I know Yellowstone is amazing. I know it was the first National Park and is the reason we have a National Park system to begin with. I know I was supposed to be impressed, and in some ways, I was. Here is my experience.
I did Yellowstone in two parts, with a trip to Bozeman, Montana in between. More on Bozeman later. I met my friend and another friend of hers at the Grant Village Campground which is on the southwest side of the largest naturally-made alpine lake above 7,000 ft in North America. I drove in from Cody, Wyoming on the east side of the park and went through Shoshone National Forest, which was interesting to see.
I travelled around half of the lake to get to the Grant Village. It was a beautiful drive with lake and mountain views the whole way around. I even got a life bird at a stop at Pelican Creek (cinnamon teal, not pelican, though they were there too) and saw a coyote.
We set up camp at the tightest packed campground I have ever seen and set off on a short, late-afternoon hike to see Lone Star Geyser on a recommendation from other park patrons.
They said it was better than Old Faithful if you catch it when it is going off, but it is less reliable, going off every three hours or so. It was an easy walk down a decommissioned road, and when we got there, the geyser was going! Lucky us! We watched for a while, then it simmered down. There were only four other people there and one of them said that was only the pre-eruption and that the full, 40 foot high eruption would happen in half an hour (the information plaque said that too). So we waited. And waited. And got a lot of mosquito bites. And waited some more. And just as we were about to go, off went the geyser!
It was worth waiting for. Not only for the innuendoes it inspired, but for the sheer power and weirdness of such an event. It was impressive, for the first five minutes. Then it kept going for another fifteen. We started talking to a couple of guys who were also watching it. They had been on a hike and lost their way. They were looking for a ride back to their car (sound familiar?). I was eager to give back for all the kindness I had received on my trip, so we offered to take them. We had the whole 2 mile walk to get to know the young adventurers. They were fresh out of college and taking road trip to see all the National Parks. They were enthusiastic and happy and we all appreciated their stories and positivity.
The evening was topped off by a beautiful sunset over the lake, then mac and cheese and hot dogs cooked over the fire. Delicious!
We had big plans the next day: hike to Fairy Falls and see the iconic Grand Prismatic Spring. The hike was really more of a walk and falls were nice.
Grand Prismatic Spring was truly incredible, but the effect was dampened by the inability to find a parking spot and getting pushed around on the boardwalk to get out of the way of peoples “perfect” photos. I realized that there was no way to get around the people, so I took some pictures with people in them. Go with the flow, right? The place was really other-worldly and with all the people around, it felt like a theme park. Still, I am really glad I saw this spring.
We took the long drive out of the park to see some of the more scenic spots like Tower Falls and some pretty wildflower meadows. Overall, for me, it was a rather frustrating drive behind very slow rented rv’s and wildlife-induced traffic jams. People would pull over on the side of a road without a shoulder, blocking traffic and running around in the middle of the street to chase an elk into the woods with their cameras at the ready. Is it really so important to get that picture of the poor elk? I don’t think so. I guess everyone experiences nature in a different way, but I was satisfied to see the elk and not harass them.
After a respite in Bozeman for a few days, I gathered my energy and patience and went back into Yellowstone by myself for another night on my way to Grand Teton National Park. This was a Thursday and I almost didn’t get a campsite the park was so packed. I also lollygagged in Norris Geyser Basin. That was a nice, boardwalked, self-guided tour of one of the geothermal sites in the park. Again, it was difficult to find a parking spot and there were people everywhere. I took the monorail from the parking lot to the geyser…oh, sorry, that’s a different park…
I set up my campsite at the site farthest south in the park, Lewis Lake, and then I accomplished one of my trip goals: going to a small-town rodeo. I left the park and went to West Yellowstone. The Wild West Yellowstone Rodeo was perfect. Exactly what I pictured. There were maybe six contestants and they did all the events I wanted to see. There were bad jokes and audience participation led by the not-so-funny rodeo clown and demonstrations of true skill by the cowboys and girls. I thoroughly enjoyed my evening there.
In the morning, after a cold night’s sleep interrupted by a drunk or maybe high girl screaming at 2am, I left Yellowstone for the Tetons. I had enough of the traffic and the pushy tourists. I have mixed feelings about this park. I respect everything the park has done to make its main features accessible to all, but standing on a boardwalk and getting shoved around was not what I wanted to continue to do. The geothermal features of Yellowstone were worth experiencing and I am happy that I went. Perhaps some day I’ll go back and see more, like Old Faithful, which I skipped. Yes, I did. Sacrilege, I know, but I saw one geyser and fighting for a parking spot to see another was not on my agenda. Congress and President Grant were right to preserve this unique place, but I wonder how much our “preservation” is actually damaging it. I suppose it won’t matter after the volcano erupts!