July 20-23, 2018; Day 27-30
Yellowstone National Park
Lodging: Indian Springs Campground, Yellowstone NP
Even though the entrance gates between the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone are only a few miles apart, the active part of Yellowstone (campgrounds, geysers, overlooks, hiking trails) is miles away! We left at 7am but did not arrive at the campground until 11 due to construction and traffic; thankfully we found one of the last spots as they were completely full by noon. We visited the Mammoth Hot Springs, where boiling hot water bubbles out of the earth and flows down, forming sediment pools and mineral flows much like in caves but in sparkling colors of orange, green, brown, and blue. Some bubble up, some spit blobs of mud, some gurgle and swirl, some shoot hot water high up into the air like Old Faithful. It is a geological wonder.
We ended the day on a scenic drive that ended at an old petrified tree- a visitor favorite since the 1920s. As we pulled into the small parking lot some people were standing along the edge looking into the hillside and small valley below. And what, pray-tell did we witness coming out of the trees and into the tall grass? A BEAR!! A smaller-sized black bear who took no notice of us up on the ledge nor the two hikers on the path that he crossed. He played in the valley for at least 20 minutes. I got to see a bear out in the wild. What a fantastic first day at Yellowstone!
Saturday we opted to visit all the geysers in the basin around Old Faithful. Even with the crowds it was pretty amazing. And we unknowingly arrived at Old Faithful less than 15 minutes before her eruption! We ended the day out in West Yellowstone, a “souvenir town” with lots of shops and small grocery store. The Bear and Wolf Sanctuary is nearby, with animals who have been rescued after injury or too many encounters with humans. We met Sam, a 900 lb. 22 year old grizzly from Alaska. What a massive beast! Just watching him lumber out and root out his dinner in his habitat was enough to sedate any desire we had to meet a grizzly bear.
Sunday morning started with a lovely interdenominational service at the historic Fort Yellowstone chapel, built for the army before the National Park Service was established. Two young interns lead us in well-blended worship and the minister preached from Psalm 121 and 107. “I lift up my eyes to the hills/mountains, where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, maker of heaven and earth.” Feeling encouraged and refreshed from the inside out, we headed for the Bunsen Peak trailhead. Bunsen Peak is over 1300 feet up in elevation over 2.2 miles. There is a small radio tower at the top, which you can see in the pictures. The park ranger said it was one of the more difficult but also most rewarding views. After conquering Hermits Rest Trail in the Grand Canyon, how could we say no? The switchbacks and climb were not as difficult as the Grand Canyon, nor was it as hot. But it was still a challenge- one I could not resist. So we scrambled to the top, looked out over Yellowstone, took some pictures, ate a snack, and slowly made our way back down. Keith and I even spied a fox along the way!
We showered early (only two places to shower in the park, and it’s not free) and did some laundry. For those of you worried about our living conditions, the camper has held up and kept us dry. Since leaving the desert, we’ve had 70-80 degree days and 40degree nights. Thanks to a small propane heater and socks, we’ve managed the cold alright. There’s been very little rain, often a thunderstorm that passes through quickly. The camper does not have a bathroom, but does have a small sink and stove so on cold mornings we heat water for coffee inside to add humidity and warmth. We’ve had some camper envy- it’s hard not to when everything from 40ft 5th wheels to small teardrop trailers to vintage Westfalia VW camper vans (which my family owned when I was very small) are driving in front of you. But overall, we love the easy towing and simplicity of the pop-up. Just a bit more convenient than a tent but not complicated and does not require sewer hook-ups or large pull-through lots. I guess after bike touring across Ohio in small two man backpacker tents with limited space, the camper feels like an upgrade.
The only major part of the park we had not seen was the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. I never even knew it was there. But the park is so big, we had almost an hour drive back to the campground. So we decided to stay another day. I tend to rush- I want to squeeze everything in and not miss anything so I go go go- get up early, be the first in line, eat a snack and keep moving. But we have been traveling so much and breaking camp so often, that our spirits and bodies begged for rest. So the night ended with cooking brats over the fire and just enjoying the quiet.
We drove all the way back over to the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone on Monday, and once again just accepted the crowds. An upper and lower falls carry thousands of gallons of water through the Yellowstone River, all channeled through the gorge and slopes of the canyon. The canyon is beautiful and breathtaking. More intimate and up close than the Grand Canyon. We returned to camp early to enjoy a fire (no burn ban!) and pack up. No bears today, but we did have two Bison cross the road near us and wander into the park gas station. I had no idea Yellowstone was so grandiose or wild.