Miles Driven: 310.
We woke to a beautiful morning and drove the last 45 minutes into Grand Teton National Park. What a beautiful park! Green prairie grass of Jackson Hole valley juts up to snow caped peaks. French explorers named the range “Les Trois Tetons” or The Three Breasts, the tallest being the Grand Teton. Glaciers and snowmelt created many lakes that are now used recreationally for canoeing and swimming. The mountains and lakes are named for backcountry explorers and trappers that worked in this area. We cooked a wonderful breakfast on the shores of Jenny Lake. We walked around a bit, visited the info center a bit, and marveled at the spectacular scenery a lot!
In the afternoon, we drove a short distance north into America’s first National Park: Yellowstone. Signed into law in 1872 by President Ulysses S. Grant, Yellowstone is one of the most active geothermal points on the planet. “What is geothermal?” you may ask. Well, let me tell you. Yellowstone National Park is a volcano, like the Hawaiian Volcanoes, that sits in the middle of a tectonic plate. However, we do not see the typical cone and cauldron. Here, the crust of the earth is very thin, maybe seven miles deep, compared to 20-miles everywhere else. A pocket of magma (molten rock) sits below the crust and heats up any water pockets that flow below the surface creating geysers, hot springs, and mud pots. Beyond the thermal activity, Yellowstone has a very busy ecosystem too. The entire park is busy with birds, bison, bears, and wolves.
My good friend Joel had worked in Yellowstone for several summers and gave us the ins and outs on what to see and where to stay. Somehow, we got a last minute reservation at Canyonlands Campground. We were so relived that we did get a reservation because once at the park, every campsite was FULL!
From the start, we started seeing animals. A bison walked right in front of our car. As dusk began to set in, we made our way to Hayden Valley, and so did everyone else. Park visitors would gather on little knolls lining the valley with their binoculars, telephoto lenses, and spotting scopes on tripods to watch the animals. There was lots of activity during our stay. I heard that earlier in the week, a bison had died which was drawing the bears and wolves into the valley. I saw the wolves feeding and some bears playing just a football field away. So cool!
For dinner, we bought some bison meat at the Yellowstone grocery store and cooked the burgers on our campstove. The grass-fed meat was rich and lean and oh so tasty.
The campsite was so quiet in the morning. Even the birds slept in. We cooked breakfast, packed the car, and took off for the upper, middle, and lower geyser basins. Once in the geyser basin, we began seeing plumes of steam rising up between the trees. Our first stop was at the Grand Prismatic Pool. WOW! This pool was gorgeous and the colors ranged from bright blue to deep brown. What is unique about these pools, is that heat-loving, microbacterias thrive in these waters. At the center of the pool, the water is over 200 degrees and noting lives there letting the clear water reflect the blue sky. But, as the water laps over the edge of the pool and cools, the colors change to green, then orange, then brown. The national park had build boardwalks around the pools letting us get close and smell the sulfur escaping.
We continued to the lower geyser basin to see the iconic Old Faithful Geyser! We had a little time to explore the visitor’s center before we joined all the other guests around the vent and waited. Old Faithful has a sense of humor and would spurt out a little water and steam, just enough to excite the crowd, before going quiet for a bit. Then, woosh! Old Faithful stood up to its name and shot up 150 feet into the air, right on schedule. The crowd cheered and that’s all.
After lunch, we made our way back towards our campground with stops at various other geysers and paint pots. I also enjoyed the sulphur caldron! Hot and acidic, this boiling pool of mud has a pH of 1.3 and could melt the skin off your finger! And smelled oh, so “wonderful” (not really). Plus, a huge bison almost joined us on the boardwalk by the mud volcano.
We drove through Hayden Valley again to try and spot more wildlife. I think I got a picture of a grizzly bear. At sunset, we paid a visit to Yellowstone’s Grand Canyon which sure lives up to its name. The golden sunlight light up the yellow sandstone and made the whole canyon glow.
We woke up at 6:00 to get an early start because we still had a lot to see and a long drive ahead of us.
We drove past more geysers to the Mammoth Hot Springs that spew up over two tons of calcium carbonate creating travertine terraces. The beautiful white cliffs look like a giant wedding cake that is slowly growing. The calcium carbonate flows just quickly enough to build the travertine around trees.
We ate our breakfast outside the historic Fort Yellowstone and admired the beautiful buildings before heading out. We crossed the 45th parallel (half way between the equator and the north pole) and the Montana boarder before we even left the park through the north entrance. What a great idea our national parks are. They truly are “for the benefit and enjoyment of the people.”
Total Miles: 9,500