Fantastic campground near Canyon Village!
It’s hard to know where to begin here. Literally and geographically. If you’ve been, you know; the park is huge. This destination was not our primary objective for this summer trip, so mostly we just wanted to dip our toes in and get a sense of the park. I feel we accomplished that, though it must be noted that, due to the devastating floods of late spring, all of the national park campgrounds were closed and that may have therefore reduced overall numbers of visitors to the park. It may be that we got an unnaturally positive experience. Still, we sort of get it in terms of the general layout and what there is to see, though we didn’t see it all by a longshot. Nevertheless, I got many shots and will eventually be pushing the envelope for media content on WordPress. Worries for another day…
Ground level view of Grand Prismatic
If you know the general deal of Yellowstone, you know that there are long paved roads that go in sort of a figure 8, with a northern loop and a southern loop. The Canyon campground is nicely located in the middle, so it makes for an awesome jumping off point. We totally lucked out there. In addition to the National Park Service campgrounds, there are a handful of privately contracted places in the park. Everything fills up ridiculously fast no matter where you are trying to reserve. We had managed to score a cancellation site at Mammoth Hot Springs, but that ended up closing because of the flood. We had backup plans outside the park, but about a week before our stay, I looked online for the hell of it and there was space in Canyon. Sweet!
Interior of Old Faithful Inn
We came in from the West Yellowstone entrance, stopping briefly in town for some groceries. We did not experience any lines at the entry kiosk at all and we proceeded through the park. Richard jumped out after a few miles and rode the rest of the way to the campground. I won’t go into marital details here, but he and I had to do some major communicating around balancing bike time with together time. Work in progress lifey stuff.
Upper view of Grand Prismatic
Since it stayed light and warm quite late, we decided to bond by going out after dinner to the place where the Grand Prismatic Spring is located, because that was one of the few checklist items I had. That was enough for us to get a game plan idea for the next day, beginning with an overview shot. We also took a look inside the Old Faithful Inn to see the impressive and rustic interior architecture. Plus, there was ice cream. We drove the southern loop back to Dory, but by then it was dark. We did for sure see herds of Elk by the road, or some other herding creatures with glowing eyes. I’d like to think it was Elk.
Classic – Old Faithful (late by 6 min we noted)
We spent one full day over in the Old Faithful area. We started with the short hike to the Grand Prismatic Overlook and then went on to walk the boardwalks near Old Faithful. We saw it go off twice and that was pretty cool. I didn’t think I cared about seeing geysers and doubted I would find them that interesting, but I stand corrected. They are really interesting geothermal phenomena. We poked around the visitor center and saw some nice displays explaining the geology. One of the best quick spots to see four different kinds of features (geyser, spring, mudpot, fumarole) was on the Fountain Paint Pot Trail. We hit some missed viewpoints on our way back to Dory for another dinner and then caught our breath a little and made a plan for our last day.
Best interactive topo map ever
We also got into the Canyon Visitor Center and I saw one of the coolest relief map displays. It used lights and an audio explanation to show the history of all of the different major eruptions that have taken place over time. I can see the evidence of the massive caldera valley left behind and I have a better grasp on why this place is so filled with geothermal features. Super cool really.
Bacteria for science
Something we learned from the Gypsy guy was that bacteria that is found in these geothermal springs is responsible for speeding up the process for DNA testing. In a nutshell and from an oversimplified memory, the human body replicates DNA with the help of an enzyme called a Polymerase. To replicate the process in a lab requires rapid heating and cooling of the sample, which takes a long time. The bacteria found in these Yellowstone pools contain a polymerase that can replicate at much higher temperatures. So the heat/cool process goes exponentially faster. This is useful for increasing a DNA sample so that it can be tested. In fact, days later we were talking about Covid tests and wondered what “PCR” stands for. And boom! It’s “Polymerase Chain Reaction,” and the technology that led to its widespread use owes its success to the bacteria from hot springs. So there you go! Interesting stuff!
So damn cool
Having only really two and half days in the park, we didn’t expect to do full versions of anything. It works well to start the day as early as possible in the busiest places, and Norris Geyser Canyon was our target. We got there a little before 10am, got one of the couple of remaining parking places, and walked around until after noon. What a wild and crazy place that is. This area made the strongest impressions and gave the best views of all different kinds of geothermal features. We did the full loops and got great views of Steamboat Geyser not quite going off, and Vixen Geyser squirting tall streams into the air.
This geyser goes off once every 4 days to 50 years. Better have a lot of needlepoint ready.
Along the trail, there were people whose hobby it is to catch and document geyser activity. I think they called themselves “Geyser Gazers,” but I may have misheard. They come armed with little camp chairs, walkie talkies, and sometimes needlepoint. That sounds like a hobby that takes dedication.
Mammoth Hot Springs
Our last hurrah was to drive the north loop, only stopping when the Gypsy app guy told us we really had to. We got a “senso generale” for the Mammoth area, and that would have been a fun place to be stationed, though much farther from the other parts of the park. We viewed the hot springs from a distance, saving further exploration for another time.
And finally we passed through the Tower Falls area before climbing the big pass that drops us back down into Canyon. That area would be much more remote. There is definitely no cell service there, and there aren’t the city-like amenities of gas, stores, visitor centers, etc. Richard got an overall impression in terms of biking and really there wasn’t that much of the park he would be motivated to ride. Many of the roads are still in pretty bad shape, with deep and jarring potholes, or sections of road torn out due to construction/improvement projects. There is a lot of car traffic no matter where you go, and some of the shoulders are minimal or nonexistent. His preferred riding stretch was from the West entrance to Norris, and then some of the mid loop road. Also, bear jams in Yellowstone are intense and there are so many cars stopped that it would be hard, even for a bike, to get through. We encountered one bison jam, where the animal simply stood in the road for a while, fully stopping traffic in both directions until he was satisfied he had asserted his unquestionable authority.
Sunset from Artist’s Point – Lower Falls tumbling into the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone
Our unexpectedly final agenda item was to actually visit the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone; the actual place where we were staying. I got super confused on which was the Upper Falls and which the Lower Falls, but I think I get it now. Maybe I’ve just seen too many falls and they are all starting to look the same to me. We did the North Rim and South Rim drives, capping it all off with a very nice sunset, viewed from Artist’s Point on the South Rim. Absolutely beautiful.
A dozen moose. All hiding. Bastards.
On the wildlife bingo board, we definitely saw Elk, a black bear, bison, and some kind of badger creature. But no moose, even though we stopped for a long time at the goddamn “Moose Exhibit” viewpoint. That said it was the ideal habitat location. I’m sure they were there, but in hiding. I shook my fist at their invisible bodies before finally giving up.
Off camera: 10,000 people with cameras
We absolutely have intentions to return to this park some day. We get the layout of the various lands now. I do think the place is pretty crowded, and that is with all of the NPS campgrounds closed. Services were well spaced throughout the park and I definitely was not worried about bears there. Too many people. If I were off the beaten path, that might be a different story. I’ll go with all the Yellowstone hyperbole and I see why it was the world’s first national park. It’s a “gem” and “treasure” and all that. Three days was a nice toe dip for us and we’d love to go back and maybe stay at Fishing Bridge or the lake area next time.
Total miles from Lewis & Clark Caverns: 152.4, 17.5 mpg, 5 hours 35 min with stops and SAGing. Site J215. No hookups. Some solar. Not great cell but a little, at night. Good dump. Services, gas, stores, visitor center in Canyon Village. Good central location to park.