Monday, September 03, 2018

Making the most of three days in Yellowstone

Yellowstone National Park — which covers 2.2 million acres in Wyoming, Montana and Idaho — became the first national park in the United States when it opened in 1872.

It attracted more than four million visitors last year, and I added my name to its guest list for three days in June as part of a Cosmos bus tour. We arrived through the east entrance in Wyoming and crossed through the 8,530-foot Sylvan Pass and along the small Sylvan Lake before stopping at Lake Village on the shore of the much larger Yellowstone Lake.

Yellowstone Lake has 110 miles of shoreline and is approximately 400 feet deep. Its depth, altitude and northern latitude ensure that the water temperature doesn’t exceed 60 degrees Fahrenheit. While others ate lunch at the restaurant, I walked through a meadow to the shore, dipped my hand in and instantly realized it was too chilly to go in any further. However, it did offer a good view of the lake and mountains in the distance. A few bison even cooperated by grazing nearby.

Yellowstone Lake at Lake Village
Back on the bus, we followed the course of the Yellowstone River and passed more bison as well as Mud Volcano, Sulphur Caldron and Hayden Valley before stopping at the Upper Falls 35 minutes later.

Upper Falls
We got up close for a good look at rapids and the brink of the falls before continuing on to Artist Point, which provided lovely perspective of the higher Lower Falls in the distance. It also gave us access to look at what’s known as the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone and its multiple-coloured rock face. After taking in all of the beauty, we were dropped off at Grant Village’s Antelope Lodge in the heart of the park near the shore of the West Thumb section of Yellowstone Lake.

Lower Falls
I walked to the nearby general store and purchased seven different pale ales, two sandwiches for dinner and a muffin for tomorrow’s breakfast. A trail along the lake was closed due to bear activity, so I returned to my room to eat and have a beer before meeting two new friends at Grant Village’s small bar for another pint.

Continental Divide
An elk was crossing through the parking lot when our bus set out the next morning. We passed the Continental Divide of the Americas, where some of the water heads toward the Pacific Ocean and the rest heads toward the Atlantic, for the first of five times during our time in Yellowstone.

Gibbon Falls

We walked around Fountain Paint Pot — a collection of red, yellow and brown mud pots boiling and bubbling up from underground — in the Lower Geyser Basin. We then took some time around the Madison River, where a few people were fly-fishing, before moving on to Gibbon Falls, which weren’t as breathtaking as those from yesterday but were still impressive.

The next stop was the Upper Geyser Basin, which includes the majority of the world’s active geysers — the most famous of which is Old Faithful. A friend and I climbed a trail up to Observation Point to see Beehive Geyser erupt to a height of more than 150 feet for five minutes. Old Faithful went off a few minutes later for about the same amount of time, but it didn’t go as high.

Upper Geyser Basin

We walked back down and traversed a variety of paths and boardwalks, covering several miles and seeing dozens of geysers, hot springs, fumaroles and mud pots over three hours. The most impressive was Grand Geyser, the tallest predictable geyser in the world, reaching about 200 feet during the 10-minute eruption we witnessed.

Grand Geyser

I had a quick walk around the charming and historic Old Faithful Inn before boarding the bus back to Antelope Lodge. I walked down to the lake again and had an enjoyable conversation with a local family that lives and works in Yellowstone, before having an OK $17 dinner of lemon and pepper trout, mashed potatoes and carrots at the nearby Lake House Restaurant.

Old Faithful Inn interior
Our final morning in Yellowstone started with a short drive to the West Thumb Geyser Basin, on Yellowstone Lake, and a walk around more small geysers and hot springs for 40 minutes.

West Thumb Geyser Basin

We watched a video on the bus about Yellowstone’s massive 1988 wildfires, which affected more than 40 per cent of the park and became the greatest firefighting effort in the history of the U.S. to that point. We passed Lewis Lake, the third largest lake in Yellowstone, and Lewis Falls, along with deep ravines and forest before leaving through the park’s south entrance.

Yellowstone's south entrance

Yellowstone is massive, and there were large swaths of it that we didn’t have time to visit, but I credit our Cosmos tour director Bruce Fritzges and our bus driver for coming up with an itinerary that covered quite a bit of ground and enabled us to see a good cross-section of the natural beauty and wildlife that the park is known for.

No comments: