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northern Arizona
Visited: October 1, 2004
NPS Site Visited: 105 of 353
NPS Website; Local Website

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The Mighty Colorado WHAT IS IT?
The guts of the Grand Canyon. The 277-mile long Colorado River, beginning in Lees Ferry, Arizona and ending at Lake Mead. Whether you whitewater raft in or hike or ride a mule down from the North Rim or South Rim, your experience is going to be much different than if you chose to stay on the Rims. The views, the Canyon’s colors and the River itself become a part of you. You are inside the Grand Canyon!

BEAUTY (10/10)
The rocks at the rim are 260 million years old. By the time you have reached the bottom, you have passed ten different exposed layers of geological history and have traveled back to rocks formed 1.7 billion years ago. You see the change; the multiple hues, the physical composition and the dramatic horizontal lines. Heady stuff. The ruggedness is strikingly beautiful.

The bottom is both a peaceful oasis and a still-furious river. Trees bloom, streams rush, temperatures soar and emerald nooks like Ribbon Falls enchant. It is a different world along the Canyon floor.

HISTORIC SIGNIFICANCE (8/10)

When we crossed the narrow swinging bridge across the Colorado the water was that famous brownish-red stew of swift moving trouble. The same color that John Wesley Powell saw when he raced down the River, the last mysterious and unmapped place in the continental United States. Dams have changed the River’s flow and demeanor and most of the time they have changed the color as well. Nowadays the Colorado is a more mundane clearish blue. We were lucky. Rainstorms had stirred up the murky bottom. We were transported into the past. Once we left the bridge we passed a 10,000 year-old ruin of an Indian habitation. Powell saw the same ruin in 1869, next to the same red raging River.

CROWDS (8/10)
There is a special feeling of camaraderie amongst those going to the bottom. Conversation starts much easier, everyone is polite and smiles abound. You are all in this together. You are going up the same Canyon. We spoke to a couple the eve of our Canyon exit. We sat together at Plateau Point and watched the beginning of the sunset. They were both 75 years old, married to each other for 50 years and could not wait to get started on the hike out.

Ribbon Falls Oasis EASE OF USE/ACCESS (1/5)
The most difficult access hurdle may not even be the Canyon, it could be getting your hands on a Grand Canyon Backcountry Permit. We never thought we would be able to get a permit. We were not willing to set a specific date and hope for a winning lottery ticket. 30,000 requests are made each year for permits, 13,000 are issued.

Little did we know that the Park Service holds out a few first-come, first-served permits every day. If you are flexible with your schedule, quickly get yourself on the waiting list and arrive at the backcountry office before 8 am your chances are good (at least in October). Everyone we talked to that got a permit ahead of time did not get the itinerary they requested. Getting a permit is a hit or miss prospect but it is not as hard as you might think.

From the North Rim, the only marked and maintained path is down the North Kaibab Trail. It is 14 miles to the Colorado River and a descent of nearly 6,000 feet. And you have to go back up. Not too accessible.

There are two maintained paths and two other trails that lead from the South Rim down. The distances of the four trails vary but the descent to the River is going to be 5,000 feet. We hiked on both maintained paths, the South Kaibab Trail (down) and the Bright Angel Trail (up). We much preferred the Bright Angel Trail. Better views, more shade and not nearly as steep. Again, not too accessible.

The maintained paths going from the North Rim to the South Rim are collectively called the Grand Canyon Corridor. There are three campgrounds on the Corridor: Cottonwood, Bright Angel and Indian Garden. All three have toilets, emergency phones, potable water and Ranger Stations. Most of the hiking permit requests are for the Corridor. First-come, first-served trips are limited to three nights on the Corridor, ahead of time requests have no bounds. If you are willing to hike in the Threshold, Primitive or Wild Zones (Canyon hiking experience highly recommended in all three) securing a permit might be easier.

Getting to the North and South Rims is another story. See their separate reviews for more information.

