Full steam ahead at Yellowstone Park.


Ailsa’s travel theme, ‘Parks’, came at just the right time for my Yellowstone Park post.  Yellowstone National Park spans an area of 3,468.4 square miles (8,983 km2), comprising lakes, canyons, rivers and mountain ranges, and is thought to have been the first such park in the world. It was established by the U.S.Congress, and signed into law by President Ulysses S Grant, on March 1, 1872, so is 150 years old.

From my journal of May 4th, 2010, this is the sixth day of our journey.

“Today is cold, wet and grey as we head back into the park. As we enter, and just before Mammoth Springs, we see a whole flock of black carrion crows, feeding on the remains of a kill by the river. Hubby asks if I want a pic, but “not really” is my reply. Gruesome stuff, although thinking about it afterwards; we eat meat almost every day, so why shouldn’t they? We pass by a camp ground with hardy folk sitting eating breakfast outside their tents in 4 degrees. Brrr!!

A few flakes of snow are falling as we arrive at the town, and the only sign of the buffalo we’d seen on the lawn yesterday, are their sizeable droppings on the grass.  We stop to fill up the tank yet again. This huge vehicle is a very thirsty animal, but great nevertheless, especially on these icy roads. Snow has fallen overnight and it looks colder than yesterday. I am so glad we did the Mammoth Hot Springs yesterday afternoon when the weather was much brighter.

We’re aiming for ‘Old Faithful’, 50 miles away. A snow plough heads towards the town, and I hope he’s been busy clearing the road we’ll be travelling on later. The mountains look beautiful with their snowy blanket, and once again, hardy hubby, obligingly gets out of the car to take a pic.

The road is icy as we pass ‘Swan Lake Flat’ and we are in 4 wheel drive as we get to ‘Sheep-eater Cliff’. I love these names. The temperature has dropped to 0 degrees now and the road is rougher, with more snow and ice. We’ve only seen a couple of other vehicles so far, but further up the road, we see two parked cars, and stop to see what they’re looking at with their tripod all set up just inside the woods. I thought it might be Yogi Bear, so my intrepid driver goes to investigate.  Suddenly there is a tapping on the window, and a ranger asks if I can move the car as we’re not allowed to park here. I wouldn’t even like to try, so send him off to find hubby, who returns, saying, “There’s a grizzly bear up there, but you can barely see him.” So no Yogi Bear pic today.  We’re staying near the Bear Park tonight, so should have more luck there.

We pass “Grizzly Lake’ with not a Grizzly in sight. Along the way are pools and lakes of steaming water. “ What lies beneath?” I wonder.

The hills look misty, but I realise that it’s because of the steam coming off them. They must be jolly hot inside. We stop at ‘Nymph’s Lake’ and think it’s worth a pic. It’s seriously bubbling down there. A sign says, “Hazardous Thermal Area. Boiling water and unstable ground.” Hubby takes a pic from a safe distance. Don’t want him falling into the cauldron; I need him to drive the car. ;)

We see a red RAV4  bogged down in a ditch, and park rangers are directing traffic. He was obviously going too fast on the icy road, and is really lucky that he didn’t land in a cauldron of boiling water. “That would teach him a lesson,” I think to myself, “Oh misery, to have an accident in this weather!” We turn off to Norris and “Yay,” there are loos there. It’s a long-drop, but exceptionally clean and even sweet smelling. We stop off at the Norris Geyser Basin and hubby gets out again. I sit debating whether to brave the cold and snow and finally decide it’s worth it, so I put on an extra jersey under my coat, snow boots, scarf, hat and gloves and set off. It’s quite a walk and I’m hoping to meet up with hubby before too long. I’ve never felt so cold in my whole life. I see him at the main viewing site. It’s all on raised walkways around the geysers, and steam is coming out of all orifices. It sounds like a huge washing machine churning away and smells of sulphur. Scary stuff!

From there, we drive on towards the Caldera boundary. The steepness of the incline tells us that we‘re driving across the edge of it. There’s nothing further of interest along this route, so we head back to the main road and on towards “Old Faithful.”  Thirty miles still to go, as we drive over a bridge with steam rising up on both sides.

We’re stopped for about 15 minutes because of road works, and hungrily devour the leftover chicken pizza from last night’s dinner. It tastes delicious even though it’s cold. Finally we’re allowed through and there are 16 miles still to go. All along the way, the wind is howling and the ground either side is steaming.It feels somewhat surreal. Quite different from normal everyday life.

