From Grand Teton it was just a short hop into the park we had really come to Wyoming to see: the majestic Yellowstone. We got into the park by about 10am, meaning that we had the day to explore. This was one of the bucket list places, and we were determined to do it justice. I can honestly say that I have never been anywhere else in the world quite like Yellowstone. Iceland certainly has its share of geothermal weirdness with Strokkur and Geysir, but Yellowstone is on a quite different scale.
We focused for the first day on the lower portion of the famous ‘figure 8‘ loop, and decided that we would start with a visit to the most famous geyser of all – Old Faithful. When we arrived we had about 40 minutes until his next eruption, so wandered around the interesting museum. I managed to lose Van and Amy somehow, and had little chance of finding them amidst the sizeable crowd that had gathered, so just sat down and waited. I had my iPhone in one hand, DSLR in the other, but Old Faithful was not playing ball.
And then finally, about seven minutes after the estimated time, he came through:
Excelsior Pool and Grand Prismatic Springs
After stopping at Old Faithful, we went up towards Midway Geyser Basin, stopping numerous times along the way to see the smaller geysers. Midway hosts two of the largest hot springs in the world: Excelsior and Grand Prismatic Springs. Excelsior, which erupted in the 1880s, sending steam 300 feet into the sky, is now a deep blue bubbling cauldron. The wind was up when we were there, meaning that we alternated between a cool breeze and a hot, sulphurous steam hitting us in the face. Quite therapeutic, save for the rotten egg smell.
Behind Excelsior lies Grand Prismatic Springs, which is absolutely stunning. Around this pool live various sorts of thermophile bacteria (perhaps akin to the sorts that may have been the earliest life on earth), and these bacteria cause the stunning rings of colour around the edge of the pool. It’s truly spectacular, and was my favourite sight in the park.
We made our way onwards, stopping at various smaller springs and bubbling gulches, including the fabulously named Mud Volcano. Van had a particular soft spot for Dragon’s Mouth, a gurgling, sulphurous hole in the rock that deserved its name. Woe betide any have-a-go-hero that decided to take on this particular dragon though; I cannot imagine it would end well.
As well as the geysers and hot springs, Yellowstone also boasts mud pools; I really liked the bubbling hot mud. It really looked as if the interior of the earth was having fun in Yellowstone, burping and belching to remind us that it has the power to cause untold havoc at will.
Yellowstone Canyon itself was spectacular: whilst we didn’t have time to walk down, we did stop at a number of overlooks to peer down into the steep creek, as well as stopping in a car park a little before the canyon that afforded a great view over the Yellowstone River.
Elk, Coyote and Bison
Wildlife wise, we didn’t see any bears or wolves, but did come across an elk merrily chomping on some foliage next to the road and a coyote thieving for scraps near a car park.
Best of all was a herd of bison causing the famous ‘wildlife jam’ by sprawling themselves across the tarmac. We parked our rental car well away before we got out to have a look!
A Fragile Environment
Yellowstone was, quite simply, stunning – a bleak, otherworldly mix of geothermal strangeness and stark, spectral beauty.
As well as the skeletons of trees killed by situating themselves too close to steaming sulphur, many trees in the park have unfortunately been killed by mountain pine beetles. These have probably been enabled by a warming climate, and have decimated parts of the forest, making parts of the park look a little post-apocalyptic.
Another Rainy Night
We were lucky in that the rain had held off for the day – in fact, it had been beautifully sunny – but as night fell, the clouds gathered. By the time we made it back to the tents, it was pouring with rain. Crying uncle, we once again abandoned the plan for a campfire and went instead for a meal at Grant Village Dining Room.
Highlights: Stunning landscapes, geothermal magic – Yellowstone was everything I hoped that it would be.
Lowlights: No campfire again due to evening rain – and a slightly damp sleep (Amy gave up and slept in the car).
Up next: Northern Yellowstone, the wilds of Montana