Ten years ago when I was here on a Backroads trip we spent some time in Yellowstone. It's a neat park, but it wasn't my favorite because it was very hot - very little shade, and all the geothermal features were smelly (because of the sulfur!). About 6 years ago Mom and Dad were here did explored every corner and had no real need to go back. At first we we weren't even planning to go up there. But, we decided to go up as a day trip. It's kind of a "must visit" place.
We headed out early this morning, we are about 20 miles from the south entrance. The cars were already lined up to get in the entrance station.
One this about Yellowstone, it's huge. And the terrian is varied, however the first 40 miles from the entrance station to Old Faithful was mostly lodge pole pine forest, which is very boring.
The Old Faithful Area was crazy. So many people. The parking lot was enormous. And full. Took us looking at several maps before we could figure out where the visitor center was to get our passports stamped. We had about 45 minutes until Old Faithful was scheduled to erupt again so we walked around the Lower Geyser Basin and checked out a number of pools and geysers. They were very cool, and less stinky than I remember! We looped back around just in time for Old Faithful!
After that we headed to a picnic area for lunch and then to Grand Prismatic Pool, one of the most photographed spots in the state! At Grand Prismatic the parking lot was fun, there were cars parked all along the road (which you aren't supposed to do). Mom decided she'd already seen it and she didn't need to go back so we left her with the car and headed in. The park service has built boardwalks to all the geothermal features and you have to stay on the boardwalk. This made for some very crowded walking. And when someone wanted to take a picture of their family and friends they'd take up the whole boardwalk. We did the "speed" version - walking as fast as we could and taking pictures, but not lingering. The pool was pretty cool and so colorful!
The next stop was the canyon area. We drove up from Grand Prismatic to Norris and then headed east to Canyon. This was about 40 miles and incredibly boring. Lodge pole pine might be worse than corn.
The canyon area also had a huge development. Giant visitor center, several stores, a big cafeteria, and another enormous, full parking lot. I don't think there's any other Nationak Park with as much development as in Yellowstone. We visited that visitor center to get out passports stamped then went out to drive the canyon rim.
We first wanted to do the North Rim drive, but it was clogged with people so we went to the south rim. The only place to stop on the south rim drive is Artist's Point, which has a view of the lower falls and the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. It was a neat place, but it was super crowded!
We could see the north rim drive had cars moving on it, so we tried again. This time it wasn't clogged so we drove down it. One of the first stops was a trail to the "brink of lower falls". Dad and I hike down there. It went all the way down into the canyon almost to the water level. Of course we then had to climb back up.
We made one more stop at Grand View - there's a grand view in every park! Then got back to Canyon Village a little before 5. We now had to high tail it back to Colter Bay because Dad needed to run his generator and generator hours only went until 8.
We hadn't been on the road five minutes when we came to a huge traffic jam. We were barely moving and the line of traffic went on as far as we could see. Dad even got out his binoculars at a point where we could see ahead. Just stopped traffic as far as you could see. It reminded me of home! LOL! Finally, after almost 40 minutes, the reason for the traffic was visible: bison. A huge herd of bison on both sides of the road, and even in the road. A classic Yellowstone Bison Jam. Very similar to I-95.
As we were getting closer to the bison I wanted to get some pictures, but you aren't allowed to get out of your car and Dad wasn't stopping for anything. So, I opened the sunroof and kneeled on my seat with my head and camera out the roof. Keep in mind we were going maybe 5 mph. It was then that a ranger passed us and used his loudspeaker to tell me to sit down and fasten my seatbelt. Busted. Not sure why he wasn't busting the people who were out of their vehicles. I was still in the car and not really doing anything super stupid.
The part of Yellowstone between Canyon and Lake and then between Lake And West Thumb is really pretty. The Yellowstone River runs through it and there are huge green meadows, with bison! Then the Lake is huge and really pretty! We didn't stop at all after the bison jam because we'd already lost enough time! But, it was the best scenery to drive through of the whole day.
We got back to Colter Bay at 7:15 to run generators, Dad did bend the rules a bit and ran his a bit past 8, and had dinner!
It was a long day with lots of driving and lots of sun, but we saw a bunch of cool stuff and I appreciate Yellowstone a bit more. Driving through and exploring on our own gave me a better sense of the park and what was where than I'd gotten from being on the Backroads trip. I might even like to come back sometime, maybe when there are fewer people there!