Weird Science at Yellowstone National Park

We know that our little home on the range is where the deer and the antelope play.  What I wasn’t as aware of is that it’s also the playground of bubbling mudpots, eery sulphur pools, geyser basins that give off tall steam clouds in the crisp morning air and sapphire-blue hot springs that seem like a crystal clear portal into the center of the earth.  All this nestled among the aspen trees, trout-filled streams, and – of course- herds and herds of bison.

Welcome to Yellowstone!

I love that we are making the rounds of our nation’s amazing parks.  We have such a varied landscape in this country, but nothing really prepared me for the craziness of Yellowstone.  I hate to say it, but the geyser basins were so interesting that we sort of breezed by the gorgeous canyons and rivers because we couldn’t get enough of those logic-defying, steaming towers in the sky.

Yellowstone is six hours away from us, and we started our trip with a fun stop mid-way in Jackson Hole.  Since we’re going back there at the end of the month, I’ll do a post later on our times there.  But let’s just say, it’s everything you’ve heard – the cutest, ritziest little Western town you’d ever want to visit.  I can see why people love to vacation there in all seasons!

After a great breakfast in Jackson Hole, we headed drove through Teton National Forest on our way to Yellowstone.  I don’t think anything can prepare you for the sheer majesty of the Tetons.  Wheat-colored meadows full of bison roll up to an aspen tree-line which only serves to highlight the massive heights of the craggy mountains behind.

We stopped to take a million pictures of the bison herd roaming along the road.  Little did we know we’d reach the point on the trip in which we’d find ourselves saying, “There’s more bison.  Want to stop?” “I’m good!”  They’re literally everywhere in both parks, and it’s so fun each time you come across a group by one of the rivers or causing a traffic jam on the narrow roads.  It’s also fun (in a completely mean and un-Christian way) to watch other tourists try to get a little too close to one for the perfect picture.

Our plan for the day was to cover about half of Yellowstone before falling into bed at our cabin at Old Faithful.  We stopped at some beautiful viewpoints overlooking golden meadows, cascading waterfalls and wide, still lakes.  We made a quick trip to OF to check into our cabin, and it was there we realized that each major area of the park had a general store that sold the most delicious mountainberry ice cream.  Sold!  We had huge scoops each afternoon for the next two days!

Back in the car, we stopped at a few points in the Norris geyser basin on our way to the Mammoth Hot Springs.  It’s really hard to describe the strange beauty of this landscape.  It’s as if the earth’s crust is only a millimeter thick here, and what lies just beneath is crystal clear, sapphire blue pools that feel like a direct portal to the center of the earth.  When the crisp air blows over the water, it produces these tall steam clouds that you can see as you drive through the area.  It’s almost like a scene from Mad Max.

We took a little detour and found ourselves at Fountain Geyser right before it was scheduled to erupt.  It was such a great surprise!  We waited about 20 minutes and then, suddenly, this flat place in the earth began to spit up water before erupting into a huge water spout.  It was amazing!

Since we knew we’d have more time to explore the geyser basin the next morning we drove on to Mammoth Hot Springs, passing beautiful forests and rivers along the way.  When we arrived at Mammoth, it was like we were on the surface of the moon.  The minerals in the springs have spilled out on to the earth’s surface for thousands of years, creating a rocky, white surface that forms stair-step formations in many areas.  In the direct water flow from the springs, bacteria changes the color to a bright orange.  It looked like giant piles of soft powdered sugar that were dripping melted orange creamsicles.  Again, it was beautiful in this completely strange way!

It was getting to be early evening, and we had one goal: get to Lamar Valley and see some wildlife as they began to stir.  The valley was bathed in the soft twilight, and we saw countless bison out enjoying the tall grass.  It felt like we were driving through a painting with the trout-filled streams winding through the soft valley floor full of bison and the mountains in the background.

Halfway through our drive, we got stuck in a herd as they slowly crossed the road in front of us.  These guys were not in a hurry!  We turned off our music, rolled down the windows, and enjoyed hearing them “talk” to each other (sounds like burps!).  I realize now that we are lucky they weren’t agitated, because they could have easily rammed every car there because we were so unbelievably close!

Even though everyone talks about abundant moose sightings at Yellowstone, these bison were the only wildlife we encountered on our first day.  We were a little bummed, but soon realized it was pretty funny that we were now taking things like driving up on a herd of beautiful bison for granted!  It was getting dark now, and we made the somewhat long drive back to our cabin.  It was soon so dark outside that it seemed to swallow up our headlights.  Around one turn, we nearly freaked out when another car’s headlights illuminated  the steam cloud of one of the hot springs, making it look like we were driving through some creepy horror movie.

It felt so good to finally crawl into our warm beds. We had so much to see the next day, and we were eager to fall asleep so we could wake up and begin exploring.  Stay tuned for the rest of our trip’s recap!

See more pictures from our trip here.

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