Yellowstone: West and North

We’ve already posted three blogs on our time in Yellowstone National Park, and we still have a bunch to share. We’ll try to fit everything in this posting, since you’re probably tired of hearing about how beautiful Yellowstone is! In this post we’ll share a few of our adventures outside of the park in West Yellowstone, Montana, and we’ll fill you in on our days in the northern part of the park, including the Lamar Valley which has been called the “Serengeti of North America.”

We spent about six days in and around West Yellowstone and the west entrance to the national park. While in the area we strolled the cute shops in the tourist town, and Steve made a few purchases. He’s decided to take up fly fishing so time in the fly shops was included in our explorations. Who knew there was so much to learn about this very-Montana way of fishing?

Cliff Lake

Just before starting this trip we purchased two Botē inflatable kayaks, which we plan to use later this year when we return to the Florida Keys. However, we figured, “why wait?” We scouted out a sweet little mountain lake about 30 minutes outside of West Yellowstone. Cliff Lake was perfect place to launch the kayaks and paddle around. Steve even threw out a line and got a bite.

Wild West Yellowstone Rodeo

After our time at the lake we took in the local rodeo, the Wild West Yellowstone rodeo. It was really a display for tourists, not comparable to Prescott’s Rodeo, but we enjoyed the show from our camp chairs right up on the railing.

Mammoth Hot Springs and the North

After six days of exploration from West Yellowstone, we made our way through the park to a new campsite just outside of Gardiner, MT. We based ourselves at an RV park poised aside the Yellowstone River, which gave us easy access to the north gate and the historic arched entrance.

The north entrance to the national park is anchored by Mammoth Hot Springs. Mammoth Hot Springs consist of terraces of travertine over which hot spring waters run.

As a result, the springs emit steam and colorful pools that have drawn tourists since the park’s founding in 1872. We toured the springs on a cool evening and enjoyed the walk through the boardwalks.

Animals!

A visit to Yellowstone would not be complete without some extensive wildlife watching. Fortunately we found ourselves in a bear jam at one point during our explorations, and the bear came right up beside the truck! I rolled down the window to get a good picture, and Steve grabbed his bear spray. It was thrilling!

However, the best place to see wildlife is in the expansive Lamar Valley in the northern part of Yellowstone. We headed out on another early morning in search of animals and were not disappointed.

Of course we saw bison…everywhere. The best parts of the bison herds were all the babies that were tagging along with their moms.

In fact, we saw babies of all kinds including baby elk, baby badgers, baby pika, and baby wolves. Yes, we saw wolves but didn’t get photos since they were so far away, and a monocle was necessary to see the den. Thanks to a local guide, we were able to see the mama with her seven puppies. Even from a distance, it was super cool to get a glimpse of these animals that were once wiped from the area.

Of all the places we explored in Yellowstone, the Lamar Valley was the place that most exceeded our expectations. We found a beautiful hike, saw incredible scenery, and met a multitude of Yellowstone’s animal residents. If you go to Yellowstone, don’t miss the Lamar Valley!

We’re now on to parts north and will soon have more adventures to share. Happy Fourth of July!

P.S. Yes, Steve caught his first trout in the Yellowstone River. 🐟

Yellowstone National Park – Part Three: Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone

When we Arizonans hear “Grand Canyon,” we think of the big hole in the northern part of our state. But did you know that Yellowstone also has a Grand Canyon and it’s spectacular? In fact, the Canyon area of the national park is the second most visited area in the park, just behind Old Faithful.

Our first glimpse of the canyon was on our first day’s drive around the park. By the time we got to the south rim, we were tired and not interested in doing any kind of in-depth exploration. We took some pictures and moved on. But, we knew we had to return to do a full exploration of the north rim.

Once again, we arrived in the early morning to avoid the crowds and it was a good idea. In fact, at some overlooks we were the only people there! The early morning mist and low hanging clouds also added to the dramatic atmosphere. The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone is punctuated by two massive falls–upper and lower. Each fall has a trail that take you down over 500 feet to the brink of the falls. We did both.

The trails are short but steep, and the rewards are magnificent. To be able to stand atop a waterfall that is rushing downward right before your eyes is a real rush.

In addition to hiking the “brink” trails we also walked the north rim trail to the end. All along the 2 1/2 mile trail we could see into the canyon that has been carved by the Yellowstone River over millions of years. Words like “spectacular,” “magnificent,” and “incredible” are not enough to describe the grandeur of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.

After we explored the canyon and strolled through the visitor center and gift shop, we headed to one more area that our guidebooks highly recommended: Artists Paint Pots. We had to wait out a hailstorm, but that just added to the mystery of this place. The Paint Pots thermal area features a one mile loop across boardwalks that pass colorful geothermal springs and mud pots, with the highlight being the boiling mud pots.

In fact, our guidebook called this feature the “giggliest” thermal feature in Yellowstone. Hopefully this video gives you a good idea of why it’s such a funny thing.

Does it feel like we’ve done a lot already? Well, we have and there’s still more to come. We’ll have another blog post coming your way soon to describe the fun things we did outside the park and to feature all the incredible animals we met during our Yellowstone travels.

Yellowstone National Park – Part Two: Old Faithful

Our time in Yellowstone National Park would not be complete without considerable time focused on the thermal features of the park. The Yellowstone region has more than 10,000 geothermal features, including 300 geysers. The most notable geyser is, of course, Old Faithful. Thousands flock to the stadium-like area around the world’s most famous geyser and about every 75-90 minutes she erupts without fail. Even though it wasn’t the first time for either of us, we had to go and pay our respects.

The challenge of properly seeing Old Faithful is navigating the crowds. As mentioned in our last post, the crush of people, combined with road construction, makes a trip to Old Faithful a trying experience in the middle of the day. We opted for a very early morning visit and enjoyed every minute.

Old Faithful is just one of many geysers, springs, and other thermal features that populate the Upper Geyser Basin. We walked the boardwalks behind Old Faithful amidst the morning fog and were treated to incredible perspectives on the varied features.

The coolest thing we saw was at the end of our walk through the basin. We came upon Riverside Geyser where a nice man named Jim told us that the geyser was about to erupt. There were only five of us standing in the viewing area when, just as Jim (a veteran geyser expert) said, the geyser blew. Riverside Geyser currently erupts about every two hours, but that varies. When it erupts, it goes for an average of 22 minutes.

Hot water spewed out the top of the rock formation that sits aside the Firehole River. Massive amounts of steam billowed towards the sky, and then we were sprinkled with a mist that was cool and refreshing. It almost didn’t seem real. Steve got a good video to show you what we saw. Wow…just wow!

Our viewing of Old Faithful’s eruption about 30 minutes later was a little anti-climactic, to say the least. Still, we enjoyed the ritual with Mia and Bob by our side.

As you can imagine, we took A LOT of photos on this excursion. Below are a few more just for fun…

An early morning excursion like this must be followed by some retail therapy in one of the park’s many gift shops, followed by lunch along another peaceful stream.

There’s much more to report from Yellowstone. Stay tuned!