More Than Geysers in Yellowstone – Wild Life So Close We Could Touch
After our 2 day stop in Spokane to see the Chinese Lantern Festival, we hit the road for a long run to get to the first stop on our National Parks tour. While seeing Old Faithful was on our agenda, we were surprised to find more than geysers in Yellowstone.
We had originally wanted to stay right in the park but by mid-October most of the park hotels were closed and the one option we had sold out while we were considering options. A good reminder – if you want it, book it! We settled on staying by the north entrance in Gardner, WY.
Arriving in Gardner just as dusk was settling in allowed us to enjoy our first animal experience. We hauled one load of luggage into the room and when we went back out a family of mule deer had wandered onto the grass right beside our car. Like a delighted kid I inched forward to not startle them and snapped away. They must have been used to silly tourists as they munched along not at all concerned even when the camera flash went off.
Staying outside of the park meant that unless we wanted to make a major trek in and out of the park, we would be seeing all of Yellowstone and would travel through the Grand Tetons in one day. Up before sunrise, we grabbed breakfast, packed a lunch (no food was available in the park this late in the season) and off we went.
When we hit the park gate we had to decide on what kind of admission fee we wanted to pay. They had 7 day passes good for one park ($30 per car) or you could get an annual pass ($80 for 2 named people). Since we new we would be seeing a few national parks on this trip, we opted to get an annual pass.
I had planned our route through Yellowstone to see the key things that my research had pointed out were “must do”. Instead of doing a full figure 8, we travelled a reverse “S” from north to south. Map annotated from http://www.nps.gov/yell/index.htm
Entering the park at the North Entrance, we saw the first of many signs warning you about wildlife – maybe our first clue that there were more than geysers in Yellowstone to distract us. Most of the time, the wildlife was far off in the fields, distinct only if you have binoculars or a good zoom lens. But we would get more than one thrill as we made our way through Yellowstone.
The first planned stop was at Mammoth Springs Terraces. It was a cold morning and you could see steam rising up from the large spring field around the Liberty Cap and parts of the runoff seemed to be frozen. The most interesting part was the variation in the colours of the discharge from the aptly named Pallette Spring – sparkling almost as if there were metals in the water.
As we returned to our car, we saw a large mule deer just wandering along the street. There was a U.S. Park Ranger car with flashing lights holding back traffic while it crossed at the pedestrian crossing. We were excited that we would finally be seeing wild life but little did we know what was coming!
As we slowly wound our way around the north loop towards Roosevelt Tower, David yelled at me to stop and backup. While I had been watching for wild life wandering out into the road, I completely missed the giant brown scruffy buffalo standing in the ditch. Pulling over, we of course got out of the car to get closer. David was less timid than I was as I tried to catch pictures while standing in the doorway of the car. When the buffalo started to walk up the road towards me I quickly scrambled into the car and snapped pictures. On the short video loop I shot, you could hear me squealing. The buffalo slowly ambled right past my car window and in front of the car, disappearing into the shrub on the other side of the road. Up to this point, we had only seen buffalo far off in the distance or behind a fence. This sighting would make my day on this trip to Yellowstone even if I saw nothing else!
When we twice encountered large crowds of cars pulled over to the side of the road, we joined the throng. People had their cameras in hand, many had massive lenses on tripods and one professional photographer camouflaged and shooting pics from the sky roof of the SUV. Far off in the distance we could see the attraction that had drawn this crowd. A full sized grizzly was in the field. Most of the time he was well hidden by the high grass but every now and then he would look up and once he even stretched up on his hind legs (of course – we missed that perfect shot!).
We had certainly started our tour with more than geysers in Yellowstone!
More Than Geysers in Yellowstone – Canyons and Falls
As you drive on the roads through Yellowstone, there are lots of places to stop or to take a short scenic detour. Some areas provide parking at trail heads if you want to take one of the longer treks in the park. One of the detours we took got us to the Petrified Tree. I must admit we had a bit of trouble actually finding the tree and then when we found it, we were a little under awed.
The park has a number of waterfalls. We didn’t stop at them all but there were a couple of higher ones on the north loop that we were interested in seeing. The first one we stopped at was Tower Falls. Growing up with Niagara Falls as a close day trip to home in Toronto, the waterfalls didn’t really excite us too much but we did find the rock formations very interesting in the canyons. This would prove to be a bit of a taste test of the awesome sight we would find later on the trip in the Grand Canyon.
The north loop took you over Dunraven Pass, still open in this milder fall we were having. Bypassing Canyon Village, we headed for the road that would take us to see the Upper and Lower Falls. You can follow the loop road that will ultimately take you back to Canyon Village. We didn’t pull over at the first lookout spot but waited until we were higher and could look down over the falls and the great rock formations of the canyon. Don’t miss the sights that are more than just geysers in Yellowstone Park!
You Can Find Geysers Everywhere
Crossing onto the south loop we went off in the direction of the Old Faithful. All along the south loop we could see geysers – in the fields, in the water and up the rocks. Make sure and stop to admire the wide variety of geysers in the park that show the water and steam being spewed from the earth.
Parking at Old Faithful, it was easy to see where we needed to be for the show. There were banks of benches set up around a tableau in the centre. As we were walking to get a seat, we got a small display from the smaller Castle Geyser that sits close to Old Faithful. If you take the walking path you can see all of the geysers in that area.
Old Faithful erupts every 30 to 120 minutes but the schedule is predictable and posted. When we sat down, the people around us told us we would have a 40 minute wait for the next eruption. Wanting to save our good viewing spot, we settled in and ate our lunch while we waited. When it was 10 minutes past the predicted time for eruption, I was wondering if we were going to miss this sight. A few burps of steam got our hopes up but when the real eruption started, we knew we were in for a show.
The Old Faithful geyser proved to be an interesting sight for about 5 minutes as the water and steam headed up 100 to 200 feet. We were certainly glad we had taken this side of the south loop to see the show but were not sure it would warrant a second visit.
Luckily Craig Pass was still open so we were able to continue moving without backtracking towards the south exit. Since we did not do the full figure 8 of the north and south loops, we did miss seeing the full majesty of Yellowstone Lake on this trip.
The Grand Tetons Towered High
Exiting Yellowstone Park, we kept driving south and soon entered the Grand Teton Park. It was now late afternoon and it had been a long and exciting day. We knew we would not be giving this national park the attention it deserved. Detouring off the main route, we found the scenic route that would give us great views of Jackson Lake and the majestic Grand Teton mountain range.
Our tour for the day closed with a great display of fall colour!
You exit the Grand Teton Park right in Jackson, WY which was our stopping point for the night. Opting to go more local for this stop we checked into The Virginian Lodge. Still not finished with our animal sightings for the day, we were not really surprised this place had stuffed animal heads hung on the wall.
Having dinner at the hotel that night, we were amused by interesting characters. The hot tub was still nice and hot so we were able to soak off some of the travel aches before heading to bed. Our next day would be a long travel day as we set off for the Grand Canyon!
We enjoyed our long day travelling through Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks. We were so amazed to find more than geysers in Yellowstone and I am sure we only scratched the surface!
Did you know there were more than geysers in Yellowstone Park? What was your favourite part of visiting Yellowstone? Would you recommend the annual pass?