Welcome to Yellowstone!
We decided to dedicate most of our time in US visiting the nature preserves and national parks. Today, after visiting more than 15 national parks and many others forests and monuments across the mid-west and west of US we are certain that this was one of the best decision we could have taken. The US has great and varied nature easily accessible through the US park services, so we had to experience it! Thus after Olympic NP visit we headed towards east in Montana and Wyoming to visit the legendary Yellowstone and the Grand Teton National Parks.
Mammoth Hot Springs, Yellowstone
Yellowstone is the world’s first nature preserve, opened to the public in 1872 in a very progressive move of US congress. JP was fascinated to read on the Roosevelt’s Arch at park’s entrance the quote “For the Benefit and Enjoyment of the People": such a forward thinking view at that time! Besides, as JP grew up with Hanna Barbera cartoons, Yogi bear and Ranger Smith of Jellystone, the fascination for Yellowstone grew since childhood.
The park preserves the most spectacular hot springs, geysers, terraces of travertine and volcanic rocks. The fauna and flora is remarkable. It is a bear country, and you can relatively easily encounter a number of large predators such as coyotes, wolfs and bears. Other large animals such as elks, moose and bison are spotted easily.
We were back into the wild for a couple of days and we liked that. Yellowstone it’s not a park to visit in one day, so plan a few days to drive through and hike otherwise you might not see it all.
Entrance Yellowstone NP
We took over two days to cover the 1200 km separating Lakewood in Washington State to Yellowstone North Entrance. As we were arriving late we preferred to camp just outside park limits, for free, at a very nice recreation area by a river. In the morning we woke up and I figured it was much colder than usual and asked JP to turn on the heater. My nose was cold. When he looked up the window there was a 5cm layer of snow outside. Ohh nooo! Since we left Alaska and Canada we were hoping to get the warm sunny days in the south and here we were in Yellowstone under snow. Nonetheless it was a picture that brought a lot of smiles, it felt like Christmas.
After breakfast we advanced into the park. The snow slowly melted and we were back into autumn season and temperatures. It felt good.
On the way we crossed another key milestone: half way between North Pole and Equator on Parallel 45. Yuuhuu! We were making progress!
Half way Ecuador - North Pole
At the north gate of Yellowstone National Park we had two options: either 30$ entrance fee for Yellowstone or pay 80$ for the “America the Beautiful” annual pass that would give us access to more than 2000 parks and national recreation lands in US for both of us. It was a no brainer, as we were planning to visit many parks and monuments such as Bryce, Zion, Grand Canyon, Death Valley, Yosemite. We paid the 80$ annual pass, a great deal which saved us a lot of money down the road.
The Boiling River
It was cold outside and there would be nothing better than jumping into some hot springs. JP had found out about the Boiling River, a “must go” site where one has the unique chance to take a hot bath into a cold river. Sounds like a contradiction, but it’s real. The Gardner River has super cold waters but there is ‘another river’ coming from underground, this one with boiling waters, mixing with Gardner river waters. The result is fabulous: the two combined waters create “mini natural jacuzzis” where one can enjoy a warm bath, while outside are freezing temperatures. Lovely!
Boiling River, Yellowstone
I had my ski gear on. I didn’t believe I would get in such cold temperatures. Luckily JP insisted, he was so excited. Here I was, taking my clothes of, in my swimming suit ready to enter the river at very cold temperatures. In the beginning I entered the cold part and that was not that pleasant 🙂 I had to advance where the hot water would merge into the cold river. Soon got warmer and very hot. It took me a while to acclimatize. It felt either too hot or too cold. Eventually, I made it and it was a sweet relaxing time in the natural jacuzzi. JP got in fast, he was like a bear playing joyful in the hot pools with his head up and down as if he was looking for salmon. It was energizing, and JP did not want to leave. For him this was one of the most amazing experiences we had in our whole trip. Tip: go early so you have the whole place to yourselves as we did ?
After more than one hour when the our skin was already wrinkled like raisins we rushed out hoping to get our clothes on before freezing. We managed, no major issues. Once dressed all was ok, the body was still warm from the boiling river. We loved this experience. It was simply relaxing and what was the best is that it was in the open air, in an open river, nature. What an experience!
