Yellowstone National Park
|A sign at Yellowstone National Park (Erika Lloyd)|
Yellowstone National Park is so much more than a collection of scenic features and natural curiosities. The way to see Yellowstone is not with guidebook in hand, checking off attractions (okay, did the Grand Canyon, what's next?), but to feel it, to give it the time and contemplation it deserves. But, while you're communing in this monument to nature, we recommend a few not-to-be-missed highlights.
Geysers and Hot Springs
The world's greatest concentration of thermal features is found in Yellowstone; many of the most famous geysers and hot springs are located on the west side of the park along the 50-mile stretch of road between Mammoth Hot Springs and Old Faithful. Areas to visit include the Mammoth Hot Springs Terraces, Norris Geyser Basin, Fountain Paint Pots, Firehole Lake Drive, Midway Geyser Basin, Biscuit Basin, Black Sand Basin, and the Old Faithful area. Visitor Centers along this road are located at Mammoth Hot Springs, Norris Geyser Basin, and Old Faithful. The Madison Museum, which houses an artist-in-residence program, is located at Madison Junction.
They say a watched pot never boils, but Old Faithful, the world's best-known geyser, faithfully erupts every 35 to 120 minutes for 1.5 to 5 minutes. The longer the eruption lasts, the longer the interval until the next eruption. It's not possible to predict more than one eruption in advance. Although it's best to have a laissez-faire attitude about the eruptions, you can call the Old Faithful Visitor Center for current prediction times. Check out the view from Geyser Hill, and watch the wind direction or you may only see steam.
Norris Geyser Basin
The hottest, most thermal basin in the park. This, in addition to its acidic water (most other areas in the park have alkaline water) makes Norris' appearance a gorgeous anomaly. It's best viewed from the Porcelain Basin overlook trail near the museum.
Mammoth Hot Springs
These are quite different from other springs or geysers. Here the hot waters cascade over a series of delicately colored rimstone pools. Limestone dissolved in the waters deep beneath the surface is deposited rapidly to form terraces and pools that literally change from day to day.
Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone
Yellowstone's Grand Canyon leaves many people breathless. Go to Artist Point, Inspiration Point, or Lookout Point. Look down at the deceptively tiny river below, at the wisps of steam, and the pastel canyon walls. Here you can see ospreys far below, as they wheel and soar over the canyon bottom. Or stand on the lip of the Lower Falls; watch the bottle-green Yellowstone River break into frothy white jets as it drops away 309 feet into the canyon below; listen to its constant wild roar; feel the spray on your face. Some 41 falls are found throughout the park; many can be seen only if you hike the backcountry. A visitor center is located at Canyon Village.
Yellowstone Lake, with 110 miles of shoreline, is North America's largest mountain lake. The area is prime habitat for a variety of birds and animals, and draws anglers and boaters as well. Mud Volcano, 6 miles north of Fishing Bridge Junction, and West Thumb Geyser Basin, 22 miles north of the South Entrance, are unique thermal areas. They hint at the complex ecologic story of Yellowstone Lake. Permits for fishing and boating are available at Lake Ranger Station and Grant Village Visitor Center. A museum is located at Fishing Bridge.
Yellowstone shelters a variety of wildlife. They roam millions of acres, and habitat preferences and seasonal cycles of movement determine, in a general sense, where a particular animal may be at a particular time. Early morning and evening hours are when animals tend to be feeding and thus are more easily seen. But remember that the numbers and variety of animals you see are largely a matter of luck and coincidence. Check out wildlife viewing and visitor centers for detailed information.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication