Adventures: Yellowstone

Gallatin Canyon

Friday, October 3, 2014

Once we (my best friend, her mom, my mother, and myself) arrived in Bozeman, Montana, on our short flight from Phoenix with Allegiant Airlines, all we cared about was obtaining our rental car and finding food.

We interrogated the lady at the Information Desk, who pointed us to several places. 3 Bar BBQ stood out, sounding like a place we could fuel up, anatomically speaking.

Load up we did, but we needed dessert too, so we drove into town to find a candy store/ice cream parlor. Mom and I decided on the dark chocolate huckleberry truffle, which did not disappoint.

Then began our hour and a half journey south on HWY 191 through Gallatin Canyon, through rolling hills, through outstretched farmlands, following the Gallatin River, until we reached West Yellowstone, Montana.

Our Home For the Weekend was the Holiday Inn off Yellowstone Ave, which is well-guarded by a beautiful and ornately painted blue buffalo.

We think he liked us, but it’s hard to be sure.

Neither of us had slept more than 3 hours the night before, but I still like to think I’m young and able, so while Emily and I scouted the old-fashioned town in search of a warm beverage, our mothers rested in the hotel room.

We made pit-stops in all the shops and gawked at all the “summer” clearance items. Finally, we happened upon The Book Peddler, a cutesy, crowded, and well-displayed bookstore boasting of antiques and most importantly, a cafe in the back.

I ordered the hot apple cider while she settled for hot chocolate. This is the type of sanctuary I could have gotten purposely lost in for hours, but knowing we didn’t have hours to waste, we reluctantly moved on to the rest of town.

We mentally marked a few places that seemed worthwhile for dinner, then decided to purchase tickets for the IMAX where we could kick up our feet.

Naturally, the show covered the little-known history, exploration, and geological facts of Yellowstone. If nothing else it prepared us for a better understanding of what we planned to see in the coming days.

We ate at Buckaroo Bill’s that evening; the moms had taco salads while Em and I split a bison burger and a heap of fries. The day was made.

Saturday, October 4, 2014:

We awoke refreshed, bundled ourselves up and picked up a hearty breakfast to-go from The Branch restaurant inside the hotel. Prices were good and their portions were even better, so they have my thumbs up!

Next was our wait in a long line of vehicles to get in the park, but we filled the time wisely taking our tourist-must shots.

Firehole Canyon

From the west entrance it is about 30 minutes to Old Faithful, and there really are some wonderfully wild sights along the way.

Firehole Canyon is a pertinent detour, especially if you’re like me and you just can’t get enough of waterfalls or the roar of rapids.

After that, we caught our first glimpses of geysers and watched the steam puffing out of the earth like clean chimney smoke.

Fountain Paint Pots

We stopped to check out some pools and what I like to call “mud-bubble pits” that reminded me of The Land Before Time (if you never watched it as a child, you haven’t lived).

Once back on the road, we came upon a bit of a roadblock. Mr. Buffalo decided he had to cross the pavement but was bent on glaring and staring each car down as they rolled by him on the left.

Or maybe he was feeling exceptionally photogenic that day and just wanted to strut his stuff–who knows.

Yes, that is our car window.

There was one more area of large hot springs before the main event, and I can’t think what the name of the place was now.

You can’t miss it though.

Since I was the one with the camera, always in search of the most picturesque scene, I ran up the ramp quickly, not wanting to waste more time, passing foreign tourists with GoPros, to scope out the angles while the others waited.

The range of colors found here was breathtaking and diverse, all caused by who-knows-how-many-millions of minerals.

The blue of the Sapphire Pool was so rich that it appeared to be chlorinated, while the wet, dense grounds surrounding it resembled orange ocean coral.

My running back to the car, however, proved useless, as this time a whole herd of buffalo decided to boycott vehicular travel.

Eventually, what with all the fools standing amidst the beasts, they did let us pass and seemed to have found better grass on the other side, after all.

We arrived at the Old Faithful Geyser parking lot sometime in the early afternoon and were told by another visitor that in about an hour it would blow again.

Apparently, the length of time between eruptions all depends on the endurance and intensity of the last eruption that occurred.

For instance, if the last one was a monster, it would take quite some time to build up enough pressure to start spewing once more.

Rainbow in Old Faithful’s mist

When at last the boiling water began to spit, we could both hear and feel the angry rumble of the volcano beneath us, forcing the hot liquid, like a rocket’s blast, higher and higher.

The heat clashed with the brisk air and formed an almost opaque wall of mist, which then created the perfect chemistry for refraction. The rainbow glistened brightly, and we were among the first to witness it before the audible “oohs” and “ahs” began.

In all, the full show probably lasted 2 minutes. My mom, Em, and I figured we’d walk and take a gander at all the other geysers and formations while enjoying the cool air and warm sunshine.

Mini volcanoes and caldrons

Geysers apparently come in all shapes and sizes.

Some constantly bubble and steam quietly while others are loud, deep-whistling pits.

Some areas are mounds of molten minerals and others are flat, vast, and vivacious with color.

