch and began our exploration of Yellowstone at the beautiful white limestone terraces of Mammoth Hot Springs. Although it was quite hot, we hiked the 1.5-mile Lower Terrace Trail, which climbs 300 feet up to the Upper Terrace, where there is an outstanding view of the terraces and springs below. Herb and I were surprised to notice how changed the terraces were from our last visit--many more of them were gray rather than brilliant white. These terraces are always changing based on the activity of the hot springs beneath them. When a hot spring is active, it deposits limestone onto the terraces creating the brilliant white surface that everyone comes to see. However, if a spring becomes dormant, the terrace begins to darken. Fortunately, springs can become active again, so perhaps the next time we visit, things will be completely different again.
After leaving Mammoth Springs, we headed east, taking the Upper Loop road in a clockwise direction, stopping at various overlooks along the way. Our next major stop was the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. I usually don't associate canyons with Yellowstone, but this one is spectacular enough to warrant Yellowstone being a national park even without its geysers.
We got our first view of the canyon from the aptly named Inspiration Point at the end of a side road along the North Rim Drive. It was spectacular. The walls of the canyon were narrow and plunged more than 1,000 feet down to the Yellowstone River Gorge where there were waterfalls taller than Niagara. And the walls of the canyon were actually yellow, which we learned is how Yellowstone got its name. We took a steep staircase down to a platform where we stood about 10 yards from the top of the Lower Falls where we could watch the water plunge over the edge. It was breathtaking.
Very satisfied with our first day of sightseeing at Yellowstone, we headed over to the Bridge Bay Campground where we would be spending the next 3 nights. I must admit that we were quite disappointed when we got there. We all had visions of relaxing by the campsite after a long satisfying day of sightseeing, cool drink in hand, while gazing out at the waters of Yellowstone Lake (as the guide book had lead me to believe). Instead, we were in a dustbowl without even the hint of a lake view. The site was so dry and dusty that we could hardly cook and eat outside without getting filthy, and the kids were starting to resemble Charlie Brown's friend Pig Pen. I felt terrible. Here everyone was relying on me to plan a great trip and I felt I had let them down. Of course, nobody really felt that way and they quickly assured me that it was fine. With so much to see, we really weren't going to be spending that much time at the campground anyway. Besides, the kids actually loved it. They were just at the age where they were enjoying the extra freedom of being allowed to roam around on their own, and this campground was so huge that there were plenty of places for them to explore. Before dinner, the four of them took their scooters and Kenmore 2-way radios to communicate with us and set off for an adventure.
The kids' enthusiasm was contagious, and soon we all were content with our surroundings. The kids being older and more independent was a good thing. As much as we love being with them, the RV is pretty close quarters, so it's good once in awhile to get a little breathing space from them.
Just as we were really starting to relax, Andrew called us on the radio to inform us that "Alexis thinks she's hurt." - not she "is" hurt, but rather she "thinks" she's hurt. Poor Alexis. It isn't easy being the only girl with 3 boys, especially when you're also the youngest. They always assume she's faking or just being a baby. Upon further questioning, Andrew told us that she fell off her scooter going down a hill and hurt her arm. Hans quickly jumped on my bike and rode over to where they were. We weren't alarmed until we saw the look on Hans' face when he brought her back. Michelle almost fainted when Hans lifted Alexis' sleeve to expose an unnaturally bent forearm. Hans and Michelle rushed her over to the park's medical facility where they gave her some pain killers, put her arm in a temporary sling, and told them that they would have to bring her to Cody, Wyoming, the next day to have it set correctly. It was a rough night for Alexis, and I don't think the boys slept too well either--they felt bad that they hadn't realized how hurt she really was.
The next morning Hans and Michelle took off with Alexis very early for Cody, leaving Jonathan to spend the day with us. We were all a bit down from what had occurred, but we figured we might as well make the best of it and take the kids to see some sights. We decided to wait until the next day when we were all together again to see Old Faithful, so we headed out in the other direction back to the Canyon and then on to Norris Geyser Basin.
Our drive took us through the idyllic Hayden Valley where the Yellowstone River winds through broad meadows and marshlands creating a natural wildlife sanctuary where you're almost guaranteed to see wildlife, especially in the early morning and towards dusk. Just as we hoped, we were greeted by several large bison blocking the road. Having seen the little cartoons in the park literature of people being gored by these large beasts, we wisely took our photos from inside the car.
As we approached Canyon Village, we decided to take the South Rim Drive to view the canyon from the other rim than the previous day and to photograph it in the morning light. We stopped first at the Uncle Tom's Trail. Trail is a strange name for it; it is actually a 328-step metal staircase that takes you down to the river's edge. Along the way, you not only see and hear the thunderous Lower Falls, but you get to feel it as you are covered with its spray of mist. It's truly unforgettable. Before continuing on to Norris Geyser Basin, we made a brief stop at Artist Point at the end of the South Rim Drive, where a short trail brought us to what some consider to be the best view of the canyon.
