We were a day too early to enter Yellowstone by the southern entrance, so had to loop around and come in via the west, it was a boring four hour drive through farmland but we were excited to finally be getting to Yellowstone! It is an amazing place, but it is very odd to be intentionally driving into the centre of a super volcano!
The weather was pretty cold when we were there and it was prime animal spotting season. There were professional photographers galore who stood for hours with their enormous camera lenses just waiting for bears to wake up or wolves to come out of their den. Our strategy was to drive around and wait to find a traffic jam, however, not all traffic jams are caused by animals as we found out when we were first on the scene here… amazingly it only took 45min for the workers to arrive and clear the tree off the road, so we took the opportunity to cook lunch while we waited! (Did I mention we loved our RV?)
The park is absolutely enormous, so we did quite a lot of driving around to see the sights, most of which can be grouped into animals and thermal features…
- Bison were everywhere, surrounded by steaming land, covered in snow, being chased by a grizzly to then turn round and chase the grizzly!
- Grizzly bears
- Mum and her two cubs decided to take a nap just 20 feet back from the road, perfect for a close up!
- Another mum napped on a hillside while her two naughty cubs venturing further away seeing how far they could go before mum noticed
- Another grizzly stalked a herd of elk on the plain. The elk were totally on to the bear and so he had no chance of making a kill
- **Best animal sighting** was a lone grizzly bear that had just come out of the river after a swim and walked along the bank to the road. He stood up on his back legs, twice sussing out the situation… there were lots of cars and tourists, then the bear ran towards the cars to cross the road. He then continued his walk along the river bank before going back into the water and swimming back to the other side – SO COOL! We went and found his paw print in the snow… it was enormous!
- A black bear and her two cubs cuddled up having an afternoon nap
- A few coyotes, one wounded limping along and another pouncing on a ground squirrel hole to be rewarded with a juicy meal!
- We can’t really say that we saw a wolf, only a wolf’s bum as it lay injured. It had been attacked in a pack fight and considering the temperature was going to drop below zero that night it didn’t look like it was going to make it.
- **Favourite geothermal place** Mammoth Hot Springs Terraces – stunning! The rocks ranged from pure white in colour, to orange, pink and slightly green. Where there was no water, the rock turned grey, and looked like a black and white photo.
- We headed to Old Faithful area and checked the expected eruption times of the geysers. We were super lucky with what we saw, first up was the Grand Geyser (which shoots up to 200 feet in the air), Beehive Geyser (a very unpredictable, high pressure geyser that soaked us – see it here!) and then Old Faithful, which wasn’t as impressive as the others but a “must see” nonetheless given how regular and predictable it is…hence the name!
- We’ve seen steam vents (fumaroles), geysers and hot springs at Norris Geyser Basin (Back Basin and Porcelain Basin). Again the colours are very dramatic ranging from milky blue, to bright red, yellow and even black. In some places it stank of rotten egg! And we saw thick bubbling mud pots at Artists Paintpot (formed by the steam of acidic boiling water turning the stone into mud). Really awesome to see!
- **Most disappointing prize** was won by Grand Prismatic Spring, which was funny since we’d been excited about seeing this huge and brightly coloured spring since we started planning the trip. The only problem was that it was a very cold day and there was so much steam you couldn’t see anything but the edge of the water.
Our travel tips (and other interesting stuff!)
- Be prepared for any weather: There was a cold snap and more than a foot of snow fell in 12 hours. Three of the four park entrances were closed and so if it hadn’t been for the snow plough and ranger escort that lead a dozen vehicles out of the park we would have been stuck!
- Good binoculars or a scope are a must, you can rent one from any of the towns as you enter the park but they can be pricey
- Bring your zoom camera lens
- If you’re staying in the park bring all your food in with you, the shops are very limited and expensive
- Have bear spray and know how to use it
- Drive slowly: you never know when you’ll need to slam your brakes on for wildlife and the Rangers are always checking your speed
- The best way to see animals is either to be very patient or drive around until you find a “bear-jam” (a traffic jam caused by everyone stopping to see something)
- For a better view of Grand Prismatic Spring, there is a road about a mile up the road which takes you to the back of the spring and has an elevation platform that should give you a good view, it was closed for wildlife while we were there
- There is a stunning old hotel at Old Faithful built from wood. Back in the day the orchestra would sit in the ‘birds nest’ at the top of the building, people would dance on the lobby floor and others would stand on the balconies to watch. It would have been heated by the enormous fireplace which rose the height of the building. Very impressive and definitely worth a look and a tour.