Day Seven : August 6th
Today we would be going to two of Yellowstone’s top 3 attractions:
Mammoth Hot Springs and Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River (the
third attraction being a reliable geyser that you may have heard of).
We would also be stopping at the Norris Geyser Basin, Roosevelt Lodge
(commemorating President Theodore Roosevelt’s visit to the area), and a
few other interesting or historic points of interest along the way.
Something interesting that we learned about Yellowstone on our way
there (we downloaded some podcasts from the National Park Service,
great stuff, highly recommended) is that the entire park rests in the
crater of a volcano. To be more precise, a supervolcano. A volcano so
large that when you are in it, you cannot tell you are in a volcano. A
volcano whose previous eruption 640,000 years ago was so violent that
it deposited ash over half of the continental U.S. including most of
Texas (and our hometown of Paris). It is this volcanic activity that is
responsible for the geological attractions that people come for and
when the question turns to the next eruption, it’s apparently a matter
of when and not if. Of course, it could be 40,000 years from now and
that’s still a blink of an eye in geological time, but it’s much more
dramatic for the Park Service to play up the whole impending doom gig.
Anyway, our first stop was the Norris Geyser Basin which a few years
ago began behaving pretty strangely: brand new mud pots appeared in
previously dormant areas and they measured the ground and it had
"swollen" upwards by a couple of feet.
Here I am hoping that we finish our visit "eruption-free".
We then continued north towards the Mammoth Hot Springs. So called
because over the years the hot springs have deposited minerals that
create giant mounds of lunaresque and generally "on a planet far away"
kind of landscapes.
From Mammoth, we went east and saw a 50 million year-old petrified
tree and we also walked through a "Forces of the Northern Rim" guided
trail. Then it was on to the Roosevelt Lodge and from there, we would
head south to the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River.
The Canyon Visitor Center
was easily the best Visitor Center we went to on the whole trip. It’s
kind of dorky, I think, but I have come to love Park Visitor Centers.
The book stores, documentaries, nature and wildlife exhibits, the 3-D
replicas of the Park’s cartography…I love it, and the newly renovated
Canyon was one of, if not, the best ever.
After geeking out over the room-sized relief model of the Park, we
left the VC and went to get a look at the 308ft Lower Falls. Our first
view was impressive, but obscured.
Down the road a little bit was a trail called Lookout Point which
would provide the best view of the Falls possible. The climb would be
too much for Laura so I had planned to go alone, but once again, she
surprised me and decided to give it a shot! Well, the new and improved
view was certainly worth the effort!
The trek back up was a beast for the Preggie, but she did great and we were at the top even sooner than she thought we would be.
It was a full day of touring some beautiful sections of the park,
and now it was time to go back to camp for a warm fire on a chilly
night. Bring on the S’mores!
Day Eight : August 7th
Our last full day in the park…all good things…
The first stop on our way to the Sulphur Caldron and Mud Volcanoes
was the Artist’s Paint Pots. We were going to see these on our first
day in the park, but we were running short on time then, so we passed
them over and it’s a good thing we made it a point to stop because it
was a lively and colorful site!
There were some smaller mud pots here and some hot springs as well,
but the nicest thing about this area was how the trail led you up a
ridge that provided a nice view of the thermal activity going on below.
From here, it was on to the smelliest area of the entire trip.
Sulphur Caldron. It’s an appropriately named giant pool of boiling
water emitting the smell of rotten eggs.
Across the street were some of my favorite features: the large mud
pots and mud volcanos. They are nowhere close to the dramatic showboats
that the geysers are, and they aren’t as colorful as the hot springs,
but it’s what is actually going on within them that I found so
So this appears to be mud that is literally boiling. However, what has actually happened is that the spring is so
acidic that it breaks the rock down in to mud and clay! Crazy! Then
steam and air rise up to create the bubbles, giving it the appearance
of boiling mud.
As we left and made our way to a picnic spot, we came upon some
bison very near to the road. Some were rolling around getting rid of
the insects and some were just strolling along, being bison.
Our picnic area was down on the shore of the Yellowstone River at
LeHardy Rapids. This is the very spot that geologists predict will be
the epicenter of the Yellowstone Supervolcano’s next eruption. Despite
that, we didn’t eat with any sense of urgency. I mean, what are the
After lunch, we visited the Fishing Bridge area and Visitor Center (great wildlife exhibit!) and then moved on to Grant Village (great
exhibit about the ’88 wildfire!). In between, I went on a trail called
Elephant Back and as always seems to be the case, a walk in the woods
is simply good for the mind, body and spirit.
This pretty much wrapped up our adventures in Yellowstone. We went
back to our little camp near the Madison river and had quesadillas, and
later, more S’mores.
In the end, all three parks were terrific; but, at the risk of
leveling an insult at the mother of all National Parks, Yellowstone was
my least favorite. This is of no fault to the park itself, it has more
to do with the crowds it tends to attract. Simply put: Grand Teton is
for the naturalist, Yellowstone is for the tourist and it had plenty of
them. I’d be willing to bet good money that 95% of Yellowstone’s
visitors never get more than 100 yards away from their car while in the
park. Laura called me out on my resentment a couple of times because I
can tend to be a little grumpy around crowds, but being in Yellowstone
felt more like a visit to an amusement park where the attractions just
happened to be mule deer and geysers. The people tended to approach the
park’s features and especially the wildlife with a lack of reverence
and respect. I started calling it the Disneyland of the National Park
Service. I’m probably overstating things, again with the grumpiness
mobs crowds. However, my advice to future
travelers would be to watch Old Faithful erupt, see the Lower Falls
from Lookout Point, and then get in your car and drive south back to
Grand Teton and stay there for the remainder of your trip.
Day Nine : August 8th
Our itinerary called for us to drive to Cedar Bluff State Park in
Kansas to sleep for the night. That’s approximately 14 hours from
Yellowstone and we decided on about day four that there was no way
that’d be happening.
Instead, when we finally got a cell phone signal in Cheyenne, I called my brother, Larr
and he hopped on the internet and hooked it up with an awesome deal on
a hotel in Denver! Needless to say, that made those last few hours of
driving extremely easy knowing that we had an actual bed to look
Day Ten : August 9th
We didn’t exactly hit the door running but we were on the road early
enough to beat any kind of traffic and fortunately our route didn’t
require us to get on 270. On a side note, my attempts to introduce
"270’d" in to my own vocabulary have so far proven fruitless. However,
school starts in less than two weeks, so if I can get a few of the cool
kids saying it, it’s wildfire from there.
At last, at midnight, 225 hours and 3,758 miles since the last time we’d been there, we rolled into the driveway.
Moments treasured, memories made, removed from the tranquility of the wild and yet returned to the comforts of Home.