Today, we explored Yellowstone National Park. We visited Mammoth Hot Springs, the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, Artist’s Paintpots, Norris Geyser Basin, and Gibbon Falls.
Yellowstone National Park
I promised some fun facts in a prior post, so I’ll make good on that now:
- 2,221,766 acres // 3,472 sq mi (larger than Rhode Island and Delaware combined)
- 10mi north of Grand Teton National Park, connected by the John D. Rockefeller Jr. Memorial Parkway
- Named after the “Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone”
- From 1886 to 1916, the US Army oversaw management of the park
- 1,000+mi of hiking trails
- Lowest elevation: 5,282′ (Reese Creek)
- Highest elevation: 11,358′ (Eagle Peak)
- Average elevation: 7,733′
- 96% in WY, 3% in MT, 1% in Idaho
- 5% water, 15% grassland, 80% forests
- Yellowstone Lake is 131.7 sq mi, with 141 mi of shoreline
- 1,000-3,000 earthquakes annually
- 10,000+ hydrothermal features
- 500+ active geysers
- 290+ waterfalls
- 67 species of mammals, 285 of birds, 16 of fish, 5 of amphibians, 6 of reptiles
- 9 species of conifers, 1,000+ of flowering, 186 species of lichens, and 225 invasive plant species
- World’s first national park – established March 1, 1872
- The park sits on top of an active supervolcano
- About half the world’s hydrothermal features and half the world’s geysers are found in Yellowstone
- Home to the largest concentration of mammal species in the lower 48 states
- Wolves were absent from the park for 70+ years, and were successfully reintroduced starting in 1995
Once again, we got a fairly early start (around sunrise), and after consuming some breakfast in the car, we once again climbed the road back to Mammoth.
Mammoth Hot Springs
First thing, we headed to Upper Terraces of Mammoth Hot Springs. Dad was not able to find the drops he needed last night at the grocery store, so after we drove the upper loop and made a few stops, they let Faith and me out, and headed back to a pharmacy in Gardiner.
The lower end of the hot springs has no driving loop, so Faith and I walked the boardwalks down to the bottom, where they picked us up an hour or so later.
While Mom and Dad were coming back up the mountain towards Mammoth, they saw quite the ironic site with a road sign and some elk.
Silver Gate // Golden GAte
From Mammoth, the Grand Loop Road steeply ascends through the Silver Gate (Boulder Field), and then the Golden Gate and Rustic Falls. It’s easy to see how these areas got their names. The “Silver Gate” boulder field is formed by a rock slide, while the Golden Gate Canyon was formed when a river carved through the yellow rock.
Continuing south, we passed Sheepeater Cliffs (big rocks; decided it wasn’t worth a stop), Roaring Mountain (been there, done that), and Norris Geyser Basin (we’ll get there eventually). Veering left/east on the Norris-Canyon road, we continued on to our next destination.
Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone
I’ve been surprised at the number of people who’ve never heard of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, considering it is the namesake of the park. The canyon, containing the Yellowstone River, ranges between 800-1200′ deep and 0.25-0.75mi wide. No matter what angle one views it from, it’s magnificent. However, if you only have time for one stop, I’d recommend Artist Point.
Starting our canyon exploration via the North Rim Drive, our first stop was Lookout Point.
From there, Faith and I hiked down to Lower Lookout Point. It’s a moderately steep climb, but doable for most people with a sense of determination and a water bottle or two. Like with the Tetons, the views were unique from every perspective, and we enjoyed them all.
Next, we headed farther downstream from the falls to Grand View and Inspiration Point, eventually circling back to the car and heading to the South Rim Drive.
Our first stop on the South Rim Drive was Upper Falls View, which, almost unbelievably, has a view of Upper Falls. If you look closely on the right side of the falls, you can see people at the Brink of the Upper Falls viewpoint, where we stopped on our first night in Yellowstone.
Artist Point was our only stop on the south rim of the canyon with a view of Lower Falls. As I mentioned before, I think this is the best viewpoint because it allows you to see the canyon, river, and falls simultaneously. Unfortunately, we had to skip the South Rim Trail and Uncle Tom’s Trail because they were closed due to bear activity.
