August 26, 2012

Grizzly Encounters And Wild Traffic Jams in Yellowstone NP

If there is one way to describe Yellowstone National Park, it’s that it’s HUGE.  We spent two full days in the park, put in full eight hour days of exploring each day, and drove just over 240 miles. Yes, all of that within the park. We saved ourselves another $25 (car entry cost) by showing up with our Annual National Parks Pass. That awesome pass has paid for itself and then some, with all the national parks and monuments we've already been to this year!

The Yellowstone National Park welcome sign
Welcome to Yellowstone National Park!
The park is made up of two loops that connect to form a figure eight. The South loop is the more traveled loop because it has both the popular park attractions and one of the large wildlife viewing meadows. You also cross the Continental Divide twice on this loop. The North loop is less visited, so you get a more “in nature” feeling when you drive around it. Aside from the Yellowstone Canyon attraction that it shares with the South loop, there isn't anything BIG to see there.

We did little research on the park before going, so we weren’t really sure what we were going to find there (aside from the well-known Old Faithful of course). What we did find were some grizzly bears (epic!), some very interesting wildlife traffic jams (also epic!), and some really amazing geysers and hot spring pools (super epic!).What we did not find was the overall beautiful natural scenery we’d seen at Yosemite. Don’t get me wrong, the park had plenty of attractive forest drives, meadows and canyon views, but not quite like Yosemite. (In case you’re wondering, since I haven’t written about Yosemite on this trip, we went there a few years back on a long road trip around California.)

Yellowstone campgrounds are known to be booked up a year in advance, and so are hard to come by. We happened to arrive at the park one day past the heavy summer time stretch, and when we called the same-day reservation line, we lucked out and booked a camp spot at the Grant Village campground on the South loop.

The first day we drove the South loop and explored the hundred or so geysers to be found in the park. There are only four other locations in the world that have large concentrations of hydrothermal features like Yellowstone, but the majority of the world’s active geysers are found in this park. The largest concentration of geysers in the park can be found the Upper Geyser Basin, where you will also find Old Faithful. Old Faithful is not the largest geyser or the most regular, but it consistently delivers a grand presentation, hence its name.

We climbed to Observation Point and watched Old Faithful erupt! It generally erupts every 90 minutes, give or take 10 minutes. It erupts for about 1 minute to sometimes 5 minutes, and expels between 3,700 to 8,400 gallons of boiling water in the process. The spray of the water can reach 184 feet in height (I’m not really sure how they measure that…). There is a website you can go to to watch Old Faithful erupt, live!

Old Faithful erupting in Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming
Old Faithful erupting!
After the eruption we explored Geyser hill, where we walked on raised boardwalks amidst the boiling geysers. It felt like we were walking on the moon. The earth’s surface was so bare and white. Randomly scattered about are these boiling, erupting volcanoes and deep holes in the ground that are hissing steam. Amidst these bubbling puddles and ponds are gorgeous, multi-colored pools of hot springs. The hotter the water, the more color the pools had, ranging from deep blues, to dark greens, to oranges to burnt reds. It was unlike anything we had ever seen before. We drove further along the South loop to explore the other geyser sights, but to be completely truthful, we were totally “geysered-out” after everything we had seen at Geyser Hill.

Boardwalk through Geyser Hill in Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming
Boardwalks around boiling geysers and hot springs!
Walking around Geyser Hill in Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming
Walking around Geyser Hill
Spasmodic Geyser on Geyser Hill in Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming
Spasmodic Geyser
Beauty pool on Geyser Hill in Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming
Beauty Pool
Morning Glory Pool on Geyser Hill in Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming
Morning Glory Pool
The second day we drove the east side of the South loop, along Yellowstone Lake, to the Yellowstone Canyon. Yellowstone Canyon is the other popular destination in Yellowstone Park, and is not a sight to be missed. The South Rim drive leads you to the Artist Point, where you get amazing views of the canyon and the Lower Falls. The North Rim drive offers more great views of the canyon, and a view of the Upper Falls. Yellowstone Canyon is located right where the two driving loops meet up, so after viewing the canyon we drove the east side of the North loop. On our way back home we stopped at Hayden Valley. We timed it so that we would arrive right at dusk and hopefully spot some wildlife out in the meadows.

Yellowstone Lake in Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming
Driving around Yellowstone Lake
View of Yellowstone Canyon and Lower Falls from Artist Point in Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming
The Yellowstone Canyon and Lower Falls view from Artist Point 
Hayden Valley in Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming
Hayden Valley
Watching for wildlife in Hayden Valley in Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming
Watching for wildlife at the Hayden Meadows
Speaking of wildlife! We saw plenty of it in the park! You know you’re coming up on a spot where wildlife has been spotted because cars will be parked all over the road, haphazardly in most cases. People will be driving along the road normally, when all of a sudden they will jam on their brakes, slow down from 45 miles an hour to zero in mere seconds, and stop in the middle of the road. Then they will hurriedly pull off the road on the tiny shoulders, half blocking the rest of the road to passing cars, and get out of their cars, run across the road with their cameras, all with no regard to moving traffic. That’s when it’s your que to do the same, if you want to catch a picture of the wildlife yourself. :o)

Wildlife viewing car pileups at Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming
Wildlife viewing pileups on the road
Wildlife viewing at Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming
Where is the bear?
While driving around the park we saw a coyote, a great horned owl, deer, elk, and lots of buffalo. The buffalo roam the park freely, and often times end up walking along traffic in the roads. We had such an encounter on our first day in the park. We were driving along when we noticed that four cars ahead of us there was a large brown hump in the road. A few minutes later, when the cars in front of us had gone around, we saw that it was a buffalo, casually walking in the middle of the road. What a random site this was! It was also a little bit scary passing him, since we had to go just five feet to the side of him in order to stay on the narrow two lane road. I think I held my breath the whole time. Driving home later that day we again ran into buffalo in the road, except this time he was walking towards us. What do you want to bet it was the same dude, now out for his evening stroll?

Elk in Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming
An elk chilling in a meadow
Coyote in Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming
Buffalo walking with cars in Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming
The hump we saw four cars ahead
Buffalo walking on road in Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming
What the hump turned out to be
Buffalo walking on road in Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming
Oncoming traffic
And last but not least, we saw grizzly bears!! The closest we got (not that we wanted to get close) was about 30 yards away. He was down a steep hill from us, nestled among tree stumps, digging in the dirt. He paid absolutely no attention to the large crowd gathered above him. We saw four more grizzlies later that evening, but from much further away. This time of year the bears are in high country, where they are eating their fill of fresh pine nuts. We caught a glimpse of a group of bears running across a meadow high in the mountains. One of the park visitors had a very powerful monocular, and when I looked at the bears through it, it looked like they were right in front of me.

Grizzly bear in Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming
Grizzly bear!!
For more pictures of Yellowstone, click here.

Happy epic nature exploring,


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  1. Wow, are those incredible photos! I was in Yellowstone just four weeks ago and now I want to go back, seeing those images and all. Thanks for sharing. :-)

    1. The park did have a few photographable things... :o) It's easy to take cool pictures when the subject is so interesting. Thank you for the compliment!

  2. I went on a 5 day trip to Yellowstone last month. I was "geysered-out" the first day, and didn't even go to Old Faithful until day 5!

    By the way, you "moose chilling in a meadow" is an Elk. Dont' worry, I spent the entire month of May this year trying to learn the difference between an elk, moose and mule deer.

    1. Good catch! I've fixed the caption. When we were in the Upper Geyser Basin we met a lady and her husband, and they said they'd been there since 8am and had already watched Old Faithful erupt three times that day. We saw them two hours later still walking around looking at the geysers. I guess it's possible to not get "geysered-out"? :o)

  3. thanks for sharing.