The title isn’t an exaggeration or hyperbole. And the words and pictures that follow will never be able to do October 20, 2010 justice.
I’ll do my best to try though…
The drive from Billings, MT to the North Gate Entrance was pretty bland on the I-90 portion. But once I took US 89 South, everything opened up. You follow the Yellowstone River through this valley of sorts for an hour or more. It’s where the animals move up and down the river when migrating, but no luck in animal spottings for me. I made it to the North Gate, which has the famous arch, around 10:30 or 11 local time and gave it a go.
I cringed a little when I paid the $25 entrance fee, knowing I’ve got an Annual Parks Pass sitting at home for me. And even though I won’t be able to fully utilize my $25, it’s good for a week and to both Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks. I got my National Parks Passport stamped at the visitors center, grabbed a map, and did my thing. My cell phone lost signal right when I got in the gates. I missed texting and sending pictures of what I was seeing, but I think it did me a lot of good to just let go for a day and find myself. And the day was absolutely perfect for that – high 50s, low 60s throughout the day and not a cloud in the sky.
First stop were the Mammoth Hot Springs. I was in awe since I’d never seen anything like it. It’s really cool looking because of the steam. You’d think it were regular water and just freezing cold outside looking at the pictures, but the water is just that hot. Signs everywhere saying not to touch it or you’ll get scalded and burned. The sulfur smell (I can’t count how many times I overheard “…rotten eggs…” commented on during the day) was pretty powerful, but you got used to it as the day wore on.
Next few stops were more geothermal spots. There was this place called Roaring Mountain, which got its name from all of the hot spots on it and the sound they make. It really does sound like a low hiss or roaring all the time. After that, I had to stop myself from stopping anytime I saw a huge billow of steam coming up from the ground. There really is too much to see in this park in a week, much less one day. But before I quit stopping, I saw a few more spots. It’s really crazy to see water boiling… bubbles, noise, everything… just on the side of the road in the ground. I also saw my first buffalo, albeit a million miles away, it seemed. I was a bit bummed since I wanted to see some other animals like the bear, wolf, or elk. But buffalo was all I got on the day.
Next stop was the Firehole Falls on the Firehole River. I’ve got a friend that picks on me about my quasi-obsession with zoos and how my days are instantly better when animals are involved. But if there’s a second thing I like seeing that will make my day better, it’s definitely waterfalls. I actually made myself super late leaving the park because I had to see two, but more on that later.
And buffalo galore!
Then I hit the geyser basins. The first was Excelsior Geyser, which isn’t much of a geyser anymore, just a hot springs. But it was impressive. And very, very eerie to be standing right over it and have the wind blow the steam past you. You’re engulfed in a warm fog, then hit with a blast of cold air when the breeze rushes through. And of course I had to hit Old Faithful. I had to wait about 45 minutes to see it (I almost left because I wanted to see my two waterfalls before sunset), but glad I waited. It was disappointing though, to be honest. Everyone has this image of what it’ll be like since that’s their main idea of Yellowstone. And it was very touristy with two lodges on either side, a huge brand new visitors center, and bench seating around the whole thing like it was a stadium. It’s worth it to see once, but it’s no where near the most impressive thing the park has to offer.
And finally, my waterfalls – The Upper and Lower Falls in the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. I haven’t been to the “real” Grand Canyon (yet) so I don’t have anything to compare to, but Yellowstone’s canyon was breathtaking. I also saw it at sundown which made it stunning. The Upper Falls are 109 feet. I saw it from the brink (I had to fight the urge to go no where near the edge…I’m not a fan of looking straight down from heights) and then later off in the distance.
Then the Lower Falls. They’re 308 feet tall and an average of 37,417 gallons flow over the edge every second. That’s ridiculous. And amazing. Just very intense.
And then the shots of the canyon were amazing. These pictures won’t do it justice. It didn’t look real. It looked like a painting. The pictures didn’t pick up the detail from the rocks or just the view altogether. Such an amazing scene.
And some amazing shots of two buffalo herds camped out under the moon as I was leaving. After I saw these guys, two other cars and myself got stuck inching our way through a herd of about 30 on the road. They were blocking the entire road at first, then slowly started moving down the other lane. It was too dark to get pictures, otherwise, I’d have proof. It was hilarious though, as I rolled down my window (they were maybe 5 feet away?) to see if I could get some pictures and they were snorting and growling at us for being in their way. Unforgettable experience!
And last but not least, this was looking back over Yellowstone Lake. This picture sums up the entire day. It’s amazing and quite possibly my favorite (and best?) picture I think I’ve ever taken. Just incredible. I’m not resizing it so that it can speak for itself.
Like the title says, something just changed yesterday. Such an amazing day and place to be. Yellowstone is a park everyone in this country should be required to go to just so that they can appreciate what kind of amazing place they live in. As the arch informs on the way in… “For the Benefit and Enjoyment of the People.” And this is one kid who will never forget the benefit Yellowstone gave to me.