Yellowstone National Park is one of the few active volcano systems on earth. In fact isn’t just a volcano, it is a super-volcano capable of the most massive eruptions known to man. The last such eruption wiped out a chunk of North America about 170,000 years ago and while geologists predict the next one is at least 10,000 years away, whats 10,000 years in the Earth’s timescale! So I had been hankering to get to see the park before it exploded again.
The park is an earth lover’s delight. Despite having seen the beauty of South America with its awe-inspiring scale, Yellowstone turned out to be unique and amazing. The landscape is gorgeous with multi-coloured rocks, hydrothermal bodies, lodgepole pine trees and their very own big five of the wild life.
We spent 5 days in the park, divided between the south – heart of the geo thermal wonders: hot springs, geysers and the like, and the north which is good to spot some wildlife. Since were were three families with five kids between 1yo and 9yo, we splurged on the stay with 2 nights at the Old Faithful Snow Lodge in the South and the Grand Canyon Lodge in the North. Accommodation within the park closes almost 6-8 months in advance, so book early.
South Yellowstone: stunning landscapes and geysers
The Old Faithful Lodge is a short walk away from the namesake geyser, which is called so because it will explode every 45 mins, give or take 10. The next eruption time is put up near the visitor complex and we headed straight there after checking in. The Old Faithful is amazing to watch, starting off as a small bubbling fountain and rising to the sky. Staying close by offered us the chance to watch the eruption multiple times and at different times of the day. Being on the side of the sun at sunrise and sunset offers a nice rainbow view on the opposite side. There is a boardwalk that takes one to watch a number of other smaller geysers in the area and is worth a visit, though little ones have to be constantly monitored not to end up in hot water.
The other big attraction in the region is The Grand Prismatic, a short drive away from the Old Faithful. While ariel views of the basin are breath-taking, even a walk on the walkway around is beautiful. The boardwalk is pram friendly, but if your toddler is anything like mine, one who wants to run around at freewill, he will need constant monitoring. The ground off the boardwalk may look solid, but is merely a thin crust at a lot of places, plus the water rivulets are boiling hot. It gets quite windy, so best to take off hats, stoles etc that might fly away. We saw many a wise men who had chosen not to pick up their hats that had flown off.
It’s top view looks like a colourful eye and is worth a hike up the close by hill. The park intends to open a proper viewing point by August 2017, but in June, Mohit had to hike up a narrow and steep trail. The best time to get there is between 11am and 2pm when the sun is high up and all the colours are at their brilliant most.
There are a lot of artist references in the naming of the attractions and for good reason, the landscape is unpredictably gorgeous and colourful. From the Artist’s Paint Pots to Yellowstone River to Mammoth Hot-springs.
We ended our Day 3 with driving down to the Yellowstone Lake for a fabulous view a quiet dinner.
North Yellowstone: the wildlife
We moved to Canyon Lodge on the next day and from here on it was all about driving around to spot the wildlife. The Yellowstone big 5 comprise – the bison, bear, elk, bighorn sheep and wolves. Like any wildlife, they are best spotted in the early morning and evening hours.
We first drove out to the magnificent view of the Tower Falls, followed by some ice-cream and then drove around with a picnic lunch in search for the bears.
The trick here is to keep driving around with your eyes peeled till you find a bear or a bear jam. Yes, the long line of cars which have stopped on the side of the road because they spotted a bear. Sara was clearly better at spotting the animals than we were. We saw 2 bears, a coyote crossing the road, big-horn sheep from a long distance and an eagle nest.
The elk and the eagle’s nest
Alas, no wolves though we did drive out to Lamar valley where one has the highest probability of spotting one. Elks and bison were far more easily spotted grazing around.
There were very many great nooks for a nice picnic lunch and we stopped by a stream to enjoy the view.
The landscape changes so dramatically between the north and the south of the park. Thick pine forests and snow cover most of the north. The region sees its fair share of forest fires and one can spot the burnt pine needles from a distance. But seeing the new shoots right among the burnt trees made me feel the power of the earth, its resilience – it will survive, we wont.
Normally I’m amazed by the vastness of the universe, this was one of the places I was moved by the power, beauty and resilience of the earth.
Things to keep in mind while in the Yellowstone National Park
Animals and safety: While driving around to spot the animals is a great idea, the par does advise one to stay 100 yards away from the big animals like bears and wolves and 25 yards way from all others including bison and elk. Keep children under safe watch
Preparing for the weather: though temperatures seem fine in the shade, the sun can get really warm in summers and sunscreen is a must. Keep an extra layer of clothing – like a light jacket and tights in the bag for the evenings which get quite chilly.
Food: we found the food option in the par very limiting. There was either the the visitor complex and its fast food area with the same burger type options everywhere or the sit down diner places where one had to wait 45 mins in line before being able to order. The other choice was cold sandwiches and salads from the souvenir shop. We did pick up fresh fruit everyday. Warm milk was another challenge, cold milk was available everywhere, but no heating mechanism was available outside or even in our rooms.