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Yellowstone National Park, WY
Sunday, July 5, 2009 - 12:30pm by Tommy
60 miles and 1.5 hours from our last stop - 2 night stay
If only for one reason, was a success simply because we all got to shower. It did cost us $3.25 each (it wasn’t included in our campground fee) and John almost didn’t shower based on principal. He finally decided that it was worth the price.
Even though we hardly slept the night before because it was so cold on the Beartooth Highway, we got up early so we could finish the drive to Yellowstone and check in to our campsite at the Canyon Village before lunch.
We entered the park through the Northeast entrance and saw some great wildlife (Bison and Pronghorn Antelope) while driving through Lamar Valley.
After lunch we hiked up the Dunraven Pass up Mount Washburn. The hike was great, and the views all the way up were outstanding, but about a half mile from the top we turned a corner and a herd of Big Horn Sheep were walking up the path. We had to slowly follow them up the rest of the hike(about 20 feet back) because a first attempt at passing angered a few of them and they backed us down the mountain a little. It was cool to watch and created some great photo opportunities for Tommy and John, but slowed our pace to the point that we had to really hurry down the mountain to beat the thunderstorm that was coming.
We beat the rain, which pretty much blew over the park, and did some quick food shopping at the Canyon Village food store before dinner.
After we ate we took a short drive over to see the sunset over the Upper and Lower falls of the Yellowstone River. The falls were great and over the years the river has formed a small canyon which has been named The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone.
We then got back to our tent and pretty much just passed out for the night.
Tommy and John decided that the sunset last night over the Upper and Lower falls simply didn’t create enough photo opportunities, and they got up around 5:30am to catch the sun rise over the falls. Christian, Colin and myself decided we would sleep the extra couple hours.
After breakfast we drove the scenic loop for the day to see the Park’s “highlights.” The major draws were the geysers and thermal pools that are throughout the park. And boy there is nothing like the fresh smell of sulfur in the morning.
A couple of group favorites were the Castle Geyser and, of course, Old Faithful along with the rest of the upper geyser basin area. We tried climbing up to the Old Faithful look-out area, but it decided that it would erupt 15 minutes earlier then predicted so after the climb, we missed it. Instead of waiting up there for an hour and a half until the next eruption, we walked around the rest of the Basin area and watched from the ground. As for thermal pools, the Black Sands Basin was a particular stand out.
Another great thing that the driving loop allowed for was seeing some amazing wildlife. We saw a ton of elk and Big Horn sheep. We even saw even saw a couple of elusive moose in the park. At one point bison were so close to the road that we could reach out and touch them—we opted not to.
Later in the day we wanted to try out some swimming at a place Tommy had heard about. He wasn’t positive if swimming in the area was “allowed” because he had heard about it through the grapevine. It was supposedly some sort of thermal pool that was cool enough to swim in. We headed to the area that he believe it was at and we thought we were in luck. But unfortunately, the Firehole River swimming area was closed because the water level was too high creating too strong of a current.
We then made some dinner and just relaxed by the campsite for the rest of the night..
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"