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On our first day in Yellowstone National Park, we aimed to get to Mammoth Hot Springs Terraces. This was the farthest away from our hotel we would get. As we traveled north we stopped to see lots of amazing things.
For day 2, we planned to head south toward Old Faithful, then follow the road as it looped back up north to The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River, and head back home to complete the loop.
Midway Geyser Basin
On our way to Old Faithful, we stopped at the Midway Geyser Basin which holds the Grand Prismatic Spring and other thermal features.
Our first discovery was the Excelsior Geyser Crater. To get an understanding of this, let me explain how geysers work. Water is heated underground to crazy high temperatures. When there isn’t a large opening in the ground, pressure builds up until the water shoots out from the opening. This relieves the pressure for a while. When it builds up again the geyser will explode again.
At the Excelsior Geyser, the pressure built up so high that when the geyser erupted, it blew away the entire surface of land above it!
Next, we saw the Grand Prismatic Spring. Mmm, no. Scratch that. We saw the steam from the Grand Prismatic Spring. This was the only feature that was a let down for me. I had seen some amazing pictures of the Grand Prismatic Spring, and couldn’t wait to see it in real life. I’m sure that it looks really cool normally, but we were there on a very cold morning, so I’m sure there was more steam than usual. I’m still glad we visited the Midway Geyser basin though, because the other features were impressive.
Now it was time for us to visit the most famous attraction in Yellowstone National Park: Old Faithful. Tip: There is a free app called NPS Yellowstone National Park. It was extremely helpful; especially at Old Faithful. One of the features it has is a geyser predictor. It can be hard to find service in the park, but since the area around Old Faithful is more developed, I was able to update the app to get a prediction for when the next eruption would be (give or take 10 minutes).
We had about an hour to wait, so we explored the area. We didn’t get too far before we were stopped by a bison! He was enjoying his lunch right by the trail. There are signs all over the park reminding people of how dangerous bison are. One sign even said they are the most dangerous animal in the park! The guideline is to stay at least 25 feet away from them. We weren’t going to take any chances. We snapped a few pictures and headed back the other way.
About 15 minutes later, we had settled down on a bench to have a picnic lunch when Mr. Bison wandered out into the field in front of us! I think he wanted to see what all the people were hanging around for. Either that, or he has a dream of being on the front cover of National Geographic.
Unfortunately, our scary bison friend decided to leave before the big show.
No wonder it’s the most famous. It’s amazing!
On our way to West Thumb we found the Continental Divide! When I taught geography, I explained the continental divide to my students. Flash forward a few years, and there I was, standing on it! The continental divide is a line that runs through the continent. The rivers on the east side of it flow east. The rivers on the west side flow west.
This marker for the Continental Divide is near Isa Lake. Spring runoff water causes this lake to overflow every year. When it does, the water flows away from the center in two directions. Some of the water ends up in the gulf of Mexico while some of it goes to the Pacific. I think that’s pretty exciting.
West Thumb is a fun area. A boardwalk took us on a journey to see some dynamic springs and geysers near Yellowstone Lake. Apparently otters love this area. I hoped that one of them would grace us with its presence, but we had no such luck. We did get to come pretty close to some geysers though!
Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River
We drove away to visit the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River. At least, I thought that’s where we were going. After about 20 minutes of driving, Skyler said, “South Entrance? No way! That can’t be right!” Unfortunately, it was. I had completely failed in my navigation duties! Yikes! Tip: Don’t take a wrong turn in Yellowstone! No, that’s a stupid tip. Here’s the real one. Real Tip: pay attention to the map as you drive to ensure that you are passing the right landmarks on your way to your destination. There, that would have saved us some precious time.
At long last, we made it to the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River. We definitely saved the best for last, because, wow. I was standing there looking at it, and yet, somehow didn’t believe it was real. The canyon is overwhelmingly deep with steep cliffs on either side. At the end of it we could see an amazing waterfall unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. I should stop trying to explain it and just show it to you.
In the picture above, the sides of the canyon fall a little more gracefully. Imagine you are standing and holding the camera. If you look to your left, the cliffs are almost vertical! Like this (yes, that is snow at the top. It was cold!):
Behind the scenes:
- We got pulled over in the park. The speed limit is 45 mph, but watch out! There are some sections of road that are more dangerous (pedestrian crossings and junctions), so the speed limit is lower. We missed the sign for one of these areas. We were given a warning. (Thank you!) We were much more cautious after that!
- We found a geyser that had opened up in a parking lot! They had to build a fence around it so that people wouldn’t drive over it.
Surprisingly, we were able to see almost all of the major attractions in Yellowstone in just 2 days! We did it with a baby in tow. This is part 2 explaining how we were able to see so much in so little time. Check out part 1 to see how it the first half went and to get more tips on how to see lots of attractions in Yellowstone even if you aren’t there for long!