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Summer Drive - Americas National Parks in Utah & Wyoming

Days 7 thru 13 - Yellowstone Nat'l Park


View Driving the West - 2020 on rorndorff's travel map.

We departed Jackson early Friday morning on a path north for one last view of the Grand Tetons, majestically standing in the early morning light. Our goal for the day was to visit the famously photographed barn with the glorious peaks as a backdrop. It should be an easy drive up thru the park to the entrance of Yellowstone's south entrance. Our goal was to do a bit of hiking and visit Old Faithful on our way to our base for the next 7 days just outside of Yellowstone in Island Park, ID. Vehicular traffic was down, but with the opening day of many services including the marina in the Grand Tetons park, it was good to see America opening up again.

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Day 7 - As we worked our way up US Hwy 89 along the jagged peaks we discussed how many photos have been taken over the years. One of Ansel Adams most iconic pictures taken in 1942 on Jackson Lake with the Tetons in the background was taken along this very highway we were on. But our first stop was the famous barn out to the east of the highway out on Antelope Flats. It wasn't hard to find, Shirley got us to the location (you can find it here: John Moulton Barn, it wasn't busy, only a couple of individuals trying to recreate the iconic picture.

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It was a great shot, and one that I hope is etched in my memory for years to come. Once the image was safely on camera cards we moved on to the trailhead for a walk along Herron Pond at the Marina. As we got closer to the turnoff for the marina we came upon throngs of onlookers armed with telephoto lenses and tripods waiting for a chance to photograph the bears in the meadows and the trees lining it, all doing their best to stay 6' apart!

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The hike originally was to go out to the far point south of the Marina, but due to high levels of bear activity access was closed off, but access to Herron Pond and Swan Lake were still open. Armed with our bear spray (since bears can't read) we set off for a nice quiet walk along Jackson Lake and up thru the lightly forested trail to the ponds. A great loop for bird watching, we saw ducks, geese, hawk and gulls. We stopped along the eastern shore of the pond and took this photo of the two of us. By the time we returned to our car the lots around the marina, restaurant and general stores were filling up. As we made our way back out to the highway from the marina we encountered another traffic jam from yet more photographers looking for the bears.

We said our goodbyes to the Tetons as we entered Yellowstone Nat'l Park. A nice leisurely drive up the western Grand Loop Rd along Yellowstone Lake and stopping at Old Faithful. I was a bit concerned that we would encounter thousands of people at the most popular stop in Yellowstone on a Friday afternoon, but much to my surprise traffic was light and manageable.

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On the byway into the attraction we saw our first buffalo, up close and personal in the median of the road. Excellent start to our exploration of Yellowstone! Social distancing all along the boardwalk spread out the crowd as we sat and waited for the geyser to erupt. Visitor center was closed, education center was closed, what a different experience from our last park. I suppose its because Yellowstone is the most visited park in the US with over 7 million visitors annually that the national park service believes it would be difficult to control the crowds and social distance. We continued our journey up the loop road along some scenic rivers, thermal springs and meadows as we headed west from Madison to the west entrance and our condo for the next seven days.

Day 8 - We opted to stay close to our condo on Saturday and did a local hike up Henry's fork and box canyon. It was an easy hike for us but the views of the river were fantastic. Saving our strength for Sunday in Yellowstone.

Day 9 & 10 - Weather just wasn't cooperating with us as a cold front moved in and a summer snow was expected. We woke up to an early summer snow day in Island Park with overnight temperatures dipping into the low 20's with the highs only expected to reach the 40's, a might chilly for us desert dwellers from Scottsdale where friends shared the triple digit heat was expected to rise to blistering 116 degrees! We managed to bundle up and head down to the indoor hot tub for a soak and I cooked a crockpot chicken cacciatore. We walked the golf course loop (1.25 mi) bundled up just to get our exercise since the condo fitness room was closed due to COVID.

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Day 11 - We got an early start back into the park given the unknown number of travelers who would be visiting the park. We decided to break our visit to the park into three separate days, concentrating on and around a particular junction due to the enormous size of the park, over 2.2 million acres. First would be Madison, then Mammoth Hot Springs, and finish up with Canyon Village. We jumped into the car and headed into West Yellowstone for some breakfast at Running Bear Pancake House. Coffee was hot, food was good, and we beat the crowds that started streaming in shortly after we arrived. With our bellies full and coffee'd up, we headed for Fairy Falls, a 5.5 mile in and out trail thru a section of reforestation from the 1988 forest fire near here. The trail hugs the treeline along the Grand Prismatic thermal hot spring and then makes a sharp left turn to go back into the forest before it opens up to a nice flow of water over the rocks to our feet. We hiked back out to the car and passed a large number of groups just heading out along the trail. As we headed back north on our way up to Mammoth Hot Springs we stopped on the other side of the grand prismatic hot springs and meandered along the boardwalk. The colors of the area around the holes and the changing color of the water was a sight to see.

