Today, we traveled around Yellowstone National Park. Our goal was to see things we missed during our last trip, and to repeat some of the highlights.
We left our cabin near Henry’s Lake in Idaho, and traveled east to West Yellowstone to find some breakfast. We stopped at Go-Go Espresso, a small drive-through-only shack that sold coffee and some basic breakfast items. We all got coffees, plus some bagels and muffins. The coffees were good, but not very hot.
Yellowstone National Park
Since this is our first full day here, here are some facts about Yellowstone National Park.
- 2,221,766 acres // 3,472 sq mi (larger than Rhode Island and Delaware combined)
- 10mi north of Grand Teton National Park, connected by the John D. Rockefeller Jr. Memorial Parkway
- Named after the “Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone”
- From 1886 to 1916, the US Army oversaw management of the park
- 1,000+mi of hiking trails
- Lowest elevation: 5,282′ (Reese Creek)
- Highest elevation: 11,358′ (Eagle Peak)
- Average elevation: 7,733′
- 96% in WY, 3% in MT, 1% in Idaho
- 5% water, 15% grassland, 80% forests
- Yellowstone Lake is 131.7 sq mi, with 141 mi of shoreline
- 1,000-3,000 earthquakes annually
- 10,000+ hydrothermal features
- 500+ active geysers
- 290+ waterfalls
- 67 species of mammals, 285 of birds, 16 of fish, 5 of amphibians, 6 of reptiles
- 9 species of conifers, 1,000+ of flowering, 186 species of lichens, and 225 invasive plant species
- World’s first national park – established March 1, 1872
- The park sits on top of an active supervolcano
- About half the world’s hydrothermal features and half the world’s geysers are found in Yellowstone
- Home to the largest concentration of mammal species in the lower 48 states
- Wolves were absent from the park for 70+ years, and were successfully reintroduced starting in 1995
After stopping for breakfast, we drove straight to Old Faithful, where we parked and watched the geyser spout off. I’ll echo what I said the last time we visited: if you are tight on time, skip Old Faithful in favor of something else in the park. But, Mom wanted to go back, so we made the stop again.
We drove a short distance up the road to Biscuit Basin, where Faith and I started on a hike to Mystic Falls on the Firehole River. The falls drop 70′ over multiple levels, and feature several geothermal features in the canyon (mostly fumaroles). The hike was short and flat (about 2.4mi out-and-back). It was much more impressive than Fairy Falls, which we visited last year. Getting down close to the falls was a little sketchy, as the trail turned into a steep slope with mostly scree. We decided to not go all the way to the base of the falls, especially since my ankle and leg are not quite 100% healed.
Back at Biscuit Basin, we made a quick lap around the boardwalks to see the hot springs and other geothermal features. Some of the highlights of this basin include Sapphire Pool, Black Diamond Pool, West Geyser, and Dark Opal Pool. It’s amazing how unique each one of the features is.
Midway Geyser Basin
From Biscuit Basin, we drove to Midway Geyser Basin, home of two main features: Excelsior Geyser Crater and the massive Grand Prismatic Spring. Excelsior Geyser was an active geyser in the late 1800s, erupting over 100ft tall and 300ft wide Researchers believe it erupted so violently that it actually damaged its internal plumbing, and has since transformed into a hot spring, except for a brief 46hr-long stint of relatively tiny eruptions in 1985. The hot spring dumps ~4,500 gallons of 199°F water into the Firehole River every minute.
“…simply incredible, elevating to heights of 100 to 300 feet, sufficient water to render the Fire Hole River, nearly 100 yards wide, [into] a foaming torrent of steaming hot water, and hurling rocks of from 1 to 100 pounds in weight, like those from an exploded mine, over surrounding acres.”
Grand Prismatic Spring is by far the largest and most famous hot spring in Yellowstone and in the United States. It’s the third largest in the world, behind Frying Pan Lake in New Zealand and Boiling Lake in Dominica. We walked the boardwalk up to the 300′ wide spring, and marveled at the colors and runoff.
Remember when I said I was foreshadowing about high winds on Day 7 of this trip? Faith lost her hat to a wind gust, which blew it 25ft away into the middle of the runoff. I counted at least 18 other hats which had fallen victim to the wind. Before Faith lost her’s, we had just talked about the crazy wind gusts, and I had just taken mine off to fasten it to my backpack. Faith was reaching up to grab hers when it blew off.