Mule Train’s Coming The boat option may not be as taxing to your legs, but the Colorado may well be the most treacherous white water in the world. We say take your chances with the mules. Most of the people we saw going down looked petrified. Spots on the both the boats and the mules book months even years in advance.

Regardless of your choice, it is going to be fun.

CONCESSIONS/BOOKSTORE (2/5)
The mere fact that there is something at the bottom of the Grand Canyon is reason to celebrate. The Phantom Ranch canteen serves affordable meals, an array of candy bars and cans of beer. They also sell Phantom Ranch logo hats, shirts, patches, pins and more. Buy ‘em while you can, because as an added bonus they’re only for sale at the bottom. You will have proof for all your friends that you made it.

The Phantom Ranch, as well as a host of rest stations along the way down the maintained Grand Canyon Corridor, has water pumps dispensing potable H2O. You don’t have to carry days worth of heavy fluids on your back and a water purifier is unnecessary. Incredible stuff if you think about it. Check with a Ranger Station before your descent to make sure the water pipes are working.

COSTS (3/5)
Entry is $20 per vehicle, or free with the National Parks Pass.

Backcountry permits cost $10 per permit plus $5 per person per night camped below the rim. Our three-night stay cost a total of $40. Not bad for a four-day, three-night stay at the bottom of one of the seven natural wonders of the world.

Nights at the rustic Phantom Ranch, located nearby the Colorado are not expensive. Cabins cost up to $92 per night and a dorm room bed goes for $26. Not such a bad price when you consider you do not have to lug your tent and sleeping bag back up the Canyon.

On the other hand, mule rides down and up the Canyon can get pricey; they start at $130 per person. The full 277-mile, two-and-a-half week trip down the Colorado can get exorbitant, ranging anywhere from $2,800 to $4,500 per person. Both need to be booked well in advance.

RANGER/GUIDE TO TOURIST RATIO (4/5)
Rangers are posted in the backcountry. This is a first for us. Two plus one volunteer at Bright Angel (Phantom Ranch), two at Indian Garden and er none at Cottonwood. It may be a foolhardy thought, but along the Corridor you always feel that official help is nearby. At Bright Angel, the Rangers that come around and check your backcountry pass are extremely talkative, average about 10 minutes of conversation per campsite.

Plateau Point TOURS/CLASSES (7/10)
We were too tired to attend either, but there are two Ranger-led talks a day at Phantom Ranch. We repeat, two Ranger-led talks per day at the BOTTOM OF THE GRAND CANYON! Maybe they are really good, who knows. This rating is pure speculation.

The Grand Canyon Institute offers numerous fee-based backpacking trips/classes into the Canyon. If this sounds like your sort of thing, click on the link above for more info.

FUN (10/10)
Hiking the Grand Canyon has become Gab’s official answer to, “What is the best thing you’ve done on the trip?”

WOULD WE RECOMMEND? (10/10)

If you have the ability to hike out, do it. If you can afford the white water, do it. If you have nerves of steel, go down on a mule. The experience is out of this world. The October weather was perfect, the hike was spectacular and we easily got a permit. We had the time of our lives.

Try not to go in the summer. The temperature at the bottom rises above 110 degrees. There is no way we would like to carry a pack in that weather.

TOTAL 63/80

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northern Arizona
Visited: September 30, 2004
NPS Site Visited: 105 of 353
NPS Website; Local Website

Want More?

Click Here to Begin Our Six-Day Grand Canyon Adventure

South Rim View WHAT IS IT?
Uh, it is the Grand Canyon. 277 miles long and ten miles wide of Colorado River carved amazement. The South Rim is the most visited area of the Park, the most accessible and by far the most tourist-friendly. Oh, yeah, the views from the South are pretty spectacular.

BEAUTY (10/10)
Absolutely overwhelming. Your mind cannot comprehend what it is looking at. The Canyon is so big and so deep that it feels like an abstract. “I cannot be looking at what I think I am looking at.” And even after you have stared for hours from different overlooks and myriad angles it still does not make sense. The Grand Canyon cannot be captured on camera, it must be seen and experienced.

