I don’t know how long my discussion of Yellowstone will turn out to be, so I’ve tentatively labeled this as Part 1.
Alex and I got kind of a late start on our first day at Yellowstone. The drive from Salt Lake City had taken a lot longer than we had expected. In addition to the two hours of scheduled stops, and the unscheduled more than an hour Rocket Display stop, I forgot my rescue inhaler, so we had to transfer it to a Walmart in Idaho and wait for it to become ready. I estimate that rather than taking four or five hours, it took eight or nine. At this point, I was not in a rush to get back in the car, even though I thought that I’d get plenty of time out of the car at Yellowstone.
I didn’t get lots of time out of the car at Yellowstone. Let’s put it this way. San Antonio is the 67th largest city in the world in terms of land area. You could drop San Antonio on top of Yellowstone (not that I’d recommend this) and still have lots of space around the edges (19 miles all the way around, if my math is correct). So, yeah. Unless you book a bus tour, expect to spend lots of time in the car.
Overall, I have to give Yellowstone a solid four out of five stars for producing megafauna to gawk at. Minutes after entering the park, we saw our first bison. By the time we left Yellowstone heading for Dinosaur National Monument, we saw even more bison (including several herd of bison in the distance, one ahead of us blocking traffic, and one alongside the road so close to our car we could hear it breathing — that was unnerving), a black bear (which was too close to the road, but we stopped and took a couple of pictures anyway, a grizzly bear (likewise), at least one yellow-bellied marmot, and at least one elk (or maybe one elk and two moose cows, or possibly two elk and one moose cow). I think I saw some pronghorn antelope in the distance once. We also heard something howling on two separate occasions (I’m not sure if they were coyotes or wolves). No dall sheep or actual sightings of wolves, and also it would have been nice to have gotten a picture of the things that I thought might be pronghorn. If I’d gotten those squares on my megafauna bingo card, Yellowstone would have rated five out of five.
Believe it or not, that brown lump pretty much right in the center of the image is a bison. I also have some closer photos of it, but I wanted to share just the tiniest bit of the scale of the park as well. The water in the foreground is the Madison River.
We chose not to go to Old Faithful first because Alex wanted to do some stargazing and I read several things that said that the area around Old Faithful is a good place to stargaze, largely because there are people there pretty much around the clock. Since it was just the two of us, I figured that keeping to populated areas after dark would be a good plan. As it turned out, 81% of the moon’s disk was visible that night, so the light pollution from the moon ended up causing us difficulty with the stargazing. I still owe Alex a stargazing trip.
Back to that morning. We’d heard that there had been snow at the higher elevations in Yellowstone, so since we started out kind of hungry, we chose to eat at the Canyon Village, which is the highest in elevation (I hoped that perhaps Canyon Village would be close enough to the highest elevations that we could see if there actually was snow up there and maybe find a route up to it). We ended up eating sandwiches at the deli and while they were, you know, sandwiches, and not terribly exciting as cuisine goes, the people there were very pleasant and helpful. This set a very nice tone for the day.
After we ate, we stumbled across the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, which is a place where the Yellowstone River cut into the rock and, well, created a canyon (just like it says on the tin). We found, and spent entirely too much time photographing, the Lower Falls. We saw a boardwalk that led down towards the river and, because I’m too adventurous for my own good sometimes, I convinced Alex to go down there with me. The trip down was great, but the trip back up was a bit strenuous. Just a year ago, he and I had climbed the Statue of Liberty with no problem, so I was sort of distressed about just how difficult I found the walk back up. However, the elevation of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone is around 6,000 feet, so perhaps that made at least some of the difference.
After this, we went in search of even higher elevations, which led us up into the northwest corner of the park. I didn’t want to attempt to climb Mount Washburn. Oh, who am I kidding? I probably would have totally been up for it (despite the adventure I had coming back up at the Grand Canyon). Alex talked me out of it. Mount Washburn was probably our best shot at seeing snow on this trip, too. Oh, well, maybe it’ll snow in Dallas this year and we’ll luck out and be able to go up to Dallas to see it.
While we were in that corner, we drove into Fort Yellowstone, where we saw an animal that I at first identified as a horse. Alex was taking pictures of it, and I asked him why he was taking pictures of “that horse.” He told me that it clearly was not a horse and later, when I looked at the pictures, I think it might have been a moose, though it was more of a yellow color than I was expecting. Looking at other pictures of moose and elk, maybe it was an elk.
We parked and kind of knocked around a while at the Mammoth Hot Springs area (and I would like to go back and stay at the Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel some fall or winter) and took a lot of pictures of the thermal features there.
At this point, it was getting pretty late and we were looking at an hour and a half drive, so we headed towards Old Faithful. We took even longer than that, because we found a whole area of thermal features that needed to be explored and photographed.
Finally, with the sun beginning to sink in the west, we headed for Old Faithful. We got there just after an eruption, so we had an hour or so to kill, and during that time, the sun went down almost completely. I took some photographs of the geyser before the sun went down and then again afterwards (I also videoed the eruption, but my phone camera is not fantastic at night photography, so the video is mostly whooshing noises and blackness). We stuck our heads into the Old Faithful Inn (I had wanted to visit the Inn because I remember the 1988 wildfires that came *this* close to threatening the Inn). We then went to the Old Faithful Lodge and got a drink and two huge cookies to eat while we waited.
One of the nice things about watching Old Faithful erupt after nightfall is that almost no one is there. We had fantastic seats. And the geyser gave us a nice several-minute show. After the eruption we looked at the stars for a bit, but I wasn’t sure if they really would let us out of the park that late at night, and we still faced a 45-minute drive (during daylight hours — we were driving just a little more slowly because I didn’t want to end up wrapping the car around a moose or something) back to West Yellowstone, so we headed back out. We stopped along the way and looked at the stars again on the way, as well.
And, since we’re at over 1,000 words, this looks like a good place to stop for now. So I will end up with at least two posts on Yellowstone. We’ll meet here in Montana/Wyoming again on September 3, I think?