Do I start with the scenery or the wildlife or the geysers or just the overall experience? Do I talk about the traffic jams and the incredible amount of people or all the bison I did see or the bears I never saw? Should I mention some of the negatives or just the good stuff?
Well, it seems to me that the best way might be to just write with a stream-of-conscious, and try to share with you the Yellowstone that Linda and I experienced in a way it stood out to us.
Yellowstone is a big place with a lot to see, so this will be a big postcard with lots to talk about and lots of photos. So let’s get started.
We finally pulled into Yellowstone after a beautiful ride from Cody on Monday, July 27. Just entering the park we began to appreciate the size and scope of the place. We came in through the East Entrance and were greeted by the ranger who told us that it would be a 27 mile ride from the gate to our campground - it was only 47 miles from Cody to the East Gate.
After our near-thirty mile drive, we registered at the campground (reservations made last November), got the RV all situated, hooked up the electric and water and adjusted the satellite dish (can you actually camp without satellite or cable TV?). Finally we were ready to go exploring.
One of the first things we learned is that Yellowstone is a busy place. I mean it is B.U.S.Y. There are cars and motorcycles everywhere. And this year the park is experiencing over a half a million more visitors than normal, meaning the number of visitors is expected to be over 4 million!
On our second day we were off on our first bus tour of the park, an all-day affair that gave us a wonderful overview of the park and ended up a Old Faithful. Our tour guide was great, a retired policewoman from North Carolina who was in her 11th year as a Yellowstone Tour Guide. In spite of the 40 year old bus she had to drive (isn’t the concessionaire making enough money from its captive 3.5 million annual visitors?), she kept us constantly entertained with her interesting and informative commentary, and it made for an excellent tour.
The tour took us past all the scenic high points of what is called the lower loop of the park. We learned about fire and how it clears the lodgepole pine forests. We saw beautiful canyons and waterfalls, and experienced the strange landscape of the geothermal features such as hot springs, mud pots, fumaroles, and, of course, Old Faithful.
Yellowstone lies on top of a giant volcano and as a result there are parts of the park that are just not very attractive, at least to us. I am referring to the geothermal areas which really look as though they could easily be from another planet or a toxic waste dump. And of course there is the lovely sulfuric (rotten eggs) smell around the geothermal features. While these places may be interesting or even wildly fascinating to some, they held little interest for Linda and me.
Old Faithful was like Times Square on New Years Eve with everyone waiting for the ball to drop - or in this case, waiting for water to spurt high out of the ground. It's interesting, but once you have seen it, you have seen it. There is no need for a second visit. These two pictures are as attractive as it gets. The ones in the gallery below show a bit more reality.
Are there bears in Yellowstone? Oh yes! Did I see the bears and get pictures? Well, sorta.
Remember the bear photo from the zoo in Colorado Springs? That’s it. That’s my big bear photo. Boy, am I glad Linda talked me into going there. I actually saw three bears in the park - the first time was a grizzly while the bus was on the move with no place to pull over, and the second time it was two black bear cubs so far away that they were little more than black dots. Even with my big lens, you can barely see one of them.
Yellowstone Lake is over 90% snow melt and is just a beautiful blue, but at no more than about 50 degrees it is too cold, even in mid-July for swimming.
Along the way we learned about the Lake Hotel which opened in 1891, the stage coaches that would bring people to the park, and the steam boats that at one time were both transportation and evening entertainment. One of these steamboat owners was a bit of con-man charging people to get back on his boat after a visit to an island. Eventually he was chased from the park and he left so fast he didn't have a chance to take his boat. The remains are still on the shore of an island.
An interesting thing we learned was how the indigenous cutthroat trout has become threatened by lake trout that were introduced in the late 1980s. This is a lesson in eco-systems. Cutthroat trout live near the top of the water while lake trout live deep. As the cutthroat began to disappear, so did the osprey and eagles who preyed on them. Yellowstone soon found itself not only with a dwindling population of cutthroat in the lake, but because lake trout are too large and too deep for the these birds, the osprey and eagles dwindled to a population of only about 1/3 their historic levels. To combat this, the Park Service has commercial fisherman netting lake trout. And when fishing for sport you must throw back cutthroat and you must keep lake trout.
Some Photos from the Lake
Here are a few photos that I sort of had left over and didn't want to leave them out.
Our next stop is the Grand Tetons. We hope you join us.