We started things off with a visit to the IMAX Theater in downtown West Yellowstone to enjoy a movie describing the history of Yellowstone National Park. That afternoon the girls headed out to get their shopping fix while I stayed behind to wash the bugs off the RV.
The next day we slept in and then enjoyed a pancake breakfast hosted by our traveling companions Bruce & Sue. We also kept an eye on the news and were relieved to learn that our winter home in Edinburg had been spared any damage from hurricane Harvey. At 4pm we headed into the park with absolutely no traffic and only small crowds. Our first visit included hikes to some beautiful waterfalls, erupting and steaming geysers as well as boiling paint pots (pools of colorful bubbling mud) near the Norris section of YNP. To end the day we watched the sun set over the gorgeous Midway Geyser Basin, home to Grand Prismatic, a beautiful and colorful hot spring that happens to be the largest hot spring in the United States, and the third largest in the world. We followed that visit up with a picnic dinner along the Yellowstone River.
The following day was Sunday and we decided to work on the broken day/night shade over our dining room table. We took it down and opened it up, which was no small job, and determined the problem was a couple of broken springs. We then rehung it until we could get new springs. Claudia wasn’t feeling too well that day so we spent the rest of the day relaxing.
On Monday morning I contacted the manufacturer of our shade and they promised that new springs would be in the mail to our campground and that we should get them within a week. That was great news for us and to top it off, no charge.
That afternoon we headed back into the park at about 3pm and once again we had little traffic and small crowds. On this trip we decided to visit the Upper Geyser Basin, home to Old Faithful. Yellowstone, as a whole, possesses close to 60 percent of the world's geysers. The Upper Geyser Basin is home to the largest numbers of these fragile thermal features found in the park. Within one square mile there are at least 150 of these wonders. We spent about an hour hiking around the area before taking our seats to view the next eruption of Old Faithful that was scheduled for 6:11 pm, give or take ten minutes. It may not be as faithful as it used to be but it sure didn’t disappoint us, giving us a show that lasted several minutes and an eruption that shot up close to 100 feet. We were not able to see everything we wanted to in this area on this trip so we decided we’d be returning. After watching Old Faithful, we enjoyed a picnic dinner at a picnic area in the forest nearby.
The following day we decided to take a drive along a scenic loop outside of YNP. Claudia had found out about this in a visitor guide and the loop was supposed to contain lots of wildlife. The drive took us west from YNP and into Idaho, then around Earthquake Lake and Hebgen Lake before returning to West Yellowstone. During the 65 mile drive we didn’t see any wildlife but as is typical with these types of drives, we made a new discovery. This time it was at a visitor center overlooking Earthquake Lake that explained its name. It turns out that the lake was created after an earthquake struck on August 17, 1959, killing 28 people who were camping at the very spot where the visitor center now stood. It was a fascinating piece of history that none of us had heard before and we enjoyed the stop very much as we hiked around the area. These are the types of discoveries that enhance our travels as we visit the more popular areas. Once we returned to our campsite we enjoyed a barbeque together with Bruce and Sue.
For the next couple of days we visited the Yellowstone Historic Center where we enjoyed viewing many of the historical artifacts that have been collected over the years. The center exists in the old train station in the town of West Yellowstone where thousands of visitors arrived to see Yellowstone in the days when it was toured in stagecoaches and early buses. While we were there we watched the films “Above Yellowstone”, a tour of YNP from the air & “Yellowstone Earthquake”, the detailed story of the earthquake we had just learned about the day before. We started the next day with a great breakfast that Claudia had prepared for the four of us. Then we returned to the Historic Center to watch the film “Yellowstone Aflame”, the story of the Great Yellowstone Fires of 1988 that burned nearly a million acres of trees. Following that film, I returned to the campsite while Claudia stayed behind and watched one more film. This one was a Ken Burns film named “Horatio’s Drive: America’s First Road Trip” and described the first cross-country automobile journey in the United States, which occurred during the summer of 1903.
