Yellowstone and Grand Teton

Friday, 30 August 2013 15:30
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Mammoth Hot Springs No matter how many pictures I take, I will not be able to come close to what this place is like in person.

The drive from Helena down to Yellowstone was relatively uneventful. I stopped in Bozeman for lunch, and to grab a better Yellowstone map at the REI there. (Highlight of Bozeman: One of the Montana State University college girls waiting for the light at a corner yelling “Oh my god, what is that?!” as the Datsun went by. Total chick magnet, I’m telling you.) My plan was to camp for the evening, so I had to get wherever I was going by nightfall so I could set up. I had considered camping in the Gallatin National Forest outside of Yellowstone to avoid the crowds, but then I figured it’d be better to wake up inside the park so I’d have a full day of it, so I went in at the north entrance, through the Roosevelt Gate. I chatted with the ranger there, and he said that not all the sites were full, and to try Angel’s Creek, which was about 15 miles into the park. 

The park entrance; not actually the one I went in on
I drove into the park, and the scenery was impressive immediately. However, I hadn’t really done a lot of research on what to see and where to go prior to visiting, so I was unprepared to see Mammoth Hot Springs right after where the in-park hotels and post office (a holdover from the early days of the park, when early ‘entrepreneurs’ staked claims there to try to fleece tourists wanting to see the thermal features) were located. A bright white and orange hill with steaming cascades of water flowing down it was located just off the roadway…I had sort of expected to have to do a little more hiking or go to some effort to see what was in Yellowstone, and there was this amazing feature just sitting there, same as it has for hundreds of thousands of years. It was almost sunset, so I took some photos in the light, but also realized that if I was going to set up camp before it got dark, I had to get going. Reluctantly, I left the springs and headed for the campsite.

Mammoth Hot Springs at sunset Travertine deposits (white) and thermophiles (orange) The scalding water cascades from pool to pool

There were indeed spaces available, so I grabbed the most secluded one I could find, and settled in for the evening. Yellowstone is easily the most ‘industrialized’ version of the Park Service campsites I’d been in so far, which makes sense considering the vast numbers of people that visit the park. It was a smooth process to get in and get registered, but the sites were packed pretty closely together, so you could hear your neighbors snoring. However, the sunset was great, the air was clear and cool, and it was a beautiful evening. I took advantage of that by grabbing a few pictures of the stars before I went to bed. 

The Big Dipper, right in the middle The Milky Way through the trees Accidentally got a meteor in this one (right side)

I got up just before sunrise the next morning, as I was planning to go back to Mammoth and catch some of the morning light, and also do some more extensive hiking around the feature. Everything cooperated, and I got some nice photos, but mostly I just gawked at the pools and cascades and steam. It was really unbelievable…in fact, most of the early reports about Yellowstone from early explorers to the West were turned down by the newspapers and the magazines of the day, as they were deemed to just be fabrications and tall tales. Nobody believed there could be steaming waterfalls, boiling mud pits, columns of scalding water shooting hundreds of feet into the air, or places where you could “catch your fish in one part of the pool, and then cook it for dinner by swinging your pole over to another area.” (Jim Bridger)

Closeup of some deposits Top of the terraces This guy was just trotting down the road
More of the terraces at Mammoth East side of the terraces Closer view of the east side
AHH!! BILLY, NO!!! Top of the terraces, different spot Deposit closeup
Trees on top More of the top area Eastern down slope

I continued exploring, going to Roaring Mountain, the Norris Geyser Basin, Firehole Lake, and other features, each more amazing than the last. With my nostrils full of sulfur, I watched the water flash to steam and back to water again five feet under the surface of Firehole Spring for a good half hour, and then made a decision that sort of ran counter to my ‘adventuring’ plans thus far—I decided to leave the park without seeing any more of it.

Not your average forest caution sign Roaring Mountain Organisms of different colors living in different temperatures
Norris Geyser Basin More Norris Bubbling pools
Steamboat Geyser, giving a little squirt The path they hope you stay on Smaller geysers in Norris
Firehole Spring More Firehole Spring  

Maybe that was the wrong decision since I was right there already, and I don't want to disappoint any of my blog readers, but after seeing just a fraction of the things I could see from the roadside alone, I realized that Yellowstone really deserved its own trip, and probably a long one at that. I should be better provisioned, more mobile, have better maps and better research, and be prepared to spend more time there to even start to do it justice. Maybe it was years of Yogi Bear cartoons as a kid or something, but I was not prepared to see what there was to see there, and I felt like just doing a hit-‘n-run visit to a place like that was not going to leave me satisfied. I would rather come back prepared and ready and see the rest of the wonders of the park for the first time than treat it as just another summer tourist attraction. With that, I headed south toward Grand Teton National Park, with a promise to come back as soon as I could.

I had run into some rain showers previously, but as I approached The Tetons, the weather decided to get a little more serious with me. I had hoped to do some hiking there, but strong winds kicked up from the mountains and blew in a storm of driving wind and hail that had me taking shelter in the car for over an hour. I had also planned to camp there, but with the weather being what it was, I opted to push through past Jackson Hole to Idaho Falls and stay there under a roof for the night instead. I’ll add The Tetons to my Yellowstone return trip, since they’re neighbors.

Tetons from the north This got exciting a few minutes later
Obligatory Datsun shot #1 Obligatory Datsun shot #2
Jackson Hole, WY My drive-in burger joint

Next stop: Idaho Falls to Salt Lake City


#1 lectacave 2013-09-01 00:35
Spectacular photos. After seeing them I must go there as well!
#2 Mom 2013-09-01 09:13 one needs to leave this magnificent country of ours, when there is such beauty, and majesty in our own back yard !!
Thanks for taking me on a trip, I would not ever get to see...xo
#3 laceytrynn 2013-09-01 09:41
stunning pics... mom is right, our country really is an amazing place!
#4 Monkeygym 2013-09-01 10:23
Hey Scott! I'm glad that you ditched Yellowstone because the "Hit-and-run" just doesn't cut it there. Good judgement. Maybe you can do it on a motorcycle trip sometime???
Hope to see you in a couple weeks, you know, racing!

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