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Yellowstone National Park

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I spend another chilly night in Idaho, this time clearly below freezing as indicated by the chunks of ice in my water bottles. I am pleasantly surprised by the beautiful fall day – the sun is beaming down from a perfectly clear blue sky. Driving East is breathtaking, with endless mountains sticking up on all sides. I stop at a small town and have flat tyre number three repaired, caused by another rusty nail.

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Driving across Idaho

I briefly touch into Montana and enter the park at West Yellowstone – what a zoo that place is. It has one of every tourist trap possible and then some. I am strongly reminded of Niagara Falls on the Canadian side.

Upon entering the park, I learn that three major roads are closed; one for roadwork for the season, one because they can’t find a snow plow and one because there is a ton of smoke on the road from a nearby forest fire. This last one does open for very short periods a couple of times a day, so I’ll have to actually plan ahead if I want to make it to the North end of the park.

I start out driving South, through the geothermal region of the park. I knew about the geyser called Old Faithful, but I had no idea the amount of geothermal activity in the park. There are six or eight places to stop and walk along a boardwalk to see countless hot springs, geysers and geothermal activity in general.

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Geothermal colors are everywhere

Being such a hot spring nut I’m overjoyed with all of this and happily wander around taking everything in. It is so cold outside steam is everywhere, sometimes so thick it’s difficult to see the boardwalk I’m trying to stay on. It snows lightly on and off throughout the day.

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Steam was rising in every direction

Most of the geysers are steaming, sometimes bubbling a little and the occasional one is fully erupting, spitting boiling hot water and steam high into the air. Extremely inviting turquoise pools dot the landscape in every direction.

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Beautiful turquoise pool

One of my favorite features are small holes in the ground, that are bubbling and steaming quite violently. The noise is close to a roar and some are so loud it’s impossible to carry a conversation with the person standing next to you.

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Mini geyser bubbling away

There are literally thousands of people and cars getting around the park, including full tour buses complete with a mega-phone wielding guide who’s goal in life seemed to be irritation. To give you an idea of the sheer volume of people in the park, the ‘exit’ for Old Faithful is a full-blow freeway overpass, complete with on and off ramps.
Yep, all of that inside a National Park.

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Geyser in full eruption

I arrive at Old Faithful in time to see the tail end of an eruption, water and steam being shot 10 meters (30 feet) into the air. I wander around and find myself on a hiking trail up behind Old Faithful to a lookout, that continues to more springs and geysers. There are no people here and it’s really nice to have some alone time for the first time in the park.

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Old Faithful in 'natural' setting

The walk is really beautiful and I find myself at Solitary Geyser – a fairly tame looking pool with the occasional bubble rising to the surface. The information sign says it erupts about every five to seven minutes, so I sit down on a log and wait for the show. The bubbles become more frequent, so I get my camera ready, not sure what to expect. Without any further warning the entire pool rises up as a huge ‘bubble’ in a single massive outburst. I’m sitting close enough that my boots get wet when the hot water comes back down and the pool is completely still again.
That was cool.

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Solitary geyser gave me a scare when it errupted

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Mystic falls, with steam at the top

I set up camp and cook dinner in the pitch black while it’s snowing heavily.

‘OK’, I think
‘I’ve had enough of this winter camping’.

In the morning I intentionally sleep in till 9am, waiting for the sun to rise to warm everything up. The thermometer hanging in the Jeep says -12 ˚C (10 ˚F) and even my full 35 liter water container is almost frozen solid. Yep, I thought it was cold last night simple smile

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It was hard not to jump in...

The road closures mean it will take an entire day of driving to get to Mammoth Hot Springs at the north end of the park, a place that comes very highly recommended. A lot of snow fell last night, so I would not be surprised if more roads are now closed. I completely lose feeling in my hands while packing up camp, which helps me make the decision I was already leaning towards…

I’m driving South, right now.

I enjoyed what I saw of Yellowstone, but I can’t help thinking something is a little wrong with the place. Many thousands of people were driving around, shuffling out of their cars for a few minutes before driving around to the next place. I saw plenty of people that didn’t even get out, taking photos from inside their cars.
I’ve come to think of it as ‘drive-thru wilderness’ – that sounds crazy I know, but that’s exactly how it is.
I’m sure it would be a different story if I hit some of the back-country hiking trails.

