I slept. That was unexpected. Not very well but I slept. My nose was pretty cold and I realise how warm a tent can be, when you have to go out to pee at 3 am in the snow. All in all, it was a pretty good experience.
I had a challenge today to see as much as I could by mid-afternoon so that I could unfortunately get out and make some good ground for my further travels. So I was up at around 6am. I packed my tent away first. It was just as difficult packing away in the cold as putting it up. I had breakfast and tea, and chatted with some neighbours who arrived late in evening. I was ready to head South and see what this place was all about.
One thing I was warned about by my good friend Sunita, is that progress will be slow. She’s a photographer and recently went on a trip to Iceland. “You will want to stop everywhere” she said. I can confirm that she was correct.
Every single lay-bye was an opportunity to stop and gaze. And each stop could have easily taken all day.
My first stop was Fountain Flat Drive. This is where I saw my first herd of Bison and set of hot springs. There was nowhere to stop on the lane so I was flicking my view back and forth between the road and the bison on my right in a panic that I may miss something – either on the road or from the bison. I parked up at the end of the lane and just watched.
I took a brief half hour walk which included a stop off at the Ojo Caliente Spring. Marked with stones that you weren’t to pass, I kept a decent distance and ogled at thing coming out of the ground. One thing I learnt from Nat Geo was that more people die in Yellowstone from these geysers than from bear attacks. This happens because people wander off the track, slip and well, burn to death. I could understand now.
It’s just incredible because. Here I am standing in the snow. In front of me is a pool of water bubbling away, the water of which feeds into a stream, which can be seen to be steaming all the way along. Looking into the distance, there are plumes of what looks like ‘smoke’ dotted all around. It’s like the place is on fire. Never before have I seen a place so full of contrast, and life, yet empty of people (for now – it’s still early!). Hands on hips, I’m in awe. The hot pools surrounded by snow, the hot steam vs cold air, the dark fur of bison vs white snow. Joy reigns.
“How am I going to get out of this place when there’s all of this to see?” The Bison here were numerous and were all seemingly huddling in a safe distance from the springs too. I don’t blame them – it’s chilly.
Later on in the afternoon another contrast would become apparent. That’s the juxtaposition of the wilderness of the world’s first National Park with tailbacks as far as you can see, heaving car parks and saturated boardwalks. Nat Geo had commented on that Yellowstone needs to be careful not to be a victim of it’s own success, success that can negate the very nature of what makes Yellowstone so special. Everyone should see it, or something like it. It’s humbling. But of course it’s something that should be managed.
I have loose plans to make it to Lake Village for lunch. I do a U-ey to go and drive Firehole Canyon Drive, and then continue south to Old Faithful. Now, I hadn’t done much research on a tourists point of view for Yellowstone, so I was a bit unaware of what this was. I got there and realised it was THE Geyser. Unfortunately due to timing I wasn’t around to see it explode but . . . I am OK with that. This was the tourist centre. An education centre, a big car park, a few other buildings and the Yellowstone Lodge. Now it’s a beautiful building, inside and out. The fire was roaring, it was gorgeously warm and of course it had some classic gift shops. I indulged in some postcards. I had some lunch at the lodge and in all honesty . . . I would avoid it. The food was just terrible.
By the time lunch was over, the snow was starting to melt off the roofs of all the building as the day warmed up. I hit the road again and meandered my way down south. I continued to stop off because there were so many pictures to take and things to see. There were also many things that I missed. This is now out of interest, it’s more out of people. As mentioned already it ended up being quite busy, so much so that there was no where to park so I had to just drive on.
I very much felt like one of these fairweather tourists on this trip. Pull into a side road. Take some photos. Drive off. Next! Wind down the window. SNAP SNAP SNAP. Wind up the window and go. I will be back, and it will be longer than 24 hours. And because of this I couldn’t enjoy it in the same way as I have other trips. I have a feeling I may want to bring a bicycle and some panniers for a little cycle tour. Less rushed for sure.
I followed the road round and I was now heading north on the east side of the park. I climbed some hills, got some fantastic views and I drove down some hills. I take my last stop at Hayden Valley, which used to be a lake bed. Here are another herd of buffalo and it was just beautiful. This is where I take some of my favourite photos of the trip so far. And I am sure you can see why!
The hills continue to roll. People were playing the adult version of Pokemon Go, making stops for animal pictures. However once I was in drive mode, and embraced the fact I wasn’t able to stop for everything, I began to enjoy the views more. It was the most breathtaking drive of my short driving career to date. Steep, engine breaks and narrow roads. Perfect.
This continued after I left the park too. I turned East at Roosevelt Lodge and head towards the East Entrance. To my dismay, the main road that would take me back onto the 94 was closed. The park staff were great and gave me some directions for me to get out. It would add another hour or so onto my trip but hey, it ended up being a great detour. I took the 296 east (also known as Dead Indian Hill Road) , which had me zig zagging all over the place. I wish I had taken more photos. There was hanging fog that meant I just couldn’t see more than 20 yards ahead, if that. This meant major slow going. Especially with cliff edges, cows and other animals, I couldn’t risk going any faster than 15 or 20 miles an hour. I stop at Sunlight Bridge View to take in the last of where I had been. It was kind of my last good bye.
View from Sunlight Bridge – That’s where I’d just been
After I this I hung a left on the 120 which turns into the 72 once you cross the state line. These two were less interesting. Straight roads at 80 mph. I was pretty exhausted by the end and so I stopped as soon as I could for a motel.
My time in Yellowstone was over . . . this time.
- Here is the Map of Yellowstone which details the places I talk about in the above: yellowstone-official-road-map_2016-2