Yellowstone: Here We Come! (1/4)

“I would rather wake up in the middle of nowhere than in any city on earth”

Steve McQueen

State 16: Wyoming - September 24, 2017


We woke up in front of a defunct hotel in Jackson Hole, WY, to a crisp 38-degree morning! Although, It was the coldest night thus far on our trip, we had lots of blankets, and cuddles to keep us warm. We survived our first night “stealth parking” without getting the dreaded 3 am knock on the door by the police and being told to “Move along!”. Today, we would drive 46 miles North back through the inner loop of the Grand Tetons, and enter the national park depicted on the reverse of the Wyoming State quarter: Yellowstone National Park.

Yellowstone National Park spans an area of 3,468 square miles in Idaho and Montana, but is predominantly located in Northwestern Wyoming. Yellowstone was the first national park in the U.S., and quite arguably may be the first national park in the world! The park is home to the Yellowstone Caldera, which is the largest super volcano on the continent! Yellowstone is known for it's geothermal features, lakes, canyons, rivers and mountain ranges. Hundreds of species of mammals, birds, fish, and reptiles call the park home including several endangered and threatened species. Yellowstone has the largest free range grizzly bears, wolves, and elk in the country, and the largest and oldest public bison herd in the United States. This is just an extremely basic overview of Yellowstone, and we will be going into further depth as we explore the park over the next 4 days! If national parks were a sporting event, Yellowstone would be the Superbowl, Stanley Cup, NBA Finals, World Series, Kentucky Derby, Indy 500, and the Daytona 500 all rolled up in to one! Over 4 million people visit Yellowstone each year, and I am so very excited to finally be among them! If you are ready, let’s go explore this national treasure together! Please see the pictures below!

Yellowstone has 5 entrances; North, West, East, South and Northeast. The main road with in the park consists of a 142 mile figure 8 loop, and each of the entrances intersect with a different part of the figure 8 loop. For geographical convenience, we entered Yellowstone via it's South entrance. Admission to the park is $30.00 per vehicle, but we got in for free with our national park pass. From the parks South entrance to it's intersection with the figure 8 loop is 22 miles, and it follows the Lewis River through forests, canyons and waterfalls. We even saw a baby moose! Please see the pictures below!

The road from Yellowstone’s South entrance intersected at the base of the figure 8 loop. We decided to begin our exploration at point of interest to closest to our intersection: The West Thumb Geyser Basin. West Thumb Geyser Basin is one of the smallest geyser basins in Yellowstone, yet it's location along the shore of Yellowstone Lake ranks it as the most scenic. For what West Thumb lacks in size, it more than makes up for in Geothermal Variety. West Thumb consists of hot springs, pools, mud pots, fumaroles and lake shore geysers.

Immediately after pulling into the parking lot of West Thumb Geyser Basin, I saw a wood fenced off area in the middle of the parking lot, and within the fence was bubbling mud shooting steam high into the atmosphere! It's unexpected location caught me by such surprise, I actually had to swerve to avoid driving directly into it! Yellowstone wasted no time letting the Cross Country Couple know this is her home, and she is the boss. If she wants a hot molten boiling mud pot in the middle of a parking lot, then by golly that’s where it will be! We found a place to park Rosie, and upon exiting, we saw a huge bull elk and his doe standing right on the edge of the parking lot surrounded by dozens of people with cameras in hand. Please see the pictures below.

As usual, we decided to begin our explorations at the visitor center, but for the life of us we could not find it! We wandered around the parking lot for 30 minutes in search of the elusive visitor’s center to no avail! Just then, Lori noticed a small 10 x 10 log cabin with a red brick chimney billowing smoke into the crisp autumn air. It was below freezing outside, and we were both chilled from our futile meandering. As the old saying goes “Where there’s smoke; there’s is fire”, and that sounded mighty fine to us at the time! We decided to inquire with the cabins inhabitants regarding the location of the visitor’s center, and steal a few moments of warmth. Upon entering the log cabin, we realized we had in fact arrived at the visitor’s center! At the very least, they could have hung “visitors center” sign on the outside of the cabin! Geez! The scent of burning wood immediately grabbed our senses, and Lori and I made a V line to the cast iron wood stove in the center of the cabin. Right next to the wood stove was a small wooden table, and the passbook stamp for Yellowstone Park rested on top. Lori and I grabbed the rubber stamp, pressed it firmly against the ink pad, and in unison imprinted it's likeness on the appropriate page in our passbook signifying our official arrival at Yellowstone! It was a proud and memorable moment on our cross country trip! Please see the pictures below.

With our passbook stamped and our hands and feet toasty warm, we departed the visitors center, and walked 100 feet toward the West Thumb Geyser Basin on the shoreline of Yellowstone Lake. What I found most interesting about West Thumb was it's surface temperature is approximately 170-208 degrees, and a mere 3 feet away was Yellowstone Lake with a surface temperature of 40 degrees. The ability for two vastly opposing forces of nature to exist in such close proximity was incredible. This was our first exposure to the geothermal features of Yellowstone, and was quite overwhelming. All of the sights, sounds, smells and experiences are incapable of written explanation. I am just going to allow the pictures below to speak for themselves.

