Yellowstone National Park
Grand Loop Drive:
Driving Time: 40 minutes
Distance: 18 miles
At Tower-Roosevelt you will find gas, phones, and a small ranger station (no exhibits). This is also the location of the historic Roosevelt Lodge, a popular guest facility built in 1920. Today, activities include trail and stagecoach rides, as well as Old West dinner cookouts.
The road between Tower-Roosevelt and Mammoth Hot Springs provides soaring views of the park's drier northern climate, which averages 40 to 50 percent less precipitation than areas farther south. (Annual precipitation in the park varies from a low of 14 inches at the north boundary to 38 inches in the southwest corner!)
The smaller amount of moisture in this area contributes greatly to the beautiful landscape you will see along this drive: a loose patchwork of forests stitched into mile after mile of drifting, open valleys, and hillsides covered with sage, aster, and balsamroot. Scattered around are large, solitary boulders, carried here thousands of years ago in the arms of glacial ice, then dropped in place as the climate warmed and the glaciers retreated.
One-and-a-half miles from Tower-Roosevelt, on the left (south) side of the road, is the turnoff to Petrified Tree a redwood tree that was buried in volcanic ash some 45 to 50 million years ago. For a tree to become petrified, it must be buried quickly, minimizing decay. In addition, surrounding groundwater must have a high concentration of silica. Over time, silica-saturated water soaks into the tree, fills the spaces between the cells, and hardens.
Ten miles west of Tower-Roosevelt is a small, one-way dirt road heading onto Blacktail Deer Plateau, which eventually winds 7 miles back to rejoin the Grand Loop.
Beyond Blacktail Deer Drive, on the right, stop at a beautiful and fascinating exhibit that explains the natural processes and systems which shape Yellowstone. Plan to spend time here, as this exhibit summarizes much of what makes Yellowstone unique. This exhibit is an excellent example of the many wayside exhibits throughout Yellowstone for which the Yellowstone Association has provided significant funding.
Approximately 14 miles from Tower-Roosevelt (about 0.5 mile past the Lava Creek Picnic Area), on the right (north) side of the road, is the access to beautiful Undine Falls. This double waterfall, with a combined drop of more than 100 feet, was named for the mythological Undine, a wise water spirit said to live around waterfalls.
Note the wild-looking, towering peaks that rise beyond the park to the north and northwest toward the Gallatin National Forest. The lands both inside and outside of the park are part of the northern elk range. This land of grass and sedges and various kinds of browse, of lowland valleys and cool uplands, supports the largest elk herd in Yellowstone, typically between 15,000 to 20,000 animals. Though variable, summer populations of elk in the park are estimated at about 30,000, giving Yellowstone the distinction of supporting the largest concentration of elk in the world.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication