Visiting Yellowstone National Park

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Finally, on Tuesday morning, Aug. 19, I left West Yellowstone, MT and drove across the border into Wyoming and the West Entrance to Yellowstone National Park. Even early in the morning a long stream of vehicles were lining up at the gate. Having my National Parks Access Pass, I quickly passed though and headed off eastward into this, the first National Park in the USA.

It couldn’t have been a better day. The skies were mostly blue and clear, a good welcoming sign for me. (As way of explanation on the layout of Yellowstone N.P. the road system is like a huge figure 8, with upper and lower loops connected between with a road between Canyon Lodge to the East and Norris camp to the West. Entrances into the Park are from the West, Northwest, Northeast, East and from the south). I entered from the West and headed toward Old Faithful, of course the most recognized and notable point of interest in the park. 

While some may make a beeline directly to the major points of interest, there are many other scenic stops along the routes. I stopped and viewed most of them and hiked further into some of the areas to see hot springs, fumaroles, steam vents and geysers and the natural wonders of views along the Gibbon, Firehole and Yellowstone Rivers. 

At the assorted stops along the drive that day, the strong odor of sulphur hung in the air. Steaming mists clouded the scenes creating a mysterious and otherworldly atmosphere. It took me most of the day to casually continue on to Old Faithful.  

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At most of the stops along the drive, boardwalks are in place to protect the environment and the people who are visiting. The soils are sensitive and the earth’s crust is fragile beneath. An unexpected step in the wrong place and crashing through the crust could easily result in a deadly scalding. The boiling hot springs were often in blue steaming pools, some with streams that fed into the river, orange, yellow streaks marking the course of the hot, mineral and thermal microbe rich flow.












Boiling waters, erupting geysers, bubbling mud pots, and ferocious sounding steam vents are all a part of the wonders that can be seen throughout the park. In other places, as hot waters flow outward from hot springs, a fanned out pattern shows ridges as minerals are deposited over the surface creating a terraced surface. In older springs these terraces are much larger. Layers and layers of these terraces are like steps leading downward from the bubbling hot spots above. Other intricate and delicate formations are numerous at most of the sites. 

I arrived at Old Faithful late in the afternoon and found the next anticipated eruption was in less than an hour of my arrival. There is a semi-circle of bleacher seats (all on one level) around part of the geyser. Luckily, I found a seat in a front row next to other people who made room for me. I in turn made room for one other young man who was from Berlin, Germany. In time Old Faithful did start to bubble up more and more, until she blew her first spout of boiling water upward.  Over a short period of time, about a minute, the fountain blasted forth more forcefully, fluctuating between towering bursts and lesser ones until the intensity diminished and the eruptions ceased. Then only steam continued to emit from the old geyser.

The weather by that time had become overcast and with that bland background, the visual, on photos, did not do justice to                  the actual show of power from Old Faithful.






                                                                                     


Not having made overnight arrangements, I decided to check at the famous Old Faithful Inn for any available rooms. The famous inn was built back in about 1906 and is constructed of logs representing a very rustic, yet very elegant atmosphere. I knew these rooms would be far outside my price range, but pursued the idea anyway. They did have a room, but at $385, I asked about other properties in the park. The desk person was very helpful and found that I could find a camp site at Bridge Bay campground. He happily called them and asked to reserve a spot for me, which I then followed up on with a call to finalize the reservation. Bridge Bay is on the shore of Yellowstone Lake, the largest freshwater lake above 7000 ft in North America. Within about 40 minutes I had driven up the road to the campsite and located my space. As the weather was about to turn to rain, I quickly set up my tent and set up my bed with a couple of foam pads, a thermarest inflatable pad, sleeping bag, two pillows and two blankets. While all the efforts to make my sleep space comfortable may seem excessive, it was exactly what was needed. The night was cold and I stayed quite cozy and warm inside my little tent. 

At 9 p.m. a Ranger Talk was presented at the camp’s amphitheater, the topic was about the Yellowstone wolves and their importance in the ecosystem of the park. I found the presentation very interesting and felt comfortable sitting outside in the chilly night. With flashlight in hand, I walked down the roads and back to my tent. Just in time to crawl into my sleeping bag, the rain started to fall. It fell through most of the night, tapping raindrops upon my tent’s rain cover, a soothing way to fall to sleep.

Arising at first light, I quickly dressed in my cramped quarters and then decided to walk over to the lake and watch the sunrise. Being the only person up at that time, I witnessed one of the best sunrises I have seen. A few others came as the sky brightened, one came down and asked to take my photo portrait as I sat there absorbing the scene in quiet solitude. He then told me he would send me a copy when he returned to his home in San Francisco. 