HISTORIC SIGNIFICANCE (6/10)
We did not get the historical feel up top that we get down below. The Colorado River seems distant, like you are not even in the place where John Wesley Powell rafted through.

On the other hand, from here it is easy to empathize with Coronado, the first European to see the Grand Canyon. Legend has it that while looking for the seven cities of gold he got to the Canyon and turned around dejectedly, believing it to be impassable.

The most visited archaeological site in the National Park System, the Tusayan Ruin, stands along the South Rim, about 20 miles east of Grand Canyon Village. A walking loop wraps around the stone ruins while panels explain what once stood on top of the remaining base.

CROWDS (4/10)
It is crowded here. Regardless of the season, you are going to run into swarms of tourists. Fair enough, it’s the Grand Canyon. The shuttle buses do their best to alleviate the traffic problem that is created by the street’s confusing layout.

The people at the South Rim are not nearly as friendly as their counterparts along the Canyon switchbacks and even those at the North Rim. Our hellos were often met with rude looks. Tourists cut in front of us and some nearly ran us over even though we had just hiked out of the Canyon and still toted 40-pound backpacks. Maybe they forgot that they were no longer in Las Vegas.

People do crazy things at the South Rim. For a photo opportunity, a family of Japanese tourists posed their seven and ten year old girls next to a squirrel and had them pet the nasty little rodent. Who knows what happened. We put our heads down, kept walking and tried to forget what we just saw. The precipitous ledges and their 3000-foot sheer drops also do not deter people from hanging over the edges, risking life and limb. No wonder the newly reintroduced California condor has chosen to make its nest just below the South Rim. Those wily scavengers are not stupid.

Desert View Overlook EASE OF USE/ACCESS (3/5)
The South Rim Visitor Center is a straight 60-mile shot from Interstate 40 up Arizona Route 64. The Park is only 80 miles from Flagstaff, Arizona. If you can’t find lodging at the Grand Canyon, there are plenty of options along Old Route 66 in delightful downtown Flagstaff.

The Park Service operates three shuttle bus routes along the South Rim. The Red Line that travels from Grand Canyon Village to Hermits Rest is the only mandatory shuttle. Automobiles are allowed in all other portions of the North Rim. Parking should not be much of a problem.

The Rim Trail is paved for five miles from Pipe Creek Vista to Maricopa Point. Much of the remainder of the Rim Trail is a easy flat hike along a dirt pathway. You could spend all day walking along the South Rim. Trouble is that you are sure to have an urge to go down into the Canyon. Then things get tricky so see our Grand Canyon (Canyon Floor) review.

CONCESSIONS/BOOKSTORE (5/5)
If you want anything Grand Canyon-related, books (T-shirts, hats, jigsaw puzzles, you name it) and don’t find it at the South Rim, you haven’t looked hard enough. There are fifteen bookstores/gift shops along the Rim, many of which are found in Grand Canyon Village. It is not only knickknacks. The Hopi House, Verkamp’s Curio, the Desert View Trading Post and maybe a few others specialize in southwest Indian art: woodcarvings, pottery, kachina dolls and jewelry.

The South Rim may as well be a small bustling town. The services are plenty and in general centrally located. There are 10 places to eat including the expensive El Tovar Dining Room. We preferred the menu selection, prices and views of the Grand Canyon North Rim lodge to any of its counterparts in the South.

Most welcome at the South Rim is the General Store, an affordable priced, well-stocked supermarket. If you have forgotten anything for you hike or want to have a picnic alongside the Canyon Rim everything you need is here. And they have a great selection of powdered Gatorade mix so you don’t have to drink the Grand Canyon’s piped in potable water straight.
Other services at the South Rim include a kennel, a National Parks library, a bank, a dentist, an auto repair shop, a judge (for marriages we presume) and a post office.

COSTS (2/5)
Entry is $20 per vehicle, or free with the National Parks Pass.

