Yellowstone National Park

Posted: May 14, 2008    Categories: United States

DSC03515 (by eriksmithdotcom)
Madison River Valley, Yellowstone NP

I’m still in PNG and that means another guest post. Today’s is from Erik Smith. He is trying to visit all the National Parks in the United States. He has been to over 200 National Park Service properties. Prior to the start of my trip I had visited almost 100 and managed to visit an addition six since I left the US, in Hawaii, Guam, and American Samoa. You can visit Erik’s website here. You can also listen to an interview he had on the Amateur Traveler Podcast here.

Over the past five years, I’ve been trying to visit all for the National Park units in the Lower 48 states. So far, I am through 215 of the 326 I have included on my list. My extreme love of the Rocky Mountains and the American West has inspired me to visit more of the parks of the Western U.S. than the Eastern U.S., but I will catch up on the parks of the East as I am visiting New York in June, and hopefully New England in September. My favorite park of the one I have visited so far is Yellowstone National Park, which is mostly in Northwest Wyoming.

I first visited Yellowstone as a teenager with my family in 1983. A few years before we had traveled to the Grand Canyon, and being from Michigan, the wide open spaces of the American West left me breathless. Yellowstone was another one of those eye opening experiences. I remember how truly awe-inspiring the geothermal features were and how much fun my brother, sister, and I had commenting on the sulpher small emanating from the park’s many geothermal features. Many of these features had such great names too- Dragon’s Mouth Spring, Whirligig Geyser, Snort Geyser, The Belcher, and Spasmodic Geyser, just to name a few. My most vivid memory of Yellowstone from that early visit is of the bison. They were everywhere. We would see them blocking traffic and creating long delays and they slowly meandered across they roads. They would be just milling through the parking lot at Old Faithful. We even had some that grazed right next to our campground, looking at tame as cows grazing in a field. This was especially cool for us because being from the east, we had no wild animals as big as buffalo.

DSC03403 (by eriksmithdotcom)

Olde Faithful

I’ve been back to Yellowstone a couple of times as an adult and the park really has a lot of things going for it. It is singular in the United States to find a place so rich in geothermal activity. Most of the main areas have exceptional boardwalks which allow the visitor to get close to the action. The Yellowstone Foundation in cooperation with the National Park Service has a fine set of full color guides these main areas that give a small amount of information on many of the features located along the paths. There are visitor centers and a few museums located all around the park, which do a nice job of explaining the scientific side of all the unique beauty that the visitor sees. It is wise to make use of all of the park’s internet resources before going. It is real easy to find out where ranger-led programs are taking place and where seasonal road work is taking place (there always seems to be some). Two of my favorite internet resources are and, the National Park Service page for the park.

DSC03447 (by eriksmithdotcom)

Hot Spring

Yellowstone, despite heavy summer crowds, is still a great place to see wildlife. In May 2006, I was lucky enough to see both a grizzly and black bear. Thankfully the Grizzly was at a safe distance across a river, and the black bear was down an incline from the road and had a cub with her. Rangers were present at the black bear sighting to educate the crowds that had developed, but also to keep people at a safe distance, as bear can become agitated by people when they are with their cubs. Rangers also lead occasional bird-watching walks, which as a teen was one of my favorite activities and has inspired a lifelong love for birding. There are also many other wildlife encounters it is possible for visitors to have with elk, moose, coyotes, pronghorn, bighorn sheep, deer and, if one is very lucky, a sighting of the elusive Yellowstone wolves. Of course, it would be impossible to visit without seeing the bison, the animal that inspired such wonder in me as a child.

Yellowstone is a big park, and as I mentioned earlier, it can get crowded during the summer, but there are plenty of places to get some quiet and solitude. Many visitors stay to the popular areas with all the amenities, but there are plenty of hikes which will have you in the middle of the wilderness within five minutes of leaving your car. Off peak season can be great times to visit the park. As I previously mentioned, my last visit was in May of 2006, and many times I felt like I had parts of the park to myself. I was lucky enough to visit late in the month when all of the roads were open. Rangers told me that early in the season was a great time for wildlife in the park, as the summer crowds often scare some of the animals out of the park and into the surrounding areas.

DSC03502e (by eriksmithdotcom)

Where The Buffalo Roam

One of the areas that is popular for good reason is the Upper Geyser Basin, which is home to Yellowstone’s most famous attraction, Old Faithful. Old Faithful erupts every 70-90 minutes and there is a seating area surrounding it that is almost always at least half full with people waiting for the next eruption. The surrounding area is incredibly active, and is a great place to walk around while waiting for Old Faithful. I am always surprised that more people don’t spend their time walking around instead of waiting, since Old Faithful can be seen from almost the whole basin, you’d never really have to worry about missing it.

One of my favorite areas of the park is the Norris Geyser Basin, which is a 45 minute drive north of Old Faithful Village, but is missed by a lot of tourists looking to head to the more famous areas. There are two great walks here, the Back Basin area, which is home to Steamboat Geyser, the largest active geyser in the world. Steamboat Geyser’s eruptions are legendary, but very infrequent. On may May 2006 visit, the sign near Steamboat announced that it had been over a year since it’s last major activity. The eerie blue of Cistern Spring is my favorite of Back Basins features. The other part of Norris Geyser Basin is called the Porcelain Basin, home to two of my favorite names in the whole park, Whirligig Geyser and The Black Growler.

DSC03637 (by eriksmithdotcom)
Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone

The Canyon area of the park is the area surrounding the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River. While nowhere near the enormous scale of Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona, Yellowstone’s Grand Canyon is superb. There are hiking trails that will take you down into the canyon, and these are difficult and quite strenuous, but from all accounts worth the effort. Most visitors stick to the trails and overlooks near The Upper and Lower Falls. I particularly like these because some of these overlooks put you so close to the waterfalls that you can see rainbows in them on sunny days when the lights is right. At the very least, everyone visits Artist’s Point, a viewpoint from which one can take in the splendor of the whole multi-colored canyon plus both waterfalls.

A final good thing to mention about Yellowstone is it’s proximity to Grand Teton National Park, directly to the south, and a great National Park in it’s own right.

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