Until I met Angie, I hadn’t visited any of the major U.S. National Parks. Now, we have a national parks passport and we are busily checking off some major and minor sites. The latest significant stamp, in terms of the famous parks, is Yellowstone, which was also the first park created, back in 1872, over 40 years before the National Park Service was even founded. Yellowstone is a blockbuster park for sure, with some of the most famous sites in America, including Old Faithful. Angie wanted to be sure I caught some of the highlights, since we were only going to spend one day in the park and she expected it to be crowded. I’m not going to describe too much of what I saw because so many words have been written about this place over the years, but I will talk a little about the things I enjoyed.
Since we had stayed in Livingston overnight, we entered the park via the North Entrance in Gardiner, Montana.
It’s interesting, by the way, that this entrance is in Montana, because, once you enter the park, you’re actually in Wyoming, and most of the park is in Wyoming. The north entrance is the site of The Roosevelt Arch but we didn’t go through it because the entrance is being redone. In fact, because of the construction, I didn’t even notice that we were entering Wyoming (not a new state for either of us) as we drove in.
On the way in, we stopped at the visitor’s center to get our NPS passport stamped. The visitors center is housed in one of the buildings that was a part of the military base in the park. Since the park service didn’t exist when the park was founded, it was really hard to prevent vandalism and poaching, so in the early years, the military policed the park and quite a large base grew up, known as Fort Yellowstone. Now, the buildings are devoted to shops, dining, and so on. The military left in 1918.
Some of the buildings that were part of the army base.
The first place Angie wanted me to see was Mammoth Hot Springs, which are by the North visitor center. Hot springs are one of the three key “water features” of the park by the way, the others being geysers, of course, and mud pots. All three are hot spots in terms of water temperature too. Seeing the hot springs was a great place to start because it gets you thinking about the literal awesomeness of the place. I took a wander along just a small part of the area.
I could already see how one day would really just scratch the surface of the park, but we have reached the end of our year of and we kind of need to get to something resembling a destination so we can try to get started on the next stage of our lives, so this really was a drive by. And of course, we also have Rebbe with us, and dogs are not allowed in many parts of the national parks.
As we drove from the visitor center toward the Norris Geyser Basin, you could see how integral the hot water is to this part of the park, as there were bubbling pools all over the place!
On the way into the Norris Geyser Basin I spoke briefly with a park ranger, who advised me what to focus on there and told me that the geysers in this part of the park are the hottest water anywhere in the park. He told me that I should take the time to check out Porcelain Basin and Steamboat Geyser in particular. The colors and the steam were amazing, as were the tourists who had a hard time staying on the boardwalks. I saw one woman fall off the edge as she backed up for a photo! I timed my visit to Steamboat Geyser well. Although I don’t think it reached its record height, I did get to see an eruption.
The next stop was Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. Angie thought it important I see this, since after 30+ years in the USA I have yet to visit THE Grand Canyon, which I know is beyond what I saw at Yellowstone. But the canyon is really cool as you listen to the water rushing over the falls.
A high point for us was a view of an osprey net with some young birds in it. They are much larger than the osprey chicks we’ve seen on our travels across the country of course because they’re older than the ones we saw earlier this year.
After lunch, Angie wanted me to see the Artists Paintpots, which were super cool. Mud pots are the hot pools that look like pools of mud. In this case, different minerals make them look like different colors. My favorite was the white one because it totally looked like paint to me.
Our final major stop was what is probably the most famous feature in the park, Old Faithful. Apparently, it doesn’t erupt with quite the same regularity that it used to, but the rangers have a pretty good idea of a time range, so crowds gather waiting for it to erupt. Angie went to check out the visitor center and got some information on the rough eruption time. While she was gone, one of the nearby geysers put on a nice show. We had just about given up, and were walking away toward the bathroom when the show began. Unfortunately, the pictures we took don’t do it justice. It was a great spectacle though.
If we’d known better about what a cluster it was to get out of the parking lot (reminiscent of a ball game or concert) and how few places there were to eat south of us that wouldn’t have long lines, we probably would have gotten something to eat near Old Faithful and hung around a while. It was pretty painful on both counts. It probably only 20 minutes to a half hour, but it felt like much longer, especially as other vehicles, including a massive RV, cut in front of us.
We eventually exited through the south entrance of the park, which effectively takes you into Grand Teton National Park via the John Rockefeller Jr. Memorial Parkway. We stopped at one restaurant but the set up didn’t look workable for us. We stopped at one of the visitor centers to ask for advice for somewhere to eat, but they only knew of one place, which they predicted, accurately, would be super crowded (and no parking anywhere near). Meanwhile, we drove through the park in rather gloomy weather, though it was clear enough that we had some great views of the Grand Tetons themselves. In the end, we decided to enjoy our views of the park and head toward the campground where we hoped to lay our heads this night. Gros Ventre is the largest campground in the park so we were praying there was a space for us. Even though we were a bit worried about this because we knew all the other campgrounds were full, we couldn’t help but stop on the way when we saw some people who appeared to be looking down at something. We pulled into a parking spot and walked over, and were told by some people leaving that there were some beavers down by the water. We were immediately excited, since, as Angie noted, beaver are immensely private creatures and really hard to see in the wild. And there they were, just hanging out. What a thrill!
Satisfied with our wild animal sighting, even if it wasn’t a moose, we ventured onward to the campground and were thrilled to find that although the tent sites were full, they still had room on the RV side and were letting tent campers be there. We also decided, since we hadn’t eaten, that we would break down and reheat some of our leftovers. We’ve actually had some great one-pot meals while we’ve been camping, including tuna mac and cheese and chicken enchilada with noodles. I think part of it is the fresh air, but the meals we’ve cooked (mainly Angie) have been really satisfying. This night was not any different, and once Angie had the tent up, which she can do with very little help from me, we ate and got ready for bed. I don’t think we stayed outside for long, since some bad weather was coming in, and it did rain a fair bit overnight. Even though we were at a bit of elevation, it wasn’t too cold, and I think we slept well.