Geysers, Hot Spring and Bison. Oh My!

Did you know that Yellowstone is open year round? Like most parks, it sure is!

Yellowstone National Park

What is more interesting, is that there are 4 entrances to YellowstoneNorth, South, East & West. Only the North entrance is open all year while the rest are closed until mid May. Which is where this itinerary begins…

On Day 9 we head from Grand Tetons into the South entrance. Not surprising at all was the amount of snow still on the ground. Since we moved this entire road trip back 2 months for this very reason, seeing about 3 feet of snow on the side of the freshly cleared road made complete sense!

What did not make sense:  the Yellowstone ranger informing us that it would take approximately 2 hours to reach the North entrance. {what?! why!?}

Yellowstone is one of the largest parks in the U.S.

Not only is that a factor, but speed limit in the park is 35 mph. This is for your safety. And; since we arrived to the park on the first day opening (South entrance), some of the roads were still closed.  Upon entering the park, you should receive

  • a map
  • seasonal paper

Make sure you keep both! The paper gives you updates inside the park-including road closures and safety tips.

 

Molting Bison
Bison molting on a near by tree

We head East to get to our campground and leave the RV parked so we can go adventuring through the park. {we picked up a rental car back in Jackson for the remainder of the trip} Along our way to the campground we spot a hotel with a restaurant on premise:  Lake Yellowstone. Outside the hotel was a bison. Just laying there and taking in the day. Leah and I were like giddy children taking a million photos of it and trying to get as close as possible.

Lake Yellowstone

At Lake Yellowstone, we went back in time.

Zero cell service and old fashion hotel accommodations.

People actually had to talk to one another. It was rather amazing!

The dining room reminds me of watching The Titanic with it’s yellow paint and white trimmed windows, linen tables and servers from around the country adorned with name tags and their home cities. Similar to being on a cruise, they all had their stories of how they got here and why they came. The menu is identical everyday-still not sure how often it changes.

West Tumb

West Thumb panoramaAfter dinner we took a stroll through West Thumb where we witness our first Hot Springs and got an up close encounter with female elks. {I cannot speak too much of this, but if your interested check out my instagram}

Bluebell PoolIf you read Wyoming a while back then you probably know that I will discuss Old Faithful. Being one of the main reasons for coming to this beautiful park and probably many others reason for visiting as well; I won’t bore you with a lengthy story. Our stop to see the trusty geyser was ordinary and not super eventful…

Old Faithful GeyserIt took about an hour or so to get to the Old Faithful Visitor Center from our campground at Fishing Bridge the next day. We woke up pretty early to make it over here! As soon as we arrived, the estimated eruption time was only 3 minutes away. Knowing that we could possibly wait another hour to hour and a half  for another eruption we booked it outside.

{I warned you on the last post:  be prepared for weather!}

forecast

It was absolutely freezing today, about 30ºF. I anticipated temperatures to be around 50ºF based on the forecast. As we are waiting for good Old Faithful we are also freezing our asses off! 20 minutes goes by and she’s still just bubbling small spouts while more people begin to gather closer around us. 30 minutes pass and still nothing. 10 minutes later… FINALLY! Eruptions occur and it is spectacular!

We watch the show and then head back into the Visitor Center for warmth. Another bison is roaming toward the crowd nearing closer to Old Faithful. A few souvenirs later we head back to the car for our next destination. {at this point we are too far away from the RV to go grab additional clothes, but I sure wish I would have loaded up my boots and some leggings to layer with}

Next stop: Midway Geyser Basin 

Midway Geyser Basin

Home to the Grand Prismatic, this is one of my stops! I’ve been dying to see it in person and today I’d get the chance.

Unfortunately, because weather was so crappy the visibility to see the Grand Prismatic was pretty much 0! Wind, snow and the steaming hot springs were to blame. Yes, snow. (See Brad’s head below) Hope for better weather conditions or try seeing it in the Summer. There are other hot springs here to see such as:

Excelsior Geyser Crater

ExcelsiorTurquoise Pool

After seeing our top two spots we intended to see, we decided to keep heading North. Along the way we pulled off to look at Roaring Mountain and also witness the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. Both are quite amazing. Roaring Mountain is a waterfall, that is of course roaring! Melting snow causes some additional cliff side waterfalls.

