Established in 1872, Yellowstone national park is the first national park of the world. And one of the largest. Spread over approximately 3472 square miles of water, grasslands, forests, hot springs and geysers, Yellowstone national park is tightly bound ecosystem that demands discipline and dedication not only from members of national park services but millions of visitors as well towards its preservation and care. Yellowstone bears 67 species of mammals, 285 species or birds and other amphibians, fishes and reptiles. Mostly covered with different species of pines, land is nutritious enough to support 1000+ species of flowers. Though rich with varied wild-life and flora and fauna, Yellowstone’s true superstars, as explained later on, must be bacterium called Thermophiles. Sitting atop a massive super volcano (one of the largest calderas), geography of the Yellowstone is peppered with more than 10,000 hydrothermal features, 500+ active geysers and about 290 waterfalls. It also has huge Yellowstone Lake at elevation of 7000+ feet above sea level. Yellowstone is zoologists’ wild dream. Even though as a visitor, you just wanted to enjoy the highlights of the park, such facts and figures force one to get themselves familiar with science behind it all and put the visit into proper focus. Visit to Yellowstone is different. Its unique. And its unforgettable for sure.
On the morning of the fourth day, we were thoroughly satisfied with what Grand Teton had offered the previous day. We have our lingering doubt that something else could top it of those vistas further into the trip. We were so wrong. Prime objective of the tour, Yellowstone was still left to visit, and we thought two days, if not completely sufficient, provide more than enough time to complete most of the Yellowstone satisfactorily. Again, we were so wrong. Aesthetically, Yellowstone national park is divided into two interconnected huge loops, north loop and south loop. Park has five entrances, north, north-east, east, south and west. Depending on from where you entered, objective is to drive round either of the loop while making stop in between wherever you can to enjoy the vistas and points. This objective is for those who want to have “glimpse” of what Yellowstone offered on the run. There are approx. 1000 miles of backcountry hiking trails that is mostly not for usual visitors. Thing is, even “on-the-run” loop drive, everything is beautiful, and each point is vista that demands stop. Before you realize, the day is spent, and sun starts dipping down in the west sky leaving you with hard-earned summer light spent on usual fair and major attractions are still unattended. In short, Yellowstone is massive, and 2 days are not enough, even on the run, to complete both loops. We barely manage half of the loop in a day with skipping some of locations on that route as well.
Gamer mind shoots in: If you belong to gaming clans, and fan of Ubisoft games' massive open world or fan of Bethesda's Elder Scrolls series (especially Skyrim) then you are well aware of the compulsion of map hunting and icon clearing on the map. It goes without saying that your gaming mind might give you same stimuli here seeing the map of the Yellowstone and its "points of interest". Do not be lured. It won't be possible to do justice here in Yellowstone by visiting each and every "point of interest". Prioritize your list. Be prepared to make adjustments. Be ready for sudden stops and wildlife.
We entered Yellowstone from the West gate entrance. It’s a slow scenic drive from the entrance towards the loop I mentioned above. Clear blue summer sky corroborated with grand scenic vistas of flowing river amongst lush vegetation and pine slopes. Each turnout compelled us to stop and breath-in the natural beauty that was on offer. It was just the single shade amongst many to come that Yellowstone had presented. We knew what we wanted to cover on the first day and hence once we reached the branch of the south loop i.e., Madison junction, we turned right towards south gate direction. July is busy month in Yellowstone. Though traffic was moving swiftly, congregation of too many driving vehicles at one spot drew our attention and we took the same direction towards small driveway in-parallel to flowing river. Further in, we were slowed down to almost halt due to haphazardly parked vehicles on the road and visitors running around with cameras in hand. Center of all this commotion was huge heard of Bisons grazing calmly around the river. Accompanied by summer babies, Bisons were paying no attention to Homo sapiens fooling around till one can get too close for their comfort. Even after warnings everywhere, visitors were going crazy over getting near Bisons and get them captured in still images. Prak rangers were on duty, and I was happy that no one got injured. I meant Bison (I don’t care about foolish travelers paying no attention to park rangers’ advice).
Budgeting mind says: Yellowstone national park entry fee for personal vehicle is $35 for a week. Makes sense as you cannot do justice to Yellowstone national park in a day.
Useful Tip: Its mandatory to carry good binocular. Wildlife is varied and truly wild. Expect the unexpected encounters and viewing the wildlife from distance.
