Yellowstone National Park

Our first impression of Yellowstone National Park. We entered the park at about 6:30, not too long after sunrise. A mist drifted over the rivers and steam billowed above the trees.

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.

Gibbons Falls. These falls cascade 84 feet towards the remnants of a caldera (volcanic crater) rim. As the falling water erodes the rock below, the height of Gibbon Falls grows.
The Yellowstone River, a tributary of the Missouri River stretches 692 miles long.
View looking up Yellowstone’s Grand Canyon toward the falls from the North Rim trail. Our campsites were close to the canyon, making hikes along the north and south rims convenient.
View of the canyon from Artist Point at the south rim. Water has been carving through the rhyolite canyon walls for 150,000 years leaving a “V” shaped canyon. (“U” shaped canyons are carved by glaciers.)
View of the upper falls of Yellowstone’s Grand Canyon.
We did a small hike around Trout Lake looking for otters. No luck, but we did see some ducks, some Uinta Ground Squirrels, and some Canada Geese.


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.

We saw lots of bison in the park. Herds of them meandered down Grand Loop Road just north of Yellowstone lake. We saw this group on the NE Entrance Road that runs along the north end of the park.
The NE Entrance Road was a great place to spot wildlife. This is where we spied this red fox.
And this group of Pronghorns.
These wapiti (elk) were grazing in the water off Grand Loop Road north of Yellowstone Lake.
This Canada Goose didn’t seem to happy with us hiking by at Trout Lake.
But this Uinta Ground Squirrel was too busy doing squirrel things to give us any notice.
Bison with a Brown-headed Cowbird on it’s back.
Yellow-rumped Warbler at the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone.
These wapiti seemed to have a regular hangout near the Mammoth Springs Visitor Center.
Killdeer walking around one of the terraces at Mammoth Hot Springs.

Geothermal Features

Artists’ Paintpots

The first geothermal trail we did was a short one-mile loop around hot springs, mud pots, and small geysers at Artists’ Paintpots.

Mud pot.
Paintpot hot spring.
Paintpot hot springs.
View of the Artists’ Paintpot area.

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.

View of Porcelain Basin at Norris Geyser Basin.
Porcelain Basin.
On the trail at Norris Geyser Basin.
Steaming Steamboat Geyser. It is the tallest active geyser. It has infrequent and unpredictable eruptions of more than 300 feet.

West Thumb Geyser Basin

West Thumb Geyser Basin lies on the east side of the park on Yellowstone Lake.

Blue Funnel Spring.
A view of Yellowstone Lake from West Thumb.
An edge of Abyss Pool. The hot spring is one of the deepest in the park at 53 feet.

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.

View near the start of the .6 mile Mud Volcano boardwalk trail.
Dragon’s Mouth Hot Spring. Named by a visitor in 1912, this spring makes a rumble (like an angry dragon) caused by steam and other gases exploding through the water forcing the water to crash against the cave walls.

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.

Old Faithful.
You can see Old Faithful steaming in the distance from the Old Faithful Inn. Built during the winter of 1903-1904, this inn is one of the last remaining log hotels in the US.
Firehole River.
The Anemone Geyser is fun to watch. After it erupts the central pool drains. Wait about 10 minutes and you’ll see the pool gurgle and fill. Then water jets up to 6 feet high. If you time things right you might see Old Faithful erupt in the background. (Old Faithful is the thin column of steam on the hilltop behind Anemone.)
Heart Spring is one of the hot springs. No eruptions, but the heated water either runs off or is evaporated.
The multi-colored Morning Glory hot spring.
Runoff from the Doublet Pool hot spring has left interesting edges around the pool’s crown.
The Artemesia Geyser usually erupts once or twice a day, shooting water up to 30 feet in the air.

Biscuit 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.

Biscuit Basin was named for biscuit-like deposits that surrounded the pools. A huge eruption after a 1959 earthquake blew all the “biscuits” away. These colorful hot springs remain.

Firehouse Lake Drive

We found a few interesting features on this drive just north of Biscuit Basin.

Eruptions of the Great Fountain Geyser can spew water up to 220 feet. It erupts every 9 to 15 hours. Rangers post the projected time ranges for the next eruption.

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.

Hot water runs underground along a fault line from the Norris Geyser Basin, through miles of limestone, coming out at Mammoth Hot Springs. The water is full of calcium carbonate. Variable flow rates have allowed the calcium to pool up, creating terraces.
Side view of a terrace at Mammoth Hot Springs.
Terraces at Mammoth Hot Springs. Like the other geothermal features at Yellowstone, the reddish colors come from minerals. (Greenish colors come from algae.)
View looking downhill toward some terraces.

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.

Excelsior Geyser.
Somewhere beyond the fog is the Grand Prismatic Spring. There are warnings all around the geothermal features to keep people out of them. The elk can’t read, though, and sometimes leave tracks like those in the foreground.

This week I will be sharing this post on  My Corner of the World, Travel Tuesday, Through My Lens, and Sharon’s Souvenirs. Check out these links to see what other people are doing all over the world.

14 thoughts on “Yellowstone National Park

    1. Thanks Yvonne! I’ve read that the likelihood of a supervolcano eruption at Yellowstone in the next couple of thousand years is low. I also read about the likely repercussions and they are quite dim. Glad we got to see it in a relatively calm state.

  1. Familiar sights and photos – great memories. That’s awesome that you managed to spent an entire week in Yellowstone. I wish we could have stayed longer than the three days we used to explored the park. In this case, I certainly have to agree with you… Boondocking outside the park is not worth it or feasible as the distances are too big already, without having to drive back and forth to a free camping spot in the NF! We lucked out on a first come first serve basis when we stayed at the park a couple of summers ago, arrived early, and cued up for a spot. 🙂

    PS: I’m catching up on some overdue blog reading tonight and will reply to your email tomorrow!

    1. Three days is not nearly enough time. We thought about going back again just for the day but the drive from where we were was just too long. I’d like to return and look for more wildlife (with my new camera) and hike some trails.

      No worries about an email response. I know you’re super busy!

  2. I have fond memories of camping in Yellowstone with my parents. It was the summer after I graduated from high school and it was tent camping in those days. There was a campground at West Thumb then and you could walk to the lake to fish. My dad was an avid fisherman and I loved to go with him. – Margy

    1. What a great memory. I imagine wonderful family memories are still being made at Yellowstone. Many people still tent camp and they’re still fishing!

    1. Yellowstone is probably the most interesting place I’ve been (of course, I haven’t been to New Zealand).

      Thanks for hosting the blog hop!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.