Or Lil Henz Goes to Yellowstone National Park…
Stop #2 on Jenna’s Honors Capstone project tour…Yellowstone National Park. The very first National Park. Established March 1, 1872. The granddaddy of them all.
Given that Yellowstone National Park is nearly 1,600 miles from home, this trip would have its own challenges. Fortunately those didn’t involve car troubles, all night partiers or severe thunderstorms. OK, I take part of that back…there was a severe thunderstorm but it didn’t impact us all that much.
Backtrack to Wednesday, July 10, our departure date. We arrived at the airport early in order to give ourselves plenty of time to get through security before our flight to Bozeman, Montana. Much to our surprise we made it through security in about 10 minutes, possibly a record in ATL. Since we made it through security much quicker than expected we had a bit of time to kill before boarding. Books, games on our phones, and people watching provided plenty of entertainment. What better place is there to people watch than at the airport, right? OK, maybe WallyWorld but that’s an entirely different brand of people watching…or maybe it’s not.
As the boarding process began things began to get a little tense. We were flying stand-by and ConnieLou was keeping track of how many seats were left for the stand-by passengers. We ended up getting two of the last three empty seats…and everyone was greatly relieved.
The flight to Bozeman was uneventful. Our next minor snag would come at the rental car counter. Apparently three flights arrived at about the same time and it appeared that most everyone was renting from Budget/Avis. Twenty people in two lines and none at the other counters…I was starting to have WallyWorld flashbacks. Fortunately the line moved faster than a typical WallyWorld checkout line. Once at the counter I was informed that there were no mid-sized cars available but we could have a Toyota Tacoma pick-up for the original price…and a potential snag turned into a bonus. Once in the rental, we headed down the road to Bozeman to grab some supper, get our park pass and do a little caching before heading over to Idaho to our B&B.
Once at the B&B we took a little time to chill then began planning out the next three days. Jenna had picked out historic photos from nine locations within the park that we needed to visit. With one exception, all of the locations were in the western half of the park and in five general areas: Mammoth Hot Springs, Midway Geyser Basin, Old Faithful area, and the West Thumb Geyser Basin/Yellowstone Lake area. I, on the other hand, had picked out fifty caches, all EarthCaches and virtual caches, to attempt to log that were in close proximity to the places she needed to go. We decided that on Thursday we’d try to finish everything that we needed to do in the Old Faithful area then if we had time head down to the West Thumb/Yellowstone Lake area and on Friday we’d hit the Midway Geyser Basin then head up to Mammoth Hot Springs. There were two other photo location that we needed to try to find. One of the locations was near the northwest corner of the park in the Tower area but after a bit of research we decided that it was unlikely that we’d be able to get to, much less find, that location. We didn’t have a clue where the other location might be so we figured we’d try to ask at any Information Station or Visitor Center that we might visit. If our plan worked out like we hoped we’d have most of the day Saturday to explore other parts of the park.
We headed into the park bright and early Thursday morning. We’d decided to stop at the Madison Junction Information Station to see if we could find any information about our mystery location, a former ranger station. Once we could see the Information Station we both thought that it looked very familiar. We pulled out the old picture of the former ranger station and quickly realized that we were looking at the same building. Mystery solved!
With one photo location in the books we headed on down to the Old Faithful area to work on the photo locations in that area, do some more caching and just play tourist for a bit. On the way to Old Faithful we encountered out first, yet brief, wildlife traffic jam courtesy of a bison.
We got lucky in the Old Faithful area and got to see eruptions of three of the major geysers, Old Faithful, Beehive and Grand Geyser, as well as several of the smaller geysers within about a three hour time span.
We were able to find all of the photo locations that we needed to find in the Old Faithful Area with one with one exception, Black Sand Pool. We decided to try to do some additional on-line research back at the B&B and ask around a bit then maybe come back to it if we were able. At that point we still had plenty of daylight to work with to we headed down to the West Thumb/Yellowstone lake area in the southern portion of the park for one more photo location before calling it a day and heading back up to West Yellowstone to get supper.
