Sunday, August 12, 2012

Yellowstone National Park

I took over 200 pictures in YellowstoneNational Park. The husband and the boys took almost as many. We spent several days here and in Grand Teton National Park as there is so much to see and do. The wildlife in both parks is spectacular, as are the lakes, mountains and rivers. With seemingly endless hiking trails, bike trails, rivers and lakes for fishing, ranger programs and scenic drives we left feeling like we could have spent a few more days, and are already planning our next trip back.

We headed into Yellowstone from the west toward Old Faithful. The road in leads you through several active geyser basins and we stopped to take a walk through and enjoy them on our way. Most of Yellowstone, like Crater Lake, sits in the caldera of a collapsed volcano. With large magma fields still under ground heating water just under the surface, Yellowstone is home to more than half of the worlds geysers and hot springs.

We reached the Old Faithful Visitors Center just before lunch and had time to visit the museum and grab the cooler full of sandwiches before heading outside. Named for its predictability, Old Faithful goes off regularly every 60 to 90 minutes. Times of all of the more predictable geysers are posted in the visitors center and we found them to be very accurate, never waiting much more than 15 minutes at any of these geysers. Old Faithful is spectacular, and I took a series of pictures as we enjoyed the view.

We spent the afternoon exploring and hiking in the black sand basin, where the sand is...white. Through the ranger program we attended we learned that the basin got its name from the black sand geyser about a mile to the east where the sand is, in fact, black. The colors in the geyser pools are amazing, ranging from brilliant blue water, the result of silica deposits eroded into the water, to vibrant orange and yellow from the tiny bacteria that live and thrive in the warm pools of the hot springs.

I know I've said it before, but really, the ranger programs in the National Parks are excellent. Filled with geology, history and current events, we have most enjoyed the ranger led hikes through various parts of the parks. For example, one of the geysers in black sand basin is named Handkerchief Geyser because in the early days of the park visitors would drop their handkerchief into the geyser where it would be sucked under, battered around, and spit back out, sometimes clean, sometimes shredded, through another nearby geyser. Ranger Landis soon became the little dudes new best friend and spent a ton of time answering questions and letting the boys measure the temperature of the water.

Yellowstone is also known for its wildlife viewing opportunities, and sure enough, we saw a bison just hanging out on the side of the road on our way into the park. Home to mule deer, coyotes, wolves elk, bears, moose, bighorn sheep, pelicans, ospreys and pronghorn, the best place for wildlife viewing happens to be in Hayden Valley, just to the north of our camp ground. There were also several hikes to geyser basins and mud pots that we wanted to do, so off we went. Herds of bison can be found around every turn, but we also saw elk, mule deer, osprey, pronghorn and a wolf. The middle child is our resident wildlife photographer, so many of the pictures are his. He did a great job!

The Park Rangers are all very knowledgeable about wildlife and the park newspaper comes with an insert, on bright yellow paper, with a wildlife warning stating among other things that “Many park visitors have been gored by buffalo and elk.” All the park rangers carry big cans of bear spray and when we asked about the best locations for wildlife viewing the rangers told us “all the bears are in Pelican Valley,” I could have enjoyed my vacation just fine without seeing a grizzly up close but guess what else was right in the middle of Pelican Valley? Fishing Bridge RV Park, which only allows hard sided camping vehicles (a.k.a. “bear resistant containers”) and where we had a campground reservation. So, bear bells in hand, we parked our bear resistant container at our camp sight, heeded the warnings from the ranger that checked us in and the signs that greeted us, and rang our bells furiously every time we dashed to the lavatory.

Seriously though, Fishing Bridge was a really nice camp ground. We could walk (with our bells!) to a general store that also had a little cafe where we had breakfast one morning. There was also a really nice visitors center with an amphitheater with nightly ranger programs and a beautiful black sand beach on the shores of Yellowstone Lake. The boys were able to swim and fish each evening after a long day of hiking. Cut Throat Trout are native to Yellowstone Lake and must be released if caught. However, Lake Trout are a tasty but invasive species and if caught, may not be returned to the water, but may be taken to the Old Faithful Inn where they will cook it for you to enjoy. Sadly, the men in my life did not come through on this one and we ended up poaching some salmon that I bought at the store instead.

Adjacent to Yellowstone to the south lies Grand Teton National Park. We decided to leave the bear resistant container, hop in the rental car and spend a day checking it out. Yellowstone, with its geysers and hot springs, is all about the geology of the region. Grand Teton is where people go to play! With extensive bike trails and hiking paths, marinas and boating and gorgeous glacier topped mountains to view there are endless amounts of things to do.

We spent the day hiking to Jenny Lake and checking out the Laurance S. Rockefeller Preserve. Featuring a Leed platinum certified visitors center and miles of hiking trails through grasslands, forest, around lakes and streams, it was a beautiful hike.

I could go back tomorrow and easily spend another week in each park. We had a great time and really didn't want to leave. The Continental Divide runs right through Yellowstone, and we crossed it several dozen times during our stay. Very cool!


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