Yellowstone Park

2 Oct

As we pulled out of the campground in West Yellowstone the sun, low in the blue sky dazzled us, it was a crisp morning, just above freezing outdoors, we reached the west gate to Yellowstone Park by 7.50am and showed our $80 pass brought the previous afternoon in readiness.

We were full of expectation for the wildlife we hoped to spot, also full of jokes as to why they would not be around when we were, as usual. However before too long we were alerted by a group of cars parked in a turn out and a gathering of photographers with huge lens, pointing in the direction of the flat area of grass a hundred yards away, something was ‘about’. A herd of elk, a male with his harem were patiently grazing and keeping a weather eye on the observers. The male had a splendid pair of antlers; he probably had won a few battles with them to accumulate his females, and as the rutting season is in full swing may have a few more in the near future.

Not much further along the road a bison was nonchalantly chewing grass, it would have made a great photo if only he would have left the grass for a minute or two and raised his head to look at us. We felt we were doing quite well, we had seen more wildlife in thirty minutes than in the last month.

Whilst we had read the brochures etc. about the park, until you are in an area you really don’t know what it will be like and we were not sure what to expect of the landscape at all. As we progressed in the near distance plumes of steam were rising maybe fifty feet into the air, their source out of sight to us, the closer we got the more intrigued we became and when we pulled into the car park for Fountain Paint Pot were unaware we were about to get our first experience of the geysers and hot springs which would dominate our day.

Writing this now at the end of our third day in Yellowstone I realise how difficult it would be to try and give a detailed explanation of the geological features we have seen, from the bubbling mud pools and steamy spurts at Fountain Paintpot we moved to the Old Faithful Geyser and spent five hours walking around the various geysers and hot pools there, we have seen hot sulphur cauldron (US spell caldron) and travertine layers (at Mammoth), each area awesome in its geological features, it would be wrong to by pass any of them and dismiss them as ‘another geyser’ they are all so different. Some pools are crystal clear with the odd bubble rising to the surface others bubble fiercely, the steam from most is smelly, hot and sulphurous. Some geysers play with you, gurgling and spurting giving the expectation of an eruption, then die away with nothing more to show, some spurt regularly a few feet in the air. Old Faithful as his name suggests regularly erupts around every 90 minutes, we saw it twice, the first eruption being around 100ft and over a couple of minutes duration, the second eruption was however much higher and lasted around four or five minutes both spectacular to view. A spectrum of colours exist, from the bacteria growing in the boiling mineral rich waters, amber, lime green, vivid yellow the mineral pools reflecting turquoise and emerald, bright white mineral rocks and crusty gravely earth but all this surrounded in the areas still able to sustain growth by the dark green pine and juniper trees. We have taken around four hundred photos, which need editing when we get a power supply again, but after taking out the rubbish photography ones we are going to have such a hard job deciding which to keep.

The Yellowstone Canyon gave us more spectacular views, the short trail to the lower rim falls was well worth the effort of its decent to view the water gushing over the rocks and pounding into the valley below, the viewing platform is such that you are standing exactly over the point the water overflows and can look vertically down its flow – amazing! The rocky canyon around 1200ft deep we viewed from the upper area car park at a place called Grand View… it was. It was mid afternoon and the light was glowing off the yellow orange rocks, a clear blue sky contrasting above and the darker water flowing below.

Of course the geological features are just a small part of this fantastic National Park, the area created around 640,000 years ago by volcanic eruption, also has its wildlife. Human habitation only exists in very limited areas and wildlife is king. Elk are numerous and we have also seen bison either as solitary specimen or occasionally in herds grazing happily by the riverside. The usual chipmunk and squirrel have squeaked at us but we were excited to catch a glimpse of two of the 300 or so wolf in the park, they were reintroduced into the park in 1995 and they obviously have thrived back in a habitat natural to them.

A lot of this we very nearly missed due to another natural element – fire!
The roads in the park form a figure of eight double loop, one section was already closed due to road construction but a forest fire between West Thumb and Fishing Bridge prevented us from getting to the campground on Saturday night, our reservation was switched to Maddison, not far from our original entry point. A Park Ranger we spoke with advised that it was a slight possibility the road could be open on Sunday morning, we took a chance and it was, the fire still some distance at that time from the road, later in the day closed it off again and it remains closed as I write, we are so pleased we got through and have been able to experience the north end of the park.

Our final day in Yellowstone was a drive around the last part of the loop to the east entrance, we were out on the road before seven thirty thanks to the local elk who woke us noisily at dawn. It had again been very cold overnight and the forecast for the next few days was for snow and low temperatures, Yellowstone being so high (mostly over 6,000ft above sea level) was expecting a reasonable fall and we did not really want to see it!

We had hoped being so early to spot some more wildlife, we would have liked to see moose but while talking to a ranger in Mammoth Albright Centre we had discovered there were only 200 in the whole park, we would be very lucky to see one. Driving across the Hayden valley we possibly sighted another wolf, but this one could have been a coyote, we beg to differ!!!!
Lots more bison, herds and solitary beast, all heads down as usual munching grass. We stopped off at the Tower Falls, taking the short trail to the viewing area and afterwards started the long climb to Mount Washburn 10,243ft above sea level, the views from almost the top way back into the lower park were spectacular. We stopped for coffee beside the north end of Yellowstone Lake, looking back towards Fishing Bridge, the fire was still sending up volumes of grey smoke into the blue sky.

From here another climb over the Sylvan pass and through a large area of previous fire damaged forest, young lodge pole pines, which germinate after fire, were beginning to grow but it will be many years before the mountain is green again.

Each part of the park has its own features, and this route took us to the highest area of the park, the views as we passed over the mountains and through the canyon gave us a last wow before we reached the east gate at 12.30 having enjoyed every minute of our visit.

A definite recommendation for the list of 100 things to do, but don’t try to do it in a day, we had three nights in the park and could easily have filled a week without getting bored (fear of the snow drove us out).

Please have a look at the web album and also Roberts blog with less words and more pictures but more detail. enjoy, we did!

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