We continue our look at ways to travel during the COVID-19 pandemic with a look at Yellowstone. National Parks are a good way to enjoy a getaway while still keeping our social distance.
Overcrowding Is Not An Issue
Vast expanses of open range stretch as far as the eye can see, the deer and the antelope really do play in America’s West.
The lack of a gold rush back in the 1800’s left Wyoming sparsely populated, with just over half a million cowpokes in all. Thirty-three cities in the U.S. are more populous than the entire state of Wyoming.
That’s a boatload of land per person.
We had come to Wyoming to see the world’s first National Park.
Permanently set aside in 1872, Yellowstone was named for the bright colors of the rocks on the walls of The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River.
The river flows north from Yellowstone Lake, cascades down over four hundred feet in two magnificent waterfalls before cutting a spectacular nine hundred foot deep gorge through yellow and orange volcanic rocks on its way to meeting up with The Missouri River.
Camping & Hiking Galore
Without a doubt this is the ultimate place for a traditional camping trip.
Wanting to see the colorful canyon from every angle possible, we gathered our hiking gear and traipsed the semi-strenuous trails along the rim and around the Upper Falls.
The jaunt took some time, and energy, so we were glad that we carried some snacks, and of course a good water bottle with us.
From the falls we discovered Uncle Tom’s Trail. This trail provided an absolutely mind-blowing view of the Lower Falls — we just scampered down a bit over three hundred metal steps along the sheer canyon cliffs.
Getting BACK up up the 300 steps, that was quite another story altogether.
Ah yes, feel the burn.
Uncle Tom was quite certainly a masochist, especially since back in his day they didn’t have the stairs!
The falls, canyon and lake would be more than enough to warrant setting aside this area as a National Park but — wait — there’s more!
Entering A Whole New World
As breathtaking as this portion of the Park was, at least we felt we had our feet solidly on planet Earth.
Things were about to take a most drastic change.
We were about to enter an other-worldly world, and it’s next to impossible to describe the bizarre sights, sounds and smells of the place.
Oh yes, the smells are a huge part of the Yellowstone experience.
Two-thirds of all the geysers in the world are within the borders of Yellowstone.
Ahh, The Sweet Smell Of Sulfur
Superheated water gushes hundreds of feet into the air from some, while others spout tiny bursts of steam.
In some spots, boiling springs and pools of sulfur-rich water dwell next to pits of bubbling mud called paint pots, all reeking like rotten eggs.
We mounted our trusty bikes for a ride through The Upper Geyser Basin, home to the most famous of Yellowstone’s geysers, Castle, Grand and of course, Old Faithful.
We waited with eager anticipation as a crowd gathered for the scheduled eruption of the ancient trustworthy fellow.
Right on time, he did not disappoint.
This Looks A Lot Like Mars
Cycling our way up the path from the visitors center to The Sapphire Pool, we were awed by the Mars-like terrain around us.
Eruptions by a couple of the less-than-faithful fountains, The Grotto and Spa Geysers made the out-of-this-world experience even more present.
Additional snaps to The National Park Service for making the whole area remarkably handicapped-friendly.
From the Upper Geyser Basin, we took an easy bike ride over to the Black Sand Basin.
The basin is named for the obsidian glass sand covering parts of the ground and is best known for its colorful hot springs, The Emerald Pool and Opalescent Pool.
It is also home to The Cliff Geyser, named for the wall of geyserite along the edge of Iron Creek formed by its eruptions. We had the good fortune to experience one these eruptions with forty feet of boiling water shooting skyward and then splashing with a cloud of steam into the creek.
That’s One Muddy Puddle
One of David’s most vivid memories from his childhood visit to Yellowstone was the simmering, colorful mud in the paint pots.
Small wonder that a giant boiling mud-puddle would stick in a kid’s mind. He had to see them again.
There are several examples of muddy geothermal pots in the park but the two standouts are The Fountain Paint Pot and The Artists Paint Pots. The Fountain is just a short hop north of Old Faithful in the Lower Geyser Basin, so we hit it first.
There are two sounds that dominate this area, the thick bubbling splattering of boiling mud and the jet engine like roar of steam blasting through fissures in the ground.
The viscosity of the mud in the paint pots varies depending on the time of year. Thin and runny with the Spring rains that melt, thicker after a hot, dry summer. By our visit in Autumn, they were a gooey goop of gaseous gunk.
The Artists Paint Pots are up the road a little way in the Norris Geyser Basin.
Home to the world’s largest geyser, Steamboat Geyser, that can spray over three hundred feet in the air on the rare occasions that it erupts.
These were not impressive, as mudpits go, but the walk along the loop trail of the area was fantastic.
Let’s just say that walking beside a nearly boiling little mountain stream is not an everyday experience for us.
Everywhere we looked on our jaunts through the geyser basins something was either boiling, bubbling or steaming.
A Very Volcanic Yellowstone
The very ground was hot in many places because Yellowstone is actually a huge volcano, known as a supervolcano, one of the biggest in the world.
This massive caldera erupts catastrophically every six to nine hundred thousand years, covering the entire continent in darkness and ash — basically killing every living thing for thousands of miles around.
It won’t be pretty when it happens again and oh, by the way, the last time was around seven hundred thousand years ago. Soooo…
Warning signs are posted all along the trails in an attention grabbing effort to keep tourists on the safety of the paths and boardwalks so as not to get parboiled. Don’t be like this kid!
There were several other warnings to heed involving wild animals — avoiding getting gored by a buffalo, trampled by an elk or mauled by a bear.
Somehow we managed to avoid all these pitfalls and made our way to the relative safety of Montana.