The Great American Road Trip–Part III
Yellowstone National Park
Yellowstone is the world’s first national park having been established in 1872 by Ulysses S. Grant. Yes, this was the model not only for the U.S. National Park Service, but for the national parks I recently explored in Costa Rica and much of Latin America. A land of superlatives, it well deserves its World Heritage Site designation.
Yellowstone also receives several million visitors a year which adds some additional challenges. For example, I arrived late in the season to find that 60% of the campgrounds were shuttered for the winter. The remaining campsites were totally filled. I had also naively thought that it would be fun to splurge one night and stay at the Old Faithful Inn which dates back to the days of Theodore Roosevelt.
When I presented myself at the desk and inquired as to a room I was informed that I should have made a reservation about a year before! Additionally, all lodging in the park was sold out for the three to four days I was planning to stay. After
walking across the road to watch Old Faithful erupt, I headed back to the town of West Yellowstone. After eight failed attempts, “sorry we are full all week,” I was grateful to rent an overpriced room for the next three nights to serve as my base camp.
Early the next morning I returned to the park for a combination of driving and hiking touring. Many of Yellowstone’s more famous features can be seen from crowded roadside pullouts. But a short walk takes you quickly away from the major crowds.
I spent the day exploring geysers, fumeroles, bubbling paint pots and geothermal features that were stunning in their diversity. As much as I love Lassen National Park, I felt that it had been a geothermal warmup (pun intended) for the main event
From Norris, I drove north to the Mammoth Hot Springs area where I toured the Hot Springs Terraces.
Mammoth Hot Springs is the site of Fort Yellowstone, now the park’s administrative HQ, and the lawns are a popular hangout for the abundant elk population.
The next day was spent exploring the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. I hiked both north and south rims and allowed much time to appreciate this spectacular area which is totally different from the geyser basins of the previous day.
During the 90 minute drive back to West Yellowstone, I was treated to a geyser-filled sunset.
Tomorrow I will spend a couple hours at the enormous Lake Yellowstone, another part of this 3,468.4 square miles (8,983 sq. km) national treasure and then depart through the Tetons.
Tips for visiting Yellowstone National Park:
- Plan on a minimum of three days; I could have easily filled a week!
- You can go on the fly like me but it is better to plan ahead.
- When the park roads are open, it is high season.
- Lodging in the park books up months in advance. (So do the surrounding towns–book ahead and save an extra 100 bucks a night.)
- There are first-come first-serve campsites but you better get there early in the day to have any hope of getting one.
- This is grizzly country. Take proper precautions with all food!
The abundant wildlife (I also saw a wolf and several buffalo) can be aggressive and is always unpredictable.