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26 - 28 September 2015 Wyoming - Yellowstone

Saturday 26th September

Up and on our way just as it was getting light. Gorgeous pink and blue sunrise over Jackson. We took the Wyoming 26 north through Grand Teton park. Saw aircraft taking off from the airport looking like small specs against the backdrop of the mountains. A few people about in the turnouts waiting to see some wildlife. We did see a female moose with two youngsters. Stopped to take a few last photos of the stunning Grand Teton Range.

Turned onto the 89 past Mount Moran and Jackson Lake then started to climb through pine forests until we made our descent into Yellowstone National Park.

Left the Snake River behind and followed the Lewis River to Lewis Falls.

Stopped for a walk in the sunshine and a cup of tea and a cake. We crossed the Continental Divide again at Craig Pass at over 8000 feet. Stopped off at Old Faithful and watched the geyser let off hot water and steam that shot between 106-185 feet in the air.

It is quite a sight and drawers the crowds.

Went into the Visitor Centre and watched a short film about the geology of the park.

Yellowstone was the first national park, created in 1872 and covers over two million acres in Wyoming, Montana and Idaho. The park sits on a huge volcano, the last eruption, about 640,000 years ago, emptied a large underground chamber of magma. The roof of this chamber slowly collapsed forming a large caldera or basin creating what is today the park. The magma heat from these eruptions still powers the parks geysers, hot springs, volcanic vents and mudpots.

We continued on towards the west entrance of the park, crossed into Montana on the way and stopped off at the side of Nez Perce Creek to have lunch.

We booked in at Yellowstone Grizzly Bear RV Park in Yellowstone West, just outside the park gate. Nice little town, and the RV Park is very smart with large grassy campsites and good facilities.

At the back of the park is a grassy meadow and forest, Sandy thinks she is in second heaven.

Sunday 27th September

Up early and made our way into the park before sun up. From the west gate the road travelled alongside the Madison River which had steam and mist floating over the water. Past Madison we came across Mule deer and elk feeding at the side of the Gibbon River.

There was a large male elk calling or bugling after one of the females who totally ignored him, he trotted off in disgust.

As we came to open pasture land on the Central Plateau there was a herd of buffalo. The sun was just coming up over a hill glowing through the steam and mist off the river, a really atmospheric scene.

We past Gibbon Falls and several small volcanic vents, called fumaroles, that are along the roadside and river and emitting steam.

At Artists Paintpots we parked the car and walked along the trail to see the colourful mudpots. A lot of trees in this area were burned in the 1988 forest fire but there are plenty of young Lodgepole pines growing to replace the old forest. Just after we started the trail we saw a group of standing dead grey tree trunks, they were not killed by fire but by the runoff from thermal features in the area.

The water flooded around the trees and minerals in the water plugged the base of the trees killing them and leaving the bases white. The trail went to a series of hot springs where much of the water was bubbling near boiling point producing plenty of steam,

making them difficult to photograph. We climbed up hill to a couple of mudpots. The mudpots are created when the water supply is reduced and sulphuric acid is produced breaking down the surrounding rock into clay which forms the mudpots. Gases escape from the mud causing it to bubble. On the way back we saw a very friendly little chipmunk breakfasting on a blade of grass and quite happy to pose for pictures.

Next we made our way up to Norris Geyser Basin, one of the parks, hottest hydrothermal areas. We followed the trail around the basin, most of the time on our own, it was still early and very quiet. We came to Steamboat Geyser, the world’s tallest active geyser, but full eruptions are rare.

There are the mudpots and colourful hot springs, hissing, gurgling, bubbling, throwing water and steam up high. Here you can hear the sounds, smell the sulphur and feel the roaring power of Yellowstone, thundering away below ground.

Continuing on to Mammoth Hot Springs we came across a couple of Buffalo standing in the road and in no hurry to move.

Eventually we got on our way and arrived at Mammoth in time for a picnic lunch. As we pulled up in the car park the lady in the next car stopped us. She said if you are thinking of having a picnic, be careful of the dog, there is a bison in the picnic area – only in Yellowstone. Had some lovely Huckleberry ice cream from the General Store. After lunch we drove to the Upper Terraces and walked around the boardwalk overlook around the stepped terrace structures. These spectacular terraces are made of travertine rock and thermophiles (heat loving microorganisms) create the colours. Heated water from underground makes its way to the surface and flows across this sculptured landscape that looks like an ancient marble terrace with bathing pools below small water falls, quite stunning.

We went back into the town to find several female elk sitting on the lawn outside the Visitor Centre and a male elk holding up the traffic, he was obviously interested in the ladies and nothing was going to stop him.

Had a look around the Visitor Centre which has exhibits telling the story of the park, including the period when the US Army protected the park, 1886-1916. We made our way to the north gate and the town of Gardiner.

The Roosevelt Arch is over the first entrance to the park but we couldn’t travel through it because of the refurbishment work going on around the arch. We drove out of the park into Paradise Valley which is flanked by the Absaroka and Gallatin Ranges and has the Yellowstone River running through the valley. A lovely scenic drive but time was getting on, therefore after a few miles we turned and headed back towards Yellowstone, seeing some Pronghorn antelope on the way.

Made our way to Canyon Village and the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone River. On our way we crossed the 45th parallel, halfway point between the Equator and the North Pole. This deep canyon with its two waterfalls and dramatic canyon wall colours is something to behold.

We went to the south rim and I walked the 500 foot winding path down into the canyon and the lower falls. From a platform at the side of the 308 foot falls there was a spectacular view along the canyon together with the roaring sound of the falls. The downward journey was easy but back up was strenuous, particularly with the altitude.

This was our last stop of the day and we made our way back to camp. What a day! This place is really something special, stunning scenery, mountains, forests, grasslands, rivers, dramatic canyons, volcanic basins, more geysers than anywhere else, hot springs, it felt like north-west America in microcosm, just breathtaking. To top it all we had good view of the eclipse of the moon. We caught it just halfway covered,

too tired to wait for the full blood moon effect. We have had some really big bright full moons over these last few nights, lighting up the park with its brilliance.

Monday 28th September

After our long day yesterday we decided to have a rest day. I did some laundry and then went to the Visitor Centre in West Yellowstone to attend a workshop with one of the Park Rangers about where to look for wild animals in the park and how to stay safe around them. She told us where the various wolf packs are located, what to do if you come across a bear and distances to keep between yourself and the animals. Bear attacks are rare but problems usually occur when the bears are surprised by your presence, therefore keep to the trails and make sure they know you are coming by clapping or singing. Usually they will keep out of your way but if there is a problem, she demonstrated how to use bear spray.

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