Wyoming….technically it’s in Idaho, Montana also.
July 7-14th, 2018
We stayed in Island Park, ID. Did you know they have the longest Main Street in the USA? Me neither:)
The Oldest and Best National Park
This is where it all began! It was established by the U.S. Congress and signed into law by President Grant in 1872. Yellowstone was the first national park in the U.S. and is also widely held to be the first national park in the world.
Yellowstone is not the largest national park but it is 2.2 million acres. According to UNESCO, half of all the known geothermal features on our planet are within the park. The geysers, hot springs and fumaroles are the result of a “supervolcano” located beneath the park. The system is still considered active and contains a reservoir of magma big enough fill the Grand Canyon several times over. While scientists are not concerned about an eruption occurring any time soon, the volcano is powerful enough to cover the US in ash.
Thomas Moran was a young artist that was the first to create sketches and watercolors of Yellowstone’s cliffs, geysers and rivers that helped show people this place really did exist. Until then, people didn’t believe the stories explorers were reporting after their expeditions.
This park is HUGE! We divided the park into four sections so we could attempt to see all the highlights. The girls and I went into the park everyday except Monday. Chris was able to join us for 4 of those days because it of the time zone and the sun setting so late. I was very concerned about the park being so crowded in July but if we didn’t come during the summer we wouldn’t have been able to explore so much of it. Life is about trade offs and visiting national parks is no different. The traffic wasn’t as bad as I had anticipated.
Since we were parked in Island Park, we drove into the West Entrance every time and then explored from there. The park map is basically divided into two connecting loops. We divided it into for sections to tackle all the highlights in the four days Chris was available to explore and then the girls and I just did a few things twice. Each day we entered a new area was as if we were entering an entirely new park. The diversity is astounding.
According to the National Park Service, Yellowstone is the only place in the United States where bison have continuously roamed since the prehistoric era. The park’s herd dwindled to just 23 animals in the late 19th century, when overhunting helped drive the bison to the brink of extinction, but the population later bounced back thanks to more effective protection. The roughly 5,500 bison that live in Yellowstone today constitute the nation’s largest and oldest free-range herd.
Day One– On Saturday we we spend the day at Old Faithful visitor center and surrounding area. This area is in the south west corner on the lower loop.
Driving into this park really gives you a glimpse of what an uninhabited planet might look like. The white barren areas with steam shooting out of the ground really gives you an uneasy feeling. I’d like to see an episode of The Walking Dead shot here.
Old Faithful Village
Of course, we wanted to start our trip to Yellowstone with the eruption of the iconic ‘Old Faithful’. I signed up to follow @GeyserNPS so I could get the up to date eruption predictions. Of course, once I entered the park I had so service to access it. But I had looked it up before we headed inside the park so we knew to try to make it by 5:00 +-10 minutes.
The geyser used to erupt once every 60 minutes. Early ads stated it would “every hour on the hour,” but decades of earthquakes has since changed its network of underground fissures and caused it to slow down. These days, the it’s 70-90 minutes between eruptions.
You can park and walk right up to see Old Faithful but I’m not a fan of crowds so I’d suggest finding out the projected eruption time and if you time permits, walk around to the other side via the boardwalk. It’s a quick walk- the whole Old faithful geyser loop is only 0.7 mile. We arrived right in the eruption window and asked the ranger what the eruption time was predicted just to confirm the twitter feed. He said any minute so we didn’t have time to walk around to the other side. We watched as it gushed over 100 feet in the air- it can reach as high as 180 feet.
After that eruption, everyone in the benches just gets up and leaves, it’s like watching a herd of bison. We headed over to the VC to get our passport books stamped and pick up the junior ranger books which you have to pay $3 for here- weird! The film wasn’t playing any more that day even though they are open until 8:00pm. We found out how long the other trail was around the geyser area near Old Faithful and when the next eruption was predicted for.
On the way to the Upper Geyser Basin trail we stopped at the Old Faithful Inn. Old Faithful Inn sits right next to the geyser and some of the rooms even offer views of the Old Faithful. It is the largest log structure in the world. It opened in 1904 with electricity and steam heat. In 1988, the inn was seriously threatened by a huge fire but was saved by firefighters, volunteers, and a sprinkler system which was installed on the roof the year before.