When we eventually arrive at the Old Faithful visitor centre, we’re told it’s an hour till the next eruption, so we warm ourselves with a hot chocolate, and ten minutes before time, wrap ourselves warmly and head out to the viewing area. It’s snowing a lot now, and there are maybe seventy people all standing in icy anticipation for about twenty minutes. Puffs of steam keep popping out and then disappearing again, and we think that might be all we are going to get. Ah well.

Just when I’ve almost given up hope, the steam goes berserk and shoots maybe 50 meters into the air.

Apparently 30,000 liters of water are expelled per eruption and the water temperature at the vent is 96C. It’s all white sky, white snow and white steam, so didn’t look as spectacular as on the video we saw in the gift shop, which showed beautiful colours against a clear blue sky. Well we’ve at least been there, done that. Another thing to tick off my “Bucket List.”

Next stop is our hotel in West Yellowstone. There are a few sites of interest along the way and one in particular which hubby decides is worth braving the snow for. I stay in the car whilst he disappears across a bridge into the steamy mist. Twenty minutes later, he’s still not back. This is my man who moans about the couple of degrees drop in temperature between Umhlanga and Kloof when we visit my sister. Unbelievable that he stays out there for so long! I strain my eyes to see if he’s coming back, but now even the bridge has disappeared. Suddenly the steam clears and I see a lone figure coming across the bridge, stopping to take more photos. “Where have you been?” I ask as he shivers into the car. “Right to the top of the hill. It’s amazing up there,” he replies. I can’t wait to see these amazing pics.

We leave the park and drive to our hotel for the night, looking forward to a hot bath, a good dinner and a warm bed.”

Tomorrow we’ll revisit Old Faithful, and go to see some BIG Teddy bears.

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61 comments on “Full steam ahead at Yellowstone Park.

  1. What an amazing adventure, fantastic photos but I’m so glad you were there and not me – I couldn’t bear that cold and in May!!!

  2. What an amazing place, all that steam rising, quite surreal. Would love to see Old Faithful for myself one day.

  3. Very interesting, thanks for sharing. I’d really like to visit Yellowstone someday. And that rock in the third picture is fantastic. ‘Sheep-Eater Cliff’ though, that’s brilliant! :-)

  4. such an amazing journey and fascinating indeed, fantastic photos … if i ever get there i hope it is warmer than for you ad … an iconic park!

    • Thanks, Christine. Hope you do visit one day. In a way, I’m glad now that the weather was like that. It made it all the more exciting. ;)

  5. Hi,
    Wow, what a fabulous place to go to, and it looks unreal in the very cold weather with the steam everywhere, very, very nice photos all so clear and you captured the look perfectly.
    I also would not be driving the car, I couldn’t even imagine what it must be like driving in weather conditions like that. :D

    • Thanks, mags. So glad you enjoyed the pics. I certainly wasn’t going to attempt to reposition our monster truck, especially under the eagle eye of that officious Ranger. ;)

  6. oh dear AD, this travel should be such a great experience, fascinated me. The colours are amazing… you captured so beautiful photographs. Thank you, love, nia

  7. Another wonderful installment AD! Gorgeous pictures even if in monochrome! Can’t wait to meet the BIG teddy bears :-)

  8. :-)
    was for some time on my “places to visit” wish list but sort of forgot about it.
    now the park is definitely back on the list again – who knows…….

  9. I know I’ve been saying this lots lately,but those pics are GORGEOUS!!! I hope my Wife and I can visit there oursleves someday :D

    The DC

  10. Love your photos of Yellowstone. A friend who visited last year told me seeing the park in the winter is the best time to go because it is less crowded and you can get wonderful photos without people in them. Thanks for sharing.

    BE ENCOURAGED! BE BLESSED!

    • Thanks, Francine. yes, I think that being at the very beginning of the season, we were very blessed not to have crowds and traffic jams along the way. The snow and ice seemed to make it all the more exciting.

  11. Hi again AD
    Yellowstone Park looks to be such a place of contrasts, really great following the journey with you, love the cold and snowy weather all around and Old Faithful must have been quiet a display to see. Look forward to next chapter!
    Regards and wishes for a good week ahead
    Gail

    • Hi there, Gail. I’m so glad you’re enjoying our trip. ;) I’d heard and read about Old faithful, but had no real idea what to expect.. Happy week ahead to you too. xx

  12. Oh wow, I desperately want to visit Yellowstone. Thanks for sharing your adventures in the depths of winter. Can’t wait to see it for myself! xxx

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