Thursday, October 21, 2010

Great American Road Trip, Part X: Yellowstone, Part the Second

We spent four days in Yellowstone, and it wasn't nearly enough time to see everything you can see. I think you would need an entire summer if you wanted to explore every part of the park, and even that might not be enough time. I didn't want to do any back country hiking, so we didn't wander too far away from the paved roads, but I still feel like I saw some truly spectacular things.

We did two ranger-led hikes, one at Mammoth Hot Springs, and one along the south rim of the canyon. The hikes weren't long mile-wise (less than 2 miles both times), but the rangers are so good at what they do that it was time well spent. This was true for our spring-break trip to Mammoth Cave as well. Maybe we've just had good luck, but every park ranger we've hiked with this year was warm, funny, knowledgeable, and eager to share his/her passion for the wonders of nature.

One morning we got up at 5:00 a.m. and headed into the park before sunrise. We were hoping to see some interesting animal activity. We did spy some elk way off in the distance, and some bison up close and personal, but that was it for animals that morning. However, we did see a thunderstorm over a mountain, followed by a rainbow. Seeing a rainbow at sunrise in Yellowstone made getting up before sunrise so worth it. We drove over 100 miles that morning before going back to our hotel for breakfast, something that is unthinkable in our every day lives. It's almost like time and distance have no meaning in Yellowstone. It is what it is, and you adapt to it.

We were frustrated by some aspects of Yellowstone. It takes forever to get around. The wildlife traffic jams could be frustrating if you were stuck in the back and couldn't see the cause of the jam. You knew something fabulous was going on, you just couldn't see it! The park rangers would hustle traffic along (how were they always present where the wildlife were??), but then that meant by the time you got to where the animal was, they refused to allow you to pull over to get a good look. Argh. There was also a lot of road construction in the park, and we got stuck in a ONE HOUR construction delay one afternoon, which completely put our plans for the day into a tail spin.

Old Faithful is in the southern half of the park, which was a good 2 1/2 hour drive from our hotel. We went there our last full day in the park. I was glad it hadn't been my first Yellowstone experience, because it was by far the most crowded part of the park, and seemed almost like a theme park. The roads around there felt like a freeway, the parking lots were huge, yet we had to circle and circle and circle to find a parking spot, the gift shop/restaurants were crazy-crowded, and there were mobs and mobs of people around the geyser. Ugh.

She did blow right at the predicted time, though!

We were plagued with bad weather that day. Every day there was a thunderstorm right around noon, but then it would pass in about 15 minutes and clear up. That is a typical weather pattern for the park, according to the rangers. The weather there changes every 5 minutes. One minute the sun is beating down on your head, the next minute you're getting pelted with hail, then suddenly it's freezing cold until the sun comes out again. Where I live, the air is humid humid humid, so hot days are wet and sticky, and even in the shade you are sweating. Out in the desert and in the mountains, the air was so dry. Whenever the sun didn't shine, I felt chilly, but as soon as the sun came out, the rays felt so fierce I swear I could feel them pierce my clothing. The day we were at Old Faithful, the noon thunderstorm was followed by another thunderstorm that raged for an hour, forcing us to cut our tour of the geyser basins short. What we were able to see before the second thunderstorm made us run for shelter was awesome, though.

Our favorite geyser was Anemone Geyser. It was close to the boardwalk. We leaned over for a proper look. It appeared very dry, and just as my husband speculated that it must be an infrequent geyser, it burst into life, making us jump back and scream with laughter. That is one of my favorite memories of Yellowstone: the four of us laughing our heads off over the surprise of Anemone Geyser. (We later read in the guide book that it erupts every 10 minutes!)

See the rainbow?

The day we left Yellowstone, we drove the entire length from north to south, stopping at the Midway Geyser Basin, home of the Grand Prismatic Spring. Unfortunately for us, it was such a cool morning that the steam and vapors obscured all but hints of the vibrant colors.

Our drive had us crossing the Continental Divide multiple times.

Before we leave Yellowstone for good, here are some photos of the wildlife we saw:

Elk hanging out in Mammoth.

Black bear with cub.

A different black bear with cub.

Lone bison going for a jog on the road.

We also saw grizzlies on two separate occasions, but they were too far away to get good pictures, and a pika darted out by our feet during one of our ranger hikes.

I have a lot more Yellowstone photos in this Flickr set.

Grand Teton National Park, here we come!