Boiling River, Yellowstone
Mammoth Hot Springs
We reached the small town of Yellowstone, when we observed there were elks everywhere. The first seconds I saw this, I thought they were stuffed elks, part of the design of the tourist information center. Then I realized they were moving and I looked twice. Weren’t I seeing well? Were they domesticated? It took me couple of seconds to realize these were all wild elks, so many of them! They were everywhere, around the center, the park, the post office, not scared, eating glass, laying down, sleeping and walking through, just like residents of the town. Wow! That was fantastic. We couldn’t understand how it was possible. We understood from a local that they are quite familiar with the town and often they come over for a meal, nobody bothers them, people just come to see and photograph them. But make no mistake: while the elks might look docile they are still wild animals and we’d seen a few Chinese tourists almost getting their asses spiked by elks antler’s when approaching too close for pictures.
Our next stop in town was Mammoth Hot Springs and the spectacular terraces of travertine (calcium carbonate). On our way a beautiful elk with splendid antlers came through the landscape looking at us with no surprise. He was definitely an alpha, with its strong but gracious feature next to the beautiful springs. People ran to take pictures while the elk remained calm, walking his way down, crossing the springs and the streets as any other regular day in town. The mammoth hot springs were impressive with millions of multi-colored calcium carbonate pool formations. Splendid.
As we could not find a free campsite inside the park we drove out through park’s west entrance to find a place to camp. The way was full of surprises as we saw impressive herds of bisons coming down the valley by sunset. Every corner was a discovery in Yellowstone National Park. When outside we took advantage of Brutus (the nickname of the truck 🙂 off-road capabilities finding a place to park in the forest, in the middle of the trees. It was a great night, very quiet.
The Grand Prismatic Springs
The next day we woke up early and proceeded towards the Grand Prismatic Springs and The Old Faithful geyser. We were about to see one of the most spectacular colored terraces formed by the springs and geysers. On our way we met again bisons, this time covered with snow. The view seemed like an image from the ice age. Pretty cool.
The Old Faithful
Of course we couldn’t miss the Old Faithful, the famous and highly predictable geyser who has erupted every 44 to 125 minutes since 2000. A legend. To our luck, the old faithful didn’t let us down and erupted splendidly 5 minutes after we arrived. We couldn’t get a better timing since outside it was 0 degrees Celsius ?. Happy with the show we departed towards the Grand Teton National Park.
The Grand Teton National Park
The name “Teton” was given by the French Canadian fur trappers and comes from “Les Trois Tetons”. In translation “The Three Nipples”. Looking at the mountains carefully, we could not picture the nipples :)) The French trappers must have had a wild imagination wondering around these areas ?
It was already afternoon when I proposed to call the day earlier to enjoy the beautiful view of the rough-cut summits of Tetons. As usual, we found a great spot on iOverlander with a perfect view to the mountains. It took us a while to chose the place. Initially we went further off-road through rugged terrain hoping to find the wildest spot with the stunning view of the valley. However, it didn’t pay off as we ended up deep into the mud and the view was not great from where we were. JP initially enjoyed the challenge, but soon got upset that we almost got stuck in mud for no real good reason. Although the truck made for it and we like challenges it is still our home and we must be careful with Brutus.
We found a neat spot to camp next to two other trucks, one of them a Unimog from Germany. Very soon upon our arrival the owners of the Unimog came to see our truck. Very friendly Germans that crossed Canada the same route that we did. Ute and Ralph were very friendly and nice. After we gave them a tour of our truck we went to see theirs. Pretty big and heavy Unimog, fully equipped, it had everything: from stove with oven, radio transmitter, a serious kit for photography to a foldable kayak and tent for camping. It was great to spend some time with them, hear their story and share their passion for photography, traveling and Unimogs.
The Unimog of Ute & Ralph (Albatros Unimog)
The next day we woke up in one of the most beautiful sceneries we ever seen. I know it sounds repetitive, but it is true 🙂 It was snow outside and we could see the Teton mountains just in front of our window powdered with snow. I was very happy that day. I felt present and inspired. It was about living that moment. .
That morning filled our hearts with energy and joy. We forgot about the cold and spent a lovely morning viewing this nature wonders.