… if you are standing downwind from some of the Sulphur smelling geysers, fumaroles, mudpots or hot springs that is. 🙂 Gotcha.
Yellowstone is one of the world’s largest ‘Super Volcanos’ and according to park literature, one of the more violent and active. The bulk of the park is actually inside the volcanic caldera. It is mind-blowing to look at a park map and realize how huge the ‘volcano’ truly is. It is even more impressive to drive the miles and miles of the loop seeing evidence of how seismically active this region is in the form of the geysers, fumaroles and hot springs scattered through the park. Sean loves the science behind Yellowstone and was eager to see as much of the activity as possible. He would also be the first to admit that despite reading and seeing several specials about Yellowstone’s super volcano, he was unprepared for the reality.
Elevations were as high or higher than most places in Glacier but seemed much more accessible due to the excellent system of roads and trails through the park. Craig Pass is at an elevation of 8262 ft, about 2000 ft higher than Logan Pass in Glacier, but if you miss the sign, you might never know you had reached that height. In fact, one of the biggest differences we noted was how easy it was to see some of the highlights of the park from the car or just a short hike. Another thing that struck us, as we entered the region, was how different it looked from Glacier. Where Glacier was jagged and raw, Yellowstone was ’roundier’: a word Sherry coined to describe the lay of the land. : )
We only took two days to see as much as possible, and two days was just barely enough to scratch the surface. There are multiple entrances to the park, but because of where we are staying, we chose the West entrance for convenience and access to the grand loop which would allow us to see most of the notable sites in the park. Despite the fact that we were visiting ‘off season’, we were still impressed by the numbers of park visitors. We would later learn that this was a record breaking year for tourists in the park. We once described Glacier as a theme park, and we think that Yellowstone might have even more of that large tourist attraction feel. It was hard to get parking spots at some of the more popular attractions. We’re sure if we had longer we would have tried more of the ‘off the beaten path’ attractions, but we followed all the other sheep to the easy to access sights. The park is set up really well to allow for easy access to beautiful scenery. The difference in Glacier is that most of the best views are a 1/2 day – whole day hike away. The most we travelled on foot in Yellowstone was a mile or less at one time. We probably missed many amazing locations, but we didn’t book as much time here as we did Glacier, so we did what we could in the time we had.
Entering the park on our first day, we drove just under 15 miles to Madison along the Madison River. This is a gorgeous drive with the river running parallel to the road, in many places opening up to flat grasslands where we almost immediately sited Elk and Bison. We had decided to see Old Faithful, but also wanted to stop at some sites along the way. After turning south at Madison, it wasn’t long before we saw steam off to our right as we approached the Lower Geyser Basin. We had been guilty, as many other visitors, of not really considering that Old Faithful was just one of the signs of seismic activity in the park. Sean acted like a kid on Christmas morning, so of course we stopped.
The trails through this area are well maintained boardwalks. As the signs at the entrance indicate, walking on the bare ground wasn’t healthy for many reasons, including melted shoes. LOL The various hot springs along the walk were quite beautiful, varying in color… but not smell. Yes, this is one of the stinky parts of Yellowstone. Several times we walked through steamy clouds of sulfurous… yuck. Again, well worth it for the views. After leaving the lower basin, we continued our drive, stopping frequently to photograph wildlife and various geysers and hot springs. When we arrived at Old Faithful we were impressed by the excellent parking opportunities as well as the visitors center. There are several museums and education centers in the park. This and the one at Canyon Village were the two we were able to see and were well worth the time.
Anyway, we arrive with 45 minutes to spare to see the eruption, so after a quick run through the visitor center and a walk along the trail circling Old Faithful, and stops at several small springs, we went to the benches surrounding the geyser and waited. Sean was eager to take shots of the eruption and played with camera settings as we waited. He wanted to have the shutter and focus set so that some shots would ‘stop action’ the eruption, others he wanted to give more of a blurred effect while capturing the sky and background. The biggest issue with this was the changing light conditions. When we sat down we had nearly cloudless blue skies. That quickly transitioned to a mostly cloudy sky. The eruption was all it was cracked up to be. Very impressive and worth the wait. It was funny to hear the applause from the crowd that had gathered.
After seeing Old Faithful we decided to continue our drive to West Thumb, which is on Yellowstone Lake. This was another area with steampots. At that point, we called it the end of a long day and drove back to our RV.
Day 2: Once again, we entered the park from the West entrance, but this time we turned North at Madison. We had decided to take the Northern part of the loop and complete the circle, seeing Old Faithful one more time. This meant missing some areas of the park such as Mammoth. The northern route took us through forested regions and into vast rolling grassy plains. On this drive Sean saw a wolf, no photos as he or she had moved on before we could take any shots. We also saw many bison and elk and other wildlife in the plains and along the rivers. The drive also had a number of interesting stops such as the Artists Paintpots, Sean’s favorite – the Mud Volcano, and Sherry’s favorite – the Dragon’s Mouth.
We had our dogs with us on the second day because, after visiting the first day, we realized that we weren’t going to venture out into the backcountry, so they could travel in the truck with us to see the sights. They are allowed on some of the developed areas, so we were able to get out and walk with them. Bates really enjoyed the area around Old Faithful. Maggie is anxious and doesn’t enjoy crowds, so we left her to snooze in the truck while we walked up with Bates to the area around Old Faithful. (Don’t worry, it was in the 50s that day and the truck was nice and cool while we were gone. We do not take them unless we know conditions are going to be good for them. We love our furbabies and would never do anything to injure them). Dogs are allowed around the grounds except close to the geysers. There are signs indicating where you can and cannot walk. There are MANY people who apparently do not pay attention to any signs. A ranger had to go out and make an announcement to “all people with dogs” that they had to stay back from the geyser viewing area. We were already in the designated area, so Bates felt smarter than all the other dogs there. Lol. He received tons of attention while we were there too. He is a very good boy to take into large crowds. His training has definitely paid off, and he is very obedient.
We are glad we had the chance to see Yellowstone, if we have any regrets, it is that we didn’t get to hike into the backcountry. We are sure there are many more things to see than those to which you can drive, but we are happy with what we were able to see in such a short amount of time.
We have many more stunning photos of Yellowstone. Just click the link below to go to our Travel Photography page and click the Yellowstone and Old Faithful gallery.