While Dad, Faith, and I pushed Walker up the hill in the stroller (a rather long walk), Mom sat down by the river to enjoy the view. She attempted to cross the bridge, but decided to turn around because of the wind gusts.
We drove back to Old Faithful, and stopped at the Old Faithful General Store to get an afternoon snack in lieu of lunch. Dad got a slice of pizza, and the rest of us got either a hot dog or a bison brat. We ate our lunch on the front porch of the store, while watching the oversized crows scavenge for crumbs.
Lake // fishing Bridge
Leaving Old Faithful, we drove east toward Yellowstone Lake, winding our way up and around West Thumb. It was a beautiful, clear day, so we had a great view of the vast lake from the car and a couple of the pullouts we stopped at. I’d hoped to have time to continued around the lake to go to Lake Butte Overlook, and the Pelican Valley, but once again time didn’t allow us to. That was disappointing, as it’s one of the only areas of the park we haven’t visited.
We made a quick pull-in to see Lake Yellowstone Hotel, made a brief drive across Fishing Bridge, and then drove north toward the Hayden Valley and Canyon Village.
Mud Volcano // Hayden Valley
Before the main stretch of the Hayden Valley, we arrived at Mud Volcano, and noticed a huge crowd by the side of the road. We though it might be some wildlife, but we were only half-correct. There was a dead bull elk on the other side of the Yellowstone River, by the East Caldron. The crowd was waiting to see what predators might arrive to try to score an easy meal. We waited for a while, but nothing showed, so we decided to leave and maybe try again later.
Continuing north on the Grand Loop Road, we drove through the magnificent Hayden Valley. The Yellowstone River winds through the valley; bison herds were grazing in the distance. It a picturesque remnant of what the American west was once like.
At the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, we stopped at Upper Falls View on South Rim Drive to see the thundering Upper Falls. For the sake of time, we didn’t continue to Artist Point at the end of the road, but I would highly recommend going if you have time.
Madison River Valley
We left the Canyon, and cut across Norris Canyon Road back towards the park’s west entrance. In the Madison River Valley, we had to stop to feed Walker; fortunately, this allowed us to watch the sunset, and take some photos of a some birds and a lone bison grazing by the side of the road. Eventually, the bison had caused so much traffic backup, that two rangers had to arrive with bullhorns to move the cars along. We watched the spectacle from the a parking lot on the opposite side of the road.
Back in West Yellowstone, we got to-go boxes from Firehole Bar-B-Que Co. for dinner. Mom got a pork sandwich, and the rest of us got brisket sandwiches. The food was pretty good, but most of our sandwiches had soggy buns. The food was filling, and that was the most important thing after yet another full day.
After dinner, Dad and I ran in Food Roundup Supermarket to get him some allergy medicine and me some blister pads. Then, we drove to Espresso & Ice Cream House to get some ice cream. They, like many establishments in the state, serve Montana-made Wilcoxson’s Ice Cream. Mom got maple nut; Dad got maple nut and strawberry cheesecake; I got maple nut and huckleberry; and Faith got raspberry and mango sorbet.
After finishing our ice cream (and then turning up the heat in the car, because it was near-freezing outside), we drove across the state line into Island Park, Idaho. This time, it was much easier to find the gate to access our cabin. We did a couple loads of laundry, packed up all we could in preparation for tomorrow’s departure, and headed to bed.
Here’s a video from today’s adventures.
The Best Things we Saw Today
The best thing I saw today was… “Mystic Falls”.
The best thing I ate today was… “the brisket on the sandwich”.
The best thing I saw today was… “Upper Falls – the worst thing was watching my hat fly away”.
The best thing I ate today was… “the bison bratwurst”.
The best thing I saw today was… “Grand Prismatic Spring”.
The best thing I ate today was… “the brisket sandwich”.
The best thing I saw today was… “front row seating at Old Faithful, and sitting by the Firehole River”.
The best thing I ate today was… “maple nut ice cream”.
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Tomorrow, we’ll explore the Canyon, Lamar Valley, and Dunraven Pass areas of the park.
– Isaac & Co.