Our next adventure took the four of us out on a 196 mile trip that we had planned for several days. We lined up a dog walker for Stella and left the campsite at 4am. Our first stop was in the Lamar Valley, 70 miles into YNP where we watched the sunrise. We chose this spot because of the abundant wildlife that we might see there. Before we arrived, and in the pitch dark we did see a magnificent bull elk standing in the road right in front of us, just looking at us for several seconds. It was the biggest elk any of us had ever seen – and so close! Unfortunately my camera wasn’t ready for the shot but we’ll all remember it forever and for me it’ll always be “the one that got away”. During sunrise we didn’t see much other wildlife in the valley other than the always present buffalo but we did see several black wolves moving along the river bank quite a ways off. Everyone around us was extremely excited since we understand these viewings are rare. They were too far away for good pictures but it's another viewing we won’t forget. The scenic views all around us were incredible and we were all happy we got up early to make the trip. As we left Lamar Valley we headed northwest where we visited Mammoth Hot Springs, known for its terraces formed over centuries of hot water bubbling up from the ground, cooling and depositing calcium carbonate and creating thousands of natural sculptures. Next it was time for a visit to Gardiner, Montana. Gardiner was officially founded in 1880, but the area has served as a main entrance to Yellowstone National Park since the park’s creation in 1872. We couldn’t visit Yellowstone without seeing the iconic Roosevelt arch which stands as a symbol to the national and international importance of America’s first national park. We enjoyed our homemade lunch at a nice little picnic area looking up at this beautiful monument. Following lunch we completed the final two hours of our drive and arrived back at the campsite about 2:30, completing our 10 ½ hour trip. It was a trip to remember for sure.
The next two days were the Saturday and Sunday of Labor Day weekend. We decided to spend these two days just relaxing at the campsite due to all the Labor Day sightseers that were around. It was nice to just relax and enjoy each other’s company and it gave me a chance to take out the guitar and do a little entertaining.
On that Monday however, we made up for the lost time. The four of us headed out at 8am for an 8 ½ hour drive inside Yellowstone National Park. We visited many sites along the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. This included several hikes, a couple of them quite strenuous, to areas along and into the Upper & Lower Falls. We were rewarded with some absolutely gorgeous views of the falls and of the canyon. On our way back from one of our hikes we were surprised and happy to bump into some friends of ours from Texas who are traveling a similar route as ours. It can be such a small world sometimes. We then made a stop at Sulphur Caldron, one of the park’s most acidic hot springs, with yellow and turbulent water that is as acidic as battery acid. From there we proceeded to the Mud Volcano, an area that offers some of the most unique thermal features in Yellowstone including bubbling mud pots and lakes of acid. After all that hiking we decided to treat ourselves to a night out at the Slippery Otter Pub in West Yellowstone for some great pizza and brew.
The next morning we decided to head out for breakfast before visiting the Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center located a short walk from our campground. It’s a not-for-profit wildlife park that provides a sanctuary for Bears, Wolves and Birds of Prey that would otherwise have to be put down because of either injury or behavioral issues. Although the wolves were beautiful to see, the bear exhibit was the highlight. About every hour they would release anywhere from one to four grizzly bears into an open enclosure where we could watch as they hunted for hidden food and interacted with each other. It was addicting to just watch these huge and powerful animals. We also learned how to avoid a negative encounter with a bear in the wild and saw a demonstration on how to use our bear spray if we ever needed to. Following our visit there we returned to the campsite where Claudia and Sue prepared a great spaghetti dinner for the four of us.
Our next day was our final day in West Yellowstone so we made one final trip into the park for hikes along the Lower and Upper Geyser Basins that boasts the largest concentration of geysers in the world, many of which erupted as we watched. We also made a return trip to Old Faithful in order to view one more eruption from her. Next we made a visit to Biscuit Basin that contains Sapphire Pool, one of the most beautiful blue pools in the park and Mustard Spring which provides a bright color contrast as well as Jewel Geyser that erupts every 7-10 minutes. Our final stop was at Great Fountain Geyser, one of the largest geysers in the park and one that is surrounded by beautiful pools.
Our next stop takes us to Victor, Idaho, a short drive from Jackson, Wyoming and an easy drive to Grand Teton National Park. The excitement and the adventure just keep going and we love it.