Bison, Wolves, and Geysers

Monday September 13 through Saturday, September 18, 2021

The drive from Cody to the east entrance of Yellowstone National Park is spectacular. US 14, designated as the Buffalo Bill Cody Scenic Highway follows the North Fork of the Shoshone River for many miles. Excerpt from Travel Wyoming.com- “From Cody it’s a gorgeous drive through Buffalo Bill State Park into the Wapiti Valley and the byway proper, a geologist’s dream and the country that Teddy Roosevelt once called “the most scenic 50 miles in the world.” The byway ends in spectacular fashion at Sylvan Pass (el. 8530 ft.) with a sweeping mountain view and the East Entrance to the world’s first national park, Yellowstone.”

We second Teddy’s observation. The scenery is most spectacular and best of all our RV never even grunted going over the pass. Once over Sylvan pass we drive down towards the huge Yellowstone Lake through a lot of dead and downed lodgepole pines, the victim of a million acre fire in 1988. The bright side is a tremendous amount of new growth is poking up amoungst the devastation- the forest lives!

Once past the entrance gate we stop at one of our favorite spots, Fishing Bridge. We’ve heard that the park is packed with humanity yet the general store only has a dozen or so cars parked nearby. Yay! Maybe most folks have been and gone! The store has a cafe. In normal times we’d ordered a hot dog. It’s cut down the middle and cooked on the flattop until crisp. Delish! Of course we would have taken it out to share with our mutzo Ollie. Times are not normal, Jil is now Vegan so I elect to bypass the most tasty hot dog ever offered anywhere in the whole wide world! Sigh…. We walk as short distance to the fishing bridge. It crosses the Yellowstone River not far downstream from its origin, Yellowstone Lake. Ironically, there’s a “no fishing” sign on the bridge.

Yellowstone NP is huge at 2,221,766 acres, 3472 square miles larger than Delaware and Rhode Island combined.. We still have to traverse the park to get to our campground in West Yellowstone, MT. There’s no quick way to get from one place to another. The speed limit is 45 miles per hour and one is lucky to maintain that speed with all the lookie-loos, bison jams and traffic trying to enter and exit parking areas. Most places of significance are 30-40 minutes apart. We choose the shorter and less crowded route: Fishing Bridge to Canyon Junction, to Norris Junction to Madison Junction to West Entrance. 37 miles of park roads yet two hours of travel time. Ya can’t be in a hurry when driving this huge park.

We head into Hayden Valley and immediately see small bands of bison. Some are grazing and some laying down, relaxing along the Yellowstone River. Jil sees people with large spotter telescopes and long lensed cameras on tripods observing some movement. “Wolves!”, she exclaims. “There’s a very large pack of wolves off in the distance!” We bypass the Yellowstone Falls area. We’ll come back to them after parking the RV. We stop in Canyon Village for a look around and a bite to eat, then head towards Norris Junction. The areas around the geyser basins are packed with cars! Like a half mile walk just to the parking lot packed! At Madison Junction we follow the Madison River to the West Entrance and West Yellowstone, Montana. Grizzly Yellowstone RV Park is less than a mile from the park entrance, making it ideal for visiting the oldest and most magnificent National Park in the US.

 Yellowstone is seventh largest national park in size. Though not the largest of the United States’ national parks, it is noteworthy for its dense concentration of geysers, mudpots, steam vents and hot springs. According to UNESCO, which has designated Yellowstone a World Heritage Site, half of all the known geothermal features on the globe are nestled within the park. Early accounts of Yellowstone’s geysers, hot springs and fumaroles were often dismissed as frontier legends, but scientists now know that they are the result of a “supervolcano” located beneath the park. 

According to the National Park Service, Yellowstone is the only place in the United States where buffalo have continuously roamed since the prehistoric era. The park’s herd dwindled to just 23 animals during the late 19th century, when overhunting helped drive the bison to the brink of extinction, but the population later bounced back thanks to more effective stewardship and protection. The roughly 5,500 bison that live in Yellowstone today constitute the nation’s largest and oldest free-range herd.

The park features multiple geyser basins along the Firehole and Gibbon Rivers. Of all of Yellowstone’s geysers, none is more iconic than “Old Faithful,” which is capable of spewing water 180 feet into the air. It’s located in the Lower Geyser Basin, the largest of them. Old Faithful used to erupt “every hour on the hour” but multiple earthquakes have caused it to slow down. These days, the gusher often takes breaks as long as 90 minutes between eruptions. Overlooking the geyser basin is the iconic Old Faithful Inn was completed in 1904. It’s lobby is one of the largest log structures in the world.

We had intended on going back into the Park at least two more times with rest days in between. We did go back into the Park wishing to visit a few of the many geyser basins. We were fortunate to visit a few of the minor basins and even Old Faithful had room to park. The other major basins had so many people attempting to visit that we felt the situation untenable, satisfied to visit less popular geysers, natural springs and lakes.

OK, one more visit is at hand. The mile long line to enter the park on Monday subsided. However, another visit was not to be. Mike got sick, going to first care. The PA said the situation would most likely resolve itself, if it didn’t go to the E.R. in Big Sky- 45 miles away. Well, Mike started to feel better but not well enough to fight the hour long line to get into the park, then many hours within the park searching for place to park a half mile away from a geyser basin or other natural feature so we just laid low.

So either due to illness or wall to wall people these are the places we wanted to visit but didn’t:

Yellowstone Falls located near Canyon Village consist of two major waterfalls on the Yellowstone River. As the Yellowstone river flows north from Yellowstone Lake, it leaves the Hayden Valley and plunges first over Upper Yellowstone Falls and then a quarter mile downstream over Lower Yellowstone Falls, at which point it then enters the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, which is up to 1,000 feet (304 m) deep. Combined, the falls drop 417 feet.

Midway Geyser Basin-The Grand Prismatic Spring is at this basin. No other spring is as spectacular as this one.

Mammoth Hot Springs– The springs is near the north entrance of the Park. In the Mammoth area, the hot, acidic solution dissolves large quantities of limestone on its way up through the rock layers to the hot springs on the surface. Above ground and exposed to the air, some of the carbon dioxide escapes from the solution. Without it, the dissolved limestone can’t remain in the solution, so it reforms into a solid mineral. This white, chalky mineral is deposited as the travertine that forms the terraces.

Fly fishing below Gibbon Falls. This flyfisherman hiked up the Gibbon River to reach the foot of Gibbon Falls.

Gibbon Falls lies chute as it tumbles down a rocky precipice.

Norris Geyser Basin is the oldest, hottest and most dynamic of Yellowstone’s basins. The water 1000′ below the basin is said to measure over 400 degrees F!

We were fortunate, and healthy enough, to visit the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center in West Yellowstone. This not-for-profit organization takes in injured and orphaned grizzlies, wolves and a few feathered predators from as far away as Alaska. They do a great job of caring for their critters!

Our last visit was something like 18 years ago. Lots of people visiting then, an ungodly amount of people this time. 18 years ago we could find parking at every stop. This time not so much. Although the mass of humanity definitely distracts from the natural beauty and the awe one experiences here, we feel fortunate that we have returned to this truly amazing place God has made for us.

Iconic Yellowstone Tour Bus

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