Right near Norris Junction, we were treated to some additional wildlife viewing--two large elk sitting on a hill right beside the road, unfazed by the tourists, including us, taking their pictures. They must get pretty used to it.
At Norris Basin, the kids got their first look at the strange thermal activity of Yellowstone and happily walked both boardwalk trails through the basin, observing the geysers, hot springs, fumaroles (steam vents), and pools along the way.
On the way back to the campground, we stopped at the Mud Volcano to see a different type of thermal activity. The whole place was evil-looking and smelled like rotten eggs. The geysers and springs had names like Black Dragon's Caldron, Dragon's Mouth, and Sour Lake. We took the short walk past turbulent pools of hot, muddy water, caves with bursts of steam coming out of them, and acid pools that churned and hissed. This was very different from what we'd seen at Norris Basin, and the kids found it quite fascinating.
It had been another great day of sightseeing at Yellowstone, and it had kept us distracted from thinking about Alexis. We were very happy, however, when we got the call from them saying that everything went fine and that they were on their way back and would meet us as planned at the Lake Yellowstone Hotel for dinner. Dinner that night was great. Alexis was in good spirits and Jonathan excitedly told Hans and Michelle about all the sights we had seen that day. The food was good and it was nice not to be cooking back at our dirty campsite. The Hotel was quite elegant, and we spent some time after dinner enjoying the beautiful lobby and the excellent views of the Lake.
The next day was our last day at Yellowstone, so we wanted to make it good. To beat the traffic, of which there is far too much of in Yellowstone, we set off early to see Old Faithful, or "Old Fixo" as Andrew used to pronounce it on his first visit. When we got to the Old Faithful area, we immediately went to the Visitor Center to find out the approximate time of the next eruption, which usually occurs every 79 minutes or so. Seeing that we had some time to kill, we strolled along the boardwalk trail through the Upper Geyser Basin checking out a number of notable geysers, such as Castle Geyser (largest cone), Grand Geyser (tallest predictable geyser), and Beehive Geyser (shaped as its name would imply). Unfortunately, none of them went off during our walk, but there was plenty of bubbling, hissing, and spurting going on all around us to keep us entertained and dozens of colorful boiling springs to look at, such as the very beautiful Morning Glory Pool.
Seeing that we had only 10 more minutes before Old Faithful's scheduled eruption, we hurried back to the wooden benches in front of the Old Faithful Inn to get prime seats for the show. We took our place on the benches, which were set far enough back from the geyser to prevent any of the hot spray from hitting us. Gradually, all the benches filled with people anxiously looking at their watches, cameras and camcorders poised. When the scheduled time came and went, the kids started worrying that something was wrong--perhaps this was the time that Old Faithful wasn't going to blow. After about 20 minutes of anticipation, some surges of water began coming over the rim of the crater. This was the sign that "Old Fixo" was about to begin its show. Then water starting shooting higher and higher into the sky until it reached a height of about 150 feet. After about three minutes, and much frantic photography, it was over, and all that was left was a few gasps of steam coming from the crater. It was a great show.
I absolutely love National Park lodges, so we decided to stop for lunch at the not-to-be-missed, historic Old Faithful Inn. Like many of the other premier National Park lodges, this one was built around the turn of the century, with the intention of it being a place worthy of hosting presidents and visiting kings and queens. It certainly was. It's a massive log structure, very rustic in design, with a seven-story gable roof in its center. The best part, as far as I'm concerned is the lobby, with its seven-story-high ceiling and giant stone fireplace in the corner, surrounded by two levels of balconies looking down into it. Even without its views of Old Faithful from the porches, it is a worthy destination in itself. I could have spent the whole day here, but it was our last day and there was too much more to see and do.
There are several other geyser basins to explore on the road north towards Madison. We first stopped at Black Sand Basin, named for the black obsidian sand around its edges. Besides many other interesting features, we saw the Emerald Pool, a beautiful green hot spring pool so deep that it appeared to be bottomless. Then we went on to Midway Geyser Basin where we strolled along the boardwalk past spurting geysers to one of my favorites, the Grand Prismatic Spring, which is the largest and probably the most beautiful of all the hot springs in the park. Unlike the Emerald Pool, the water in the Grand Prismatic Spring is a deep azure blue and the colors of the pool's edge range from orange and green to golden brown from the algae that is able to grow in its harsh environment. Even the steam rising from it appears to be colored. I think I like these hot spring pools even more than the geysers. We ended our day of geyser viewing at the Fountain Paint Pots where we saw a different kind of thermal activity, bubbling mud pots that got their name because of their colors--pinks, oranges, and light blues from the various minerals in the water.