Inside both the lodge, the Inn and the VC, are predication clocks- check them all out, they are unique.
We then walked the upper geyser basin trail up to Beauty Pool and then turned around so we could get back to see Old Faithful erupt again from the other less crowded side. We are so glad we did, right before Old Faithful shot out again and saw two others, Beehive and Lion. Three at once, a rare treat!
We we starving by then so we decided to get a bite to eat at the Lodge behind the geyser because it was the closest thing. I had a bison sloppy Joe sliders, Mackenzie had a hot dog, Abby had the Mackenzie-n-cheese (those three were kids meals that came with two sides for only $6) and Chris had an elk burger. We all agreed that it was weird eating elk and bison after being so excited about seeing these beautiful creatures in the wild but they were delicious.
Day Two– Sunday we spend the day at Mammoth Village.
On our drive to Mammoth Village we wanted to stop at Steamboat Geyser to catch the ranger led talk.
Steamboat Geyser is the world’s tallest active geyser. It is located in the Norris Geyser Basin. Its major eruptions shoot water more than 300 feet and are unpredictable; ranging from 4 days to 50 years. There has been a recent interest in this geyser because before March of this year, it had not erupted for 4 years and since March it has erupted 10 times (we just missed one Friday night- if we had been there the Jeep would have been covered with silica because it reached the parking lot). The traffic getting into this area was terrible and we had to wait awhile but we had planned for that because the NPS site warned of this. We arrived in plenty of time to use the pothole restrooms and walk down to the Norris Geyser Basin (the hottest geyser basin in the park) before the 2:00pm ranger talk. We arrived early for that to get pics before the crowd arrived. The wait paid off… we were able to witness a minor eruption. The ranger said we were lucky because he had not seen one last this long.
Mammoth Hot Springs Area
The features are different from thermal areas elsewhere in the park. Travertine formations grow faster due to the softer nature of limestone. As hot water rises through limestone, large quantities of rock are dissolved by the hot water, and a white chalky mineral is deposited on the surface.
If you want a guaranteed Elk sighting, this is the place.
As we walked from the Visitors Center to the Terrace Grill to have Ice Cream we had to wait for an Elk to cross the street, she used the cross walk thankfully.
This area is also where the oldest buildings are located from the days when the US army managed the park.
I had to see this magnificent arch way in pictures and just had to see it for myself so we drove from Mammoth Village to the North Entrance. The Roosevelt Arch sits just outside the North Gate.
President Theodore Roosevelt came out to Yellowstone in 1903 and laid the cornerstone for the arch which is inscribed with ‘For the benefit and enjoyment of all the people.’
45th Parallel of latitude Halfway between equator and North Pole. This is technically in Montana, near that north gate to Yellowstone. The last time we saw this was in Oregon but didn’t get a picture so here ya go.
After taking that picture we spotted a good place to put our feet in the Gardner River.
Day Three-Tuesday we made reservations for Chris’s birthday dinner out at Tower-Roosevelt. We had to leave at 2:30 for a 5:00 reservation because they worry about ‘bear jams’. We arrived in plenty of time so we sat at a picnic table and played Quixx while we waited. They told stories to keep you entertained until it was time to load up on the wagons. You ride out on a chuckwagon to the cookout. We saw buffalo and a black bear off in the distance.
We enjoyed cowboy coffee while we ate our steak, corn, watermelon, corn bread, Roosevelt Beans (I got the recipe because they were so good) and the apple cobbler. We met a sweet lady, Elaine, while we were standing in line. She’s traveling the county enjoying life.
On our horse drawn carriage ride back we had a glimpse of a black bear.
Lamar Valley is near Tower Roosevelt so we drove out there after we arrived back from dinner. It was dusk, which is the perfect time to see all the animals. We saw Bison and mule deer but didn’t see wolves like we were hoping for. Abby got out the blanket so we could sit comfortably and watch the sunset. There were clumps of bison hair all around us. (No, Kate, this is not the hair brush trick).
Day four– Wednesday the girls and I spent all day at the Old Faithful again because we participated in a young scientist program from 1-3pm. This was a great ranger led program that we all learned a lot. We checked out an explorer backpack from the VC and took it with us on the walk. It had an infrared thermometer that we could aim at the hot springs to measure the temperatures. This was a great way to back up what we were learning about the different colors of the springs and how different organisms grew at different temperatures.