Our first stop was Painted pots parking lot. Mind you, there are Fountain Flat drive and Fire hole lake drive already passed on the way to Painted pots on Grand Loop Road (south loop), but during our visit Fire hole lake drive was closed. Our first encounter with sulfurous geysers were reeked of stinky rotten egg but pleasant to the eyes. Clearly marked boardwalks gave ample opportunity to admire all the various hot water springs and sprouts whether its Celestine pool or silica formed Silex Spring or mud pot called Red Spouter or geysers such as Morning, Twig, Clepsydra, Jet, Spasm and Fountain.
Before I move to our next sighting that must have been most unique visual experience of lifetime, I had to diverge and explain about microscopic magician called thermophiles. What makes some of the Yellowstone hot springs unique are the bacterial mat and millions and millions of microscopic organisms that thrives on hot scalding acidic water. This organism is called Thermophiles. Typical Thermophile gives off shades of orange, brown and green in relatively cool water while brilliant shades of yellow in hottest water. Together, this bacterial mat shows off spectacular rainbow of yellow, orange and brown. That is not all. Amidst the bellowing steam spewed out by hot black-brown land of the surrounding, blooms the tiny plants and flowers of yellow and reds.
Picture that became signature identity of Yellowstone, in the same league as Eiffel tower to Paris and Pyramids to Egypt and Statue of Liberty to Newyork, is the picture of Grand Prismatic spring, our next stop. Your visit to Yellowstone is not finished till you experience this eighth wonder of the world natural phenomena. It took considerable patience to get free parking spot as parking space is small and limited. Visitors with less patience and more energy parked on the main road and walked back to the place. It was as busy as it could. When you start on the 1-mile boardwalk loop of this must-visit trail, you’ll first encounter Excelsior Geyser showing off the shades of pristine blue. Further ahead on the rise, you could see unique vision of yellow and blue smoke coming out. First introduction of the Grand Prismatic spring, once you ascend further on the trail, will take your breath away. On a clear shiny day of July summer, brilliant hues of brown to saffron to yellow to magenta marking the territory of hot spring lake is, without doubt, breath-taking natural scenery of lifetime. No matter how many, photographs do not do any justice to the art nature displayed here. There are Opal pool and Turquoise pool, named appropriately after their resemblance to respective object/color.
Ecological mind laments: Most of the geyser areas accompanied by boardwalk is ecologically sensitive. Even after many signposts on holding onto caps and scarves and other loose items, I have seen plastic bottles, caps, sunglasses and fedoras either in the pools or on delicate but dangerous ground. This purely uncalled for. As if retrieving objects is not easy task, damage these artificial objects can cause to ecology is beyond one's understanding. Be nature-savvy tourist.
We did not face any parking space hassle for our next stop, the Old faithful, the most engaging and vibrant locale in Yellowstone national park. This huge area is packed with lodges, hotel, multiple parking lots, shops, restaurants and old faithful visitor center. Conveniently placed sign board had pointed out that “next eruption” was due in 30 minutes, so we wasted no time to reach the huge area cordoned off with boardwalk with benches to watch another main attraction of the park, the Old faithful. It’s one of the biggest geysers that erupt on an average in 90 minutes sprouting hot water and steam to 30-55 meters. It is spectacle to witness. It was fun to gather with people, all waiting for the eruption and sharing Yellowstone stories. The collective “Ohhh…..” and “Ahhh…” of thousands of people gather around at the first sighting of the steam and smoke indicating the initiation of Old faithful spout was something to remember. As if spectacle of space launch event accomplished successfully, spectators scattered away as ants on the next sugary treat. Miles of boardwalk trails spiderwebbed around Old faithful for enthusiasts to see many such unique geysers and other fascinating finds. It’s like roaming in nature’s open air art museum, each vent or geyser or geological formation had its own unique color and shape.
On the occasion of 150th anniversary of Yellowstone National Park (1872-2022), some attractive memorabilia were available in gift shops to buy. We had late afternoon lunch and some shopping afterwards. By the time we were done, our exhaust meter was pretty much full, and we decided to return back. On our way back, we realized that travelling is all about quality of time rather than quantity. It’s rare to get both. But next time someone pose this dilemma then Yellowstone is the answer, it gives you both quality in quantity. And the fact is you are as a traveler so insignificant that you could not do justice to both when it is about Yellowstone.
Date of Visit: 06-Jul-2022