Yellowstone National Park
Grand Loop Drive:
Driving Time: 40 minutes
Distance: 16 miles
If you are a lover of wildlife, take an early morning or late evening drive along the slice of Grand Loop road heading north out of Fishing Bridge. For starters, you will have the Yellowstone River for company, its cool, grassy banks playing host to hungry moose, elk, and deer.
On the left (west) side of the road, about 6 miles from Fishing Bridge, is the parking area for Mud Volcano. At Mud Volcano hot vapors escape from the earth through steam vents. These vapors, rich in sulfuric acid, break down the surrounding rock, making clay. Because there is not enough water to wash away the acid or the leached rock, it is left as a pool of sticky mud. In the late 1800s this feature was extremely active, spewing out enough mud from a 30-foot cone to cover tall trees standing nearby.
Just a little farther up the highway on the right (east) is a turnout from which you can view Sulphur Caldron. This feature lives up to its name, complete with turbulent, splashing waters, yellow from the high sulfur content. This is among the most acidic springs in the entire park, about as sour as battery acid.
Beyond Sulphur Caldron, you are treated to the fantastic sweeps of Hayden Valley. Long ago Hayden Valley was filled by an arm of Yellowstone Lake. The clay, silt, and sand sediments from the lake, now covered by glacial debris, make for poor drainage in the bottom of the valley, which is why so much of this valley is covered with wet, swampy areas. Hayden Valley, one of the world's outstanding wildlife viewing areas, is home to bison, grizzly, elk, deer, and moose. In the river and along many of those wet areas, look for trumpeter swans, teal, goldeneyes, Canada geese, pelicans, fish-hunting bald eagles and osprey, and finally, that remarkably graceful, almost mystical-looking bird, the great blue heron.
The Yellowstone River exits the valley and heads north, and, forced into a narrower rocky waterway, it gathers momentum, turning, in the space of just a few miles, from a peaceful waterway to a thundering giant, strong enough to carve out the magnificent Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River.
About 13 miles north of Fishing Bridge, on the right (east) side of the road, is South Rim Drive. This drive offers wonderful overlooks of the Yellowstone River as it roars through a magnificent volcanic canyon, cutting ever deeper into the soft rhyolite rock. The Upper Falls Overlook, reached by a path just west of Uncle Tom's Parking Area, offers a good view of the 109-foot Upper Falls. (Uncle Tom was Tom Richardson, one of the area's first concessionaires. He routinely guided people into the canyon, using rope ladders to get to the bottom!) The 308-foot Lower Falls can be seen via a trail that begins at the end of South Rim Drive, at Artist Point.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication