The second leg of the big late-summer ’22 trip. We came in the East Entrance from Cody WY after our Beartooth Plateau backpacking trip and drove all the way across the park to the West Entrance to get to our KOA cabins (and a shower!) outside West Yellowstone MT.
We would have 3 days to explore the park – not nearly enough to see all the touristy stuff, but enough to see a good cross-section. Our main days were the Thursday and Friday before Labor Day weekend and we had a pretty good experience. We did not encounter the overflowing parking lots, long traffic backups, and hoards of people until Saturday. We did not get into the back country at all but the park arranged to have a nice selection of wildlife posing for us near, and sometimes on, the road.
Thursday: We drove a loop around the northern part of the park. The first stop was Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River, featuring Yellowstone Falls. We walked down to the brink of the lower falls (308′) and caught a glimpse of the upper falls (109′) on the way down. From the brink, you can’t see the falls very well but you get a great view of the canyon downstream. We next went to Artist Point, where you get a great view upstream toward the lower falls. We decided to skip the upper falls.
The next stop was Tower Falls, named for the stone towers that surround it. After that we continued north toward the Mammoth Springs area but stopped at a road-side picnic area for lunch. While we ate, a bison casually strolled out of the woods just across the creek to entertain us by scratching his head on a log.
Mammoth Springs is one of the big areas. The mineral-rich springs leave deposits that form multi-level and multi-hued terraces. The coloring is mostly due to different bacteria that thrive under different conditions. In addition to the springs, there is the park headquarters, visitor center, hotel, restaurants, staff housing, an old Army fort, and even a post office. Lots of great architecture. The road going north to the north entrance is another that is closed due to damage from the June flood.
The Norris Geyser Basin was next up. We walked through only the Porcelain Basin Loop but that’s probably a pretty good sample. None of the geysers erupted while we were there but a couple were churning pretty vigorously.
Beryl Spring and Gibbon Falls are relatively close together and very close to the road so they’re worth a quick look, if nothing else.
Friday: We were up early to begin our southern loop, which would include a couple of the park’s biggest attractions. Right off the bat we encountered one of the classic Yellowstone problems: bison wandering down the road, causing traffic snarls. Further south we got through a construction area before the crew got out there to close one lane, and raced to get to the Upper Geyser Basin before 8:37 AM, when Old Faithful was expected to erupt (give or take some minutes). We got there with time to spare as the grand geyser didn’t get started until 8:49 and went for 6-7 minutes. Nearby is Old Faithful Inn, which is a must-see in that area.
The Midway Geyser Basin is home to another major attraction – the Grand Prismatic Spring along with its little brother the Opal Pool and a couple others. The overlook is reached from the Fairy Falls trail head, just a bit down the road.
The West Thumb area of Yellowstone Lake is the caldera of a volcano that last erupted 174,000 years ago. The West Thumb Geyser Basin is on the western shore and actually extends out into the lake, adding an interesting twist.
The Mud Volcano area has some interesting features. Dragon’s Mouth Spring has a great audible component in addition to the visual.
Sulpher Cauldron has a pH near 1 – similar to battery acid. Beyond, the Sour Creek Dome is rising due to magma pooling beneath. The drive back to our cabin was delayed by another wildlife-related traffic jam.
Saturday: We got another early start but still had delays at the entrance gate and heavier traffic in the park. The air itself felt crowded. There are a few areas we skipped earlier that we’re going to check out today.
By late morning we decided we’d seen enough, and had enough of the crowds, and called it quits. Veni, vidi, vici. We went back to West Yellowstone for a picnic lunch in the park and then walked around the downtown area buying souvenirs. After a relaxing afternoon hanging around the cabins we packed-up for the next leg of the trip, just a bit south of Yellowstone.