Friday morning we headed directly to the Midway Geyser Basin to visit Excelsior Geyser and the Grand Prismatic Pool before heading up to Mammoth Hot Springs.
For some reason I thought Mammoth Hot Springs might be somewhat less crowded than the Old Faithful area. I’m not too sure why I might have thought that because it seemed to be just as crowded, if not more so. If there were less people they were crowded into a smaller space which made it seem more crowded. Having a small group of elk camping out in the middle of ‘town’ didn’t help things much.
Regardless, we pressed on.
As we were leaving the park Thursday evening we got an unexpected treat. Jenna had been looking out the truck window across the Madison River when she saw something move on the opposite side of the river that looked like a wolf. I got the truck turned around and then turned down on the road that ran along the edge of the river until she found the right location and she spotted it again. Sure enough, a wolf came down to the river’s edge and began trying to catch something in the shallows. We watched for a few minutes before heading on into town for supper.
We’d had spectacular weather so far during our trip but as we left West Yellowstone Friday evening to head back to our B&B we could see dark storm clouds and a lot of lightning in the distance. We got a little rain but the worst of the storm passed by us and we were treated to a spectacular double rainbow.
Once back at the B&B I started doing a little more research to try to find Black Sand Pool, the photo location we’d missed from the day before. If we could find it we would have found and re-photographed eight of the nine original planned locations before we had to leave. It only took me about five minutes to find the location of the pool. It turns out that we had been just across the street and a ten-minute hike away on Thursday. At that point our plan for Saturday came together. First we were going to back to the Midway Geyser Basin early in the morning before the crowds arrived and filled up the parking lot to walk up to the overlook over the Grand Prismatic Pool, then head back down to the Old Faithful area to the Black Sand Pool then spend the rest of the day exploring.
Once we were at the Grand Prismatic Pool overlook we realized that our plan had a flaw. The morning air was cool and the pool was producing much more steam than in the warmer afternoons. Unfortunately we weren’t able to see the colors of the pool all that well. At least the steam was pretty impressive.
Another thing that was impressive after the previous night’s rain were the mosquitos. They had come out of hiding and were plentiful and they did their best to drain our veins during the walk to and from the overlook and to and from Black Sand Pool. Black Sand Pool? Yeah, we found it…
With the rest of the day ahead of us we decided to head north up the Grand Loop Road then head east across the middle of the park at Norris Junction to Canyon Junction to try to see the Yellowstone River waterfalls and canyon. Try would be the operative word as this area was also a sea of humanity and cars, trucks and motor homes vying for a limited number of parking spaces and, in some cases, creating new ones. We did manage a few views of one of the falls and the canyon before deciding to leave the people behind and head south along the Grand Loop Road in the east side of the park down to Fishing Village then over to West Thumb and back up to Madison Junction before calling it a day.
The remainder of the drive wasn’t without sights to see. We made a stop at the Mud Volcano where we found a bison camped out…
Then saw a buttload of bison along the road
We also encountered our worst traffic jam of the trip, although this one wasn’t cause by wildlife but by an ancient motorhome that was waaay past its prime and a driver who seemingly refused to pull off into one of the roadside pullouts and let others safely pass.
Sunday found us back at the Bozeman airport to catch our flight back home. Fortunately there were several seats available and no tense moments this time around and we were cleared to board without any issues.
So how did things shake out for us? 25 miles walked during our three days in the park, more if you add airports and walking around in town, we were able to locate 8 of 9 of the photo locations that Jenna needed to find and I was able to log 30 of the 50 caches (20 EarthCaches, 9 virtuals and 1 traditional cache) that I had hoped to log in and near the park.
Next stop…Great Smoky Mountains National Park!
Didn’t get enough pictures: OK, here are a few random scenery shots…