There are an astounding number of lodging options along the South Rim. 363 campsites ($10-$15), an 80-site RV village ($25) and six Hotels ($49-$286). Of course, plan ahead, especially in the summer. Only the 50-site Desert View Campground operates on a first-come, first served basis. We had no trouble getting a campsite at the 313-site, more centrally located Mather Campground.

RANGER/GUIDE TO TOURIST RATIO (5/5)
Grand Canyon NP keeps the South Rim stocked with Rangers. There are many Ranger-led talks and plenty of people to answer your questions. We asked a Ranger, “where should we leave our car while we hike to the bottom?” She told us Parking Lot E, then take the Hiker’s Express shuttle to South Kaibab Point.Not only is the ride there much quicker, but when you emerge from the Canyon, your car is only a few hundred yards away.

After telling us what a nice route we had planned, she and another Ranger started talking about different routes down and their experiences in the Canyon. They both spoke so passionately about where they work. We excused ourselves from the conversation and they kept sharing interior Canyon stories. We left even more excited about the hike to come.

TOURS/CLASSES (8/10)
In the off-peak month of October, there are 18 Ranger talks a day, an incredible number. We are sure that the number swells come summer. The degree of walking difficulty ranges from a strenuous Ranger-led 3-mile hike down the South Kaibab Trail to a leisurely nature walk along the paved Rim Trail. Topics include Grand Canyon geology, the invasion of non-native plants, the early photography of the Canyon, a Ranger’s choice lecture, Shakespeare and the Park (we don’t know either) and the successful reintroduction of the California condor.

We attended the terrific condor talk. After it was over, we walked along the Rim with the Ranger, as did half of the tour group, and spotted birds. The Ranger had an extensive knowledge of the Park’s birds. When we asked what raptors we might see on our hike, she rolled off a list of fifteen explaining their migratory patterns and habitat. Much to our delight, we did spot a California condor high above us while we hiked in the Bright Angel Canyon.

The Ranger also told us that throughout fall, members of HawkWatch International spend all day at both Lipan and Yaki Points. They count migrating raptors and are more than eager to help the amateur birder.

Future PathThe South Rim has two (maybe three) museums. The Tusayan Museum showcases southwest Indian artifacts in an incredibly cramped and dark room. Spend a few minutes, but don’t expect to learn much. The Canyon View Information Plaza is more of an outdoor, exhibit-aided trip planner. In that sense, it serves its purpose well. The Kolb Studio we guess is a museum. Inside are paintings done of the Canyon as well as a traveling exhibit: photographs of the Navajo Nation.

If you want to learn anything about the Canyon, you need to take a Ranger tour; the museums are not going to help. We much prefer the human interaction to a static museum. We like the educational route that the South Rim has taken.

FUN (9/10)
Don’t expect quiet solitude at the South Rim. Excited people are everywhere. It is still possible to lose yourself in the power of the Canyon views.

WOULD WE RECOMMEND? (10/10)
Uh, it is the Grand Canyon and the South Rim boasts the classic panoramas. A must-see American destination.

TOTAL 62/80

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near Page, Ariz.
Visited: September 28, 2004
NPS Site Visited: 104 of 353
NPS Website; Local Website

Unbelievable Country

WHAT IS IT?
The Site consists mostly of the massive Lake Powell, the second largest man-made lake in the United States. The federal government created Lake Powell by damming the Colorado River with the Glen Canyon Dam. Lake Powell is 186 miles long. The Dam is marked as Mile 0. You can access the Lake at one point in Arizona at Mile 1 (one mile north of the dam). You can access the Lake at three points in Utah, at Miles 92, 96 and 139. Because of the limited access, we have broken up our reviews into an Arizona portion and a Utah portion.

The Arizona section includes only a small section of Lake Powell as the state border stands at Mile 13. This review includes the Glen Canyon Dam and undammed parts of the Colorado River to the south, including Marble Canyon, the Navajo Bridge and the historical river crossing at Lee’s Ferry.

