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Yellowstone National Park, WY

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In the fall of 2011 we left home in Massachusetts two months earlier than usual for our winter escape.  Our primary goal for this trip was a visit to Yellowstone NP and the Grand Tetons before heading to New Mexico for the winter. After an amazing ride over the Beartooth Highway, where we spent the night at 10,000', we arrived at Yellowstone on 16 Sept.

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 One of the first signs of Yellowstone we encountered was one of the yellow coaches dating from the 1930's that are used for tours. The next sign was buffalo, several herds of them on our way to Mammoth Campground.
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We arrived at Mammoth Campground about 1130 and had no problems getting a site. But by evening the CG was full. T'was a fairly chilly night and we ran the generator about an hour to heat up the RV as well as tune in the satellite TV for a little dose of news.

17 Sep 11: Awoke to a dreary sky - cloudy and cool, along with occasional rainshowers. But by mid-morning, things began to improve and we were able to get out for a little hike. At noon, we drove up the hill to have lunch at the grill, followed by a walk through the terratine terraces of the Mammoth Hot Springs. What an amazing bit of nature. We put a few miles under our shoes today - 5.8 to be exact.

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18 Sep 11: Like on so many of our days, the old Semper Gumby motto was at work today. Why stick to a plan when something better offers itself? The original plan was drive down to Madison CG with stops along the way, [particularly at Norris Geyser Basin. We got to Norris about 1000 and toured the shorter trail around and through the Porcelain Basin. Went back to the RV for lunch (where we found another LD parked right in front of us) and that's when the plan went out the window. Realizing that we would need a good part of the afternoon to see the larger Back Basin area, we decided to put off Madison CG for a day and see if we could get a site at the Norris CG, about a mile from the Basin. Yeap, we could....and did. Enjoyed our lunch and then hiked back to the Basin and completed our tour. Our feet were certainly happen to find themselves back at the campsite at 1600. We logged 7 miles on the pedometer today!

The mile-long trail from the Norris Campground to the geyser basin passes through the remains of a major micro-burst of wind two years ago that brought down hundreds of trees. Elsewhere in the park one can see the impact of the 1988 forest fires that devastated 36% of the park. norris basin44

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One of the first views one sees of the Porcelain Basin. Steam billowing all around and with quite a smell of sulphur. Below left is the Black Growler Steam Vent, while below shows the Emerald Spring.

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Steamboat Geyser is the world's tallest active geyser, shooting water more than 300 feet high. These major eruptions occur VERY sporadically, sometimes years apart. The last major blast was back in May of 2005. More common are frequent bursts like this of 10 to 40 feet.
norris basin45 The Gibbon River near Norris Campground.

It struck us today that we are incredibly fortunate to be able to make a trip like this. And we're lucky to be able to be so flexible in our so-called plans so we can take advantage of things that come our way. This really is an incredible country in which we are fortunate to live, with so much beauty to see. Thinking about the history of Yellowstone, for example, gives one a sense of awe. Can you imagine a volcanic explosion laying down ash over almost the entire United States? That happened here, and not just once!

Once again the weather gods were slow to awaken today, as it was rather cold and dreary. But finally about mid-morning the clouds broke up a bit giving us a fair amount of sunshine and warming us up to about 60.

19 Sep 11: We departed Norris CG about 0845 and .meandered down to Madison CG with a few stops along the way at Beryl Spring and Gibbon Falls.

Steam rising from vents along the Gibbon River. Below is a most interesting formation: a small geyser on the river bank. yellowstone035
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Gibbon Falls has a drop of 84 feet.

We arrived at Madison CG about 1100 and found a campsite without a problem. We signed up for three nights, figuring we wanted to spend a day to go down to Old Faithful and another day we plan to go into West Yellowstone to fuel up, pick up a few supplies and play tourist a bit.

yellowstone048 We didn't stay long at our site; instead we drove a few miles south and explored Firehole Falls, a nice little bit of the former main road along the river for a couple of miles. The hillside behind the falls is typical of what much of the western part of the park looks like after the 1988 fires.
A short distance above Firehole Falls Liz spotted this elk across the river. Below are two of the springs/geysers at the Midway Geyser Basin.

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The Grand Prismatic Spring is the largest.

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Turquoise Pool is just a short distance from the Grand Prismatic Spring, but is obviously not as hot, since there is no steam emanating from it.

yellowstone063 The water from the springs flows a few hundred feet down a hillside into the Firehole River.

Next we visited the Midway Geyser Basin with some spectacularly colored springs, with and without steam.

A side note: We're definitely pleased with our dramatically improved electrical efficiency. A few months ago I replaced nearly all the interior incandescent lights with LED's. They are so much more efficient and use very little power from the house batteries. We now wake up in the morning with 12.6 to 12.7 volts showing on the panel before sunrise. It's great to not have to worry about depleting the batteries too much. I heartily recommend the conversion to anyone who does much dry-camping.

