This is two for one on the Life List! I could have written two very different posts for both of these things, but I they tie so closely together that I figured I would just do a post about my visit to Yellowstone and about seeing Old Faithful in person. Both were amazing experiences, but you can’t have one without the other and so here we are!
I decided a long time ago that I wanted to visit all 61 (then 59) National Parks. I had been to a few already, and the idea of conquering all of them just felt enchanting somehow. I did not begin this quest in earnest until the end of last summer, however, when I embarked on a road trip to visit six national parks along with several national monuments and other some protected areas. It was during this trip that I marked Yellowstone off the list, one of the “Big Five” for me in terms of parks I most want/wanted to visit.
Before we continue, let’s do a rundown of the “Big Five”:
5. Grand Canyon
Now that we have that out of the way, let’s keep going with the story here.
Yellowstone was the second park of our trip, and we were scheduled to spend three days and two nights (well, 2.5 days and two nights) there. We drove straight through from visiting Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota, and got to Yellowstone a bit late in the day. It was worth it though, because the drive through the mountains on the Beartooth Highway was nothing short of stunning. The views were spectacular, and for the first time in my life I saw actual glaciers! I will admit it blew my mind a little bit, and it also got me super excited for what we would see during our time in the park.
We passed through the Silver Gate into the park, and entered through the Lamar Valley. When people say that this is the place in Yellowstone to view wildlife they aren’t kidding! We had barely entered the park proper and were seeing herds of buffalo left and right. We also saw some smaller critters, such as antelope, but we did not see any wolves or bears nor would see any for the duration of the trip. A bit of a bummer, but I guess it’s better to see no bear than to come face to face with one!
We stayed at the Grant Village Campground, and check in was nice and simple since we’d booked well ahead of time. We bought a box of wood with the intentions of building a fire and then set up camp. As we were setting up the temperature began to drop significantly, though at the time we didn’t think much of it. We knew it would be on the cooler side here despite it being August, but when the rain set in, well, that was when things really went south.
We had covered our tent with tarps, so while we stayed dry it still became pretty miserable fairly quickly. We had brought long pants and sweatshirts, but the cold that set in was very unpleasant and even under our blankets we were tossing, turning, and freezing. Going out to the bathroom was not pleasant because the campsite didn’t do well with water and had no real drainage so it pooled all around our tent and soaked our shoes. By the time morning came we were all unhappy campers and we made a tough decision: see what we could in Yellowstone and move on that evening. This choice was made somewhat easier by folks around us talking about a ‘snowstorm’ that was coming our way.
Now we had no idea what these people considered to be a snowstorm. They were campers, like us, and probably not locals but we didn’t wat to take chances. We ultimately decided to head to Grand Teton for our boat tour (more on that in the Teton post) and to see the mountains. We would then drive back up, pack up camp, and make a whirlwind tour around Yellowstone before heading for Cody, Wyoming to seek the refuge of a hotel for the night.
After we packed up we headed went to the geyser basin nearest our camp and started there. We then just followed the map we had been giving, hitting up the highlights such as Grand Prismatic Spring. We hadn’t fully planned on seeing Old Faithful, but we ended up there and only had about 15-20 minutes before the next eruption so we figured we’d stay. We were very, very glad we did! Because we got there just before starting time we were able to get a literal front row seat, glad to rest and just wait things out. As time began to tick away the place filled up, and we were glad that we’d gone ahead and snagged a place to sit. We were able to see this amazing wonder of nature, and take pictures and videos, unencumbered.
Seeing Old Faithful erupt is something I truly recommend for anyone visiting the park. Is it the biggest geyser? No. Does it go off the longest? No. Is it beautiful? Absolutely. Was it more than I had anticipated it to be? Yes!
There was just something wonderful about waiting, about anticipating the big eruption as the geyser began to gear up for the big moment. It would spew steam and bits of water, and you’d THINK it was time and then it would back off again. When it finally went it was a moment of elation, because you were witnessing something that you had (likely) never witnessed before. It was breataking and awe inspiring, and I can see why Yellowstone had spent over 100 years drawing in people to share in its wonders. It was something to behold, that’s for sure!
We finished up our rounds in Yellowstone, and we did have a reprieve from the dreary, rainy weather! The sun showed its face for at least a little while, which we all appreciated. It didn’t rain a drop during our viewing of Old Faithful either, which was a blessing. We even ate some ice cream and shopped in the gift shops before moving on, wanting to make the most of our shortened time.
As we left Yellowstone to head for Cody we drove….straight into the snow! It was surreal for all of us to see snow in August, and it was really coming down. We saw one lone buffalo traveling up the mountain on our way down, and then I saw a moose! He was down in a valley by a creek, and I wish we could have pulled off to snap some photos but the snow wasn’t waiting for anyone and we wanted to get to town before it got worse after dark.
We ended our time at Yellowstone with a Chinese buffet and a night at a hotel with a nice hot tub and pool. We did laundry, ate some snacks and slept indoors in the warmth of a soft bed after hot showers for everyone. I wish we could have stayed longer, or would have thought to pack better for the area we were in. I never anticipated it getting so cold or snowy, and I had done some research and had THOUGHT I was well prepared. I learned a lesson when traveling in Yellowstone, and I would love to go back and try again. There was a lot we didn’t get to see during our cramped few hours there, and I feel like I could stay there for a week and still not get around to everything I’d want to do. It was a good first time though, and it makes for a great story now. Though, at the time, I can assure you none of us were happy at ALL!