BEAUTY (8/10)
The brochure quotes Colorado River explorer John Wesley Powell on the Glen Canyon, “(the Canyon is) a curious ensemble of wonderful features.” He is not wrong. The Vermilion Cliffs, the dramatic buttes and the painted mesas still astound. Of course, we will never see the Glen Canyon as Powell did. His namesake artificial Lake has changed the land forever. The beauty has not disappeared; it has just changed.

HISTORIC SIGNIFICANCE (8/10)
Many National Park Service sites highlight infamous incidents in American history. Glen Canyon NRA is no exception. Except that in Glen Canyon’s case, the NPS does not address the history, ignoring that there was any controversy at all.

The Glen Canyon Dam was the last dam built in the United States; construction started in 1956. The lake it created covered thousands of acres of irreplaceable canyon scenery, flooded prehistoric cave dwellings, washed away petroglyphs and made sacred Indian land inaccessible. The Dam has spawned numerous lawsuits, protests and anger. Its building is often cited as the birth of the modern-day environmental movement.

Neither the Glen Canyon Museum nor the guided tour mentions any problems regarding the Dam. No discussion of the growing movement to drain the Dam. To be fair, Michael’s questions about the Dam’s other history were answered frankly and with great depth by the Tour Guide. If you are not familiar with the area’s history, you are led to believe that you’re visiting just another Bureau of Reclamation project.

The Park also glances over the Mountain Meadows Massacre perpetrated by the Lees Ferry boat operator, John D. Lee. We would have loved to learn more about this forgotten episode in western history.

A Mighty SpanCROWDS (4/10)
The once-an-hour free tour of Glen Canyon Dam is a popular tourist attraction and tour groups are limited to 20. We arrived on a Tuesday but the last three tours of the day had already been filled. We booked a spot on the first Wednesday excursion. In that sense, the crowds had a negative effect on our visit.

Our tour group consisted of mostly retirees. Their esoteric questions regarding the Dam’s construction led us to believe that many had been engineers or construction foremen. No one asked about the environmental impact and all failed to hear our guide’s repeated statements that the dam no longer produces much energy at all. They kept asking who gets the energy and what would Las Vegas do if the dam shut down and our guide kept responding that coal plants provide all the area power; the Dam’s main use is just water storage for local farmers.

Busloads of tourists meander around the Dam Visitor Center parking lot and along the Glen Canyon Bridge, the second highest steel arch bridge in the world. Only the New River Gorge Bridge in West Virginia is higher. We were there just a few months ago! Heights. Scary. Be careful and drive slowly. The tourists walk as if they are in an area without vehicular traffic.

EASE OF USE/ACCESS (1/5)
Humans have inhabited this area for nearly 12,000 years. The Colorado River has forever been a highly effective barrier to travel. There are three River/Lake crossings in the Park. Utah Route 95 crosses at the Mile 140 mark in the northeast. The next crossing is in Moab, some 70 miles upstream as the raven flies or 150 miles by road.

The next time the Lake is crossed is at the Glen Canyon Dam, 140 miles southwest on the River but 230 miles by car. The Lees Ferry crossing is only about 5 miles downstream but is a 45 mile vehicular detour. The Colorado then forms the Grand Canyon and weaves nearly 300 miles until the next crossing, the Hoover Dam near Las Vegas. The car distance from Page to Las Vegas, 351 miles. Amazingly, these are the same River crossings that have existed for thousands of years.

It is not easy to get to Page, Arizona, but it does sit at the pivot point on a U.S. Route right angle between Interstates 40 and 15. I-40 and Flagstaff, Arizona is 135 miles to the south and I-15 and St. George, Utah is 135 due west.

The Glen Canyon NRA can easily fit on your itinerary if you are traveling the Grand Circle of southwestern National Parks. You have to cross the Colorado and odds are it is going to be through the Park. In addition, you must pass through Lees Ferry if you are driving from the Grand Canyon North Rim to the South Rim. Lees Ferry is also the launch point for all white water excursions down the Grand Canyon.

CONCESSIONS/BOOKSTORE (3/5)
Prior to entry, Michael claimed that if the bookstore had Paul Auster’s Moon Palace this rating would automatically be a 5. Glen Canyon Dam plays a big role in the Brooklyn author’s book, believe it or not. But alas, it wasn’t there.

