The first National Park stop on our road trip was Yellowstone National Park. I was not overly thrilled with stopping at Yellowstone for a couple of reasons. One-I thought it was going to be Disney-esque, with large crowds and traffic jams throughout the park. Two-after Yellowstone, we would be going backcountry in Grand Tetons National Park, something the I had dreamed of doing for years.
I had done surprisingly little research for Yellowstone. My knowledge of Yellowstone consisted of knowing it was the first national park in the world, there is a lot of thermal activity in the park (it sits on a super volcano), and is largely considered the crown jewel in the US National Park system. So I went in with a fairly blank slate, not really knowing what to expect.
Yellowstone is simply amazing. Between the thermal pools with rainbow colored water, wildlife, mountains, meadows, rivers, lakes, and forests, the park is so diverse that it feels like you enter different worlds on different days.
The park is also huge. You can’t see the park in one day even if you wanted to. We pushed ourselves to see as much as we could in two days, and we were exhausted by the end of each day. We were there in the high season, right before the 4th of July, and there was a lot of people in the park, but it never felt crowded. The thousands of visitors it gets every day spread out all over the park and there are never too many people in one place. The only traffic jams were when someone spotted a bear, and everyone does their best National Geographic photographer impression or strains to get a view without getting too close.
We spent one day driving around all of the thermal pools . I knew that there was thermal activity at Yellowstone, but the scale of it was simply amazing. We spent nearly 10 hours driving from one location to the next, walking around bubbling mud fields called pain pots, caves that steamed and hissed like a dragon, and pools that contained so many colors you think it must be where rainbows are born. The thermal activity alone is well worth the visit, but its not even the best part.
Yellowstone is for wildlife lovers. One thing we quickly realized is that Yellowstone is a park for the wildlife. I felt like a visitor in their home. There are bison in the park like a city has pigeons. We saw elk, black bear, grizzly bear, coyote, and eagles all in one day. And this was just from the car (we didn’t do much hiking, due to the large grizzly population). This is one of the few places in America that is still wild, where the law of tooth and claw still reigns supreme.
As if to illustrate this point: Kim and I arrived after a 10 hour drive to get to the park, found our cabin and decided to shower before heading to dinner. The cabin was tiny, with a shower so small you could not turn around in it. As I shimmy out of the shower, I turn around to grab my towel and am shocked to see the head of a bison not two feet from me! The bison was looking into our bathroom through the window! I guess my singing in the shower sounds a bit too much like a buffalo mating call…
Nothing quite makes you feel vulnerable like being naked and dripping wet with only a single pane of glass between you and a one ton animal. So as I yelled, slipped and about fell on my arse in the bathroom, the bison lazily chewed his cud, stared at me for a few seconds, then went about his business. My ego is still trying to recover from the fact that a birthday suit Brian has the power to drive away bison.
We only were able to spend a couple of days in Yellowstone, which definitely was not enough time to take in the majesty of the park. We could have easily spent a week exploring all that Yellowstone has to offer.
If you ever get the chance to visit Yellowstone, please do yourself a favor and go there. It is like no other place I have ever seen, and well deserving of the reputation as the crown jewel of national parks.