Thursday, November 1, 2007

11/01/07 Yellowstone National Park

We entered the Yellowstone National Park on the first day via the North entrance outside the town of Gardiner. The signage at the T-intersection was a little confusing and while I was considering our options, a deer appeared on the other side of the street, looked directly at us and began heading toward the right. She was so beautiful that we decided to follow her while Sarah whipped out the cameras. Then the deer turned the corner to a graceful arched entrance with the slogan "For the Benefit and Enjoyment of the People" and bounded through the entrance of the park. Unfortunately, we weren't fast enough to get a picture of the deer, but you can see that the Northern Entrance Arch is as lovely today as when President Teddy Roosevelt dedicated it in 1902.

It was snowing when we entered the park, a welcome change from the rain on the drive up, and while we were admiring the rocky snow covered hillsides, we were thrilled to see a dozen Bighorn Sheep.

The Elk at the Albright Visitor's Center were camera savvy -- they were obvious professionals who were used to having their pictures taken. The exhibits inside the Visitor's Center showcased the wildlife, Native Americans and story of the park. In 1872 President Ulysses Grant signed into existence the world's first national park, Yellowstone National Park, dedicating 2.2 million acres of wilderness. Opportunists, vandalism and poaching put the new park at risk and the US Army was called in to bring order to the park. It was the US Army that built the road structure called the "Grand Loop" of the park.

It was our plan to follow the Grand Loop but a portion was closed for repairs. Instead we decided to go toward the North East corner of the park, Tower Falls, because we heard from the ranger that there was good wildlife viewing, especially Bison who like the winter range. It was 32 degrees and the snow was falling in big fluffy flakes. As we climbed in elevation we had the park to ourselves, so we were startled when we came across emergency vehicles for a 4x4 that had skidded out of control and flipped. I was driving judiciously with the snowy conditions, but I drove even more slowly after seeing the accident. As the snow continued to fall, I had to decide whether to put on my snow chains or go back to lower elevations. My hatred of chaining up won out. As we headed back, we saw our first herd of Bison! There are about 4,000 Bison in the park these days; it was my hope to see more of them.

We headed back to the Mammoth Hot Springs. When we were at the park ten years ago, the travertine formations were gorgeous and vividly colored in turquoise and oranges. At this visit, the springs were not active, so they were a little bit of a disappointment.

As we continued South toward the Norris Geyser Basin, we were rewarded with a sight that more than made up for the lack of water at the Hot Springs. We got to watch one of the reintroduced Yellowstone Grey Wolves on the hunt! There are about 300 Wolves in the park now. This one was out for a stroll, then broke into a quick run, made a giant pounce and caught his prey. We couldn't see the prey, he had his back to us, but it was quite a sight watching his happy tail wag back and forth with joy.

There were more Bison in this area of the park. The park was especially beautiful with the flowing warm streams with green grass growing along their banks like springtime instead of a chilly November. As the park was re-vegetating from the 1988 and 2000 fires, there are adorable little trees flocked with snow everywhere.

Dave and Sarah had a blast throwing snowballs in Emerald Spring in the Norris Geyser Basin. Most of the thermal features in this area are more than 200 degrees so the snowballs never had a chance! The clear blue water caused by the minerals combined with the yellow sulfur deposits lining the pool to make a beautiful emerald color. Because it was so cold the color was mostly hidden by the rising steam, but every so often the steam would clear and we would get treated to the vivid color of the pool.

We came back to the park two days later and entered through the West Entrance. All of the snow had melted -- it was like we were at a different park. There were Elk and Bison everywhere!

We were mostly in the park to see the Upper Geyser Basin which possesses 60% of the world's geysers. Within the one square mile there are 150 geysers. Our timing was perfect -- we only had to wait for 20 minutes before we got to see Old Faithful erupt! The eruption lasted for several minutes -- it was amazing watching boiling water spray up 150 feet.

We went to the Visitor's Center next and enjoyed watching their film about the geysers. Sarah was alarmed to learn that the Park is centered over the Yellowstone Caldera, the largest supervolcano on our continent. We had great fun teasing her every time we went by another spraying geyser.

We spent the rest of the day in West Yellowstone visiting the "Grizzly Discover Center -- A Bear and Wolf Preserve," eating pizza for dinner and watching IMAX movies. The Bear and Wolf Preserve was interesting -- we can now tell the difference between black bears and grizzly bears. For dinner we ate pizza and played "Cheat." I'm wild for IMAX movies. I forced the children to watch "Yellowstone," "Wolves," and "Bears." We ate Sarah's favorite flavors of Jelly Belly candy and huckleberry ice cream. It was a long drive home on the dark mountain roads, but we were listening to a Spencer novel by Robert Parker, so the time passed quickly.

1 comment:

gypsy mama said...

hi ya... really enjoyed your Yellowstone blog and photos, we actually spent the day in the park as well a few days ago. no snow though.. mostly we soaked at boiling waters and drove around Mammoth Hot Springs. I was hoping to drive to the west entrance, but a storm blowing in made us decide otherwise. We are in Sheridan WY now, heading to friends who life on a working cattle ranch down south. enjoy