Wyoming - Yellowstone National Park

14th - 21st July 2008

Yellowstone National Park was quite a daunting prospect.    Not only did we know it was a destination we definitely wanted to visit on our road trip, we'd also received lots of stress-inducing advice from fellow travellers who had previously visited.   Our biggest concern having been frequently told that the Park was so busy in July and August, that we'd never get a campsite.

On enquiring of these advisors when would be the best time to visit, we were told that June was still too cold and possibly snowy and in September it would start to snow again.    The accuracy of all of this advice was unclear to us, but we decided to make an early Monday July morning start to the park, which lay only 30 miles or so north of the Great Tetons and hope for the best.    All our fears were unfounded.   We found a campsite with no problems, by arriving at 10 am and discovered that once checked in, other campsites in the park could be booked in advance.  (Of course it would be essential to double check that the booking clerk got the reservation correct, but that would be painful lesson to  learn later!)

After settling in to our first campsite, Grant Village, we found out that there was to be a ranger led walk that afternoon on the subject of wildlife tracking.    We turned up at the appointed time to discover we were at the wrong visitor centre (Yellowstone really was a huge and confusing Park and we were newbees!) but with Harvey's help, we made it to the correct venue just in time for the walk.    

Although the walk was aimed at children, we joined in whole-heartedly with the younger trackers in pointing out every piece of scat (aka brown stinky animal excrement) and all other animal signs we found during the walk.   The talk turned out to be very informative and really helped us during later walks in spotting signs of wildlife.  We were told the previous group had been chased out of the woods by a large bull buffalo, but fortunately we didn't have any similar excitement!

West Thumb Basin

Having found the correct venue for the walk, we realised that it lay right next to the West Thumb Geyser Basin and Yellowstone Lake.    We were able to walk the boardwalk over the unstable thermal area near the visitor centre and see our first selection of geysers and hot springs.   A couple of the hot springs came out right in the lake and one large trout seemed to have adopted a volcanic mound as his home, apparently enjoying the warmth.

We were surprised that the volcanic activity in Yellowstone was so widespread.   We'd heard of Old Faithful, the park's most famous and consistently reliable geyser but hadn't expected to find volcanic pools, geysers and steaming ground areas all throughout the park.

The evening's entertainment was a talk on the re-introduction of the Grey Wolf to Yellowstone Park.   The venue was moved from the terrace to inside the visitor centre, to prevent the poor tourists being savaged by hungry mosquitoes!

At the visitor centre we'd bought the guide to fishing in Yellowstone park and our fishing licenses and next day we set off in search of some fish.    We decided to walk a trail which led to a supposedly great fishing river between two lakes, called the Lewis River Channel.  

Before setting off through the woodland to reach the river, however, we had to get prepared.   First we had to cover Harvey's windscreen wipers to protect him from marauding ravens!   We also had to arm ourselves with our trusty bear spray (even more nervous now we'd been to the tracking talk and could easily spot signs of bear activity).   In addition we naturally needed a large supply of sandwiches and water to sustain us on our trip, not to mention a huge amount of fishing gear.  Laden like pack mules, we set off into the wilderness.

Not a sign you see everyday!

Phil's long awaited catch.

The walk to the river channel was about three miles and by the time we'd checked out all the fishing spots on the way up the river, we'd walked four miles before starting to fish in earnest.    Our attempts proved frustrating, with not even a nibble on our tempting fly lures.    We watched other anglers drifting downstream in various forms of watercraft and pondered whether that may be a less tiring and more effective fishing method.

Finally we found a spot where we could see two huge trout hanging out, one on each side of a submerged tree trunk.    We did our best to tempt them out and occasionally in the crystal clear water, we watched them investigate the lures.   It seemed like they weren't going to fall for our tricks.   Discouraged, we stopped to eat our picnic instead.    

When we were done eating, the deputy angler suggested that maybe by now the fish had forgotten all about our fake flies and if we tried again, we'd get a bite.   Sure enough, first cast, Phil reeled in one of the big trout. 

The Yellowstone Fishing Regulations are pretty strict, largely allowing the angler to take only non-native species of trout.  The Park were trying to re-establish the dominance of the native varieties.    However, despite all our preparations, we couldn't find the fishing regulations booklet in time to decide on the species of trout we had landed.    Erring on the side of caution, we decided to let our fish live to fight another day and released him back into the river.     We later learned that it was a trout we could have eaten for our supper , but never mind at least he got to live and the anglers were happy as they began the four mile hike back to the trailhead in search of ice cream.

Next day we were re-locating to Madison campground, further north in the park and our route would take us past Old Faithful.    We decided to join the madding throng and await one of the regular shows put on by the geyser approximately every 90 minutes.    

We had arrived only minutes after the previous eruption and passed the time walking the boardwalk around Old Faithful and admiring the rustic architecture at the Old Faithful Inn nearby.   We took our seats and sure enough, right on cue, hot water began to spew out of the hole in the ground, making an impressive tower of steam.

