July 4 & July 22 – July 30, 2020.
One thing I found rather curious about Yellowstone National Park is how many people I saw fishing. I imagine someone’s significant other coming home and saying, “Honey I just booked us a vacation to Yellowstone National Park, the country’s first national park and a UNESCO World Heritage site. It sits on the largest supervolcano in North America, containing more than 500 active geysers and 10,000 hydrothermal features, which is half the entire world’s hydrothermal features! It has more landmass than Delaware and Rhode Island combined. And is populated by over 285 species of birds and 67 species of mammals (the largest concentration of mammals in lower 48 states), including the nation’s oldest and largest (roughly 5500) free-range bison herd!” only to hear in reply, “Oh, that’s nice dear, let me go pack my rod and reel.”
Now I’m not trying to disparage people who love to fish. And maybe it is the lure of the highest elevation lake in North America or the 16 types of fish in the waters that flow through the park. Or maybe there is just something really relaxing, almost serene about sitting quietly by the side of a river or lake while herds of wild animals stomp around on top of a supervolcano.
We spent 7 days in Yellowstone. And we could have spent more, probably weeks more if the visitor centers, museums, education centers, and ranger talks hadn’t been shut down due to the coronavirus.
Our first day in the park on July 4 was just a drive-through, stopping at just a few attractions, as we traveled from West Yellowstone to the home of our friend Sid who lives near Red Lodge not far from one of the five entrances to the park (we spent so much time in the park we went in and out of each of these entrances at least once). Then, a few weeks later, we drove up from Grand Teton with our friends from Scamper Squad to spent another 6 days in the park hiking, looking for wildlife, and watching the ground spew, steam, boil, and spout.
A few notes about Yellowstone…
Yellowstone is a busy place. We got up every morning at dawn to beat the crowds. Parking lots were full by 10 am. And still a local told me that the park wasn’t nearly as busy as it usually is.
Although there is cheaper and free camping outside all the entrances to the park, we spent 3 nights in a campground inside Yellowstone, because, you know, who doesn’t want to sleep on top of a supervolcano. Yellowstone has 12 campgrounds but only 3 were open when we visited. We made the reservation by phone about a week and a half before we arrived and were lucky to get 3 consecutive nights. Still, we saw empty spots every night and unclaimed reservations left out overnight at the campground check-in building. It pays to call the park and see what they have open even if the website shows everything booked.
Yellowstone is so huge depending on where you are camped it can take at least an hour to get to the area of the park you want to explore. I would recommend mapping out what you think you want to do ahead of time, and making camping reservations at the various campgrounds throughout Yellowstone near those sites.
Water Features & A Canyon
We spent most of our time in Yellowstone touring the hydrothermal features but did manage to squeeze in a few non-volcanic hikes, one around a small lake and the other along the rim of the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. Of the 290 waterfalls in Yellowstone, we saw two. Perhaps if we had hit more of the 1000 miles of backcountry hiking trails we would have seen more.
Of the 67 species of mammals in the park, we saw 8. We hoped to see otters and pica but were sadly disappointed. We saw a black bear which was very exciting but I didn’t get any pictures of it worthy of the blog. We were desperately looking for a moose but never ever saw one. We saw a whole lot of people who were looking at a Grey Wolf way in the distance but our binoculars weren’t good enough to really see what they were looking at.
We only saw a few birds. They didn’t seem to be spending too much time around the hydrothermal features. Although twice we saw killdeer hopping around on the hot rocks.
And we also saw lots of wildflowers. The road leading from the east entrance of the park was lined with them. But, sorry, you’ll have to wait for my next Just Wildflowers post to see any of those.
The first geothermal trail we did was a short one-mile loop around hot springs, mud pots, and small geysers at Artists’ Paintpots.
Norris Geyser Basin
Norris Geyser Basin is the hottest, oldest, and most lively of the park’s thermal areas. A scientific drill hole at the basin recorded a temperature of 459°F (237°C) just 1,087 feet (326 meters) underground.
West Thumb Geyser Basin
West Thumb Geyser Basin lies on the east side of the park on Yellowstone Lake.
Mud Volcano Trail
The hydrothermal features at Mud Volcano are some of the most acidic in the park. Many faults come together here and earthquakes are common.
Upper Geyser Basin
And here is where we found the main feature, the ever-reliable, Old Faithful. This predictable geyser goes off every 44 minutes to 2 hours. We arrived just as it was about to blow. And we got to see it go off a second time as we explored the loop trail around the basin.
We followed the trail from Upper Geyser Basin to Biscuit Basin. We took two vehicles (Ballena Blanca and Scamper Squad’s car) and parked one at Old Faithful and the other at Biscuit Basin so we could cover more ground without having to double back.
Firehouse Lake Drive
We found a few interesting features on this drive just north of Biscuit Basin.
Mammoth Hot Springs Terraces
After three days of camping in Yellowstone, we realized that we still had lots more exploring we wanted to do. We stopped by the Mammoth Hot Springs Terraces on our way out the Northwest entrance to look for a National Forest camping spot nearby.
Midway Geyser Basin
On our last day in the park, we made a special trip to see the Grand Prismatic Spring. I had seen stunning pictures of it and wanted to see it with my own eyes. Sadly, a thick fog covered the park that day and didn’t lift until we were long gone from the park.