Yellowstone National Park has been a bucket list destination for Zev for many years, and it certainly lived up to its reputation.
We passed through the cute town of West Yellowstone, bordering the park, and passed through the checkpoint. We were transported into postcard perfect wilderness (with a two lane road running through it). On either side of the road we saw babbling brooks, steaming thermal pools and dense forest which looked just like the photos in the guidebook.
Checking in and setting up camp
After driving about an hour into the park, we made it to Canyon Campground, our home for the next two nights. We checked in with the ranger, who ran us through the usual cautions for national park campgrounds, before asking, 'Do you have bear spray?'. We did not. Luckily, there was a kiosk in the park where you could hire it, so we made our way there.
After watching a demonstration video about how and when to use bear spray, we demonstrated our technique with a training can (which was empty of course) for the owner, and she gave us our bear spray can. For those who don't know what bear spray is (I'm looking at you NZers!), it's basically industrial strength pepper spray, used to deter a charging bear. As we chatted to the lady working in the kiosk, she told us the story of a man who bought bear spray at a store in West Yellowstone. Once outside, he lined up his family and sprayed them all with bear spray, which he thought worked like insect repellent. Luckily, there was a ranger passing by who witnessed it, and had stuff in his car to rinse the poor family down... She did follow up by saying that she'd been working in the park for 10 seasons, and so far only one person had needed to use the spray, so we should be fine... Bear attacks are not something you need to worry about while hiking in New Zealand!
Now that we were armed against predator attacks, we headed to our campsite and set up. Set in a wooded area with a toilet block and special sink for doing dishes (so that the food scraps don't attract bears), the campsite was lovely. Once the tent was sorted, we threw together dinner and enjoyed relaxing in the stunning scenery.
One of the most impressive things about the national parks in the US is the Ranger Programmes. Most nights in the bigger national parks, and a couple of times a week in the smaller ones, rangers host talks or walks, and they're fantastic. On our first night in Yellowstone, we attended a great talk about all the owls that live in the national park, as well as some general owl information. Zev was rapt learning about his favourite birds...
Old Faithful and the Geyser Basin Area
The next morning, we headed to Yellowstone's most famous attraction, Old Faithful. Old Faithful is a cone geyser which had earned its nickname for erupting reliably. We arrived with about 40 minutes until the next scheduled eruption, so we took the opportunity to explore the surrounding geysers. We made our way up a nearby hill to an observation point (spotting a cute little marmot-looking critter on the way), and arrived just in time to see Old Faithful blow its top. We could see the huge crowds below, and we were glad we made the decision to see it from above. The eruption lasted about 3 minutes, and then we made our way back down to the surrounding geothermal attractions. We finished the loop back at the cafe and took a break for lunch, managing to catch Old Faithful's next eruption on the way back to the car.
We stopped off at Black Sand Basin and Biscuit Basin, where we went on a short hike to nearby Mystic Falls. The scenery was incredible, and we lamented having such a short time in the park. We'll be back to Yellowstone for sure!
After a pit stop for ice cream, we went to check out the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. The most impressive features were two waterfalls. Neither were particularly high, but the water passing through was moving quickly, and the power was pretty remarkable.
Searching for wildlife in the Hayden Valley
In the afternoon, we headed to a popular area for wildlife spotting, the Hayden Valley. As we wound our way through the open fields, we hit a traffic jam. A short while later, the cause made itself known - a bison was casually strolling down the middle of the road, giving no shits that it had created a mile long queue of traffic in either direction. Although I knew that bison were huge, I really wasn't prepared to see one. At nearly 6 feet tall, and weighing somewhere in the ballpark of 750kg, this was not a beast to be trifled with. It didn't take too long until it wandered out of the way into the trees.
We wound our way through the park, trying to spot more wildlife as we went, without much success. We pulled into a parking lot and wandered around some mud pools, before heading along the path up a hill. As we came over the ridge, there was a bison right alongside the path, separated by a fence, rolling in the dust. Just behind it was another, peacefully grazing. With the sun getting low in the sky behind them, it was a pretty breathtaking sight.
Back in the car, we passed a crowd of other cars pulled onto the side of the road. A trail of people led off into the distance. Being the lemmings we are, we got out an followed them. At the end of the path, a crowd of people with binoculars and telescopes were peering into the distance. Some investigative work revealed that far, FAR in the distance were a bear and three wolves! A nice man let us look through his telescope, and we spotted a tiny little bear butt waggling its way into the woods. Even though it was a little further away than we would have liked, it was still pretty cool to see a bear!
Star gazing with the rangers
Later that night after dinner, we made our way back to the Hayden Valley for that night's ranger programme. We parked ourselves on a picnic blanket on the side of the road, and listened to the rangers tell stories about the constellations. It was pretty chilly though, and we ended up having to drag out our Nepalese sherpa hats to keep ourselves warm!
Leaving via Mammoth Hot Springs
On our way to Missoula the following day, we decided to drive out of the park via the North entrance, allowing us to check out the Mammoth area. The drive was stunning, with rivers, canyons, fields and forests all around. We even spotted 4 more bears!
We pulled over at Mammoth Hot Springs and wandered around the geothermal attractions. On the lawn outside the rangers office there was a herd of elk hanging out and looking like a postcard.
We waved a very sad goodbye to Yellowstone, vowing to return. We were off to our next destination: Missoula!
Lots of love,
S & Z