Thermal features, rivers, waterfalls, wildlife, and an Old Faithful eruption. We covered a lot on our second day in Yellowstone National Park, and there is still a lot more to see.
We are 35 miles from the south entrance to Yellowstone and then there is a lot of driving once you are in the park. Here is a map with mileages between major junctions.
The big blue splotch is Yellowstone Lake, the largest fresh water lake above 7,000 feet in North America. You can also see that there are two main loops in the park, the upper loop and the lower loop. We decided to do the 96-mile lower loop today.
So, that's 35 miles to the southern entrance, 22 miles to the bottom of the lower loop, 96 miles around the loop, then 22 miles back down, and 35 miles home for a total of 210 miles - perhaps a little ambitious for an 11:00 a.m. start.
I failed to do the math which would have told me we were talking almost 5 hours of driving (at a max of 45 mph) not to mention stops - and there are lots of places to stop. It was a long day and we had to skip some places we would have liked to have stopped, but it was still quite worthwhile.
Ready? Here we go.
South Entrance to Grants Village - 22 miles
This drive starts with a long climb up along the Lewis River Canyon.
There are turnouts throughout the park on all the park roads, but at the most scenic part of this canyon, there is only one short, narrow turnout. I got out, hopped the guard rail, and carefully slid down the rocky embankment to get a couple shots of the lovely cascades.
Back in the Jeep we continued on as the road eventually runs alongside the river for a few miles until you reach the parking areas for Lewis Falls (which can be seen from the road, especially if you are traveling south).
There is short trail to get a closer look.
From there, we continued on past the large and picturesque Lewis Lake on the left side of the road until we came to the Grant Village and West Thumb areas on the west side of Yellowstone Lake. West Thumb is the thermal area we visited yesterday, so we skipped it today.
Grant Village to Fishing Bridge - 21 miles
Most of this drive is along the shore of Yellowstone Lake. We only made one stop to do some birdwatching and take a couple of pics. This shot shows a paddleboarder and canoe approaching one of the many lakeside thermal areas.
Fishing Bridge Area
We made a quick stop at the Bridge Bay Campground where our friends Wayne & Renea are working this summer. It was a drop-in and, unfortunately, they weren't home. So we left a note and moved on.
Fishing Bridge has the only campground in the park dedicated only to hard-sided RVs - Fishing Bridge RV Park. We should have stopped to check it out, but we had a lot of ground to cover.
Fishing Bridge to Canyon Village
We hadn't really planned much for today's drive. I just decided to do the lower loop counter-clockwise so the lighting would be good on the upper and lower Yellowstone Falls. I figured the falls are in a canyon, so the best lighting would be when the sun was high overhead. However, I didn't count on making quite so many stops on the way.
We stopped at Le Hardy Rapids just because it was on the side of the road and we saw a couple tour buses there. We walked down to the beautiful rapids on the Yellowstone River.
It was pretty, but if we stopped for every pretty scene in Yellowstone, we'd never get anywhere. However, if you are here in July, there was a sign that said you can watch the Cut-throat Trout jumping up the rapids on their way up to spawn below the dam. That would make it worth the stop.
Next, we stopped at Mud Volcano, another thermal area. Note that thermal areas are marked with a red dot on the maps.
This area has a half-mile boardwalk trail up on a ridge above the Yellowstone River.
There were more boiling mud pools than springs and geysers, but it was still quite fascinating.
One of the coolest features on this walk was Dragon's Mouth Spring.
It's a small cave that spews steam and loud rumbling noises emanate from the dragon's throat.
These contrasting colors were at the end of our walk around Mud Volcano.
Almost immediately after leaving Mud Volcano, we made a quick stop at Sulphur Caldron on the right side of the road.
Most of the folks there were more interested in the single Bison way, way in the distance on a hill.
From there it was a beautiful drive along the Yellowstone River (good fishing access) through the Hayden Valley, which is known for wildlife.
It wasn't long before we spotted a coyote coming toward us. We pulled off and watched as it passed within about 30 yards.
Next, we stopped at an overlook and got a couple photos with a Bison herd in the distance.
That's actually a pretty common Yellowstone photo.
A little farther, we came upon some Bison that were a bit closer to the road.
In fact, we were soon in the middle of a "Buffalo Jam" as the herd was crossing the road, and people were getting out of their cars to get photos.
We've seen lots of Bison the last few months and we have lots of photos, ... but what the heck.
Linda took this shot and had the video camera ready for an angry Bison encounter.
By the time we got through the Buffalo Jam, the sun was sinking and I feared our timing was going to be off for waterfall photos.
We proceeded on to the Canyon Village area.
Our first stop was the "Brink of the Upper Falls". It was okay, but there were busloads of tourists and we didn't stay long.
I did get a decent shot of the river roaring toward the falls.
We could see some great overlooks on the other side of the river, but I was anxious to move on to the Lower Falls and didn't want to take the time figure out how to get to those better vantage points.
We finally made it to the fabulous Lower Falls but, as I suspected, we were just a little late to see them in full sun. Linda said "We can't possibly time everything perfectly in a place we've never been before." She was right, of course.
There is a trail down to the edge of the river, but we skipped that this time. We'll be back before we leave the area - I think I can time it now that I know the exact location.
The sun was, however, great on the canyon.
Up the road was another stop called Grand View, and grand it was.
Simply spectacular! The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, as it is called, varies between 800 and 1200 feet deep. Here's a closer look.
Now that was worth the entire drive.
There are lots of great trails in the canyon area, so I'm looking forward to getting back here.
Canyon Village to Norris - 12 miles
This part of the drive was probably the least interesting. There was a lot of burned out area and not too many points of interest until the Norris Geyser Basin. However, we passed up whatever there was to see as we had hopes of making it to Old Faithful before dark. And, our tentative plan is to move to the Mammoth Hot Springs area north of Norris before we move toward Oregon, so we'll have another shot.
Norris to Madison - 14 miles
This was a very pretty drive through a canyon and valley along the Gibbon River. But we didn't make any stops in this section either - we will next time.
Madison to Old Faithful - 16 miles
At this point, it looked like we were going to make it to Old Faithful by 6:00. However, I didn't realize there were six marked thermal areas along this section.
And when we saw water spewing from a geyser at the Fountain Paint Pot stop, we couldn't resist.
This was a short boardwalk trail with paint pots, mud pots, springs, fumaroles, and geysers.
When we walked to the top of the boardwalk, there were three geysers all going off at the same time.
This is Clepsydra, which tends to spout almost constantly.
Then there was Fountain Geyser that was going crazy.
As we were walking away, some of its spouts splashed water on the boardwalk.
And then there was Jet Geyser across the boardwalk which tends to spout off and on when Fountain Geyser is spouting.
Now, apparently we had really good timing. It looked as if these geysers spouted almost all the time, but I later found out that's not the case at all. Some have somewhat predictable schedules, while others are completely unpredictable. But even the ones that are predictable require good timing, luck, and/or patience.
From an observation deck that's Jet in the foreground and Clepsydra in the background, and Fountain was still going strong out of picture to the right.
In addition, there were five other geysers that weren't doing anything at the time.
We moved on to see the other features in this little, convenient trail. These are the trail's namesake Fountain Paint Pots.
And this is the beautiful Silex Spring.
Fountain Paint Pots is definitely worth a stop.
Moving on south, we made a left turn on Firehole Lake Road. We were just admiring the scenery from the road when we noticed a whole bunch of people sitting on benches and in lawn chairs around a big pool. Of course, we stopped and joined them.
But before we sat down, the White Dome Geyser (a cone geyser) erupted in the distance.
The sign said this was Great Fountain Geyser, and it was "scheduled" to erupt anywhere between 5:40 and 9:40 p.m. It was getting close to 6:30 and we figured the other people knew something, so we sat down and waited with them.
Supposedly, this geyser can be one of the tallest in the park and shoot as high as 100-200 feet, although that's not normal. It might be worth the wait.
The geyser boiled up in the middle and teased us several times.
But after waiting about 45 minutes, the show started.
It didn't shoot up 100 feet, but it was still impressive and beautiful.
As with many of the geysers, often you can't see the spout for the steam depending on which way the breeze is blowing, so we moved around to get a better look.
Great Fountain Geyser goes through several cycles, so when you think it is done, it starts up again.
At the end of the third cycle, I took one more photo and then we left.
It was lucky timing and we're glad we stopped.
Driving on around, we came to Firehole Lake which was more like Firehole Pond but, with two small geysers going off, it was pretty cool.
By that time, we knew we would be lucky to get to Old Faithful by dark, and we wanted to make one more stop at the Midway Geyser Basin to see the Grand Prismatic Spring, one of the most colorful and most photographed springs in the park.
But, alas, it was too dark as the spring sits next to a ridge and it was already shaded. We moved on without taking any photos, but we'll be back.
We skipped the other thermal areas on the way to Old Faithful hoping our timing would be good, plus we needed to get something to eat. Our packed lunch wore off a long time ago.
We arrived at the Old Faithful area ....
around 7:45. The parking lot was almost empty. We headed to the Old Faithful Lodge cafeteria to get a bite, but we heard someone say the geyser was supposed to erupt in about 10 minutes. So, of course, we again joined the others sitting on all the benches waiting.
We barely had time to point the cameras when the event started.
The height of Old Faithful ranges from about 90 feet to about twice that. And those around us were saying that tonight's height was really good.
A couple minutes later and the twilight eruption ended as the sun sank below the horizon.
I hadn't done my Old Faithful homework and thought that it went off about every half hour. Wrong. The average time between eruptions is about 90 minutes give or take 10 minutes. So, once again, we were extremely lucky to arrive when we did. Check that off the list.
We went back into the cafeteria and had dinner. By the time we finished, it was dark and we had about 75 miles to drive to get home.
Old Faithful to Grant Village - 17 miles
It was too dark to tell for sure, but it looked like this last stretch of the lower loop was pretty. I was too busy watching for wildlife to notice.
It's a little unnerving to be driving past deer crossing, elk crossing, and "Wildlife In Road" signs in the dark. I tensed up for every dark shadow I saw on the side of the road. It's one thing to hit a deer, but it's quite another to hit an elk, moose, bison, or bear.
What a day. We covered a lot, but we skipped a lot as well. Yellowstone has a lot of features and it's clearly going to take multiple days just to hit the highlights.