We gazed at literally fifty or so geysers and pools surrounding Old Faithful. After about an hour or more we saw another gusher from the giant, at a little different angle this time.

Old Faithful

I doubt there is anything as unique and diverse as this place.

I kept having to remind myself that we were treading upon a massive volcano; it definitely made everything more exciting.

After viewing all the fascinating scientific jargon and displays in the visitor center, we moved back up the road toward Midway Basin.

This was probably the only place I had wished the air wasn’t so cold. Steam clustered so thick above the Grand Prismatic Pool and Excelsior Geyser (click to read a little about these formations) which made capturing a worthwhile picture of them quite a task.

Instead, we took advantage of the majestic mist and opted for some creative and dreamy silhouette shots.

My eyes have never beheld such natural vibrancy in the great outdoors.

God knew what He was doing.

He didn’t need our help to make things “better” or more beautiful.

The wilderness of Yellowstone is oozing with originality; it is a living, active proof that nature does not require our interference.

I was awestruck, really, feeling so tiny and insignificant among such powerful, enduring forces.

Grand Prismatic Spring, Yellowstone National Park

Trying to squeeze every last bit of sun-drops from the waning daylight, we drove leisurely back north and a little east to soak in the scenery. I was bent on a solid sunset picture, since we had been granted a mostly clear sky all day.

The highway led us to an overlook at Gibbon Falls, flowing in a canyon about 1,000 feet below us.

Gibbon Falls

We continued a little further where we encountered a stretch of open land on either side of us, magically glowing golden.

I don’t think it’s a mystery that dusk and early evening hours are my favorite time of day to be alive and outside.

Everything just looks so much prettier when the sun softens every hue and leaves a touch of sparkle behind as a reminder to return in the morning.

I sat on the edge of the road and field with Emily, bracing against the unfamiliar cold wind but enjoying the peaceful meadow that is only disturbed by the occasional buffalo.

Lyrics from the timeless folk song “Home On the Range” came to mind every time I even thought the word buffalo.

Satisfied, we started back toward town.

On the way, however, we noticed a large gathering of cars on our left at one point.

Just so you know, if there are brake lights and a crowd, there is usually good reason for you to stop and get out too.

Bull elk all by his lonesome and in the limelight

Photographers clad in camouflage peered through long lenses on tripods as a mass of onlookers gazed behind them: A bull elk calmly and solemnly grazed alone out in the open.

We kept our distance, even if he didn’t seem to mind us much.

I have closer pictures of him than this, but I’m kind of in love with the cliffs in the background more than anything.

Yellowstone Sunset

Another several miles down the road and only about 10-15 minutes until the park exit, and we found ourselves the perfect pullout for a gawk at the sunset.

I hardly had to do any editing or filtering to these pictures.

Just point and shoot–nature itself did the rest.

Once back at the hotel, Emily and I scurried down to The Branch again to grab some hot chocolate, fries, and an ooey-gooey peach cobbler that stuck to our insides delightfully.

Vacation is never quite right without treating yourself to edible delicacies as well as the visual ones.

Sunday, October 5, 2014:

Since this was our last full day to spend in the park, we made sure to arise a little earlier to make the most of it, and it was clear we beat most of the traffic going in the park by 90% from the day prior.

Artists Paintpots, Yellowstone

Our first stop was a 1/3 mile walk in to the Artists Paintpots, which consists of more hot springs and, my personal favorite, the mud bubblies.

Emily’s mom, Cheryl, stopped to take a picture and sat down on a step for a few minutes.

Not long after, a curious squirrel came right up to her and climbed on her lap before he went on his merry way. We have his little paw-prints on camera to prove it!

Needless to say, the view of the land was marvelous.

If we had gone here for nothing else, I would have been satisfied.

We kept our sights toward the north and continued on to Norris Geyser Basin.

I definitely didn’t get tired of seeing hot springs and geysers, because they really all are breathtaking and unique.

But it is true that after you’ve seen a ton, you just don’t take as much time staring and taking pictures as you first did.

Also, if you generally are not the type to read the little informational signs and displays by most of the attractions, you are likely to miss out on a portion of the wonder there too.

Knowing that a lot of these geysers are sporadic, impulsive, and at times volatile makes watching them quite a bit more interesting, trust me.

Norris Geyser area

Some of these erupted almost-catastrophically at one point and have been monitored closely ever since, while others have been a constant source of pure blue hot water for as long as they can tell.

This particular basin is fairly large and expanded.

I didn’t look at the miles, but it probably took us a full 2 hours or so to complete the full loop, and we weren’t going slow either.

This one didn’t quit!

Crystal blues, every direction

When we finally made it back to the Subaru we were quite famished so we each ate whatever snacks we had bought from the supermarket in West Yellowstone before continuing our trek, and this time we headed east.

I believe I said before that I am obsessed with waterfalls. So it should come as no surprise to know that our time spent at Lower Falls was probably my favorite site.

Admittedly, the hike down and then up via the Red Rock Trail, at an elevation of 7,800 feet, was challenging. Still, it was worth every drop of sweat.

