The steam seeping out from the earth below us created the sensation of driving around Jurassic Park. The geothermal features in Yellowstone are out of this world!
Yellowstone is the world’s first National Park and a spectacular model for the parks that preceded it. It’s amazingly well choreographed roadways guide you along a figure-eight with attractions spread out evenly between junctions. Here you can get as wild as you want, or as relaxed as you please. Visitors cruise around in air-conditioned vehicles enjoying the park from the road or plan a hike into the heart of it all. There is a convenience factor of being able to soak this place in from the comfort of your car. It makes it extra accessible for anyone, including people like us traveling with our cat!
Yellowstone Lake. The largest lake above 7,000 feet in North America!
Camping in the National Parks has its pros and cons. It costs money for minimal amenities, and you are in close proximity with your neighbors. We have been spoiled with some very quiet campgrounds. While in Missouri’s Mark Twain National Forest we had an entire campground to ourselves. Also, these interior campsites fill up quick. As we rolled up to the Eastern Entrance of Yellowstone, the ranger kindly inquired where we planned on camping seeing all of their sites were full. “Oh…” This led to a frantic search for campgrounds outside of the park. Cellular reception is little to non-existent, forcing one to be open to drive in a specific direction with no concrete destination pinpointed. In the list of results, I saw one that said, “free.” A sucker for saving money, I tried to find it on the map brochure provided by the park ranger, and we continued in that direction.
Day one in Yellowstone began! We drove diagonally northwest through the park, crossing from Cody, Wyoming into Gardiner, Montana. It was at this point that we first experienced the term “bear jam.” A row of visitors, herds of drunken cats (as described by a college friend who lives near Glacier National Park), with their best camera lenses ready to digitally capture the unsuspecting animal going about its day. The road gets clogged up due to rubber necking drivers, or the route is blocked because of the animal itself! Either way, unlike your ordinary traffic jam, this was thrilling! “What are all these people freaking out about? What do they see?!” you wonder to yourself as you approach the scene. Then you see it, a grizzly bear, majestically strolling through its natural habitat!
The dispersed camping area we’re headed to is called Bear Creek Recreation Area. After seeing a bear and judging on the name of the creek, we take note that we are officially in bear country! At this point in our travels we were not necessarily equipped to handle a bear attack. It wasn’t until driving to our next campsite that we stopped at the Montana Grizzly Encounter in Bozeman and learned about Counter Assault bear spray. Come to find out, regular old mace isn’t strong enough.
Meet Brutus: Standing 7 feet tall, weighing in at 900 pounds, the 13-year-old grizzly at Montana Grizzly Encounter!
The campground was not the dot I thought it might be on the outskirts of the Yellowstone map. It was 20 miles further up winding, Gallatin National Forest dirt roads. At least we wouldn’t have close neighbors! Minus the fear of potentially dangerous wildlife, we were in a serene secluded space. Falling asleep to the sounds of the creek fifteen feet past our toes.
We survived the night and were able to explore Yellowstone for a true full day. Our plan was to drive all the roads we had not yet driven within the 142-mile Grand Loop. The attraction we were most excited for being Old Faithful!
Although Old Faithful is not the tallest or largest geyser in the park, it is far more predictable than its superiors. Eruptions occur between 40 to 126 minutes, blasting 3,700 to 8,400 gallons of boiling water to a height of 106 to 185 feet. We arrived just in time! We waited a nail biting twenty minutes while the crowd continued to build for Old Faithful’s ever so faithful blast. From petrified trees, to canyons, waterfalls, lakes, geysers (more than anywhere else in the world!), and black sand, this park is full of geographical beauties.
Old Faithful is going to blow at any minute now!!!
Yellowstone is the home where the buffalo roam! It is the only place in America where bison have lived continuously since prehistoric times. They are also the largest bison population on public land. We counted at least 82 of them in one day! (Fun fact: bison and buffalo are the same... buffalo is used informally and believed to have been adapted by the French word for beef.) Other animal sightings include: 1 coyote, 1 black bear, 1 grizzly bear, 6 elk, 1 pronghorn, 3 mule deer, a ton of Canadian geese, 1 osprey, 1 white pelican, 5 mountain goats, chipmunks, and ground squirrels.
What a phenomenal exploration. Goodbye for now Yellowstone, we will be back to admire you again one day!
Photo credit: Jason Gerhart @fresh_world_press