Travel Destination: Yellowstone Day 2

In my last Travel post I showed some of the attractions in the town of West Yellowstone:

In this one I will lay out things seen and done on our first day inside the park itself.

About 1 mile (at most) east of the town of  West Yellowstone you come to the west entrance of the park. There you pay your entrance fee which grants you access to not only Yellowstone National Park but to Grand Teton as well for the next 7 days. They also give you a couple things, one is a fold map (that they attached my receipt to) of the park and the park newspaper. When you get that you should pull off and read the important safety information that is contained in the paper and maps. If you ever visit the park always keep this in mind: The animals do not fear humans in the respect that they will run away. They will attack you if you get too close especially after the calves, cubs, fawns and pups have been born and now accompany momma or during the time of the rut (mating season). The rule is stay 25 yards away from all animals except the Bears and Wolves; stay 100 yards away from them. Now here is a copy of the road map in the park newspaper:

As you can see except for the North Entrance, all of the entrances have double digit miles between them and the central section of the park. That central section has a road that completly circumnavigates it and is called the Grand Loop. As you can see there is another road that bisects the Grand Loop. Besides those major roads there is minor side roads you can drive out on and see different parts of the park, also off these there is parking areas for hiking trails that go out into the wilderness. So all descriptions of location for the things I will be describing will be based on the map above and in relation to the Grand Loop.

We started the day early, basically pulling up to the park entrance just after sunrise. After paying and entering the park we made our way down the West Entrance Road marvelling at the scenery, including a spot where you could see a Bald Eagle’s nest. We were not able to get a photo of the nest and the Eagle because they do not allow anyone to stop near the nest site. One word of advice: according to the Park Service and from our own experience, the best viewing times for most of the wildlife is very early in the day and just before sunset, so plan properly. Once we reached Madison we had a choice go north towards Norris or south towards Old Faithful, at that time the road between Madison and Norris was closed between 10pm and 8am for roadwork and it was only 7:45am so we had to head south.  At this pont we haven’t seen any wildlife until we got to a side road called Firehole Canyon road where we saw our first buffalo herd:

Buffalo Herd near Firehole Canyon

The small orange looking Bison are young calves that had been born this spring. At this time none of the wildlife wasclose to the road. From there we proceeded down the road into the canyon and the Fire Hole Falls, basicaly just getting a feel for the park. Eventually Firehole Canyon road rejoins the Grand Loop and as you head south you can to Geyser basin which runs next to the Firehole river and the geyers, fumeroles and hot springs drain into the river:

As you can see from the colors in the picture the geyser water has life that is specifically designed to live in that mineral rich water. What is amazing is the clarity of the water itself and how deep down into pools you can see (shown later). Alas what mother nature gives in giving those small lifeforms a nutrient rich enviroment to live, it also takes away:

The minerals that is needed by the microscopic life that makes those amazing colors also gets taken up into the roots systems of trees which ends up killing them due to clogging up basically the trees circulatory system. That is why you see the bottom of those trees colored white and dying. this causes the Geyer Basin to look like something from an alien world:

Besides the big geysers such as seen above you will find very tiny little holes in the ground that just percolate along:

But what really gets your attention is when a geyser spouts:

After getting our fill of Geyser basin we headed back onto the Grand Loop heading south. When we got to the turn off for Old Faithful we decided to bypass it on this day, we wanted to get a more overall feel of the park on this day. From Old Faithful you head up into the mountains on the way to West Thumb and along the way you will cross the Continental Divide (you will criss cross the Divide multiple times in Yellowstone).  Forgot to mention this in the beginning, there is vast swaths of Yellowstone where you can still see the damage from forrest fires including the Great Yellowstone Fire of 1988. So it is in very few places you will actually see vast tracts of pine trees, the section between Old Faithful and West Thumb is one of them. When you get to West Thumb you have a choice: continue on the Grand Loop to Yellowstone Lake or head to the South Entrance which will take you to Grand Teton. On this day we stayed on the Grand Loop (We ventured out the South and East Entrance roads on Day 3) and drove along Yellowstone Lake:

To the east of  Duck Lake and on the shore of Yellowstone Lake is the West Thumb Geyser basin where to me we really first experienced Yellowstone’s Magic. The basin is encircled by walkways including running  along the edge of the lake  with a strip of trees in the middle. I first it was just a smaller version of Geyser Basin:

 Until we saw this in the middle of the basin:

Right there in that barren area was a mother and her fawn surrounded by man made walkways with tourists snapping away. The Mother slowly led her very curious fawn away from the people and into the small stand of trees, trying to hide.

 Unfortunately for Momma the fawn was having none of this hiding stuff and started running in circles around the stand of trees Momma was in:

Watching that fawn romp and play with total abandon, totally unconcerned there was all those people there, that was special. Besides the spectical of Mother and child there was some fascinating geyser,s including ones actually in the lake:

Then there was the big and deep Abyss Pool:

As we were about to leave the West Thumb Basin another Elk showed up basically out of nowhere and a tourist got very lucky, he got way too close taking a picture but was able to get away with it…..this time.

From there we drove north up the back side of the Grand Loop to Tower Falls and the Canyons along the Yellowstone River:

One thing that was intereesting about the canyon was the colors of the differnt bands of rock:

From there we stayed on the Grand Loop eventually working our way to where the old Army Fort is located. Prior to the formation of the Park Service the US Army managed the park and in typical Army fashion built a fort that included houses for the officers, barracks for the enlisted and various other buildings that are still used today including a church. We didn’t stop and take pictures there on this day because it was already almost 8pm by this point and we still had to travese down to Madison including where the road work was being done and was posted to have up to 30 min delays. Since that is the case I will not go into more detail of that area now since it has it’s own special role to play on Day 3. However as we were driving along south of the Mammoth Hot Springs are we spotted a small herd of Elk:


there was a nearby rock I was able to climb up on to give me a better view which attracted this elks attention:

From there we got back on the road but there was another distraction: A Bison herd about to bed down for the night.

After that it was back on the road but we ran into a traffic jam and it wasn’t from the the road construction either:

Yes the Bison have learned to use the paved roadways for themselves. Instead of tracking through trees and rough trails they let man pave the way for them between meadows.

As you can see the Bison are not affraid to get up close and personal, take note of the size of that male, he is about the same size as that SUV and can get up to 2,000 lbs in weight. Oh btw they can run at speeds up to 30mph. The adults didn’t really pay that much attention to the vehicles but the calves sure did:

One thing you noticed in the adults was that they were still shedding their winter coats:

Besides the main herds you will find single or small groups of Young Bulls traveling by themselves. This one took an interest in me taking his picture:

I guess he decided it wasn’t a big deal since he didn’t come through the window for me. That or it was because something else caught his attention:

Eventually the Bison cleared the road and we finally made our way back to West Yellowstone for a quick bite to eat from Mc Donalds, a shower and a good nights rest for the adventure had just begun.


2 responses to “Travel Destination: Yellowstone Day 2

  1. Verity Jones August 22, 2010 at 3:40 pm

    Fabulous photos. We were there 10 years ago and they brought back some great memories.

  2. Pingback: Travel Destination: Yellowstone Day 3 « Things I Find Interesting

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