Into Yellowstone National Park – Driving Around, and On, a Volcano

Day 14 – Travel as I Have Envisioned It Could Be.

DSC_0097 (900x602)Today was dedicated to a visit to Yellowstone National Park. First, there are some notable facts about Yellowstone. For example, it is the first of the National Parks in the United States and perhaps the first national park in the world, having been established by the U. S. Congress, and signed into law by President Ulysses S. Grant in 1872.

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The peaks began to peek through the clouds.

But first, one piece of old business: The weather is much better today, and we were able to take several good photos of the Grand Tetons on our way to Yellowstone. One of my favorite shots is a view of one of the peaks through a hole in the clouds.

Yellowstone National Park covers more than 3,400 square miles including lakes, canyons, rivers and mountain ranges. Yellowstone Lake is one of the largest high-altitude lakes in North America. Within the park is the caldera of the largest active supervolcano on the American continent. Based on geological evidence, the volcano has erupted several times over the past two million years. The latest eruption occurred some 640,000 years ago.

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Geysers are one of the four different types of thermal structures in the park.

Hot magma—molten lava—eight to ten miles below the surface under the Yellowstone caldera–transfers extreme heat from much deeper in the earth. This accounts for the nearly 10,000 “thermal features” found in Yellowstone. Thermal features include geysers, hot springs, mudpots, and fumaroles (see the post on Yellowstone thermal features).

So, in effect, we set out this morning to drive around—and across—the caldera of an active volcano. Not many places in the world where you can do that as a casual tourist.

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In case there was any doubt

Of course, our first objective was Old Faithful. My grandmother was something of a traveler when I was young—eight to 12 years—and she had given me a View-Master stereoscopic viewer and several sets of “reels” for viewing. Later, when she was traveling, she was able to purchase reels of destinations like Yellowstone, including wildlife and geysers, and send them to me. They were way better than postcards! Old Faithful went on my travel bucket list before we used the term “bucket list”! Today was the day to check off that item.

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Old Faithful, right on schedule.

When my grandmother was there, the area was not nearly so developed, and folks just stood around, at a safe distance, and watched the geyser spout-off.  Today, Old Faithful is the centerpiece of a whole enterprise of hotels, eateries, souvenir shops, paved walkways and viewing stands. But the eruption is still as magnificent an experience as it was then.

We arrived early for the next scheduled eruption and waited more than 40 minutes, but we had one of the best seats to be had. See the separate post, “Eruption of Old Faithful.”

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The steep-sided V-shaped Grand Canyon of Yellowstone

After leaving Old Faithful to regenerate for the next eruption, we followed the lower (southern) loop road through the park. If you take this route, make sure you take the Virginia Cascade road for a mild adventure. For the most part, this route is like driving through any other natural park—seeing occasional animals, fabulous views, etc., but this is the only place you are likely to see random instances of natural steam coming out of the ground like an active teapot. All through the park, there are  mudpots, geysers, fumaroles, etc. (see the post on Yellowstone thermal features).

A must-see stop is Canyon Village, so named for the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone–that is the Yellowstone River. The canyon is a classic river-created canyon–V-shaped rather than the more curved glacier-carved canyons. There are trails to hike down to the river. The views, as everywhere, are worth every photo taken.

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We saw bison throughout the park. A good telephoto lens lets me get close without getting too close.

We then stopped at Lake Lodge for an extended break. Rustic Lake Lodge is on Yellowstone Lake and is part of Lake Village. Leaving Lake Village, we came upon stopped traffic. In front of several vehicles ahead, a couple of bison were crossing the road—at a leisurely pace. They are huge beasts. I was like watching a slow-moving locomotive crossing the road. We joked that these bison had drawn the “short straw” and gotten tourist photo duty for the afternoon. They did a fine job.

For a day’s drive in a park, it was like no other experience I have ever had. But Yellowstone is not quite off my bucket list yet. There is much more to see and experience.

Previous: To The Entrance to Grand Tetons and Yellowstone National Parks

Next: Types of Thermal Features in Yellowstone

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2 Responses to Into Yellowstone National Park – Driving Around, and On, a Volcano

  1. axelan says:

    Really enjoying your journey, Jeff

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