Yellowstone. It’s been America’s granddaddy National since March 1, 1872, and it's one that takes me back to my childhood. Grizzlies, geysers, gushers, oh my! After two days of traveling from British Columbia, we’re here. And we’re blown away (no pun intended) by the magnitude of this recreation playground. The encompassing 2.2 million acres (comparable in size to Metro Vancouver) is primarily comprised of forested, volcanic plateaus that have been eroded by glaciations and steam flow over the millennia. It’s home to over 10,000 thermal features, 300 geysers, 290 waterfalls, 285 types of birds and 67 mammal species, including bears!
These furry fellows are the first attraction we see after driving though the park’s West Entrance. A crowd of lookie-loos are vying for a photo opp as two roly-poly cubs lumber across the road. Mom isn’t far behind. People come in droves each year to experience all the ‘wows’ at Yellowstone, and we’re just as eager as the next one in line.
The park is divided into five sections, each that offers lodging, dining and shops. There are a total of twelve campgrounds; seven first come, first serve and five that permit reservations (up to a year in advance). If you haven’t pre-booked, ‘early bird gets the worm’ is a good motto to follow.
At the junction of the Grand Loop and Mammoth Hot Springs Drive, we pull into Norris, hosting a hundred or so sites within its forest of Lodge pole pine. And before we even have time to set up, Mother Nature is putting on a show.
Billowy grasslands, scored by the adjacent Gibbon River, sprawl out beyond our fire pit. Hawks swoop above the golden maze, water-foul waddle along the shorelines, and the biggest, hairiest bison I’ve ever seen (not that I can recall seeing any!) grazes peacefully in the distance. At the turn of the twentieth century, these buffalo-like creatures were nearly extinct. We've read that they’re a dime a dozen at Yellowstone. In fact it's the only place in the lower 48 states where there have been continuously free-ranging bison since the prehistoric times. Because of their sheer physical size, the population of these beasts increase each year in Yellowstone. They can weigh over 2,000 lbs and travel faster than 30 mph.
“Did you know that these brutes cause more human injuries than all other wildlife combined in park?” I say to Brent, as we pass a herd while driving to Mammoth Hot Springs the next day. “If we don’t bug them, they won’t gore us,” he reassures. It’s true. Although tourists are anxious to get close to the wildlife, this safari-like setting provides ample pull-outs, so they can snap and shoot from the safety of their vehicle. Over the next six hours, we skirt massive mountains, bisect golden plains, slice through charred and new growth timber, and cross amazing passes. As well as steamy geysers at Norris Basin, we check out the million-plus year-old Sheepeater Cliff Columns, magnificent basalt formations that look like massive granite fence posts, a 50 million year-old petrified tree and the lava-gouged Calcite Canyon and the centrally-located Mammoth Hot Springs where spewing calcium and travertine have shaped and beautified the terraces of soft stone.
From the boardwalk that trails down to the village centre, we have a perfect view of this beautiful spectacle, even though it does smell like rotten eggs. During the last three days at Yellowstone, we move twice, first to Bridge Bay
located thirty miles from the park's East Entrance, where we're privy to spectacular views of the lake and an Absaroka Range backdrop. And then to Grant Village, at the south end of Yellowstone Lake, where we’re cocooned in a grove of pine. From each outdoor haven, we’re able to take in more of the mother lode that this recreation king has to offer; the wildlife in Hayden Valley, a few of the 1,100 miles (1770 km) of hiking trails, and the countless hydrothermal features that ooze from the earth’s crust.
A visit to Yellowstone wouldn’t be complete without seeing the main attraction. Discovered in 1870 by the Washbum Expedition, this famous geyser was named for its frequent eruptions and has spewed well over a million times since the park first opened. And just like clockwork, as we wait with cameras focused, it doesn’t let us down. Old Faithful lives up to its name and erupts again.
IF YOU GO:
Yellowstone National Park - http://www.yellowstonenationalpark.com/
PHOTOS: by Brent and Jane Cassie
#1 Norris Campground
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