The selection was average. Lots of Grand Canyon/Colorado Plateau stuff but very little about the environmental impact of the dam or the history behind its construction.

 Rushing Colorado COSTS (3/5)
Entrance costs $10 per vehicle. We are unsure where these fees would be collected. We encountered no fee requests at Glen Canyon Dam, Lees Ferry or Navajo Bridge. We think that the $10 entrance fee applies only to boaters wishing to use the Lake. The $10 entrance fee is waived if you have a National Parks Pass.

The 40-minute guided tour of Glen Canyon Dam is free. Just be sure to sign up early or make reservations ahead of time by phone. Tours fill up quickly.

There is a $10 boat launch fee if water recreation is your thing (and you own a motor boat). Once your out, lakeshore camping is free. There are two official campgrounds in the South, at Lees Ferry ($10 per site) and Lone Rock ($6 per site).

RANGER/GUIDE TO TOURIST RATIO (3/5)
The Glen Canyon Dam offers free hourly tours and limits the tour size to 20. Hired Dam employees give the tours rather than Rangers. We have no quibbles here; the guides do a terrific job and give the visitors a great deal of attention. Then again, so did the Security Guard assigned to our Tour Group.

We encountered one surly Ranger at the Dam. Or maybe we were the ornery ones once we realized the logistical nightmare of reaching Rainbow Bridge NM located at Mile 49 of Lake Powell. Here are our choices: 1) $110 per person boat cruise or 2) 36-mile round trip hike through the desert. The trailhead lies at the end of a 30-mile unpaved road. 4×4 or high clearance vehicle necessary. Who knows how we will ever get to that place.

There were no Rangers at the Navajo Bridge Interpretive Center or the Lees Ferry Ranger Station. We fruitlessly returned (on two different days) to the unmanned and locked Ranger station at Lees Ferry hoping to get an elusive National Parks Passport Stamp. We are such nerds.

Glen Canyon DamTOURS/CLASSES (6/10)
The Dam is the only developed portion of the Glen Canyon NRA. There is a small indoor exhibit next to the Navajo Bridge as well as bulletin boards, placards and a mimeographed walking tour pamphlet near the riverbank of Lees Ferry. The only organized tour options take place and involve the Dam.

Glen Canyon Dam is a high security area. Metal detectors frame the doorways to its Visitor Center. Visitors are allowed to carry only their camera and wallet; no purses or bags of any kind. Once through the security checkpoint, you have access to the bookstore, amphitheatre, multimedia exhibit and information desk where you can sign up for a free tour.

The excellent tour focuses on the logistics of the Dam – how it works, how it was built and its many functions. It was perfectly catered to the audience and their interests in addition to being surprisingly in-depth. Michael probed the guide for more answers and opinions around the notorious construction of the Dam, local viewpoints of the situation and future plans. Our young tour guide ably responded to each of his inquiries, usually offering more than one point of view. He was refreshingly honest and was able to knowledgeably stray from a set script.

One can take a self-guided walking tour of the historic dirt street of Lees Ferry. The absence of Rangers and the lengthy dirt road we needed to take to get to it were effective deterrents. We spent our time at Lees Ferry staring enviously at the few boats and rafts packing up and getting ready to set off down the Colorado River.

FUN (6/10)
Michael delighted in getting such an up close and personal view of one of the world’s most famous dams. We wish we had more time to spend with our tour guide but his schedule and the day’s full set of tours did not allow it. Just getting from one place to the next was more enjoyable than usual – vermilion cliffs, dry Arizona landscapes that change colors with the sun and glimpses of the winding Colorado River gave us new things to look at and made us uncontrollably excited for our next destination, the Grand Canyon.

While it includes boat launches into both Lake Powell to the north and the Colorado River to the south, the Arizona portion of Glen Canyon NRA fun rating does not take boating into account – only the dam, the historic sites and the beautiful Arizona scenery.