Old Faithful Geyser Blows His Top

Our new campsite was much nicer than the previous one and we were entertained by the resident ground squirrel population.    Armed with our approved Yellowstone firewood, we quickly got back in the routine of our nightly campfire, around which we enjoyed the company of our neighbours Rick and Cindy from Arizona.

Once settled into Madison, we took a trip to the metropolis of West Yellowstone, a town just outside the western park boundary, to pick up supplies and contact the outside world.    Whilst there, we visited Jacklin's Fly Fishing Supply Shop, owned by a local celebrity fly fisherman.  There we took the advice of local fishermen on which type of flies would supposedly work in which rivers in the area at that time.    We hadn't realised the whole business was so complicated and the trout so particular!    

On our way back we tried our luck in the Madison River, along with plenty of other anglers.    None of us seemed to have any luck at all, despite picking our way through masses of buffalo poop in search of a good spot.    Finally we decided it was time to head home before the buffalos returned!

The roads in the Park were laid out in roughly a figure eight shape.     The lower loop was a distance of 96 miles and our next tour in Harvey took us about half way around that lower loop.   We visited the surreal Norris Geyser Basin, where the blackened trees and colourful salts streaming out of the geysers and within the hot springs, gave us the sense of an extra-terrestrial landscape.


Norris Geyser Basin

Mud Volcano - Smells worse than it looks!

A drought in1988, brought major fires, which lasted from mid June until mid September, during which time around 36% of the park's land burned.   The firefighting effort, involving 25,000 people, cost $120 million dollars.   However in most areas deep roots were not destroyed, allowing re-growth to begin in a matter of days.  Twenty years later, in most areas of the park the remains of the burned trees remain, either standing alongside the new small pines or fallen on the ground beside them.    

As we continued our drive around the lower loop it was time for more volcanic action.    We smelled and viewed the Sulphur Cauldron and then toured around the Mud Volcano area boardwalk.


On our return trip, we had to try our luck fishing the Yellowstone River.    Despite several large trout lazing in plain view, none was daft enough to take our flies.    The nearby undergrowth and submerged fallen trees, however, seemed very keen to grab onto the flies and keep hold, leading to much colourful language and acrobatics. 


Phil learned the downside to trying to teach your wife to fly fish!   He gallantly unzipped the removable legs from his new trousers, donned his crocs and waded into the fast flowing river to retrieve a favourite fly tangled in branches by the inept apprentice!  Waders were now on the shopping list!

Traffic congestion in the park could get pretty bad with the combination of the usual buffalo, elk, moose, deer, wolf, coyote and pelican jams, combined with roadworks and the huge volume of vehicles touring the park. 

Yellowstone River - Is it cold in there darling?

Buffalo- or maybe Elk-jam.


Often it seemed that causing traffic chaos wasn't enough for some visitors.  They liked to leap out of their vehicles, after stopping them inconveniently half on the narrow roadway, and rush into the bush in pursuit of the perfect wildlife photo.   Whilst many of the wild animals seemed accustomed to this strange behaviour, it must have felt intimidating to them.

On our outbound trip, we'd driven straight by Artist's Point turnoff, where we'd spotted a sign warning of heavy traffic from 12 - 5 pm.    

As we returned, it was early evening and we decided to see what we had missed.    We were glad we did, as we encountered the "Grand Canyon" of Yellowstone.   Whilst not on the scale of the original, it's high, sheer cliff faces were decorated in bright colours by the minerals and ores leeching out of the rock.   As the sun got lower the colours were even more striking.   

We were so taken with the Canyon that we returned another day to walk the south rim and take in the beauty of the colourful cliffs and striking waterfalls again.

Beautiful Yellowstone "Grand Canyon"

We were forced to make a second trip into West Yellowstone, as a result of the Park Service Station's inexplicable refusal to refill our propane tank.    We decided to combine that road trip with another geyser visit, this time to the Grand Prismatic Geyser, named for its vivid colouring.

We also toured the Midway Geyser basin, in company with several large buffalo!   One buffalo was ambling straight towards us and we had a moment of doubt about his intentions.  We hurried to put a safe distance between us.   Luckily it turned out that it was just a case of the grass being greener on the other side of the boardwalk.  He climbed onto the wooden walkway, slowly crossed over behind us and climbed off again!   Apparently the old buffalo bulls hung around in that area as the large number of people visiting kept predators away.   Perhaps they liked to have warm hooves too!

Midway - Uh-oh, who's your hairy buddy?