20 Sep 11: Today we paid a visit to the big city....West Yellowstone, MT, just outside the West Entrance to the park and about 15 miles from Madison CG. We needed a few groceries and some petrol for the LD; we were surprised at the gas prices in town: we were expecting to pay over $4 a gallon, but it was "only" $3.88. Another need I was able to satisfy was for a new hat with a wide brim to shade my ears; found a nice Stetson at the Eagle's Store. After getting our errands accomplished, we treated ourselves to lunch at the Canyon Street Grill, a little cafe with a 50's touch. Then it was off to the IMax theater presentation of "Yellowstone", a very good history of the park. We always love the aerial shots in the IMax movies; you can just about feel yourself leaning as the camera banks first one way, then the other.

After the movie, we took a little stroll along Yellowstone Avenue, the original main street of the town. Along it one finds the historic Madison Hotel, celebrating it's 100th birthday next year. Nearby is the Union Pacific station, dating from 1909 and now the Yellowstone Historic Center Museum.

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A 1964 Arctic Cat snowmobile At left is a Coulter Touring coach, used to carry visitors to and through the park; at right is a mail coach.

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Some interesting scenes on the way back to the campground: a view of the Madison River, a solitary golden-leafed tree on the desolate hillside, and two elk resting on a small island in the river.
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21 Sep 11: A chilly start to the day - 27 degrees this morning. But it did warm up quickly to about 60 or so with nary a cloud in the sky - a picture-perfect day. We were on our way about 0900, headed to the south to check out some more geyser fields and of course the obligatory visit to you-know-what (Hint: initials are O.F.).

One of the first stops of the day was for this dude, who we spotted crossing the road up ahead of us, causing cars to stop everywhere. By the time we got up even with him, he was sauntering off across the grass. yellowstone065
yellowstone067 There is no lack of beautiful photographic opportunities in the park. This photographer was catching some of the steam vents and geysers along the Firehole River.
First of our geyser stops this morning was at Biscuit Basin. yellowstone067
yellowstone077 This one gives a glimpse as to its depth. The water is amazingly clear.
Shell Spring was fascinating to watch. When we first saw it, it was empty; then it started to gurgle and spit and shortly was shooting water up a few feet and filling the bowl. After 4-5 minutes it would stop and the water would recede back into the ground. yellowstone083
yellowstone097 The colors in and around the springs and geyers are quite varied and depend upon the bacteria and minerals found in the water as well as the temperature of the water.
Cliff Geyser is in the Black Sand Basin on a hillside right beside the Firehole River. In the background, the mountains are the remains of a gigantic volcano that had a gigantic eruption 640,000 years ago. yellowstone101

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Hmmm, I couldn't help wonder how well this van steered...and how much traction its front-wheel drive could have.

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Ta-da! There it is - Old Faithful.

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The Old Faithful Inn.

22 Sep 11: Each morning seems to drop a few degrees from the previous morning's low - today we hit 27 degrees. But it's not too hard to take knowing that the day will warm up very nicely. Yesterday we had debated about our itinerary and almost decided to go over to Cody, WY, but then we decided it would be a bit too much back-tracking. So we decided to focus today on the Falls of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River on our way to Grant Village CG for our last night in the park.

We were on the road early today at about 0715, which gave us some wonderful early morning light for photography. Here the steam from a geyser field rises a short distance until it runs into a temperature inversion which flattens it out.

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When we got the Falls, we quickly saw that the earlier in the day, the better, as the Falls would retreat into shadows as the day wore on.

At 308 feet, the Lower Falls (above left) is the taller of the two; the Upper Falls (left) is "only" 109 feet.

Above: On a rocky crag below one the lookout points at Lower Falls we spotted an osprey in its nest.

Dragon's Mouth Spring is a little different from most springs in the park in that it comes out of a cave with quite a roaring sound, hence its name. Up until 1994 it used to splash water 50-100 feet up onto the boardwalk. yellowstone142

Then it was on to Grant Village CG, where we're spending our last night in the park. Had a little problem getting a halfway decent site; the one first assigned was tiny and very uneven. We went back to the office to ask for something else and did slightly better.

May I gripe: Why do cars have to park in the few larger bus/RV spaces when there are plenty of regular spaces available?

23 Sep 11: We said our farewell to Yellowstone NP this morning after a glorious week.

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This picture shows what a good portion of the park looks like 23 years after the devastating fires of 1988. I'm amazed to see so many burnt, dead trees still standing. But everywhere you look you'll find new growth well underway.

We crossed the Continental Divide this morning; now all the water we see is flowing toward the Pacific Ocean.

Lewis Lake is a pretty lake near the South Entrance. This morning the water was quite calm, providing a nice reflection.

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Thirty-foot high Lewis Falls is just south of Lewis Lake. Liz was fascinated by these rocks near Lewis Falls, undoubtedly remnants of the massive eruption here 640,000 years ago.
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And here our Yellowstone adventure ends, at the South Entrance. I felt like a kid who has been anticipating a day at the circus for months and then suddenly it's all over. I actually had a tear in my eye as we left. But unlike the kid mentioned above, we still have 7 1/2 months of adventure facing us.

Next stop: Grand Teton National Park