We made our way back to Rosie, and drove 17 miles to the next stop on the figure 8 grand loop: The Upper Geyser Basin. Since we just finished exploring the smallest geyser basin in the park, we felt it fitting to next explore the largest. Although the Upper Geyser Basin is only approximately two square miles, it contains one-quarter of all of the geysers on earth, including the most famous of all geysers “Old Faithful”. We agreed prior to arriving we would save Old Faithful for last! We parked Rosie in the parking lot, and stood there for a moment to take in our surroundings, which I don’t even know how to even begin to explain. Before us were 410 geysers, and over five miles of wooden boardwalks! Clearly, we had a lot of walking ahead of us, and not enough daylight! We agreed to postpone the traditional visit to the visitor’s center, and immediately hit the trails! Describing the hundreds of geothermal elements in the Upper Geyser Basin would require a Phd in Geology, and would be a book unto itself. Instead, I am going to focus on the geysers in the upper basin known as The Big Five: Riverside, Daisy, Castle, Grand, and Old Faithful. The Big Five represent the basin’s most popular geysers known for their large and predictable eruptions.

Riverside Geyser Riverside Geyser’s surface temperature is 201.2°F, erupts every 7 hours for 20 minutes and lasts for a duration of 20 minutes reaching heights of 75 feet! The geyser was named after it's locations on the bank of the Firehole River. Unlike other geysers in the basin, Riverside is an isolated geyser with it's own plumbing system. When Riverside erupts, it sprays an arched column of water over the entire width of the Firehole River. Unfortunately, we did not see Riverside Geyser erupt during our visit, but we did see a beautiful buffalo grazing nearby.

Daisy Geyser Daisy Geyser’s surface temperature is 192-204°F, erupts every 78-144 minutes, and lasts for a duration of 2.5-4.5 minutes reaching heights of 75-150 feet. It is unknown how Daisy received it's name. Daisy Geyser is the most reliable and predictable of the major geysers in the Upper Geyser Basin. It's average interval is between 85 to 100 minutes. However, wind and thunderstorms can delay an eruption up to a half hour. We saw Daisy’s large eruption from the opposite side of the basin!

Castle Geyser Castle Geyser’s surface temperature 200°, erupts every 9-11 hours and lasts for a duration of 1 hour reaching heights of 60-90 feet. The geyser was named for it's resemblance to the ruins of an old castle. This large cone is nearly 12 feet high with a diameter of 20 feet at the top. Since the earthquake in 1959, it has been a regular and easily predictable geyser. We did not see Castle erupt during our visit!

Grand Geyser Grand Geyser's surface temperature 201°F, erupts every 6-15 hours, and lasts for a duration 9-16 minutes reaching heights of 140-200 feet. The power and spectacle of a Grand Geyser’s eruption is the inspiration for its name. It is one of the few major geysers that has not changed considerably since it's discovery. Two adjoining geysers, Turban and Vent, are separated by a thin narrow bridge. Grand's eruptive cycle depends on the activity of these two geysers. Grand only erupts at the start of a Turban active period. During eruption, Grand usually has 1 to 6 bursts lasting 1 to 10 minutes each. We did not see Grand Geyser erupt during our visit.

Please see additional pictures below of Upper Geyser Basin.


On our walk back to Rosie, we ran into a bit of a situation. There was a buffalo standing right next to the boardwalk, which exited the Upper Geyser Basin. When walking through the geysers, you have to stay on the boardwalk because of the fragility of the ground. The buffalo was blocking the only way out! We had no choice but to stand there waiting until he decided to move. However, 30 minutes went by, and the bison was still just standing there munching away on grass. It was getting colder and darker by the minute, and we were all out of ideas. Suddenly, the bison turned around to eat some grass and his back was facing the boardwalk. This was the opening we were waiting for! However, it would require us sneaking behind a bison, which was a mere inches away from the boardwalk. It was by no means the most well thought out plan, but it was all we had at the time. We decided to let a couple of other tourists go first! Please see above picture. Lol! Then Nate snuck by the munching bison, and made it to the exit. Now, it was my turn to sneak passed the distracted bison! I slowly made my move inching forward one tip toe at a time. Just as I was 2 feet away, he turned to look at me, and made a mean snorting sound! I just stood there frozen! The bison then went back to eating his grass, and I rushed behind him successfully making it to the other side. That was scary, and I am thankful this Bison was too hungry to care about how incredibly close I was to him. I guess he did not see me as a threat and..that is a good thing! I hope I never have to do that again!

The Upper Geysers Basin was massive! We walked around for 6 hours, and still did not see everything! By the time we made it back to Rosie, we were exhausted, and it was already dark. We agreed to postpone our visit to Old Faithful until first thing tomorrow morning!

When it was time to sleep for the night, we stayed at a massive monstrosity called the Old Faithful Inn. The Inn's claim to fame is being the largest log cabin in the world, and this was going to be our home for the night. Lodging for 2 at the Old Faithful Inn; $579.00 per night! Buffet dinner for two; $59.95 plus tax and tip! Admission to Yellowstone National Park; $30.00! Knowing you did not need waste all that money because you stealth parked your van in the Inn parking lot for free, brought your own food with you, and got free admission with your national park pass? ABSOLUTELY PRICELESS! We parked in the last row of the Inn's lot, and were soothed to sleep by the sounds of geysers eruptions. Please see pictures below.