You probably aren’t able to see it in the pictures, but apparently there is a trail that leads to a platform right above the falls, on the right hand side. We had thought the trail we were on would take us there, but alas it did not.

Lower Falls

By that point though, we decided we had hiked enough and could live without being on top of it.

People had their tripods set up and were trying to get their shots of the thunderous falls too, so it was hard not to feel in the way once we got to the viewpoint.

Thus, we didn’t spend a tremendous amount of time gazing at it, but instead turned back around and prepared ourselves for the climb back to the top.

Call me slow, but it was at that moment, looking back toward our destination, that I realized how Yellowstone must have unofficially received its name.

I have seen many a rock cliff in my time.

However, I have to admit I have never viewed one that quite compares to the yellowish tint of the canyon walls that the Lower Falls and river flows through.

So if anyone was wondering, there’s my theory.

Another side-note: Those of you who cannot stand the thought of using an outdoor restroom can rest assured that the park staff seem to keep all of these clean and fairly non-odorous too. Some even had the paper potty seat covers (whatever their real name is).

Anyway, skip our long walk back to the car and check out this scenery from the car window during our drive to our next spot.

We paused to take a peek at Tower Falls too, which is limited to viewing only at the top, so we didn’t bother hiking down.

Tower Falls

Not sure what the name of the next place was that we stopped again, but the view and the pictures I captured are cool enough…


Our ultimate goal that day was Mammoth Hot Springs, and we made it there in the mid-afternoon after about an hour’s drive.

All along we had been seeing signs that warned us not to get close or attempt to feed the wildlife, but it wasn’t until we arrived here that we saw this actually could be a possibility.

Elk were everywhere we looked!

I guess you aren’t supposed to be more than like 20 yards from an animal, but I really couldn’t help that this guy just wanted a drink of water, and it just happened to be right in front of me…

The gigantic Jello-mold looking Mammoth Springs can be seen from the highway a few miles away.

Unlike all the other geysers we had seen so far, these were a little different. For one, the springs were mostly created by gases, especially sulfur and carbon dioxide, instead of deep-flowing magma like much of the other geothermal pockets in the park.

Over time, limestone steps have been produced where the hot acidic water cascades gracefully over them, kind of giving the impression of frost or icicles in some ways.

Minerva Terrace

And if you’re wondering, yes, much of the park smells like rotten eggs (due to the sulfur) from a lot of the geysers and hot springs. I wouldn’t say you ever get accustom to it, exactly, but the stench ceases to make your nose wrinkle after a while, for sure.

Much of the Mammoth mound is the remnant of old geysers (haha, get it?) gone by, dried up and frozen in time.

There are many steep flights of stairs here, understandably.

Still, the wind felt just cool enough to match the radiant sun and make the climb worth it.


The small city of Mammoth is quaint and must survive on tourism.

We found some ice cream in a gift shop and other hot eats were located right next door.

That night was our last and of course we didn’t want to spend it in the hotel once we got back.

So Emily and I wandered West Yellowstone once more in search of nothing in particular–we knew it would hit us when we saw it either on a menu or storefront.

Aside from the historic Madison youth hostel, a quick and worthy attraction in town is the Oregon Short Line train car located next to The Branch. Everything in and around it are authentic and preserved from the time when this railway was made possible and popular.

We tried taking pictures inside and outside of it but the lighting during the morning and evening were equally as hazardous.

So try mid-day pictures, if you do check it out.

Without finding much else of interest (though there were plenty of eye-catching menus, we were just majorly indecisive) we settled back at The Branch, ate a cup of bison chili, and caught up on football games.

We had excitedly discussed going on a star-gazing tour that night in the park but, in short, we chickened out.

Too cold, too tired, too much hassle, whatever, it didn’t happen and I may regret it someday but then I’ll just have a good excuse to visit again during a warmer season. So there.

Monday, October 6, 2014:

Our last morning meant our last chance at pictures and at breathing in the frosty morning air before returning back to fifty-degrees-hotter-Phoenix.

As much as most of us tell ourselves we don’t want to act like tourists and take lame pictures of signs, we usually regret not doing so, because you just never know when these things will become important.

Thus, after packing our stuff in the rental car, Em and I walked east down Yellowstone Avenue, capturing various photos we could reflect on later in life when memories are fuzzy and landmarks have since been changed.

Then we all grabbed something small, like coffee and oatmeal, from the local Mickey D’s and quietly drove the bittersweet route to the airport to catch a plane homebound.

The only thing I missed for that short, beautiful weekend was my Samson puppy–I definitely could have treaded Mother Nature a bit longer.

From my own experience, the first weekend of October was a glorious time to visit Yellowstone National Park.

Yes, of course it was chilly, silly. But you can’t enjoy the colors of fall and warm beverages without a little bit of crispness biting at your nose.

For the record, we did see a lot of wildlife besides the buffalo and elk I mentioned. We spotted several black-tail deer grazing in one place and even a mama bear and her cub climbing up a hill at another location. I’m kicking myself even now for not bringing my larger lens but it honestly just takes up so much space!

Well folks, there’s another destination crossed off my bucket list. And the in all it was quite inexpensive too! Now to plan my next trip…