Posts Tagged ‘Wildlife’

Lower Geyser Basin, Old Faithful, West Thumb, Grant Village, Fishing Bridge, South Entrancenorthwest corner of Wyoming
Visited: September 16, 2004
NPS Site Visited: 84 of 353
NPS Website

Yellowstone National Park is a diverse natural wonderland roughly twice the size of the state of Delaware.

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

Old FaithfulWHAT IS IT?
The South portion of Yellowstone National Park offers a wide array of tourist activities. It lies almost entirely within the Yellowstone caldera. The caldera is a remnant of tremendous supervolcanic explosions. It is the depression left behind by the reverse impact of the supervolcano’s debris. The supervolcanoes’ still active magnetic heat is partially responsible for the geyser fields and hydrothermal activity.

The South’s prime attraction is the incredibly active Lower Geyser Basin, which includes the Fountain Paint Pot and the Great Fountain Geyser. The Upper Geyser Basin is home to five predictable geysers including the Park’s poster child, Old Faithful. 70% of the Park’s geysers and hydrothermal activity occurs within this small area.

The 17-mile road east of the Geyser Basin crosses the Continental Divide twice before arriving at the West Thumb of Yellowstone Lake. The nearby Grant Village Visitor Center tells the story of the 1988 fires that swept through this area, burning over a 1/3 of the Park’s acreage. The blue expanses of Yellowstone Lake provide stellar fishing, bird watching, hiking and paddling.

The wildlife-rich Hayden Valley, the stretch of the Yellowstone River going upstream from the Lake to the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone is also home to two malodorous geothermal sites called Mud Volcano and Sulphur Canyon.

BEAUTY (10/10)
Yellowstone NP’s wide array of colors is absolutely dazzling. The thermal fields produce oranges, blues, whites and greens in indescribable hues. They combine with the yellow meadows, the changing leaves and a crisp blue sky to create masterpieces. Cameras cannot capture Yellowstone. Boiling water falls into creeks. Steam bellows off rivers.

Lone Bison bulls sit by the road. Bald eagles and osprey swoop overhead. Waterfalls roar from all directions. An eternal mist lingers and then rushes from above the earth’s vents. The cold blues of Yellowstone Lake stretch for miles. Youthful lodgepole pines sprout everywhere. This place teems with life. It is nature. It is beauty. You need to see Yellowstone to believe it.

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 flight of the Nez Perce in 1877 took them from their Idaho homeland to their defeat at Bear Paw Battlefield took them through this section of Yellowstone NP. A few tourists were taken hostage and one was even killed.

CROWDS (8/10)
What a difference two weeks make. In late August, there are still lots of kids at Yellowstone NP. When we returned in early September, the diverse crowds remained but the kids were conspicuously missing. Now we were the young whippersnappers.

Michael was out-of-control giddy in the Upper Geyser Basin, speed walking from place to place hoping to catch every explosion. The many people he passed invariably commented, “do it while you can, young one,” or “when I was your age…” We loved it.

Despite the cold, calmness pervaded over some of the elderly vacationers. They slowly walked hand in hand with content smiles, not caring about Old Faithful scheduled explosion, just amazed at the beauty around them. Others were eager to see the geyser bursts, but none perhaps more unruly than Michael.

Both the South Entrance and the East Entrance lead into the South portion of Yellowstone NP. The East Entrance is 52 miles west of Cody, WY via U.S. Route 20 and not near any Interstate. The South Entrance incorporates the John D. Rockefeller MEM PKWY and leads directly into Grand Teton NP.

Waiting for Old Faithful While getting to remote northwestern Wyoming may pose problems, the Park, itself, is very accessible.

Numerous pull offs and picnic areas allow the motorist to see oodles of wildlife. The entire eight-mile stretch from the Lower Geyser Basin to the Upper Geyser basin is virtually connected with boardwalks, paved walkways and accessible trails. Yellowstone NP’s Rangers’ herculean efforts ensure the visitor an optimum experience.