With the sun rising further in the sky, I returned to my tent, secured things there and then hopped in my truck to drive up the road to a lodge that served breakfast. After leaving my campsite, I drove north and encounter heavy fog all along the way. This obscured my views of what lay beyond, but coming up a hill, I encounter a large number of vehicles pulled off or pulling off the road, causing quite a traffic situation. Upon a small hill were a large gathering of people most with high power camera lenses, others with binoculars. All were looking out into the mist - at SOMETHING. I parked along the road, walked over the the area below were the largest crowd were assembled and wondered what I was supposed to be seeing. 

I learned from another observer, that the previous day, wolves had taken down a buffalo and that grizzly bears were feasting on the carcass. Supposedly that was some distance out in the rolling meadow below. Seeing that the heavy fog was not about to lift anytime soon, and not wanting to deal with such a large contingent of tourists, I continued on to find my own source of food.

I missed the sign for Lake Lodge, where I intended to go, and ended up at Canyon Lodge another 15 miles away and had my breakfast. I was at the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, one of the must see locations in Yellowstone.

Two of the major, if not the largest in all of the park, waterfalls are to be seen, the Upper and Lower Falls. They can be viewed on short North and South Rim drives from several vantage points. 

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Though I arrived early at the Lower Falls (to the left), I was amazed at the huge number of tourists already on site. Most were Asians, scurrying about taking photos. There was the need to be patient in all that busyness, and scant changes to enjoy the views in solitude. Waiting for a quell in the rush of people I struck up a conversation with a single young woman, who also had been hoping for less activity at the overlook. As we chatted, the crowds did disperse and we were left to enjoy the views in a much calmer manner. After reciprocating with photos we continued on to another overlook further up the road and then went our separate ways.

The entire day was consumed by my seeing the falls from all the possible sites, I chatted with several people during the day, finding people from Bowling Green, Ohio, Dayton, Ohio, Grand Rapids, Michigan and, amazingly, later in the day a young woman and her husband, she being from Woodville, Ohio, a mere 5 miles from our family home in Ohio. Her name is Manda Bartell, who perhaps my brothers may know of her  family. Her husband is Chinese, a very engaging man who was very interested in and was a part of our conversation. Manda and I exchanged several family names, many of which she was familiar. When I mentioned Elliston Cementry, she also was very familiar with that and the burial place for many of my relatives as well as hers. They had recently been back to Ohio and some of the same places I had been is where she had gone with her husband. To have run into someone who was from near my hometown was amazing to both of us. What prompted me to start a conversation with this couple was that she was wearing a U of Toledo sweatshirt, the largest city near my hometown of Gibsonburg. Seeing the shirt as we passed, I asked if she were from Toledo, which then led to our further discovery of commonality. I believe we were engaged in talking for over a half hour and would have continued to find more common connections, but it was then raining and they were on the way down to a vantage point to see the Lower Falls and I needed to return to my campsite about 20 miles away.

From both sides of the Yellowstone River that day, I sought out all the viewing spots of the two falls, some high some low  - including one that was a hike down a remote, seldom used trail, one that had not recently been traversed. It was a bit touch and go at times as I descended to the turbulent Yellowstone River below the Upper Falls as it pounded down from above, churning into the cold rushing waters. While recognizing, after having trekked down through the trees, that this was probably not my best venture into a dangerous place, I set my mind on completing this little “adventure” and slowly and deliberately made my way right down to the rocky shore of the raging river, waters lapping at my feet. The actual falls were unapproachable from this angle as the Fall had cut back into the rocks and the river then made a sharp right angle away from the falls. Still, I was seeing the foamy waters and its thundering roar as they flowed down, captured in some of the frothy mist. From this vantage point I looked up on the opposite cliffs above and saw several of the overlooks. I wondered if anyone could spot me down on that isolated and desolate spot.

My vantage point below the waterfall.

So, after a long day of exploring the Upper and Lower Falls of the Yellowstone River, I headed back to Bridge Bay campground where I was staying one more night. Along the way back, I encounter that same large gathering of people along the road, still causing a traffic jam and, by now with the fog lifted, people peering off into the distance looking at what was supposedly a feeding frenzy. I was not about to stop and mingle with that mass of humanity, plus it had begun to rain as I left the waterfalls. 

Oh joy, rain…

On the way I stopped at Fishing Bridge and had some supper, still raining. Then down the road to my tent. Now I’d have to actually get in as it rained, hoping I’d not get the inside too wet in the process. Inside was dry, thankfully. 

Before retiring however, I wanted to hear that night Ranger Talk, about Bisons, Bears, Elk and Wolves. Just as I had walked over to the amphitheater, it started to rain again and I was not wearing my rain poncho. With no other choice I returned to my tent and just went to sleep.

It rained throughout the night.

I’ll end here for now and continue when I am next connected to the internet.


Uncle Toms Trail. 328 steps plus steep path ¾ of the way down below Lower Falls. 





kdonald940@cox.net © Donald E. Kline 2012                                         Disqus Comments