The Wonderland Known as Yellowstone
Yellowstone National Park (or some of you may know it as home to Yogi Bear) is one of the most incredible places that I have stepped foot on. There are so many different colours and smells believe it or not (and not all good I’m afraid) that your senses work overtime.
It is the world’s first ever national park and is one of the largest in North America. It is on top of a volcanic hot spot and although it hasn’t erupted in the last 664,000 years it is still active and if it was to blow again, as it is a super volcano, it would be 1000 times more powerful than a regular one and could cause devastation on a global scale. It is mostly covering Wyoming but also parts of Montana and Idaho too. You can expect to see everything from bears, bison and wolves to canyons, rivers, forest and geysers. No time to rest!
The best time to visit is throughout spring and summer as the weather it at its peak and all of the wildlife is out in full force so get your binoculars at the ready! This park is a scientists heaven (but even I have to say it’s one of my favourite ever places). The 500 odd geysers blow your mind (quite literally) and the most famous of the lot, Old Faithful, is one to watch as it has become a Yellowstone tradition and the rangers have even built viewing areas and lodges so visitors can enjoy the spectacle. It is the tallest of the lot and its eruptions are predicted each day so you can plan your time around ensuring you get a sighting.
Around 60% of the world’s geysers and hot springs are inside of Yellowstone. Alongside the bubbling mud pots (which are actually quite amusing to watch), are the rainbow coloured hot springs. You wouldn’t imagine that something so bright and colourful could be so dangerous or smell so bad (seriously, stick a peg on your nose, the sulphur stinks of rotten eggs). Although the geothermal features are the most attracting to visitors, for unwary travellers they can be very dangerous; more than 20 people in recent years have been killed just by being scolded by the water from the geysers or the springs with the water as hot as 250°f. The boardwalks are there for a reason so make sure you stay on them!
There are so many different hikes and trails all around the park, just make sure you stick to the paths/trails so you are less likely to come across any unwanted company. My favourite of them all was the one which leads you to what is known as the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. Although for most of the climb I was distracted, not only by the dreadful smell in the atmosphere but also being on the lookout for bears, the view at the end was astonishing. The Yellowstone River is what created this piece of art and the falls. It travels over 600 miles from the slopes of Yount Peak all the way through to North Dakota, into the Missouri River and happens to be the longest undammed river in the USA. Whether you hike all the way or take the road, the Canyon is not one to be missed!
Visiting the park for a day out is one thing but camping there is a whole different kettle of fish! Believe me when I say you will not be going into any campsite in the park unprepared! There are a few things you will notice immediately upon arrival into camp which makes you wonder what you are letting yourself in for…
- All of the signs with pictures of people getting mauled by bears showing you what will happen if you don’t follow the guidelines
- Every parent screaming at their children to stay with them instead of trying to go out gallivanting on a bear hunt
- The crazy amount of rangers and medical staff
- At least 2 large, metal, chained containers at every pitching site that you are made to lock all food and smelly items (toiletries) away in so the bears can’t get to them. You don’t want Yogi coming and tapping you on the shoulder for your picnic! (Yes, the bears are less likely to appear due to the temptation of food laying around but if they happen to wander into camp surely they’re more likely to go for you…)
Although at first this made us slightly on edge, we soon realised what an incredible thing it was that we were doing, to be able to camp in such a beautiful environment (this was way before the talk we had from a ranger telling us exactly what to do if you had a bear or a snake encounter and to ensure we never got the two reactions mixed up as it would be deadly). Now, after this talk and knowing all of the dangers around us, you can imagine how petrified we all were when one of the people in our group, who we learnt talks in his sleep, was halfway into a dream when he suddenly bolts himself up and screams at the top of lungs “HELP ME” in the middle of the night waking himself and every one of us up. It did become amusing the following morning but at the time you wet yourself a little as the first thing that comes to mind is you have been graced with the presence of a grizzly. I will also stress that it is advisable to go to the bathroom before going to sleep as walking there through camp in the middle of the night, alone, with no light other than your battery powered torch, can be quite daunting.
One of the best things about camping in the park is being able to get up and go wildlife spotting early in the morning, just before sunrise, before the place is swarmed with tourists, when all the animals come out and you are more likely to get a good view and some pretty amazing pictures. Make sure to drive through slowly, binoculars out, cameras at the ready and be prepared to see the beauty of the Yellowstone plains come alive. The daytime heat can be deceiving as early in the morning it can be extremely foggy and cold so wrap up well if you’re going on an expedition!
Seeing a bear is on my bucket list so having to leave without seeing one despite all the warnings and preparation was a little heartbreaking but I still got to have some incredible experiences including seeing a pack of wolves. I did lose count on how many deer and bison I saw so you won’t be disappointed on that front.
My visit made me understand the appeal of the park and it’s no surprise it’s known for so much, it’s spectacular in so many ways.