Last night and this morning, we explored Grand Teton National Park, and then headed up to Yellowstone after a late lunch at Jackson Lake Lodge. I’m picking up where we left off on Part 1 of this post.
Yellowstone National Park
After driving the John D. Rockefeller Jr. Memorial Parkway, we arrived at Yellowstone’s south entrance, and began our journey along the park loop road. I’ll save my Yellowstone fun facts for a later post.
Lewis River Canyon // Lewis Falls
We drove alongside the Lewis River Canyon for a while, finally arriving at Lewis Falls, which is viewable just off the main road. We would quickly learn that most of Yellowstone’s main highlights (and crowds) are but a quick stop off the main drag.
Yellowstone Lake // West Thumb Geyser Basin
Yet another short drive later, we pulled into West Thumb Geyser Basin, which sits on the shore of Yellowstone Lake. As you may know, Yellowstone was once a giant volcano that erupted, leaving a depression called a caldera, ringed by mountains. The “West Thumb” of Yellowstone Lake is a smaller caldera within the larger Yellowstone Caldera. Yellowstone Lake is absolutely massive, even compared to Bear Lake which we’d gawked at the day before.
This was our first* experience with hydrothermal geological activity within the park, and it was a bit mind-blowing for me. We were surrounded by putrid sulfuric smells, vibrant colors, and strange sounds. It’s not like anything I’ve ever experienced before. Some of the pools boiled and churned, while some were incredibly deep, deeper than the eye could see. Some features were violent, and some were calm and almost soothing to watch.
*Faith has been to Yellowstone before, but didn’t really get to explore much beyond Old Faithful and a few other features.
While at the Geyser Basin, we also got some nice views of Yellowstone Lake.
Elk // LeHardys Rapids
Leaving West Thumb, we swung around the NE side of Yellowstone Lake, making a brief stop at LeHardys rapids. We saw a massive bull elk with huge antlers making its way through one of the roadside campground, but were only able to snap a picture of its rear end.
Bison // Pelican // Mud Volcano
Continuing north, we spotted our first bison on the side of the road. There would be many more to come, but we stopped to take some pictures; this was special because it was our first sighting. We also noticed a beautiful white, orange-billed pelican gliding in the river across the road. Soon, a second bison emerged out of the woods and began grazing.
It was now time for our second geothermal area of the day, Yellowstone’s Mud Volcano. This area is known for its bubbling mud pots, extremely acidic lakes, and some other water features. We spent some time walking around the boardwalk, interrupted by a brief dash back to the car to escape a sudden but fleeting hailstorm. This was also our first spotting of a mule deer, named for their floppy, mule-like ears.
As we headed over to the left side of the basin, we saw a bison playfully rolling in the dirt extremely close to the path. We were able to get some great pictures [somewhat] safely behind the fence. A park ranger had arrived to monitor the situation and make sure no one was too close or in danger of any kind. According to the ranger, bison roll around both to cool off (the dirt acts like sunscreen), and to attract females.
After finishing up at Mud Volcano, we drove north again to arrive in the Hayden Valley, one of the park’s two common homes for grazing bison herds. Sure enough, we saw bison dotting the near and distant hillsides. This was one of the most beautiful sights I’d ever seen; the lighting, river, clouds, hills, grassy plains, distant hailstorm, and wildlife created a surreal atmosphere. We also spotted two trumpeter swans in the Hayden River.
Elk, Part 2
It was getting late, but there was so much too see. We decided we’d better head to our hotel (still a good distance away on the north side of the park) before it got dark and all the beautiful wildlife transformed into road hazards. Still, there were many quick stops along the way, and being near the 45th parallel, we had plenty of daylight left, though it was dimming quickly. On hillsides beside the road, we saw one cow and two more bull elk with majestic antlers. The second bull sat down, so you could only see his antlers sticking up above the hillside. It was quite the humorous sight, like he was trying to hide but was oblivious of the protruding headgear.
Brink of the Upper Falls // Roaring MOuntain
We couldn’t help but stop at yet a couple more places on the journey to our hotel. We made a quick pull-in to Brink of the Upper Falls overlook, which takes you right to the drop of the Upper Falls in the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. There was no one at the overlook (except another handful of mule deer), and the isolation made the experience even more enjoyable. We left the falls and headed up to Roaring Mountain, a fumarole-laden hillside. Fumaroles are more-or-less steam vents that are also part of the active volcano.
Finally, we decided we couldn’t take any more stops due to impending darkness, so we headed straight to our hotel in Gardiner, MT, which is at the NW end of the park. There was a gorgeous sunset to enjoy along the way, and we ran across a herd of elk in Mammoth, the village which holds the park headquarters. From Mammoth, the road descends steeply to Gardiner, crossing the state line out of Wyoming into Montana. We finally arrived at the Roosevelt Hotel (which was surprisingly nice for a motor inn) just before 22:00, and crashed in bed, anticipating another early start in the morning.
The Best Things We Saw Today
The best thing I saw today was… “the Hayden Valley”.
The best thing I ate today was… “the ham and cheese croissant at Persephone”.
The best thing I saw today was… “the bison at Mud Volcano and Rendezvous Park”.
The best thing I ate today was… “the chocolate and ham croissants at Persephone”.
The best thing I saw today was… “the elk sitting down on the hill with his antlers sticking up”.
The best thing I ate today was… “the lemon scone at Persephone”.
The best thing I saw today was… “Jenny Lake Overlook”.
The best thing I ate today was… “the blueberry muffin at Persephone”.
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Tomorrow, we’ll head east to the Beartooth Mountains and spend more time exploring the NE corner of Yellowstone.
– Isaac, Faith, Jerry, and Amy