The Yellowstone Association operates four bookstores in the South and eight in the Park as a whole. All eight have distinct National Parks Passport Stamps. Gotta get ’em all. Gotta get ’em all.

There are seven restaurants/cafeterias in the South, three at Old Faithful, two at Lake Yellowstone and two at Grant Village. The food looked a bit over-priced, but, geez, what can you do, the Park is bigger than two States.

COSTS (3/5)
A $20 vehicle entrance fee is good for a week’s stay at Yellowstone NP and Grand Teton NP’s combined 2.5 million acres. Entry is free, free, free with the National Parks Pass.

Xanterra Parks and Resorts runs three of the four campgrounds in the South. The small city sized 432-site Bridge Bay and 425-site Grant Village Campgrounds are available through Xanterra. The 346-site Fishing Bridge RV Campground cost $31 per night and is an RV-only campground. These three accept reservations.

We stayed at the charming 85-site, tent-only NPS-run Lewis Lake Campground. First-come first served baby. That’s what we’re about.

Lodges are plentiful in the South, three in the Lake Yellowstone vicinity and three nearby Old Faithful. Xanterra Parks and Resorts runs them all.

The South boasts three large Visitor Centers all within 38 miles of each other. Grant Village and Fishing Bridge are well staffed, easily accessible and helpful.

In the summer, Ranger-led tours occur at the VC’s with ridiculous regularity. Fall and winter aren’t as active.

If you come in fall (like us) go inside! Museums a plenty. We loved the The Fishing Bridge Museum’s wide variety of stuffed birds; mounted and on display as far back as 1931.

The Grant Village Museum’s 1988 fire-themed displays showed how the American citizenry vilified the National Park for letting the fires rage. Rangers steadfastly averred that they must let nature take its course. Things will be OK. No one believed them. We remembered being so sad that we would never be able to see the grandeur of Yellowstone.

Well most of us were wrong and the Park Service was right. Throughout the Park, 10-foot high and growing lodgepole pines stand underneath their scorched ancestors. The dead trees will soon fall with millions poised nearby to take their place. The cycle of life is very beautiful.

Turbulent WatersFUN (10/10)
Picture us scampering from geyser to geyser just waiting for them to burst. Hear us oohing and aahing so loud that we felt uncomfortable…for a second. Then we sighed in amazement some more. Yeah, this place is fun.

If you come to Yellowstone NP, you have to see Old Faithful and the Upper Geyser Basin. It is as simple as that. If and when you do come, plan ahead and spend some time here. Yellowstone is so large and offers so much. Don’t just drive the 166-mile Figure Eight auto tour. You can’t see everything in one day.

Spend some time in the Park. Get out of your car. and hike the 1,000+ miles of trails accessible to all skill levels.

A Ranger told us, “everything is better in the backcountry.” She was right. The beautiful thing is that almost all of Yellowstone is backcountry. Walk twenty feet from the road and you are in a natural state. The Park is wonderful. Yellowstone NP is one of America’s crown jewels.

TOTAL 71/80


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northwest Montana
Visited: August 29, 2004
NPS Site Visited: 85 of 353
NPS Website; Local Website

1,000,000 acres of Montana wilderness. The numerous ruggedly steep U-shaped canyons that the Park is famous for were created by centuries of glacial erosion. Glacier NP lies at an ecological crossroads and boasts a dazzling diversity of plant life, birds and mammals.

BEAUTY (10/10)
Even the most cynical visitors (sadly enough in Glacier’s case, us) cannot help but be astounded by the mountains’ jagged peaks, the shimmering blue lakes, the majestic lumbering of grizzly bears and the thick dirty white expansiveness of the dying glaciers.

We found the Park’s historical pull to be dubious at best. We took a tour of the rustic Many Glacier Hotel and learned that the Park became famous though the promotion and inn building of robber baron Jim Hill. A few anecdotes about railroads and lodges, that is about it.

CROWDS (5/10)
We presume that the September Glacier crowd is much different from the July and August crowd. We imagine that summer brings families, college kids and the average American vacationer. They were not in Glacier in September. We found mostly older, erudite easterners who were very vocally in awe of their surroundings.

