Wild Life So Close We Could Touch It
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 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, we settled in and enjoyed 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. They munched away not at all concerned, even when the camera flash went off.
Heading Into Yellowstone National Park
We stayed outside of the park. Unless we wanted to make a major trek in and out of the park, it meant we saw all of Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons in one day. Up before sunrise, we grabbed breakfast. We packed a lunch because no food was available in the park this late in the season).
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 we could get an annual pass ($80 for 2 named people). Since we knew we would be seeing a few national parks on this trip, we opted to get an annual pass.
I planned our route through Yellowstone to see the key things on my “must do”. Instead of doing a full figure 8, we travelled a reverse “S” from north to south.
Entering the park at the North Entrance, we saw the first of many signs warning you about wildlife. This was 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. The animals were visible distinct only with binoculars or a good zoom lens. But we got more than one thrill as we made our way through Yellowstone.
A Stop At Mammoth Springs
The first planned stop was at Mammoth Springs Terraces. It was a cold morning and we saw steam rising up from the large spring field around the Liberty Cap. 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. It sparkled almost as if there were metals in the water.
As we returned to our car, we saw a large mule deer at it wandered along the street. A U.S. Park Ranger car with flashing lights held 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!
Wild Life In The Park
As we slowly wound our way around the north loop towards Roosevelt Tower, David yelled at me to stop and backup. While I watched 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, in front of the car and then disappeared into the shrub on the other side of the road. Up to this point, we only saw buffalo far off in the distance or behind a fence. This sighting made 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. One professional photographer was camouflaged and shot pics from the sky roof of the SUV.
Far off in the distance we saw 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 certainly started our tour with more than geysers in Yellowstone!
More Than Geysers in Yellowstone – Canyons and Falls
As we drove on the roads through Yellowstone, there were lots of places to stop or to take a short scenic detour. Some areas provided parking at trail heads if we wanted 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 had 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 proved 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 took 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 looked 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!
We Found Geysers Everywhere
Crossing onto the south loop we went off in the direction of the Old Faithful. All along the south loop we saw 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 walked to get a seat, we got a small display from the smaller Castle Geyser that sat close to Old Faithful. If you take the walking path you can see all of the geysers in that area.
Old Faithful erupted about every 30 to 120 minutes. But the schedule was 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 wondered 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 took 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 gave 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!
We exited 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.
A Great Day Exploring Yellowstone National Park
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 we headed to bed. Our next day was 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?
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