Towards the Grand CanyonWOULD WE RECOMMEND? (6/10)
Glen Canyon NRA is hardly user-friendly. Access to the Colorado River is extremely limited and security at the Dam is tight. Staffing at Lees Ferry and Navajo Bridge is beyond minimal. The free tour of the Glen Canyon Dam was a treat for an American Studies major like Michael. He may have even forgotten that he was angry at Gab for making us miss the prior day’s tour.

TOTAL 48/80

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Mammoth Hot Springs, Tower-Roosevelt, Lamar Valley
northwest corner of Wyoming
Visited: August 22, 2004
NPS Site Visited: 84 of 353
NPS Website; USGS Website

The Roosevelt Arch. Welcome to Yellowstone NP. For the Benefit and Enjoyment of the People Yellowstone National Park is a diverse natural wonderland roughly twice the size of the state of Delaware.

Because of the Park’s immense size and staggering variety of experiences, we have broken our Yellowstone reviews into three separate entries: the North, Central and South.

WHAT IS IT?
Yellowstone’s northern tier exists outside of the Yellowstone caldera and, as a result, enjoys a much greater variety of plant and animal life. Herds of bison roam the expanses of the Lamar Valley, joined by wolf packs, pronghorns and elk.

Most of Yellowstone’s easily accessible mountain peaks are here in the North. Nearly all of the Park’s bighorn sheep live in the alpine terrain just south of Tower Fall around Mount Washburn.

The North’s most famous attraction is Mammoth Hot Springs. This extensive system of multihued cascading hot springs is very similar in geological development and appearance to the interior of spectacular caverns like Carlsbad and Mammoth. At Yellowstone, nature has been turned inside out.

The Mammoth Hot Springs exist outside the caldera and bubble and flow from the heat generated by the slow northeastward movement of the Jackson Hot Spot; the same Hot Spot that ten of thousands of years ago created the lava fields at Craters of the Moon NM and the rich potato-growing soils of southern Idaho.

View From Mount WashburnBEAUTY (10/10)
The North was the most beautiful part of the Park, especially the Lamar Valley. More wildlife, more diversity, higher mountains and supernatural hot springs.

HISTORIC SIGNIFICANCE (10/10)
In 1872, Yellowstone became the world’s first National Park, the first time land had ever been set aside for public use. Yellowstone NP served as the initial model for the conservation of our precious landscape.

The area also boasts of a long and important Native American history. The obsidian found throughout the Park was the most widely traded good in North American for thousands of years. Indians ranging throughout the continent fashioned arrowheads almost exclusively from materials mined here.

CROWDS (9/10)
Everybody in the North was so happy. We encountered so many different and excited people many of whom gave us indelible memories. There is much space and a wide array of activities nearby: fly fishing, auto touring, wildlife watching, hikes along paved walkways and boardwalks, moderate hikes through valleys, strenuous hikes up mountains and little used backcountry trails.

As soon as you venture away from the road, you see few people. The Beaver Ponds Loop Trail begins and ends in the heavily trafficked Mammoth Hot Springs area. Once we started hiking, we saw more elk than humans. Solitude is possible but hardly necessary given the giddy joy on all faces.

EASE OF USE/ACCESS (3/5)
North Yellowstone can be accessed from Interstate 90 in Montana via U.S. Route 89 and U.S. Route 212.

Route 89 travels 58 miles south from Livingston, Mont. to Mammoth Hot Springs. This scenic route follows the Yellowstone River the whole way and enters the Park underneath the imposing stone Roosevelt arch at the Park’s North Entrance.

Route 212, the Beartooth Highway, is a 124 mile drive from Billings, Mont. It is one of America’s most scenic drives. Starting in Red Lodge, Mont., it climbs tremendous heights, eventually crossing the Wyoming border at the 10,947 Beartooth Pass. The road passes through the Custer and Shoshone National Forests and is every bit as stunning as the Going-to-the-Sun Road at Glacier NP. Understandably, it weather often makes it impassable.