Having felt that we really did get to see most of the highlights of the park, we decided to spend our remaining afternoon doing some fly-fishing at the lake--time for the dads to have some quality father son (and daughter) time. Michelle and I got out our beach chairs and sat back to watch this relaxing activity--kids flailing their fly rods madly, creating giant bird's nest in the lines for the dads to entangle. We, anyway, found it quite relaxing as well as entertaining. Finally, nerves frazzled, the dads convinced the kids to do something else so they could get a little fishing time in for themselves. Herb was soon rewarded with one of his fishing highlights--a beautiful cutthroat trout caught on a dry fly. He talked about that stupid fish all night.
That night was our last night with the Kalchbrenners, who were going to drive back to return their RV in Idaho the next day. Despite Alexis' accident, which never marred their enthusiasm or spirit, we had such a wonderful time together, full of laughs and adventures. We were sorry to see them go..
Yellowstone National Park, in the northwestern corner of Wyoming, is literally like no other place on earth. It has more thermal springs and geysers than the rest of the world combined. Most of the southern part of the park lies on top of a collapsed crater, or caldera, that resulted from a devastating volcanic explosion around 600,000 years ago. It is within this caldera that most of the thermal activity--geysers, boiling hot springs, fumaroles, etc.--in Yellowstone occurs.
However, the park is not just geysers. There is a canyon almost on par with the Grand Canyon, a waterfall taller than Niagara Falls, a lake that is the largest mountain lake in North America, and an incredible amount of wildlife to see. In order to protect these treasures, President Ulysses S. Grant made it the first national park in the world in 1872.
A 142-mile Grand Loop Road winds in a figure-eight pattern through the park, past most of the main attractions, including the wildlife. It is not uncommon to have traffic jams caused by a buffalo herd crossing the road or gridlock from people stopping their cars to observe a grizzly bear. Unfortunately, being such a popular destination, Yellowstone is extremely crowded in the summer causing much traffic congestion. Therefore, it's best to do your sightseeing early in the morning or late in the afternoon. Starting from the north and going clockwise, these are some of the highlights:
Mammoth Hot Springs, located by the north entrance to the park, has one of Yellowstone's most unique features--the beautiful white limestone terraces that are continuing to be formed by the constant flow to the surface of the mineral-rich hot springs below. The 1 ½ mile roundtrip Lower Terrace Interpretive Trail is the best way to see this area. It climbs 300 feet through a thermal region to the Upper Terrace, where you have an outstanding view of the terraces and springs below.
The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone is a narrow canyon with 1,000-foot-high cliffs plunging down to the Yellowstone River gorge. An excellent way to view the canyon is to take the North Rim Drive from Canyon Village, stopping at Inspiration Point. From here there is a fairly strenuous descent down 57 steps to an overlook with views of the Lower Falls and canyon. Another option to view the canyon is the South Rim Drive. Along this drive is Uncle Tom's Trail, a steep 328 steps descent to the river's edge, and Artists Point, one of the best viewpoints of the canyon.
Hayden Valley, along the park road between Canyon Village and Yellowstone Lake, is one of the best places to see wildlife. In the beautiful green meadows of the valley there are herds of bison and antelope, often blocking the road, and the occasional grizzly bear.
Yellowstone Lake is North America's largest high-altitude lake. It also contains the continent's largest population of native cutthroat trout, which makes it a very popular place for fishing. Although the waters of the lake are too cold to swim in, it is great to explore by boat. Along the northwest shore of the lake stands the majestic 100-year-old Lake Yellowstone Hotel, one of the most beautiful buildings in the park. Lodging and dining are available there.
Old Faithful is what everyone thinks of when they hear Yellowstone National Park. The geyser got its name Old Faithful because of the predictability of its eruptions--approximately every 79 minutes. A typical eruption lasts from 2 to 5 minutes during which the water reaches heights of up to 180 feet. There is always a large crowd on the benches outside the Old Faithful Inn when it is time for it to erupt. A good way to see the other geysers in this area is to walk the 1.3 mile Upper Geyser Basin Loop trail or climb the .5 mile Observation Point Trail up to an area with great views of the entire geyser basin. The historic Old Faithful Inn is a must see. It is a six-story log building with sitting areas overlooking the lobby and a three-story stone fireplace.
Norris Geyser Basin contains the park's highest concentration of thermal features. There are two loop trails here, both on flat boardwalks: the .75-mile Porcelain Basin Trail and the 1.5-mile Back Basin Loop, which takes you past Steamboat Geyser, the world's largest geyser. Unfortunately, the interval between its eruptions is often more than one year.
There are 12 campgrounds throughout the park. However, since Yellowstone is so highly visited, it is a good idea to make reservations well in advance. The only campground in the park with RV hookups is Fishing Bridge at the north end of Yellowstone Lake.
Yellowstone National Park location map in "high definition"