The girls and I ate lunch at the lodge again and had the same meal. We were able to see Old Faithful erupt from the window while we ate.
We also participated in a ranger led talk and learned about the wildlife in the park. They had bones, prints, antlers, furs and rocks to examine.
We also drove by Grand Prismatic again because we need to see all those colors again.
Day five– Thursday we went to Grant Village and Canyon Village.
On the way to Grant Village you pass the Continental Divide. It’s worth the stop.
Continental divide is a geographical divide on a continent where rivers and lakes on one side of the divide drain into one ocean, and those on the other side drain into another. Isa Lake straddles the continental divide of North America at 8262 feet above sea level.
The Lake has two outlets. The outlet on the east side of the lake leads into the Snake and Columbia Rivers and then into the Pacific Ocean by way of the Lewis River. The outlet on the west side of the lake feeds the Firehole River on its way to the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers and into the Gulf of Mexico, in other words, into the Atlantic Ocean.
Isa lake is the only natural lake in the world to drain to two different oceans. Because of this it is also known as the Two-Ocean Lake. Isa Lake has no inlet, and is fed entirely by snow-melt.
We may have spit on either side of the lake so our spit could travel to the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans. This kind of thing helps the idea stick in the kids minds.
West Thumb, Yellowstone Lake
We wanted to see Yellowstone Lake and the Fishing Cone hot spring because of an interesting story we heard about it. In 1870, a man was fishing from a rock that divided the Lake from the hot springs when he accidentally dropped the trout into the hot spring. It darted about and then floated to the top dead and boiled.
From that time on visitor after visitor performed this feat, catching fish from the cold lake and cooking them on the hook. The cooking-on-the-hook feat at Fishing Cone soon became famous. A national magazine reported in 1903 that no visit to the park was complete without this experience, and tourists often dressed in a cook’s hat and apron to have their pictures taken at Fishing Cone. It is now prohibited.
On the way out to Artist Point we saw a bear on the edge of the road, this was the closets we’d been to one.
and more Elk…
Grand Canyon of Yellowstone and Artist Point
Artist Point is one of the must-see views at Yellowstone. It’s a short walk on a paved trail from the South Rim Drive. You can see Lower Falls from here.
Climb the stairs to the upper level with a view of the bleached wall of the North Rim between Inspiration Point and Grand View Point. You can really see the reason why the park is called Yellowstone.
We wanted to hike Uncle Tom’s Trail but it was closed when we were there.
On the way out of Artist Point we saw another black bear.
Day six– Friday night we went hung out at in West Yellowstone, MT. It’s a cute town right outside the West park entrance. I had not seen a Grizzly bear in the park so we set out to visit the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center. The girls had read Grizzly Graveyard by Carol Marsh and are the ones that told me about this center at the West entrance of the park that you could feed Grizzly Bears- Yes, sign me up please! Twice a day they allow kids (no- I didn’t get to do it- Boo) to hide food for the grizzly’s and then we watch them search for it. We signed the girls up for the 5:00pm session. You have to sign them up in person, so the girls and I drove up at 11am and sign up then went back with Chris at 5:00pm.
We were able to catch a presentation at the theater about how they use special dogs to move Grizzly’s away from residential areas. Karelian Bear Dogs are a breed of dog originating in Finland and Russia that were bred for the purpose of hunting bears, wolves and moose. Fearless by nature, this breed is known for its ability to work independently in difficult conditions. We watched videos of them with go pros strapped to their backs chasing a Grizzly. Afterward we were able to pet a 6-year-old female named Nakiska.
All the animals here are unable to survive in the wild. They test bear proof container systems here.
We ate dinner in a school bus…Taqueria Malverde. If you are in the area, check it out. There is a great playground across the street as well. We went over there after dinner and saw guy biking through Grand Teton and Yellowstone (it’s a thing) and then we saw him again the next day at Mammoth Springs. It’s neat how people cross our paths.
We don’t buy shirts or souvenirs besides the girls keychains and magnets from each state BUT we bought t-shirts, hats and mugs from Yellowstone because we love this park so much; it’s the oldest and best!