I’m still trying to figure out why exactly it took me nearly three decades to make it to Yellowstone. Without a doubt, it has been one the highlights of the trip, which speaks volumes given how much countryside we’ve seen and ground we’ve covered.
After our epic adventure simply reaching the park, we allowed ourselves the liberty of sleeping in the first morning and didn’t get up and moving until almost noon. (Hey, we are on vacation after all…sort of.) Since we were going to be switching campgrounds for the last two night to Fishing Bridge, located along the southern route, our first day consisted of covering the northern loop.
One of the roadblocks I ran into in planning our time in Yellowstone was that no blog or travel guide detailed how much time one needs to do the park justice. It is a massive piece of land, after all; we didn’t want to be those people who showed up, sped through the terrain in two days, then left. So we gave ourselves five days, four nights in Yellowstone, then another three nights just an hour down the road in Grand Teton. While I’m sure you could stretch this out and spend a whole week (or more) in Yellowstone, this was the perfect amount of time for us.
On the first day, we headed due west from Canyon, stopping first near Norris—a hotbed (literally) of geothermal activity.
Due to all the rain and flooding the area had experienced in the previous weeks, the land was waterlogged. Good thing I packed those galoshes! SVV, Ella and I had no qualms with “off-roading” it a bit and trekking out through the muck to see what we could find.
Heavy rainfall also meant the waterfalls were really gushing, but alas, we didn’t get to see many of them.
We went all the way out to Tower Falls to find you could hike down to the river bed but not actually to the base of the falls due to a landslide the rain created.
We also saw a lot of evidence of past fires, which is a bit heartbreaking seeing how long the trees take to recover. (The saddest one we saw was the product of some stupid tourist and his stupid cigarette butt.) Just remember, kids, only you can prevent forest fires!
If I had to do it all over again, I’d still go back to Yellowstone at the same time: early June. The crowds don’t really start arriving until mid-month, and there were so few people in the park, we could really drive the roads at leisure and pull over onto the shoulder on a whim if we saw something we wanted to explore further in depth. Word on the street is that in July, you don’t have that luxury and the traffic is bumper to bumper.
We did this often, particularly where wildlife was concerned, like when we ran into this deer (who strangely resembled a llama) and her posse lounging under a shady grove.
Or this amazing elk, who wandered up just 15 feet away from where I was standing! I was awestruck by his beauty.
And simultaneously intimidated by his horns. Nice rack!
One fun thing to do near the north gate at Gardiner is to stop over at the 45 degree parallel, which is exactly halfway between the Equator and the North Pole.
There’s a parking lot on the east side of the highway and a trail where you can hike out a half mile to some boiling hot springs and take a dip. We did the hike, but encountered a sign that said “no swimming in the hot springs.” This was due to the swollen rivers and the fact that we might get swept away if we tried to take a dip, so we did as the sign advised!
But all was not lost: Eagle Eyes SVV spotted a couple tiny dots that nearly blended in with the horizon line. We busted out the binoculars to find that they were mountain goats. We stopped and watched them for awhile, and eventually a pair came down the hill and decided to cross the street. (Here’s where I wish I were a jokester and had an appropriate “why did the mountain goat cross the street?” line to throw in right here. Alas, humor was never my strong point.)
As we were tired and weary and heading back to Canyon Village—it was dinnertime by this point—we stopped off at Mammoth for a glimpse at the hot springs and more thermal activity.
All in all, not a bad first day.
Week 3 Overview: May 29-June 4
Distance Driven: 853.6 miles
Total Trip Distance: 2931.8 miles
States Visited: South Dakota, North Dakota, Montana, Wyoming
Gas Used: 81.8 gallons, $322.08
Cheapest Gas: $3.65/gallon; Billings, Montana
Most Expensive Gas: $3.79/gallon; Miles City, Montana
Best Gas Mileage: 10.7 miles/gallon
Worst Gas Mileage: 8.1 miles/gallon
Lodging/Campground Fees: $210
Bison Burgers Eaten: 1
Break-Downs on the Side of the Road: 1
Snakes Spotted: 2