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We headed back up the grand loop only to be delayed by a large herd of buffalo making their way up the road. All we could see about 5 cars ahead of us was buffalo butts and poop all along the road. It was an up close and personal experience! One of the younger ones got separated from the main herd and acted like he was going to ram any car that got in his way. Ultimately he got back with the herd. There must of been a 100 in several different herds making their way up to the large meadow at Madison. Took us over an hour to navigate the 15 miles back to the junction. We then continued heading north to Mammoth. At 45 mph max speed, plus the countless RV's on the highway, it sometimes seems like forever to get from one point to another. Shirley reminded me that we had no place to be, and we should enjoy the moment for what it brings to us. It was amazing to me to think that we are driving thru one of the largest Calderas in the country, approximately 30 miles by 45 miles, with a magna layer underneath the earth's crust measuring 35 miles long, 18 miles wide and 7 miles deep! There were many sights to see along our trip up to Mammoth with thermal vents spewing steam right along the highway. Herds of Buffalo could be seen in the open fields against the backdrop of snow covered mountains. Yellowstone is truly one of the most unusual national parks in existence.

We settled on a long loop trail on the outskirts of the small area known as Mammoth Hot Springs where boardwalks took a switchback approach up the side of a mountain with vent holes everywhere. According to the sign posted at the trailhead a bear had been sighted on the trail just this morning. Always alert and bear aware, we headed up the trail. We traversed along a creek ravine, climbed up into a grassy meadow with a view back down on Yellowstone's oldest hotel and cabins, the Mammoth Hotel, first constructed in 1883. This area of Yellowstone was the landing spot for visitors coming to Yellowstone. They would arrive by large stagecoaches from the north and after resting at the hotel continue in smaller horse drawn coaches over the grand loop road to other parts of the park.

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As we continued along the trail we spotted a small herd of deer feeding in the meadow off the distance. As we drew closer some of the herd moved away, while the others stopped and stared at us as we stood taking pictures.
Quite the hike on the top of the mesa on the return side of the loop and it seemed like we were miles away from civilization. The ending trail head left us in town behind the hotel and cabins with another 1/2 mile walk along the road back to our car. I will say we were dog tired after a collective total of about 11.5 miles of hiking.

Because the canyon road was closed from the village to the Tower Roosevelt junction, we were forced to head back the same way we came to get out to the west entrance. We stopped in West Yellowstone for a welcome frosty mug of beer and a burger at the Buffalo Bar in honor of herds we saw on the road. All in all a stupendous day in the park!

Day 12 - We decided due to increasing traffic in the park, even though all the locals said 'this was nothing', we decided to make this day our last visit to Yellowstone. We were not disappointed by saving the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone as our last exploration. The north part of the grand loop took us over to this area of the park that was formed over 640,000 years ago with a massive eruption and subsequent years of erosion to form this magnificent canyon.

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Yellowstone Falls cascades over the multicolered canyon walls down into what appears from high above, to be a narrow fast moving channel of water with sheer rock cliffs on both the north and the south sides. After our research, we decided to get out to Artist Point to photograph the falls in the morning light. No packs, just armed with cameras and iPhones we were only one of two or three families taking in the sheer beauty of the moment. We stopped by the trailhead to Point Sublime and noticed the route up to Clear Lake came back thru here and then on to the south rim trail. We were excited to get out on the trail and see the back-country. We headed down to the South Rim parking lot and found the Clear Lake trail. With our packs loaded and our hiking shoes laced up we headed out on a 6.5 mile loop trail on the south side of the canyon. The trail was still a little wet and muddy in places but not unmanageable. We climbed up the grassy hillside away from the lot and came upon Clear Lake. Water was crystal clear, but far from still as there were little vent holes that were bubbling up from underground, and a bit of a sulfur smell around us. Little did we know this would be a precursor to what lay ahead on the trail.

After departing the lake thru a lightly forested area we came out into a cleared area with downed trees moon like dust everywhere. As I looked ahead down the trail there appeared a plume of what I thought was smoke. My first thought was someone had abandoned a campfire (which are not permitted anywhere in park), but as I approached it turned out to be a small thermal vent about 2 feet across making gurgling sounds (ADD MOVIE HERE). Simply an absolute wonder from mother nature. Another clearing and yet another surreal scene of something out of this world, with thermal vents to our left and right. Some bubbling muddy, almost concrete looking substances out of them changing the landscape around them as we stood in amazement. The trail wound thru this geological delight and made its way back into the forest again to transverse Lilly Pad pond, again with the thermal bubbles, finally taking us back up to the canyon edge. We headed out to Point Sublime with a photo opportunity at every twist of the trail. After collecting our thoughts at the overlook at the furthest point on the trail we headed back down the trail to Artist Point and onto the South Rim trail back to our car.

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As we made our way back along the same route we took to get to the canyon we decided to stop and have a picnic lunch along the Virginia Cascades just east of Norris junction. As I mentioned travel in the early days were by horse drawn stagecoach along narrow roads, sometime with dramatic dropoffs, Virginia Cascades area is one of the original roadbeds in the park. It is now a one way road today with the main highway up above, but it gives visitors a glimpse into early travel in the park. Most of the original roadbed has been replaced or relocated to make modern travel by car feasible, but it is worth the drive along one of these roads in the park just to get a feel for the olden days. I just imagined some of the first gas powered cars meeting each other head on trying to pass one another on these narrow passages. It was a terrific experience and one you should not miss.

Posted by rorndorff 06:43 Archived in USA Tagged mountains parks hiking driving national usa

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