The northern entrance to Yellowstone National Park is a grand stone arch out in the middle of nowhere. Well, I guess that's a bit of a stretch, but the gate just feels like an afterthought. It's as if the town of Gardiner was already there and then they just decided to build the entrance to this amazing national park in some unused back lot in the crappy part of town. Fortunately, the real draw to Yellowstone wasn't the gate, but in seeing one of the earths' thirty active super volcanoes. The steaming rivers and intermittent geysers are a subtle reminder of the immense power that resides under this entire area.
If this were a TV show, now would be the time the dramatic music kicks in and the narrator tells you all about how this caldera could erupt at any moment and create enough chaos to destroy the entire North American continent. Fortunately this is an article not a TV program and in reality you're more likely to die of medical malpractice or shark attacks. I didn't see any sharks, but I wasn't disappointed in the amount of wildlife I saw. Elk, Bison, Grizzly, Pronghorn, Coyote, Elk and Moose were all spotted. The elusive wolf packs evaded my sight, but I did hear them howling when I was out taking pictures at night. Although that's not really a time I'd like to be catching glimpses of wolves anyway.
Overall, the park was better situated for photographers versus those looking to paint. The boardwalks forced people to walk in certain areas. Which is actually for the best as I tend to explore off the untrodden trail, because that's usually more enjoyable. In Yellowstone venturing off the beaten path could mean finding yourself face first in some scalding mud crawling out as the heat melts the flesh off your face and people scatter in fright. It's just best to take photos now and paint later.
A photographer did give me the scoop on this one nice spot to take some pictures. She was told by a photographer friend of hers and when I went there I stumbled across this other photographer with his wife. He asks me how I knew about this 'secret' spot because his photography teacher told him about it. I told him that it was an apparently crappy secret. I guess there's this whole little sect of people who run around the country and try to take the same, exact picture as all the other people already have. I don't understand it really, nor do I care to. So I bid him adieu and headed on my way.
Off the main road near Norris Junction, there's a short little trail that leads to some bubbling depressions of goop known as the Artists Paint Pots. Basically, a bunch of tiny creatures eat up the gas leaching from the earth, turn it into sulfuric acid and the acid eats the rock. It's cool as far as bubbly ditches of dirt go, but what was more memorable were the cast of characters I encounter along the way.
I'm not sure why this walk seemed to bring out the people who seemed to hate walking more than any of the other trails, but it sure did. Comments such as 'That was WAY longer than a third of a mile' or 'We've already walked this far, I'm not going up that hill!' Now that I think about it, maybe the people were griping because the end results really weren't that spectacular. Initially, all these whiners made me think that most people need to get out more. But then I thought about how some people just can't get around like everyone else. It takes walking and exploring to really get to know a place, but not everyone can walk. Yellowstone does a decent job with creating boardwalks and paved pathways to the major destinations, but that still only offers access to a minuscule area of the entire park. Building universal access is important on societal level, but on a more personal level, there are people like Nextstep Fitness and other rehabilitation centers that are changing lives directly. It's just not something I normally think about until I see someone on crutches or a wheel chair being limited to certain areas.
Located in the Lower Geyser Basin is the Great Fountain Geyser. It was an empty area that looked nice for painting, although there were enough benches and seating for scores of people. About an hour into the painting, a ranger comes by and starts telling me all about this geyser I'm sitting by. She says its her favorite one in the park and it should go off between four and six. It was early and I figured I'd just hang out for five more hours and see it for myself. I'm not really into geyser watching, but her enthusiasm was infectious.
Throughout the afternoon, the ranger would come and go to check on the progress. I must have heard her spiel hundreds of times as she told it to each and every tourist. "First there's a gushing of water, then it starts to fill up and once it flows down that channel over there, it'll erupt in about 90 minutes plus or minus eighteen minutes." More intelligent people, who actually went to the visitor center or the website to see the approximate schedule of geyser eruptions started showing up about an hour beforehand and at the end of the day we were all greeted to a great eruption of steam and water towering into the sky. After the explosion, things were still beautiful so I figured I'd just wait and take some photos of the geyser at night.
I'd have to say Yellowstone is worth a visit. It's beautiful, expansive and is actually one of the most significant sources of water in the west. The geysers and all the thermal stuff are pretty interesting, although they are really only tricks of physics. It could get a bit crowded during summer, but it's large enough that you can find some isolation when you need it. I can't speak on the quality of backpacking because I just don't really have that much interest in backpacking in grizzly country. It doesn't seem worth it. There are tons of other places on this planet to explore. I'll let the grizzlies have their land all to themselves.
California | Oregon | Washington | Yellowstone
PNW Photos >>