Yellowstone National Park – Part II

We left Fishing Bridge at 7:30am to get to the Norris campground before 9:00am as Norris was filling up daily between ten and twelve. We needed to get there particularly early to get a site large enough for our camper knowing (by checking it out in advance) that many sites are sized for tents. Surprise! Sometimes the bison create their own traffic jams!

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On this particular morning, the bison were hanging out on the road, four abreast in places, from Fishing Bridge to Canyon – a vivid reminder that Yellowstone belongs to the animals and that we are only visitors in their home. One adventurous driver ventured passed us (and several other cars and campers), taking the oncoming lane, but one clear look into the right eye of a rather large bison and we decided he or she had the right of way over our truck or trailer getting ramrodded (btw: good video of this at the visitor center). We waited a good thirty minutes before we could proceed, but with good planning and a little luck we rolled into a great campsite in loop A in the Norris campground and there we stayed for another six nights. The Norris campground does not have a store, gas station, or ranger station, which makes it a lot less busy. There are no hookups, but flush toilets and water is available. We absolutely loved this campground and much appreciated the bison that walked right into our campsite on the second day! Clearly the bison had failed to read the federal regulations posted in camp that requires you to stay at least 25 yards away from wild animals such as bison, elk, bighorn sheep, deer, moose and coyotes; but, who were we to complain.

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The road system in the park resembles a figure eight and we were in the middle of the western side of the park. With our basecamp at Norris, we explored the Norris Geyser Basin, Upper and Lower Geyser Basin, the Lamar Valley area and Mammoth Hot Springs (where the elk prefer a room with an outdoors view). We also made it out to West Yellowstone, which is just outside of the park in Idaho. We enjoyed the small town that had a grocery store, museum, theater, plenty of restaurants, tons of souvenir shops and an old time soda fountain. But the real reason to get to West Yellowstone is to find a few bars for the phone so that we could let loved ones know that we were still alive!

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We quickly found out that this massive park was made for driving and saw that a lot of visitors barely leave their cars. The roads pass major features and many attractions are less than a quarter of a mile from the parking areas and pullouts. We also found out that if you hike just a half-mile away from the road you’re likely to not see another soul. We joked that the crowds were Disneyesque and that the park was created to please the masses – we laughed as out of shape visitors would stay in their parked cars while others that were in better shape would walk out to take pictures and then head back to show it to the car dwellers. We concluded that in the summertime this park is very much for the car visitors. Maybe we will visit again in the off-season because as the ranger explained our National Parks are always open even when the roads are closed to vehicles in the wintertime.

 

While exploring the road on Firehole Canyon Drive we found a number of parked cars and saw people swimming in the Firehole River that skirts the road (parts of which we heard melted the week after we left). Hold on – every time we touched water it was ice cold. Were these folks immune or was this some impromptu polar bear plunge challenge? Lo and behold the water here is temperate so naturally it was time to take a dip and enjoy the strong current that threatens to sweep you downriver. A ranger let us know later that there are only two places where visitors are permitted to swim in the park, but they don’t advertise them. No doubt for obvious reasons.

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Driving down the roads of Yellowstone thick with lodge pole pines you don’t give the park’s thermal features a great deal of thought. But listen to the roar of Dragon’s Breath, stand close but not too close to bubbling and burping mud pots, wonder at the brilliant oranges of the paint pots and pastel blues of the thermal waters, or better yet hike up to the top of a mountain and gaze upon a steam vent and pools of boiling water set high above the valley floor, and you may recall and take heed of the words of geologist Ferdinand V. Hayden in 1871: “…the entire basin of Yellowstone is volcanic….”.

Up next: On hold in Montana