Part of: Old West Road Trip
Yellowstone National Park was simply outstanding. There are so many beautiful and interesting things to see there, it boggles the mind. In addition to the famous geysers, it has gorgeous mountains, sparkling lakes and rivers, waterfalls, meadows, rock formations, thick forests, and lots of wild animals wandering about.
We spent two nights in the park, which gave us a long evening plus a full day to explore. We arrived at the east entrance in the late afternoon and instead of going straight to our cabin at West Thumb, we turned north on the main loop to see the sights. We didn't get home until after dark, and then we did the same thing the next day.
The park is huge (3,472 sq mi or 2,219,789 acres) so that means a lot of driving, but it was never boring or stressful. One of the great things about Yellowstone was the wonderfully relaxed atmosphere. No one is going anywhere in a hurry and everyone is enthusiastic about seeing the latest geyser or spotting the elusive grizzly bear. Occasionally we'd see a small crowd by the side of the road and we'd pull over to ask, "Whatcha lookin' at?" And everyone was always happy to chat.
One of the nicest memories of our visit was pulling over to join a group of spectators that were settled in with lawn chairs, tripods, and Austrian-made scopes the size of small garbage cans (below). They were extremely friendly and happy to chat with us about what they were up to, which was waiting for a badger family to appear from under a rock. They even let us look through their scopes at a black bear that was so far in the distance we couldn't see it with our eyes. Now we have a whole new kind of equipment envy!
Most conversations in Yellowstone tend to include swapping lists of what wildlife had been spotted so far. We didn't see as much as we'd like but did pretty good: bison (those are easy), deer, antelope, elk, pelicans, herons, one red fox, one coyote, and finally one grizzly bear on our last night. A big part of the fun is just driving along slowly, scanning the landscape for interesting animals. Not having fancy scopes, we occasionally took pictures with our zoom lens then squinted at the LCD screen to identify the dot in the distance. Usually it was just a buffalo, and we became rather annoyed with them for pretending to be grizzly bears.
I was a bit concerned about what our accommodations would be like in Yellowstone, as I'd learned that all hotels and restaurants in the park are run by one company contracted with the U.S. government. I began to picture communist-quality motels built in the 1960s with no motivation to try very hard. And online reviews were mixed at best.
But we were pleasantly surprised with our room, which was in West Thumb village at the southeast corner of the park. It was clean, comfortable and cozy. Not large or fancy (there are no TVs on principle), but it had everything we needed. We had double beds because I booked our reservation at the last minute, but that was no biggie. There was a snow drift outside our window and temperatures were near freezing at night, and we slept wonderfully.
The only downside to our lodgings was an integrated bathroom fan system that forced us to experience the unspeakable evil released by our upstairs neighbor. We may have been smelling sulfurous geysers all day, but nothing prepared us for that. As soon as we realized what was happening, I raced to close the bathroom door while David opened the window to the freezing night air, and so we survived the ordeal.
On a happier note, both mornings we took a short walk down a wooded path to the hotel restaurant for breakfast. The fresh morning air, the smell of the trees, the bird songs, and the occasional squirrel sightings along the way brought back happy memories of summer camp. Breakfast was buffet-style and overpriced, but of decent quality. I enjoyed my French toast and eggs. Lunch and dinner were usually on-the-road sandwiches and snacks picked up from the general stores around the park.
So, on to the pictures (and videos)! They are presented generally in the order we took them over the two days.
Bison getting in our way just inside the park entrance (press play).
Eruption of Old Faithful. It wasn't quite as impressive as I remember from my childhood visit - it seemed to be a smaller eruption than usual and most of the water was hidden by the steam due to the wind direction. But the anticipation - and the joy of our Japanese neighbors - was fun.
A small geyser on the hillside above Old Faithful. This one is also pretty faithful - I was about to wander off when a park ranger mentioned it would go off in about 5 minutes. It erupted a total of three times, I think, one right after the other. This video shows two eruptions and the short pause between them.
The next group of photos are from the Grand Prismatic Spring and Fountain Paint Pot, which are north of Old Faithful on the main loop. They were some of our favorite sights in the park - the colors are incredible and the hot water is so clear.
These next few photos were taken after sunset at the West Thumb Geyser Basin, which overlooks Yellowstone Lake close to our cabin. These elk were very comfortable with people - we were able to get so close we could have touched them. Quite an amazing sight.
We left the park in the morning by the south entrance, where we had to sit in some traffic for road construction. But the scenery continued to be beautiful.
As soon as you leave Yellowstone, you immediately enter another national park! That's Grand Teton National Park, which was spectacular in a different way than Yellowstone. More info in the next (and finally last for this trip!) post.