Brad.Nicole

By late day we make it to Mammoth Hot Springs. These crazy looking stair stepped pools are the shining beacon of the area. There is a walkable trail to view both the upper and lower levels.  Further up the road is Mammoth and the the North Entrance. Here you can find Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel. Currently there are renovations taking place to update the hotel, but the small town with a few shops and dining options are still open.

upper level Mammoth

If you take a right at the Visitor Center, just beyond the hotel this road will take you through Lamar Valley.  But before we hit that point we had decided to head back to the campground before dark.

On our way back we attempted to take a shortcut from Norris to Canyon Village in hopes to cut an hour or so off the drive back. You can take this route down to Fishing Bridge. Sadly the road from Canyon Village to Fishing Bridge was still closed even though our seasonal paper stated it was open since the 5th of May. Oh well!

Taking the long way back ended up allowing us to stop and see the Paint Pots. Though we were very tired and hungry we stopped anyway. These giant mud puddles fizzle and pop at you, making a perfect boomerang photo! We also got caught up in a small road jam due to sightings of a momma bear and her two cubs. She was very hard to find, but I did get a small glimpse of my first bear IRL!

Keenon & Leah decided to drop us off at the campsite and headed back up north to stay in a hotel in Gardiner just outside the park. Brad and I went back to Lake Yellowstone for dinner, once again and slept in the RV. The stars out here are amazing. We had a difficult time seeing stars during many parts of this trip, but Brad and I spent a few minutes in the freezing temperatures to gaze at them before tucking in for the night.

In the Early morning (5 AM), Brad and I headed out to meet back up with our friends before returning the RV. Our plan was to go back North and see Lamar Valley. This is where many of the animals tend to hide: Foxes, Bears, Wolves, Pronghorn, Elk, Bison, etc.

I was super enthused about seeing more animals, specifically fox and wolves. Sadly; the day we arrived to the park, someone had killed one of the White Wolves out in the valley. Now only one remains. {it’s a shame that something like this happened. They were a rare pair of wolves in the area}

3 BisonAs we pushed through the winding mountain side we hit a jam again. Only this time it was a herd of Bison tromping down the road way (see the video below). {also, pay attention to the commentary… as Brad tells me not to stick my hands out the window-becuase I am a child! Ha!}

Lamar Valley is very large and not very easy to spot animals if they are small. The best thing to do is drive slow and keep your eyes open for signs of movement. We saw several herds of Bison as we first entered the valley. Further into the valley there was a number of cars along the road and a park ranger standing watch. I assumed there was a bear since, we saw this same formation yesterday. Brad let me hop out and I peeked with every angle to find him. THERE! THERE!  a few photographers pointed out.

Black Bear

What a glorious moment! Seeing a male Black bear sniffing around for a snack. He cam out behind some rocks and began climbing along the mountain side to find food. His fur was glistening in the sunlight and he looked so fluffy and soft. I did my best to get a photo of him!

After driving for about an hour through the valley we hit Roosevelt. Here there is Roosevelt Lodge which Brad really wanted to visit, but we didn’t make it far enough to see it. The lodge is located near Tower Junction. Brad promised me 1 hour out in the valley, so I held to it! At our hour mark we turned around and headed back so that we could return the RV and get back to Salt Lake City by night fall.

Our journey back through the valley let us see Bison calf frolicking through the grasses and also 1 male Elk!  This was satisfactory for me. Until our next visit {which we will spend a majority of time out in the Valley}!

While exiting Yellowstone’s North Entrance you will see a few camp ground offerings such as small houses. I have no information on them, but was very intrigued about them. Looks like I’ll be doing some additional research before our next visit.

Obviously 2 days in not near enough time to see all of the park, so tell me what I missed! What have you done in Yellowstone?

 

A few extras:

 

on a serious note, we really did have to make a collect call! Since Keenon and Leah separated from us and we had no service.. this was the only way to reach them.

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