And they do, all over the place! Although they’re not actually buffalo, they are Bison – Bison bison to be exact. They are large and wooly, and rather scruffy at this time of year, as they’re shedding their winter coats. They also have large horns, and lots of muscle, it’s a smart idea to stay out of their way!
This is spring and many bison cows have given birth to little orange bundles of fur, who gambol and head-butt each other around the meadows of Yellowstone National Park, the first National Park to be created (in 1872) in the USA, and indeed in the world.
Here’s my video overview of Yellowstone Park:
The very earth steams and gurgles, bubbles, hisses and roars. There are drifting clouds of warming steam in the cool air. Reds, oranges, yellows, greens and blues appear and disappear in pools full of acid and heat-loving thermophilic bacteria. Eruptions left, right and centre! Amazingly this is Yellowstone, not Mars! Mud pots gurgle and splat, and swirls of colours appear. Old Faithful faithfully erupts, to the applause of crowds of watching visitors.
There are drifts and patches of wild flowers where the geo-thermal activity allows flowers to bloom early. It’s other-worldly!
It’s an extraordinary feeling to stand by a bubbling, steaming, beautiful deep blue pond, in the cool air, and then the wind changes and you get a waft of warm, damp steam and it’s like being in a sauna. And it’s so tempting to jump into those beautiful looking, natural hot tubs!
Yellowstone Park is huge: 2.2 million acres, much of which is forested. Most of the park is in Wyoming, with some areas in Montana and Idaho. One of the most visited areas in the park is around the Old Faithful geyser, which still regularly erupts – on average every 92 minutes. Many of the popular attractions in the park are very accessible, even to wheelchair users, as boardwalks and paved walkways have been laid down. In the active geothermal areas, this is a safety issue, both for humans and the fragile landscape. In these areas it’s not allowed to go off the trails and boardwalks, as often there is just a thin crust above boiling mud, and reckless visitors are often injured. However there are more than 1,000 miles of backcountry trails for those who wish to go off the track.
Yellowstone is vast and various. You’ll find geysers, fumaroles, mud pots and more around the Old Faithful and Norris Geyser Basin areas.
In the northern part of the park, Mammoth Hot Springs has terraces of travertine, and is close to the Lamar Valley, which is considered a good area for wolf-spotting. We spoke to several people who had seen wolves “just a few minutes ago”. Chris thought he might have seen one, one morning when he got up especially early.
On our last morning in the park, as we were driving out back to Bozeman airport, we saw… a wolf! Not far from the road, up on a small hillside, a lone grey wolf! We weren’t entirely sure, so we turned round and went back to look again. Yes indeed, there he was. Too far away to get a good photo, but definitely there 🙂
However, we did see at least a bear a day: a grizzly with three cubs, black bears with and without cubs, and a large male black bear, who rested up by an elk kill all day long, allowing happy visitors to photograph him (from a safe distance!)
There are many bison throughout the park, they wander the valleys and cross the roads at will. They are large, and although they look slow, they can be aggressive and get up quite a speed – visitors are advised to keep their distance! We’ve also seen elk, pronghorn, mule deer and moose.
The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone is indeed grand, with the Yellowstone river rushing through, with magnificent falls, superb views and rock pinnacles, some with osprey nests clinging to them.
There is a wide range of birds, and fishing is also popular in the many lakes and streams of the park. In times gone by, there was a part of the lake where fishermen used to catch the trout, then swing it straight over into a boiling pool and cook the fish without taking it off the line. (No longer allowed!)
You can drive, but it’s a long way from almost everywhere, and depending on the time of year, some roads may be closed. The park website suggests flying into Bozeman, Billings, Cody or Idaho Falls. Jackson Hole in the Grand Teton Park is also close enough to drive to Yellowstone, if that gives you better connections.
Sleeping and Eating
There are several areas in the park that offer a variety of accommodations, as well as camping and RV hookups. The park hotels are not inexpensive, but they are comfortable. I think the concessionaire has upgraded the hotel rooms and facilities. Beds are nice and comfy, with decent bathrooms. The closest place to stay outside the park is the small town of West Yellowstone, which has a range of hotels, plus shops and restaurants. In the park itself, there are a variety of food options, ranging from fast food to dining rooms with table service and good menu choices. Portions are large! Dress code is casual 🙂
A few views of the town of West Yellowstone with its fun street art, and great trash bins!
When to visit
We stayed for two weeks in total, moving from the Old Faithful Snow Lodge to Mammoth Hot Springs cabins, to a hotel in West Yellowstone, and finally back into the park to Grant Village. As we found, it can be hard to get consecutive nights at one hotel, unless you book well in advance (like, a year!). We arrived in the middle of May, and the weather was changeable – but it is at any time of year in Yellowstone! Mostly it was pleasantly cool for walking around, sunny, cloudy, and we had some rain and hail. The park wasn’t empty by any means, but it was very noticeable when we hit the weekend of the big American holiday of Memorial Day (usually the last Monday in May) – suddenly the park exploded with visitors! We were used to having delays on the road due to bison, but now there were many more cars and RVs too. I’m sure as the summer progresses the amount of people will only grow. So I would recommend April, May, or September and October, as good times to visit. I think winter would be rather special too. Some lodges stay open and there are special animal viewing programs available.
Cell service is limited in the park, and there is wifi available at some of the lodges – for a price!
There is loads of good information and maps on the Yellowstone Park official website.
These rate a paragraph of their own! When we first arrived, we didn’t notice any. Right after Memorial Day they appeared, along with the tourists! Big as dragonflies and much meaner! Now I understand why some US states call them their “state bird”! I assume the day length or growing warmth triggered hatching. The only upside is you can see large amounts of swallows swooping and diving and munching on the little beasts. More power to the swallows!
Grand Teton National Park is immediately south of Yellowstone, and I would suggest if you have the time, to split your stay between the two parks. The two weeks we spent in Yellowstone gave us plenty of time to amble about, and drive around without rushing. We covered everything, apart from backcountry hiking 😉 We also spent a day driving down through Grand Teton, stopping to admire the views. In fact, I wish we had split our stay, as Grand Teton is as glorious as Yellowstone, but in different ways. Worth visiting.
and we even spent time in the fun little town of Jackson (great ice cream at Moo’s!).
The brothers John D. and Laurance S. Rockefeller were important influences in the development of Grand Teton National Park.
Around the walls of the visitor centre at the Laurance S. Rockefeller Preserve, within the Grand Teton National Park, there are quotations from the poem by Terry Tempest Williams A Meditation on Phelps Lake:
“A feather floats on Phelps Lake-
a cradle of light
rocking with the breeze.
Wind speaks through pines.
Light animates granite.
An Eagle soars – its shadow crosses over us.
All life is intertwined.
We see the Great Peaks
mirrored in water-
Reflection leads us to restoration.
Nature quiets the mind
by engaging with an intelligence
larger than our own.
Mindful of different ways of being,
Our awareness as a species shifts-
We recognize the soul of the land as our own.
The path of wisdom invites us
to walk with a humble heart
recognizing the dance
between diversity and unity,
action and restraint.
The Scales of Nature
will always seek equilibrium
A feather can tip the balance.”
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