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|
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.
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|
|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.