On the Way to the Visitor CenterRoute 212 enters the Park at Silver Gate, Mont., the Northeast Entrance, and travels 29 miles through the Lamar Valley before reaching the Yellowstone Figure Eight Driving Loop at Tower-Roosevelt. The Lamar Valley is home to much of the Park’s wildlife and is seldom traveled because it is outside the standard auto tour loop.

The North section of Yellowstone NP forms the ? portion of the Figure Eight Driving Loop.

Once you get to Yellowstone, the Park is very accessible. Numerous pull offs and picnic areas allow the motorist to see oodles of wildlife. Mammoth Hot Springs can be closely viewed due to an extensive boardwalk system that is constantly being rebuilt. Yellowstone NP makes incredible efforts to ensure the visitor an optimum experience.

CONCESSIONS/BOOKSTORE (5/5)
The Yellowstone Association runs eight different (and all outstanding) online bookstores in the Park. The Mammoth Hot Springs Visitor Center hosts their only store in the North.

Two full-service dining rooms, one at the Roosevelt Lodge and one at the Mammoth Hot Springs Lodge offers meals and full Verizon cellular service.

COSTS (3/5)
A $20 vehicle entrance fee is good for a week’s stay at both Yellowstone NP and Grand Teton NP, an incredible bargain given the sheer amount of things to see in the Parks’ combined 2.5 million acres. And it’s all free with the National Parks Pass!

The North has five campgrounds and 237 campsites; all NPS-run and first-come, first-serve. Mammoth campground is Yellowstone’s only year-round campsite. These are some of the Park’s most popular car camping sites and often fill up early.

Loungin’ Near the Mammoth Hot Springs Visitor Center There are Xanterra-run lodges, cabins and hotel rooms at both Roosevelt and Mammoth.

Backcountry camping is free. If you’re the worrisome type you can make ahead of time reservations for $20 per trip.

RANGER/GUIDE TO TOURIST RATIO (5/5)
Rangers are everywhere and they do a terrific job. Amidst the madness of the heavily touristed Mammoth Hot Springs Visitor Center, Gab received day hike brochures covering six of the Park’s major areas. The Ranger took the time to pick out her favorite hikes on all six and explain that she has made a concerted effort to try them all. Her picks were all stellar.

A zoologist Ranger spots wolves along the Lamar Valley road nearly every day. Her stories of the wolf pack soap opera-esque saga are legendary.

TOURS/CLASSES (9/10)
Yellowstone NP offers so many Ranger Programs that it distributes an 8-page newspaper handout to everyone entering the park regarding these tours. The number of programs tapers severely as the seasons change and the weather turns nasty. Take a tour here. The Rangers are great.

We took the Mammoth Hot Spring Terrace Walk during what was technically summer. The cold rains came and our delightful Ranger immediately made sure to put the plastic weather guard on her signature straw hat. The weather did not deter our tour, but it was nice to linger in the warm steam of the Hot Springs.

Mammoth GabWe gained a good understanding of the tricky geological notions of calderas, supervolcanoes, hot spots and travertine formations. Her talk was a remarkable introduction to the mystical steaming world of Yellowstone.

For $0.50 a pop, the Yellowstone Association provides helpful glossy, color self-guided trail booklets for nearly every sub-section of the Park.

FUN (10/10)
The Mammoth campground hosts were greeted by us every morning as we extended our stay “just one more day”. This happened three times. Rangers told us that the best hikes in the Park are in the North. We have no reason to argue.

The North also felt less crowded and more off the beaten path. The outsourced lodges, campsites and gift stores have less of a presence. If it hadn’t been for the crazy weather we don’t know if we ever would have left.

On Top of WashburnWOULD WE RECOMMEND? (10/10)
Oh my heavens yes. Yellowstone NP is the classic National Parks destination. Much to our delight the Museums, tours, staffing and bookstores are all equal to the stunning natural surroundings.

Everything here is done right.

We loved the North and would love to spend days, if not weeks, in the backcountry here sometime soon.

TOTAL 74/80

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