After exploring the National Parks of Utah, it was time to load up the camping equipment and set off on our three month adventure!
Yellowstone National Park, the first designated National Park in the WORLD in 1872, seemed to be the perfect place to start. Even better, the US National Park Service is currently celebrating its 100 year anniversary making it a very exciting time to be visiting the parks!
We couldn’t have planned it better.
Before we left, Kevin and I watched the 12-hour, six-part PBS documentary The National Parks: America’s Best Idea. Written by Dayton Duncan and co-produced by Ken Burns, the film traces the evolution of national parks beginning in the mid-1800s and pays tribute to those that helped to create the parks and save them from destruction.
It is an incredible series and I recommend anyone interested in exploring the US National Parks to watch them. I have an appreciation entering these parks that I did not otherwise have!
Over the next two weeks, we based ourselves out of Headwaters Campground between Yellowstone National Park and Grand Teton National Park. Only three miles from the South Entrance, the location was perfect and our campsite could not have been better! Seriously, site 325 is where it is at!
I have to admit, I was slightly nervous at the idea of camping for the next three months. I mean, my longest camping trip was only three weeks in Africa.. before that, maybe three nights!
But once we got our equipment setup and I saw our camp for the next two weeks, I had no worries at all.
My boy knows how to camp!
Inside our tent were sleeping cots setup with cozy mattress pads and down-filled sleeping bags (mine is rated for -18 degrees Celsius)! We had carpet for the floor and a tent heater for the cool mornings. Oh and did I mention, a full lighting system around the camp and in our tent?!
We may be camping but we certainly weren’t roughing it!
Once we got our camp setup for the next couple of weeks, it was time to explore the parks. But where to start?
To say that Yellowstone is huge is an understatement. A total of 2.2 million acres, it expands through Northwest Wyoming and parts of Montana and Idaho. Not to mention, the park is broken into varying regions along its 154 mile (248 km) figure-eight Grand Loop Road. Geysers, hot springs, mud pools, lakes, canyons, waterfalls and wildlife, the park has it all!
Over the next two weeks, we busily explored the beauty of Yellowstone National Park, sometimes driving more than 200 miles (322 km) in a single day.
To name a favourite site in the park would be impossible, so here is a summary of our highlights from the last two weeks.
Thermal Region: Geysers, Hot Springs, Mud Pots and Fumaroles
Now, when I think of geysers, I think of Iceland. Turns out, however, that there are over 10,000 geysers and hot springs throughout Yellowstone National Park making it the highest concentration of them in the world!
Like me, now you know.
Once you also know the history of Yellowstone National Park, it comes as no surprise. At the heart of Yellowstone’s past, present and future lies volcanism. About 2 million years ago, then 1.3 million years ago and again 640,000 years ago, huge volcanic eruptions occurred here. The last shot out 240 cubic miles of debris forming this 30 by 45-mile caldera in the park! That’s one massive volcanic crater.
And one bad ass volcanic eruption!
Best yet, the magmatic heat which powered those eruptions is still active today powering the park’s geysers, hot springs, mud pots and fumaroles.
It took us a few days to explore all of the parks thermal region spread throughout the caldera. While it took many miles of driving and walking to the sites, every stop was worth it. You just don’t get to see action like this everyday!
Upper Geyser Basin
Lined with boardwalks, this half-mile-wide basin is the home to the world’s greatest concentration of hot springs and more than 150 geysers.
The most famous of its geysers, Old Faithful, erupts every 60 to 110 minutes drawing some of the largest crowds in the park.
But really, who doesn’t love seeing water shoot into the air?
Midway Geyser Basin
Here we found our favourite hot spring in the park, Grand Prismatic Spring! This is Yellowstone’s largest and the world’s third largest single hot spring. But it’s not the size that makes the Grand Prismatic Spring special, it’s the colours!
As soon as I saw a picture of the spring (above), I knew we needed to see it for ourselves.
Best. Decision. Ever.
The intense blue colour in the centre of the hot spring is due to sunlight being scattered by fine particles suspended in the water. The yellow, orange, and brown colours encircling the hot springs and lining the runoff channels are caused by thermophiles, heat-loving microorganisms.
I never knew that colours like this existed naturally! Especially from water!
Lower Geyser Basin / Artist Paint Pots / Mud Volcano
You know you are spoiled in Yellowstone National Park when areas such as these seem pale in comparison to the others above. Throughout the park are other fumaroles (steam holes), beautifully coloured hot springs, sites of bubbling clay and areas of boiling mud.
Mammoth Hot Springs
The final thermal area we visited included a series of travertine terraces created from calcium carbonate deposits over thousands of years as hot water from the spring cooled. Unfortunately, underground channels have shifted over the last five years rendering most of the terraces dry.
Despite its inactivity, it was still a worthwhile visit.
I can imagine it would have been beautiful to see when the springs were all flowing!
The Canyons Region
Another highlight of the park is The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone! It’s a stunning 1,200-foot-deep canyon where the Yellowstone River flows with cascading Upper and Lower Falls along its way.
Who doesn’t love a great waterfall?
We lucked out on our visit too with some insider information from a Park expert! Lisa, a friend Kevin met in Africa, has worked in Yellowstone for years as a photography guide. She let us know the exact time the sun hits the waterfall creating a spectacular rainbow.
I couldn’t believe it. Her timing was dead on!
While the thermal and canyon regions are two of the most visited sites in Yellowstone National Park, the best experience comes from driving through its beautiful valleys to get up close to its wildlife.
This former lake bed is now a beautiful rolling valley famous for its abundant wildlife in the park!
While at times we drove through the valley witnessing little activity, sometimes we hit the jackpot!
Now this is what I had been waiting for!
Dunraven Pass / Tower-Roosevelt / Lamar Valley
While we loved every moment of having bison surround the cars, what we really wanted to see were some wolves! Reintroduced into the park in 1995 after being extinct to the area for more than 70 years, these rare animals are actively sought after in the park.
We wanted to be one of the ones who got to see them!
What we didn’t know was as of 2013, only 95 wolves have been counted in the park. Spread out over 2.2 million acres, our odds weren’t great. But we knew the Lamar Valley was where our odds were greatest!
As we drove toward the Lamar Valley through Dunraven Pass into Tower-Roosevelt, we knew this was going to be a special place in the park.
We spent hours driving through the Lamar Valley enjoying the greenery, rolling hills, rivers and mountains that surround it.
Unfortunately, other than the odd elk and bison, we saw very little wildlife the time of day we drove through. We had hoped to reach the valley closer to dawn when the animals are active but it takes over two hours to reach the Lamar Valley from the South Entrance.
Like I said, Yellowstone is HUGE.
While we never saw any wolves, we were not disappointed. The scenery of the Lamar Valley makes the trip worthwhile. The wolves would have just been a bonus!
Driving Through Yellowstone National Park
There are some places in the park that are not part of a particular site. Along the scenic drives in Yellowstone you can find spectacular landscape of waterfalls, rivers, lakes and forests. We appreciated every view along the way!
We also saw a bear on the side of the road digging but I was too slow to get the shot! Luckily, I think we will have ample opportunity to see a bear in these next couple of months.
Yellowstone National Park was an amazing experience! Even though we had a full week in the park, it still wasn’t enough time to see it all. Luckily, we think we experienced the best the park had to offer.
So, what did we do with other week?
WELL, I haven’t even gotten to Grand Teton National Park yet!….