LUnch // Canyon Village
Since we didn’t have much breakfast, we opted to stop for an early lunch around 11:00 in Canyon Village, the services hub for the Grand Canyon area. There’s a grocery store, multiple gift shops, outdoor outfitters, cafeteria, visitor education center, and even some cell service! For being so remote, it’s a surprisingly well-equipped place.
For lunch, Mom got a pulled pork sandwich, Faith got an elk-pepper jack dog, and Dad and I split an elk-pepper jack dog and a bison dog. Everything was excellent, especially the elk dogs. We browsed the gift shops for a while, grabbed some dark chocolate huckleberry bon-bons for dessert, and headed out.
It would’ve made sense for our next stop to be Norris Geyser Basin. Unfortunately, there was a medical emergency in that area (we later heard a couple people got overheated), and they closed down the road temporarily. Instead, we drove just south to the Artist’s Paintpots. Faith and I walked around the boardwalks, while Mom and Dad rested in the car.
Norris Geyser Basin
Finishing up at the Paintpots, we drove back to Norris to see if the basin road was open. Luckily, it was. Norris is a very fascinating area, with lots of vibrant, and violent, features. We had to hurry around the boardwalks because some ominous-looking storm clouds were rolling in.
Located at Norris, Steamboat Geyser is the world’s tallest active geyser, but unfortunately, it’s not predictable. When it does erupt, it sends water shooting 300 feet into the air. In the pictures below, you can see where the minerals and toxins from its eruptions have destroyed the trees for hundreds of yards in its path. While we were there, it was erupting in bursts around 20 feet tall.
Dinner // Island Park
Leaving Yellowstone, we headed east and south towards the small town of Island Park, ID to find our cabin. A quick pit stop at a West Yellowstone grocery store let us replenish some of our supplies. Before we found our cabin, we had to find dinner. We’d originally planned to eat at a place called Last Chance Bar & Grill at TroutHunter, but when we arrived, there was a 4+ hour wait. The host recommended we try another place nearby, so we drove back up the main highway, drove several miles down a dirt road, and ended up at a place called Lakeside Lodge.
The food was pretty good, but like most restaurants near the park, it was overpriced. Faith got the Trash Can Nachos (a tower of chips served in an aluminum mold), Mom got Double Ranch Chicken Breast Gratin with whipped potatoes and vegetables, Dad got a ribeye with baked potato and vegetables, and I got a Black & Blue NY Steak Salad with a balsamic vinaigrette. We also got some onion rings to share. Everything tasted fine, but it was a 2-star meal at a 4-star price point. The view of the lake, at least, was outstanding. Next time I’ll know to make reservations for this area.
After dinner, we checked in to our cabin. I believe it’s the first time time I’ve ever checked into lodging at a gas station. It was a very nice gas station, and Faith and I picked up a pint of Idaho-made maple nut ice cream to split for dessert.
The ice cream was incredibly good (or maybe it was just in contrast with our average dinner), and our cabin was very nice as well. I was pleasantly surprised, especially considering it was one of our cheaper stays. I guess that’s what you get when you stay a long way from the middle of nowhere. You also get some complimentary welcome gifts, apparently. We got some pancake mix, huckleberry syrup, huckleberry hard candy, and an “Idaho Spud” candy bar. We decided to save the candy bar for later so we’d enjoy the ice cream.
The Best Things We Saw Today
The best thing I saw today was… “the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone”.
The best thing I ate today was… “the elk-pepper jack dog at lunch and the maple nut ice cream”.
The best thing I saw today was… “Mammoth Hot Springs”.
The best thing I ate today was… “my nachos at dinner”.
The best thing I saw today was… “the elk at the ‘Congested Area’ sign”.
The best thing I ate today was… “my ribeye at dinner”.
The best thing I saw today was… “the Lower Falls at the Grand Canyon”.
The best thing I ate today was… “the picnic at Canyon Village, but mainly because of the ambiance”.
I did something new and started compiling some videos from each day. It’s not amazing quality (just from everyone’s phones), but I hope it helps bring the landscapes to life!
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– Isaac, Faith, Jerry, and Amy