Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Yellowstone National Park

When I planned my trip to visit Grand Teton and Yellowstone, Grand Teton had been on my list for years and I was more excited about visiting that park. I knew Yellowstone was one of the most popular national parks and I figured I'd like it, but I thought I'd like Grand Teton a lot more. I ended up being wrong about that.

While Grand Teton is amazing because of the constant view of the prominent Tetons, I ended up loving Yellowstone. The park is huge and there's so much variety - waterfalls, forests, mountains, meadows, geothermal features, rivers, and lakes. I feel like I only saw 10% of the park. I really enjoyed driving through parts of it every morning and evening, especially in the morning around dawn. It was perfect - driving around listening to music and seeing all the beautiful surroundings as well as the wildlife. I'm making a separate post about the bison because they are one of the focal points of the park and I ended up with a ton of pictures of them.

I want to return to Yellowstone as soon as possible, and since this time I saw all of the main attractions and mostly drove from location to location, next time I would like to do more hiking. I've heard that is one way to avoid the crowds, as most people tend to drive to the main attractions, and as a result there aren't many people on the trails.

I could write a post about each thing I saw, but I will try to do a brief summary of each location.

Mt. Washburn & Tower Fall
My first day in Yellowstone, I drove up from Grand Teton and checked into my campsite. Since I still had plenty of daylight left, I decided to explore. I drove up Dunraven Pass, through some of the mountains and past Mt. Washburn. I had wanted to hike it, but there was still a fair amount of snow cover and I didn't want to push it with mono and all of the racing I would be doing, so I just saw it from the road.

View from Dunraven Pass

After getting through the pass, I got to the Tower Junction and stopped to see Tower Fall, a 132 foot waterfall.

Tower Fall

Artist Point
After seeing Tower Fall, I drove back down through the pass and went to the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, which was right near my campground. Since it was getting close to dusk, most of the crowds had left and I was able to get to Artist Point and take some photos of the canyon.

Midway Geyser Basin
My plan for my first day was to see as many geysers as possible. I wanted to start with the Grand Prismatic Spring. On my way, I did stop at the Fountain Paint Pot nature trail, but only wandered a bit on the trail before continuing on. Some day I'll have to come back and do the entire thing.

Fountain Paint Pot nature trail
Path at Midway Geyser Basin

One of the things I was most looking forward to photographing was the Grand Prismatic Spring, but unfortunately all of the high vantage points around it were closed due to construction. I could only get a shot of it from ground level, and it was also giving off too much steam to see it. I'll have to try again someday!

Old Faithful (Upper Geyser Basin)
The Old Faithful area had the most geysers in one place. It took several hours to walk around all of the boardwalks. I was impressed by how pretty and colorful many of the springs and pools were, and by how they can predict when Old Faithful is going to erupt. To be honest, before I came to Yellowstone I figured I'd go see the geysers and thermal areas simply because they're a well known part of the park, but I didn't have much interest in them and figured I'd like everything else better. I was wrong about that too. I thought all of the thermal areas were awesome and I enjoyed them just as much as the rest of the park. It was also nice to walk among them on a chilly morning and be warmed up by the steam. There was definitely a distinct sulfur smell at all times, but I wouldn't say it was unpleasant.

Old Faithful when not erupting

Old Faithful eruption

The Morning Glory pool was insane, but it's sad that the color has changed due to tourists throwing objects into the pool

Black Sand Basin
I decided to walk to Black Sand Basin from the Old Faithful area. It wasn't too far but did involve crossing the road, and I'm surprised that they didn't have any crosswalk in that area. On the trail there, I came across a pool that didn't have a sign; just a fence around it. I later found out it's called Black Sand Pool, and it ended up being one of my favorites. Since it wasn't near much else, I was the only one there most of the time. This pool was a gorgeous blue color and every once in a while it would start bubbling. The cool but creepy thing is that I'd hear and feel a thud under the ground before the pool started bubbling. I found out that this is common and they have recordings of the thuds.

Black Sand Basin was around the same size of Midway Geyser Basin and Biscuit Basin. I really liked Sunset Lake. There was also a geyser in this area that went off a couple times while I was there.

Sunset Lake

Biscuit Basin
I had originally planned to walk to Biscuit Basin from the Old Faithful area, as there was a trail connecting the two, but that day there was a temporary warning sign on the trail that a bear was frequenting the area, so I decided to skip that. I ended up going early in the morning the next day. My favorite was the Sapphire Pool. The first time I came here, it was giving off a lot of stream so I couldn't get a great picture. I ended up going back to Biscuit Basin later in the evening after the traffic and tourists had settled down and when the geysers and pools seemed to be steaming less.

Sapphire Pool

Artist Paint Pots
This area was a short loop trail to see a few geysers and to see mud pots. It was mesmerizing watching the thick mud bubble. I've included a couple videos below.

Some parts of this area looked like another planet

Lamar Valley
I drove past the Tower Junction and out to Lamar Valley one afternoon. It's a gorgeous area with green rolling hills and large meadows. I see why this is a great area to spot wildlife, and I saw more than one bison herd while I was driving around. There were several pull outs where people could photograph the animals or just stay and watch them for a while.

Norris Geyser Basin
I had passed by this area every time I drove back to the campground, so I stopped here late morning one of the days. This was a fairly large geyser basin with two big loop trails on boardwalks. I had said before that the sulfur smell of the geysers didn't bother me, but something about this geyser basin smelled a lot worse. It was a much sharper smell and not the most pleasant. This is also the hottest geyser basin in Yellowstone, and it certainly felt that way when I was walking around in it. It reminded me a bit of a desert landscape.

River of green

I have absolutely no idea what this was, but it seemed alien-like

Mammoth Hot Springs & Terraces
I saw a picture of these shortly before leaving for my trip, so I added it to my list of places to visit. I drove up to the Mammoth area early one morning so that there would only be a few other visitors walking around the boardwalks in this area. The formations and colors here are stunning and I hadn't seen anything quite like it before.

West Thumb Geyser Basin
I saw this area on my last day in Yellowstone, on the Saturday of my final half marathon. This was a smaller geyser basin along the lake, and some of the geysers were in the lake. One in particular was a bit creepy, but that's probably due to me having an issue with things in the water that I think shouldn't be there.

I'm adding the areas below into this extra category, since they don't really fit into the ones above.

I walked about a half mile on this trail.

These guys were hanging out not too far from the trail I was on.

I did about 2 miles on this ridge trail. Joined a group of 6 friendly people from Texas and Tennessee so I didn't have to hike alone.

Gibbon Falls

Lewis Falls



It looks like the forest is on fire, but it's just an intense sunrise and thermal activity

Twin Lakes

There is so much in Yellowstone that I'm sure I've forgotten to mention some of the smaller areas I saw. Also, there are enough geysers that it's not possible to see them all unless you spend years studying them. According to a Wikipedia page, these are the total number of geysers in some of the areas that I visited: Upper Geyser Basin (410), Midway Geyser Basin (59), Lower Geyser Basin (283), Norris Geyser Basin (193), West Thumb Geyser Basin (84).

I wish I had the time to write several detailed posts about Yellowstone, complete with explanations about the different features and what caused them, but for now I'll have to settle for reading about all of it whenever I have time. Yellowstone is an interesting, incredible area and I'm looking forward to going back someday!