So many people stopped us along the trail with “this is the most beautiful place in the world” and “you’ll never see anything as gorgeous as the view around the corner” that we progressively grew a chip on our shoulders despite the Park’s splendor.

Still, Glacier NP’s magnificence is hard to argue, especially when the sun is shining, the glaciers sparkling and every turn of the corner could find you face to face with a bear or moose. Most of the time the thing around the bend was a tourist; the hiking routes were very crowded. Crowd avoidance is difficult for two reasons: a) the backcountry treks simply connect the popular day trips and b) the warm weather visitation window runs only for a few months.

Red Buses at Glacier NPEASE OF USE/ACCESS (2/5)
While remote, Glacier NP is accessible to the many different types of travelers. For the high-end visitor, there are historic rustic lodges in Lake McDonald, East Glacier and Many Glacier. There are affordable “Motor Inns” at both Rising Sun and Many Glacier. Thirteen campgrounds provide over 1,000 sites to pitch your tent. Some even allow for reservations. Two backcountry chalets are available for the overnight hiker who does not want to carry a tent.

Despite the proliferation of overnight opportunities, finding a place to stay is difficult due to Glacier NP’s short season and legendary popularity. Snow melts in June and returns in late September. You have three months. July and August are manic and September weather hugely unpredictable. We chose the first few days of September and were rewarded with the “nicest weather we’ve had in weeks”. They last week of August was so rainy, cloudy and miserable that no one was able to even see the peaks.

Even though the September crowds were low, we still could not freely pick and choose a backcountry trek. The requisite campgrounds along the popular hiking routes were all reserved. If you want to backcountry hike, plan ahead, know your route and spend the $20 reservation fee. We had no trouble getting a car camping site at midday, but they did fill by nightfall. If we had not gotten a campsite we would have been out of luck; the rustic lodges were full.

Getting to Glacier NP is a trek. Technically, the nearest airport lies 25 miles away in Kalispell, Mont. but most of the people we talked to had flown into either Missoula or Great Falls and rented a car. Missoula is 150 miles to the south of Glacier’s western entry point, Apgar, while Great Falls is 150 miles to the southeast of the Park’s east gate, St. Mary. Choose your poison.

The road from Apgar to St Mary is the famous Going-to-the-Sun Road. The road is stunning and provides vehicular access to the Park’s forbidding peaks. Be careful. The road is difficult driving and is subject to rockslides, flooding and constant repairs. Two days before we arrived, collapsed rocks closed down the road. Glacier NP’s website provides daily updates.

Your car must be less than 21 feet in length to travel on the Going-to-the-Sun Road. No RV’s allowed. One night we camped next to a Pennsylvania family that had rented a 24 feet RV unaware of Glacier NP’s restrictions. As a result they detoured over 100 miles around the southern border of the Park to get from one end to the other where they took the famously retro red-car tour of the Going-to-the-Sun Road. They seemed pretty bummed.

Glacier NP bookstores focus on Glacier specific titles with much success. Between the myriad coffee table photography books and ‘where to hike’ titles, there is room for little else. The lodge-run gift stores fill in the blanks with stuffed animals, t-shirts, sweatshirts and knickknacks.

Just Feet From Our Campsite COSTS (2/5)
Entry is $20 per vehicle, but free with the National Parks Pass. Campgrounds are moderately priced at $15 per site. Backcountry permits run $4 per person per day. An advanced backcountry reservation inquiry costs an additional $20. Lodging costs range from $71 at the Apgar Village Lodge to $155 at the Glacier Park Lodge. A spot at the backcountry Sperry Chalet runs an unbelievable $255 per night. That place must be nice. Boat tours along the Park’s lakes are available for a modest charge. The Hiker’s shuttle that runs along the Going-to-the-Sun Road costs a surprising $8 per leg. If you want the convenience of the shuttle and your trek takes you to scenic Many Glacier it’s going to cost you $24 per person. We balked at the steep price.