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This one was really deep

What’s next? I don’t know, something South. I hope it warms up soon simple smile

-Dan

13 Responses

  1. brian12566 says:

    “I’ve come to think of it as ‘drive-thru wilderness’ ” Good line. Could be describing Manhattan. :-)

    • Dan says:

      HAHA – I’ve come to think of cities these days not as ‘concrete jungles’, because a jungle sounds somewhat wild.
      Cities are much more like ‘concrete zoos’ in my mind – completely manufactured…

  2. Scott T says:

    The PBS National Park special probably sent a few extra thousand folks to the park. The big parks are much like “Disney Land” in the woods. Yosemite is the same way. But they are beautiful places and it’s good that they have been preserved or they would be full of upscale homes, waterslides, bear petting shows, and everthing in between. It’s difficult for the Park Service to find the right balance between preserving the parks as 100% natural places and making it accessible to visitors so that they learn to appreciate the parks and continue to support the parks.
    The lesser known National Parks are not as busy and offer the solitude you would expect.

    • Dan says:

      Hmm, I agree that it’s a tricky balance. There are a lot of people that really want to checkout the parks, it’s nobody’s fault the parks really are that beautiful :)
      I think my perspective is also a little skewed right now having just spent time in The Yukon & Alaska

  3. Wes says:

    Hello Dan!!

    I’m the guy you met at Yellowstone. The hood of your jeep caught my attention and then you walked up. I fogot were we where…not far from ol’Faithful…but we chatted briefly. I’m very impressed by your willingness to brush away fear. Fear comes in all shapes and sizes. You, my friend, are a fearless man. God Bless you and please take care. I will try to attach the two photos my stepdad took of us in front of your jeep. You have my permission to use them on your blog as well.

    Good luck!
    Wes

    • Dan says:

      Hey Wes,
      I’m really glad you got a hold of me, I’ve been looking forward to it!
      It was great to chat to you briefly at Yellowstone, I’d love to hear more about what you are doing and where you are at.
      -Dan

  4. yany says:

    I can imagine the happyness at these plce. West Yellowstone is a small Montana town located in a high mountain valley, surrounded by National Forests and Yellowstone National Park. West Yellowstone is also the best gateway to Yellowstone Park and its features. Yellowstone’s west entrance is located right in West Yellowstone and is the closest and easiest route to Old Faithful and Yellowstone’s geyser areas.

  5. Madeleine Noel says:

    Awesome pictures. We are driving from to Yellowstone first week of June, staying at Lake Yellowstone cabins, and wanted to get your opinion on whether we should drive around on our own or take the Yellowbus Tours :) I would rather avoid the crowds, but would like to make sure we get to see the highlights. I would really appreciate your opinion.

    • Dan says:

      Hmm, I don’t know much about Yellowstone tours, except there are a ton of people getting around. I personally love having my own car, but I’m sure the bus is good too. Have fun!

  6. Bryce says:

    I love Yellowstone. But you are absolutely right. A ton of people are “drive-thru tourists”. My girlfriend and I spent 6 days camping in and around Yellowstone out of my little Nissan Versa this summer and the best time’s we had in the park consisted of when we became the 1% of visitors to travel more than half a mile off the road. If you’re ever in the area again, or if anyone is looking for recommendations on hiking in Yellowstone, I’d offer up a few.

    Also, I just wanted to say I found your blog today from your Reddit post about the Termites in Western Africa and I spent all day at work and my whole evening at home reading through your Africa trip and now the PanAm Highway trip. I have always loved the idea of doing things like this, and I really want to do this with my girlfriend. Time to have a conversation.

    Keep on keeping on, and know that you inspire people. If you’re ever in the Boise, ID area, hit me up and I’ll buy you a beer. Otherwise, maybe our paths will cross out in the wide world.

    • Dan Grec says:

      Hey Bryce,

      Thanks for the kind words man, that means a lot!

      Absolutely you should do the PanAm – it’s an amazing experience and really, really worthwhile. Let me know if you have an questions or need help with anything. You will find http://wikioverland.org extremely helpful, check every country for all the info you need.

      I actually built this Jeep in Northern Idaho, and love the area (Hotsprings!) I’ll be back one day, I’m certain!

      All the best, have fun!
      -Dan

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