Grand Prismatic Geyser

Back at the campground we needed our daily fishing fix and wandered down to the river after dinner.    Despite seeing small trout rise to the surface, again we had no luck.   Christine was horrified to have an audience of 3 five- or six-year-old small boys, offering helpful advice on the art of fishing.    Luckily their responsible adult walked them to a safer distance once Christine pointed out that with her level of casting skill, she was more likely to hook one of the boys with her fly than a fish!
The 19th of July was a momentous day, marking that seven years had passed since our departure from Penarth aboard Anju.   We decided to head north from our campground and tour the upper loop of the park.

On our way north to Mammoth Hot Springs, we encountered more traffic chaos, passing first one, then another and finally a pair of bull buffalo, who had decided that the southbound lane of the road was the buffalo lane, causing a major tailback in their wake!

We stopped to take a look at Roaring Mountain, which seemed to be on fire, there were so many steam vents!

Please keep walking, don't stop to look at Harvey!

Stunning Roaring Mountain

Overwhelmed by the abundance of amazing volcanic sites, for variety at Mammoth Hot Springs, we opted to take a woodland walk instead of visiting the crowded terraces of volcanic salts.   It was hard to imagine having an overdose of amazing natural spectacles but that was how we were beginning to feel after nearly a week in the Park!

At random we selected the "Beaver Ponds" Trail from our trail guide.    The start of the walk was poorly signposted, and the map weathered away, leading us to take several wrong turns.  The path was so steep that it left us with pounding hearts and gasping for breath at the high altitude.  We began to wonder if it was worth the effort.    After the first half hour, however, we reached a plateau filled with beautiful wildflowers and gorgeous scenery.    It was heavenly and we were so glad we'd made the effort.   Beaver Ponds turned out to be one of the prettiest hikes we'd ever made.   We didn't see beavers, or evidence of beavers but more importantly we only saw about 6 other human beings during our three hour hike, a wonderful contrast to other parts of the park.

Beaver Ponds Trail

On our return down the mountain to bustling Mammoth Hot Springs, we spotted blue flashing lights in the distance, right in the parking lot where we'd left Harvey.   Uh-oh.    OK, the sign did say buses, but normally in other parking lots in the Park that meant RVs and buses that wouldn't fit in a normal parking space.    On our arrival it had been the only space available and a car was already occupying half of the space anyway, so we parked behind it.    On this occasion, however,  bus apparently meant bus and we were busted.    After our profuse apologies to the friendly but stern ranger, who had the ticket in his hand ready to write out, we were allowed to drive away fine free.  "Thank you Mr Ranger, Sir, we won't do it again!"

Our tour continued along the bouncy road through Tower Junction, past the beautiful gorge at Tower Falls, over high Dunraven Pass (sorry Harvey).   The scenery was stunning but we decided that this was probably the next section of the Park's roads awaiting re-surfacing!    Just one more Elk jam and we were back at the campground.

Gorge at Tower Falls

Cause of the Elk Jam


After such an action packed Saturday, we decided on a quite Sunday.   We spent the afternoon exploring nearby Nez Perce creek, named for a tribe of Native American Indians who fled through the Park towards Canada after some serious oppression, giving some early tourists more excitement than they had bargained for!



Our afternoon was more peaceful, mostly a combination swatting irritating biting bugs whilst fishing.  We even caught and then liberated four small trout between us.    With less patience for fishing, Christine entertained herself putting her new tracking skills into practice, spotting abundant signs of bear, elks and moose activity in the area and enjoying the glorious wild flowers and surrounding volcanic springs.

Next day we were on the move again.    We'd reserved a campsite in Canyon Village campground, or so we thought.    On arriving at the campground there was no reservation for us, the reservation had been made for Grant Village, where we'd already camped.    No spaces were available at Canyon, which was fully booked.    Now our plans were thrown into disarray.   In desperation we took a space at the only campground, we were told, which had space available.    Fishing Bay campground, however, lay in completely the opposite direction to which we were headed and in a spot we didn't really want to visit again, so we weren't best pleased. 

To compound matters, on arrival at the campground, after driving twenty odd miles in an unfavourable direction, we seemed to be allocated the worst spot available, far from all facilities, isolated from the rest of the sites and right on a busy junction.    Unhappy we returned to the office.   No other spot was available we were told, but there was space in Madison campground (which we had left that morning).   We decided that would be a better option and set off on the almost fifty mile drive back to the campground we'd left that very day.    

Two good things came of our unnecessary 100 mile drive (we couldn't even think about the fuel prices).  The first was that we'd spent a week in the Park wondering why we only saw isolated Bull Buffalo.   We wondered where all the mothers and calves were hiding.   On our return trip to Madison we came across a good number enjoying a dirt wallow in the Hayden Valley.

Secondly we stopped to fish the Yellowstone River and Phil hooked a big trout on a big salmon fly, unfortunately the Cutthroat variety that had to be released but nevertheless, it was a whopper!

Yellowstone had plenty more sights yet to be seen but we decided we were ready to move on and head north.    The Park was stunningly beautiful and held many fascinating and amazing natural wonders but we were ready to find some quieter spots. 


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