Glacier NP is well staffed. Our questions at all five Ranger information stations found quick and responsive answers. Ranger-led tours are numerous and popular. Three leave per day from Many Glacier. Two last all day, one going 10 miles to Iceberg Lake and the other traveling 8.5 miles to Grinnell Glacier. The tours that we attended and/or passed on the trail all included over 40 people. If there were more hikes, they would undoubtedly find eager participants.

We found refuge on our first rainy night at the Many Glacier Hotel. After we sufficiently warmed by the fire, we joined a Ranger tour of the hotel which promised to discuss the history of the hotel and its present day renovation.

At one point, the group entered into a fascinating discussion about who really owns the hotel, how public/private partnerships with hoteliers work and how our tax dollars are or are not being used to fund renovations. Sadly, this was cut short by one tour participant who, unlike the dozen or so people actively participating in the conversation, felt that we were straying too far from the advertised topic. “I’m not interested in politics; I’m interested in the history of the hotel.” The Ranger conceded, but offered to continue the conversation with anyone interested after the walk was officially over.

Meditating MichaelOver the course of several days, we encountered a number of Ranger-led walks on the more popular trails near Many Glacier. It was not unusual to see at least 30 people on a tour, and more than one Ranger. We stopped to chat with some participants of a day-long Ranger-led hike to Grinnell Glacier. They were tired, but very pleased. “He (the Ranger) told us everything about everything. It was cool. It was kind of like school,” was the evaluation of one of the hikers. This group had been led out on to the glacier by the experienced Ranger, a feat that we were too timid to try on our own.

Visitor Centers at Apgar, St. Mary’s and Logan Pass did not carry much in terms of museums or displays. There is no need when it is all outside. The Logan Pass Visitor Center rests on the Continental Divide, halfway across the Going-to-the-Sun Road. Trailheads to several easy walks begin here. It was too crowded to spend any amount of time there. We took our obligatory photo next to the Continental Divide sign and continued down the road.

FUN (8/10)
We were reluctant to enter Glacier NP for a number of reasons. We were unsure of what accommodations would be available, we didn’t know if summer crowds had subsided just yet and clouds were still ominous as we drove through East Glacier. The ice storm we had encountered at Yellowstone was still fresh in our minds and we weren’t sure if we were in the mood to camp in bad weather again. Glacier had a lot to prove to this set of bad attitudes.

As the days went on and the sun stayed shining, we couldn’t help but be won over by Glacier’s landscape and residents. Friendly conversations with other people on the trails enabled us to focus on getting to the top of Swiftcurrent Pass where steep ledges and unobstructed views of the valley below were both beautiful and a little dizzying.

Trails at Glacier range from easy to strenuous. We had no trouble finding ways to keep busy, especially during our stay near Many Glacier, our favorite part of the park. The campground at Many Glacier was comfortable and conveniently located next to one of the Motor Inns, a camp store, and trailheads to two of our chosen hikes.

The Going-to-the-Sun road is as beautiful as advertised. However, we couldn’t help thinking how beautiful Glacier’s wilderness would be if it were more wild.

 Glacier NP WOULD WE RECOMMEND? (9/10)
The park’s namesakes will not be there forever. As we were hiking to the Grinnell Glacier, one of the largest remaining in the park, we passed a set of young geologists who had kayaked out to the base of the glacier to measure it. It has shrunk almost 300% in the past three years. At this rate, Glacier National Park is anticipating its final glaciers to melt within 25 to 40 years. There is a bit of urgency if majestic ice forms are what you aiming to see.

Only at Yellowstone and Isle Royale National Parks have we come as close to the large wildlife we saw here. One morning, a black bear surprised our campground using it for a leisurely shortcut on its way to the woods. We surprised a large bull moose and two of his female friends that same morning as we were hiking towards Iceberg Lake. Glacier was full of pleasant surprises for us, the most pleasant being that we enjoyed it. We entered Glacier National Park thinking, “this had better be spectacular…” To our delight, it was.

TOTAL 54/80

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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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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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