Yellowstone – National Parks Road Trip – Day 8

Breakfast at the Best Western was eggs with a smell of rotten eggs (from the hot springs not the kitchen). We left Thermopolis before sunrise passing more smelly hot springs.

Our destination today was one that has been long awaited – Yellowstone. It was about a 3 hour drive to Yellowstone, passing through Cody on the way. Cody is full of cowboy motif, much of it for Buffalo Bill, culminating with a large rodeo grounds on the west side of town.

Just west of Cody we passed a strange structure known locally as the Smith Mansion, built by local resident Lee Smith.  He had no plans, he just built what he felt was correct for the wilderness around him, ending up with a 75′ high structure that looks like a tornado already hit it. He lived in it while building it, with no running water or electricity. Unfortunately he was killed when he fell 12′ off the mansion while working on it. Also of note is the giant pile of antlers that make an entrance.

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As you continue west from Cody you pass through a number of tunnels before running along the Buffalo Bill Lake. The drive is said to take two hours, although we made it in significantly less time, arriving at the East entrance to no lines.

We arrived at Yellowstone National Park at 9 am, and with no line we were quickly rising up to Sylvan Pass (8300 feet elevation), which had significant evidence of forest fires in recent years. Continuing further we came up on Yellowstone Lake. Parking along the lakeshore was a treat – the lake itself is beautiful, but it also gave us our first view of thermal vents, and a herd of bison.

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Just ahead was the services area known as ‘Lake Village‘, where we stopped at the visitor center to purchase our park membership. Checking out the collection of items offered, the rangers suggested that we buy bear spray if we plan to hike the trails. This made us a bit nervous but we passed on the bear spray anyway, buying a t-shirt instead. Style ranks over safety.

Our route took us north of Lake Village along the Yellowstone River, where we saw more bison, before arriving at the Mud Volcanoes. A boardwalk provided up close access to see the churning cauldrons and Dragons Mouth Spring. Dragon’s Mouth was a cave-like area that spewed steam and a low roar. Just across the road was Sulfur Cauldron, another fascinating thermal feature.

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I had made reservations at the recently completed lodge in Canyon Village, where we arrived around noontime. We were able to register for our room, but unable to drop the bags, that would wait for later. After a quick lunch at the Canyon Diner we headed back out to continue our tour.

Our afternoon was spent driving the North Loop of the park through Dunraven Pass to see Tower Falls, Calcite Springs and a canyon with high cliffs and even a bit of lava flow.

Arriving at the north end of the park we found Fort Yellowstone. This town served as an army post with many original and restored buildings. A family of elk grazed on the lawn at the Old Yellowstone Post Office. Kentucky Bluegrass was planted long ago and a favorite of the elk.

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Just above the town is Mammoth Hot Springs, a large complex of hot springs on a hill of travertine, which resembles blocks of ice stacked in tiers sloped on the hill. Spurts of water and steam erupted from the crevices of the springs. The white calcium carbonate created from the water travelling over limestone beneath the earth gave an eerie alien look, with the algae living in the warm pools tinting the travertine shades of brown, orange, red and green. We spent most of the afternoon hiking up and down the terraces and along the boardwalk viewing the amazing odd landscape.

Continuing south on the loop road we arrived at the Golden Gate, with the impressive bridge around the waterfalls. The bridge was the most difficult engineering project in the park built up to that date. Further along we saw the billowing smoke from a forest fire. The park rangers allow the fires to burn out and the smoke and fire continued for days, closing some roads.

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Before our return to Canyon Village we went to the north rim of the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone and walked the six hundred foot drop to the viewpoints in the canyon of the falls, before returning back up the hill again. A second viewpoint at Inspiration Point in the same area provided a more comprehensive look at the Lower Falls, without 1000 steps round trip. They did however, have numerous ‘no drones’ signs.

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One challenge in the National Parks are the lack of dining, resulting in overcrowded restaurants. The one in Canyon Village had a 1.5 hour wait for a table, so we opted for a casual dinner at the cafeteria since the restaurant at our end of the park had an 1 1/2 hour wait to be seated. Afterwards, we drove out at night to look at stars. We met a couple from Philadelphia at the spot we chose to take in the stars. We sat until about 9:30 chatting with them and saw thousands of bright stars in the dark sky.