This first National Park is more than 2 million acres and at least 40 miles by 35 miles – it has more than three major rivers, mountains, prairies, wetlands, waterfalls, its own Grand Canyon and it is the largest active volcano in North America. Within the caldera or volcano cone as much of the area is called – it has a separate climate and weather zone from the surrounding area. One ranger told us that it snows somewhere in Yellowstone 365 days a year. Temperature swings from just above freezing to high 90s are not rare. It can be raining just outside the Park’s gate in West Yellowstone where our campground was – and gorgeous & sunny in the park. We had the full range of weather during our visit – cold mornings, warm sunny afternoons, snow and sleet in the mountains, hail, thunder and rain days and drizzly nights.
Nothing diminished our terrific experience. We planned ten days and that worked well for us. Take your time, split the park into sections and focus on a different part each day. Arrange a guided tour with one of the many groups – it’s worth the money – you learn things and appreciate their historical and personal observations. We took suggestions from friends, strangers and folks at the campground and we benefited from this open minded approach. It’s best to visit without any preconceived ideas – this place will blow you away and not just with geysers! Be prepared to get off the main roadways and be patient – if some one tells you they didn’t see bison, elk or bears – they were there at the wrong time or weren’t patient enough. We saw every animal we hoped to see and more and we would go back to Yellowstone in a heartbeat.
Start with a driving tour the area near your gate to get the lay of the land and then decide where you want to return later. And have your camera or phone ready and charged at all times. You never know what’s around the corner.
Bison like to walk in the road – cause it’s there. The big bull bison like the one above live solitary lives – except during mating season – you may see four or five less mature bulls together but the seasoned guys are happy with their own company.
Old Faithful is only one of dozens of geysers – named for its historical predictability. Don’t forget to visit the basins – lower, middle and upper – to sample the other interesting geysers, hot springs boiling mud ponds and other volcanic elements. Be prepared – there are walkways around them – do not step off – the ground is hot – oddly enough people sometimes don’t believe that. Old Faith shoots high in the air about every 90 to 100 minutes and they keep a schedule of the eruptions every day.
The area around most of geysers is often warm, sticky and smelling of sulphur and other gases given off with the steam plumes. Try to stand to avoid inhaling the very strong smells .
This is Spasm geyser – appropriately named!
Enjoy the surrounding scenes in the basins, – millions of years old trees frozen in time as well as wildflowers defying the heat and silicate soil that glistens like diamonds in a certain light.
This is one of the turquoise hot springs – the color is a result of the chemicals in the soil and the light refracting across the liquid.
Our black bear sighting above on our last park – day another trip to the Lamar Valley.
Animals – wild and free – in their natural environment are so enjoyable to see – it’s really a spiritual experience. We were thrilled over and over again by each visual encounter. Obey the Park’s rules for observing – 75 + feet for bison and elk, and 300 + for all bears – this is their home not yours. They are raising families here and will protect their young – especially in the spring when there are lots of newborns. Look, Listen, take photographs and enjoy.
An elk herd with several fawns grazing near the Madison River.
There are pullouts along the all the Park’s roadways to stop and observe but if the bison are in the road – it is important to stop or pull out of the way – let them pass and delight in your good fortune at sharing this up close and personal moment.
This big bison was just marching down the road – after passing g our car he moved into the middle of the road to continue his journey
Buffalo or Bison a large bull and several mothers with calves or “red dogs” on the way to their preferred grazing area.
Old Faithful Inn
Visit the Park’s older lodges built early in the Park’s history – they are all quite different – we had a terrific dinner at the Old Faithful Inn; a yummy lunch at Roosevelt Lodge; a good cafeteria style midday meal at Canyon Inn but just a coffee break at the Lake Lodge.
Lake House Inn
These inns also have rooms for park visitors as well but they can be very pricey during the popular seasons. There are plenty of motels, inns, hotels and campgrounds outside to stay in just outside the Park as well as campgrounds in the park which may be limited by first come first serve or rv length rules. Some are quite primitive. In other words there is something for everyone.
These Bison were part of a small herd who we saw several times while we were there along the Madison River crossed.
This male pronghorn was grazing alone but had herd mates near by – they live together as a group and are the fastest antelope in North America.
Pronghorn, elks, wolves, bighorn sheep, coyotes, grizzly and black bears, mule deer and bison all call this park home. Below a solitary elk enjoys the sweet grass along the road to Firehole Falls.
Above is a large gray coyote that at first we thought was a wolf due to its size. We watched it cross back and forth in front of us for several minutes – searching for something it lost earlier.
Below we captured a sighting of very large moose up on a hill as we left the Lamar Valley in rain and sleet.
Birds like the Mountain Bluebird are everywhere – stop and listen to their joyful songs. With a rack that size this was likely a very dominant male.
Here you might catch an American White Pelicans may join Canadian geese and Mallards in the many rivers We were lucky to catch this pelican fishing in the wetlands. Eagles and osprey are often seen both nesting and hunting their prey around the these waterway areas. Below is a huge bald eagle nest with immature fledglings testing their metal outside the twig walls.
We glimpsed a pair of Sand hill cranes feasting in another wetland along the Madison River.
There are many bodies of water in the park – lakes, ponds, rivers, streams, waterfalls and cascades. Fly fishermen and women wade into the waters to enjoy the fishing – the catch and release sport that is offered here. There are several kinds of trout to entertain these sportsmen.
Kayakers brave the rapids as well as the milder curves and oxbows that weave through three of the largest rivers – Madison, Gallatin and Lamar. A tremendous runoff from a large snow pack and higher that average spring rainfall has swollen the banks of all the rivers – by August they will be much smaller.
Yellowstone River – very full this year due to rain and melting snow in the mountains.
Keep your eyes open for any and all of creatures. If you are lucky and patience you will see all kinds of animals – we saw a black bear and a moose on our last day in the Park.
It is a feast for the eyes, the ears and the spirit.
Our next blog post will be more about the geology and landscape of Yellowstone National Park.