Tuesday, September 13, 2011


One of the many great things about our visit to Yellowstone National Park was that my parents joined us there!

Nancy and I made the quick drive in from West Yellowstone, meandering along the Madison River, through golden meadows and between old, worn down shoulders of the Gallatin Range. On this drive we got our first glimpse of the steaming ground of the caldera, and knew that this was going to be a landscape unlike any we'd visited before. We made camp that afternoon at Grant's Village, a huge campground of over 300 sites, thickly wooded and with decent site spacing. This would be our longest stay at a place without electric hookup, so we would be running our generator for many of the allowed hours from 8AM to 8PM. Thankfully the Honda 2000 runs as quiet as a small car at idle. Mom and Dad arrived later that day and got their rented minivan set up for sleeping. The stow-n-go seating folded to provide a flat surface where we squeezed in my air mattress and piled it high with bedding against the cold of night. The thing they loved best about sleeping in the van, though, was the level of protection against any man-eating bears that might snuffle about in the darkness!

Geothermal Landscape:

The next day, after a walk along the shore of Yellowstone Lake and a stop at the visitor's center for maps and advice, we headed over to the bustling Old Faithful area. We were prepared for Disneyland crowds, but were impressed by the park's semi-circular arrangement for viewing of the famous geyser. It was possible, easy, even, to look out upon Old Faithful without seeing any of the many hundreds of other people. But before we saw the iconic spout we had a treat: A nearby geyser called the Beehive, which erupts less predictably, put up a telltale that alerted the rangers that she was about to blow. And blow she did, sending a column of water and steam 200 feet into the blue sky!

This thundering blast continued for many minutes, raining hot sulfur water down upon those who were lucky enough to be gathered on the adjacent walkway. It was a tough act to follow for Old Faithful, which roared and spewed, right on time, but couldn't quite out-do the Beehive Blast.

After the "show" was walked the boardwalk through a landscape that was just amazing. Pools of boiling water in the earth's surface. Superheated steam venting out of crusty crevasses. Bottomless blue pools. Seething, bubbling cauldrons. Choking clouds of sulfurous steam. Jetting geysers making hot rain. The ground seemed ready to erupt all around. It was fascinating, and we gazed in wonder at the variety of geothermal features for hours on end. Here are a few photos:


Another big attraction for us at Yellowstone was sighting wild animals. Elk were easy as they were frequently seen in or around the campground. These majestic beasts were in rut, so the bulls with their great spiked antlers would bugle as both a mating call to the does and a challenge to other males. The bugling was an unearthly sound, starting like a squeaky door hinge and ending like a strained brass horn. Here is a bull elk with a mouthful of grass:

We took a drive up to Hayden Valley where we were understood the wildlife viewing to be particularly good. Immediately after the lakeside forests gave way to the rolling plains on the Central Plateau, we saw our first bison (buffalo). It was exciting to see these monstrous animals, from svelte cows with their curved horns, to the cowlike calves, and the massive 2000lb bulls with their giant shaggy shoulders, broad woolly heads and hanging beards. We saw several large herds, watched them graze, wade into the water for a drink, roll in dusty bowls, and engage in mock battle. It was great to see a healthy population of these great creatures that once roamed so much of the American plains.

Another very special treat for all of us was the opportunity to see wild wolves! These were much too far away for photography, but with our binoculars, and through the spotting telescopes of friendly fellow viewers, we were able to see several of a pack of timber wolves lounging or moving about lazily in the late morning sun. We watched a golden wolf bask in the sun, a white wolf move along the forest edge, and a black wolf trot though the amber grasses before settling down for a nap. It was a thrill and a highlight for us all to see these wolves, and sad to remember how our own species has so ruthlessly exterminated them so that they now occupy just a minuscule fragment of the country that they once ruled.

Other sightings that we enjoyed were of beaver, weasel, bald eagle and sandhill crane. At times it reminded us all of our time in Africa, driving slowly along, scanning the bushveld, watching for movement or the silhouette of a beast in the bush. Great fun.


Yellowstone's diverse terrain kept us oohing and aahing throughout our stay. The horizonless expanse of Yellowstone Lake with a haze of forest-fire smoke tinting the clouds orange; the serpentine waters of the Madison and Yellowstone rivers; rolling hills of golden grasses and sagebrush... and then there was the canyon. A short but strenuous hike down Uncle Tom's trail gave us a commanding view of 300 foot Lower Yellowstone Falls:

Actually, it was the hike back up that was strenuous. 310 steps up an expanded metal stairway clinging to the canyon walls, at an elevation of 8000 feet - that'll get your heart going!

Along the rim of the canyon, we had our lunch with this view:

Nancy hurt her back hoisting Toby's bulk into the car, so she did not hike with us out to Riddle Lake, which looked like pewter under the heavy skies:

Life Off-the-Grid:

Once the generator was turned off for the night the dry air quickly lost the heat of the day, and we all headed to the warmth of our beds. The first morning we awoke to dead batteries, which was very disappointing. From then on I switched to just one of the two for overnight, reserving the other to run our furnace in the 32 degree mornings. Clearly our batteries are no longer healthy enough for proper "off-the-grid" living. If we were to do this again I'd buy two new, high quality batteries, which would be able to power lights until bedtime and still keep the furnace running until the sun warmed us the next day. Thankfully we had enough warm bedding, and were able to work out a system whereby we had heat when we needed it most.

It was a great time at Yellowstone National Park. There was so much more to see, but only four days there. After long days out and about we enjoyed drinks and snacks, then dinner, a little talk, and early to bed. After the whale was warm and coffee brewed Mom and Dad would come in for breakfast, and we'd make our plan for the day. Our adventures continued when we all moved just an hour south to Grand Teton National Park. Check back soon to read all about it.

1 comment:

  1. Looks like you guys had an incredible time. So glad you saw so much wildlife, especially the wolves.

    Bummer about the battery power but hopefully being in easier reach of things in the park was worth it.