It will be no surprise if I say, that we were not the only ones visiting Yellowstone during the last week of August. On our sightseeing days, my brother Harry and his wife Jayne joined my sister Edna and I in my car because it was a four-door and easier for getting in and out. Yellowstone was so crowded that I asked my brother if he would drive. After living so long in Florence, I’m just not used to such crowded roads, stop-and-go driving, and especially, parking in tight places.
We did learn to get up and out and about early. That way there were less people and more wildlife.
On the way to Yellowstone
I enjoyed the Montana landscape and was getting used to cruising along at 80, the speed limit. Even at that speed, cars passed me!
We got to Gardiner, Montana’s nearest town to Yellowstone’s northern entrance, and found tucked off on a backstreet, an old-fashioned motel where we had reserved a two-bedroom apartment with laundry privileges. There was a kitchen, dining area, large living room with three hidden beds, two bedrooms, and a bathroom. We were within walking distance of a store, so bought groceries and fixed our own meals and even did some laundry. We loved the two nights we stayed there.
After we settled in, I spent some time bear-proofing my car. I found half a Hershey bar and part of a granola bar under the passenger seat. I took out the dried food I have in my survival kit in the trunk. And anything else that had had food next to it in the past few days or had some kind of smell. I took the warnings seriously, and I’m happy to report that no bears got into my car during the entire trip.
Trying to see Yellowstone
We got a leisurely start to Yellowstone the next morning. Big mistake; so did everyone else. We were all in my car and my Golden Age Passport card, that cost me about $15 almost 20 years ago, got us in for free. We ran into crowds wherever we went and some parking lots were full with cars parked along the road endlessly in more than one direction. We did get to see the black obsidian bluff and a mountain spouting more than one geyser. We went through a museum about the history of Yellowstone at the Albright Visitor Center. I think that ‘s where we saw a scale model of the entire park that was quite fascinating.
Then we hiked to the travertine terraces at Mammoth Hot Springs where limestone and water interact to create chalk-white travertine. There was at least one white mountain in the area with no trees growing in the travertine. Most unusual, but the unusual is the norm in Yellowstone.
Actually, I only walked part way and turned back because my left leg was becoming painful. It does that when I stress it. Down the road, I may need a second knee replacement. On the walk back, I chatted with folks from Texas and Maine. Throughout the park, there were license plates from all over.
We took a slow drive due to heavy traffic to the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River and saw the Lower Falls and had great views of the yellow stone of the lower canyon and the white sides of the canyon’s higher elevations. As we crept along in heavy traffic to and from the canyon, a buffalo was plodding along on the shoulder, just slightly slower than traffic. It did not interfere with traffic. On our return trip a couple hours later, we passed it again—a slow journey to somewhere. We did find a spot off the beaten path to have a picnic and enjoyed the peace and quiet as well as the food.
Earlier the better
The next day we got up early and saw lots of buffalo alone and in large groups as well as a couple of sightings of antelope. And we saw several elk in the road, including some near misses with cars as one young elk dashed across the road. We had no trouble finding parking spaces at this earlier hour. This day, we were in separate cars because later, we will head to the Tetons.
As we arrived at our first stop, Harry and Jayne were just leaving. They were ahead of us. We were at the Norris Geyser Basin, “the hottest, most dynamic geyser basin in the park” and walked along a boardwalk to Steamboat Geyser, the world’s tallest and one that erupts constantly. At least it did while we were watching. It was mesmerizing. We also saw a beautiful and unworldly green pool through the steam while walking along the boardwalk. And in nearly every direction small and large geysers were going off. It was a bit unsettling––especially, the sign that said stay on the boardwalk because geysers may pop up anywhere!
Back on the road we pulled over when we saw a buffalo coming down the road slowly. I got photos of it coming closer and closer until it walked right by the car. It was a real hoot to see in the rearview mirror, the buffalo leading the parade with about six cars driving very slowly behind it. This is one of my favorite memories of Yellowstone.
Throughout the park we saw signs of the eight major fires of 1988 that burned 36% of the total park. Trees have grown back, but with a much thinned out forest and many, many trunks of trees littering the ground. Eventually, they will become part of the soil.
On our trip south through the park, we took the route that followed along much of Yellowstone Lake. Yellowstone is a massive caldera, much of which has filled in with water––Yellowstone Lake. It just seemed to go on and on, providing many lovely views. It is the largest, high-elevation lake at just over 7,000 feet in North America.
We visited another visitor center near the southern entrance to Yellowstone that also was worth seeing. It covered some of the geology and wildlife that are part of Yellowstone as well as some beautiful artwork. We continued onward to the Tetons only a short ways down the road.
Tune in next week for our further adventures in the Grand Tetons of Wyoming.