Sure, we only had a few days left on our US Visa, but it would have been poor form to leave without visiting Yellowstone National Park. So we took another detour.
As it happened, this was the last weekend that many of the roads in the park were going to be open. Everything was winding down for the season and there was a dusting of snow on the ground.
Yellowstone was one of those places that we had seen on TV and read about before our trip, so we were arriving with reasonably high expectations.
The problem with these kind of places is that they often fall short of your expectations.
This was not the case with Yellowstone.
With surreal landscapes at every turn, two days was not enough time to spend at this insane other-worldly place. We thought Utah was another planet, but that was before we had seen the bizarre landscape of Yellowstone National Park.
Some of the views were just your average, run of the mill, mind-blowingly scenic landscapes. You know; lakes, rivers, trees, canyons, waterfalls:
As if the landscapes weren’t enough on their own, Yellowstone National Park—like many of the National Parks in the United States—is teeming with wildlife. There were no shortage of Elk, although this time they saw fit not to hold their date night right outside our tent.
Anywhere we drove in the park, there was the added bison hazard. These guys were huge and did not feel restrained by any road rules.
What we had hoped to see was a wolf. We had tried and failed in Denali. The closest we had come there was finding fresh footprints while out walking.
We had heard about the famous wolves of Yellowstone when we were in Denali and again when we visited a wolf sanctuary in British Columbia, it would have been a dream come true to see these creatures in the wild. However, we were realistic in our expectation that we would not see one, so fortunately we didn’t get our hopes up too much. Besides, there were a lot of bison to look at.
In the absence of wolves of course, there is still plenty to see. After all, we were wandering around in the caldera of an ancient super-volcano!
We started just outside this caldera, in the Mammoth Hot Springs area. The name certainly conveys the size of the area, but doesn’t really do the scenery justice. The hot water bubbles up from below, bringing with it calcium carbonate, which is deposited in all sorts of surreal formations around the area. To add to the bizarre nature of the area, all these strange formations are tinted different colours by algae living in the otherwise seemingly inhospitable waters.
In this forever-changing landscape, something that was an impressive, brightly coloured feature one year can be gone the next. Equally something that was dull, boring and devoid of water can suddenly come back to life when calcium carbonate laced water starts flowing in the area again. As a result, many of the features labelled on the trail maps that were available in the carparks turned out to be pretty unspectacular, whilst others vastly exceeded the descriptions we had been given.
A good reason to return to Yellowstone one day for another look.
The next stop was to head for the geyser fields of the caldera itself. Yet again, we were greeted with views straight from a sci-fi movie:
In some areas, despite all the thermal activity, there was still plenty of snow on the ground.
We can’t help but feel that this extra chill in the air increased the amount of steam and obscured a few of the features we were expecting to see.
We caught brief glimpses of some brightly-coloured features as the steam moved about in the wind.
The landscapes dominated by billowing steam were impressive on their own. Even when we knew the clouds of steam were masking amazing thermal features we had really hoped to see, we couldn’t help but be a little bit awe-struck by the swirling steam clouds and dancing fields of vapour.
But the geysers, being plumes of hot water and steam anyway, were probably made all the more spectacular as they blasted through the chilly air:
Some places were free of the enveloping blanket of steam and allowed us to see more of the dramatic caldera for ourselves. The Grand Prismatic Spring may have been rendered nearly invisible under a thick cloud of steam, but we didn’t leave disappointed:
Old Faithful, true to form, was right on schedule for a spectacular eruption of steam and water. Watching this famous geyser erupt was a perfect finish to our time exploring the volcanic features of Yellowstone.
It was at this point that we started to do something strange. We started to actually head south to Mexico—imagine that!
It was getting late, so we stopped for one more night in a campground on the southern edge of Yellowstone National Park. By the time we arrived at our camp spot it was dark. The snow on the ground, combined with the chilly night air had us hiding up in our tent in our sleeping bags as soon as dinner and dishes were done.
We heard some howling in the night and hoped it was wolves, but suspected it was only coyotes. Either way, although it sounded close, we didn’t stick our heads out of our warm tent to check, because nestled in the forest camp site, we thought there would be nothing to see.
It was the next day when we looked in the snow to see a lone set of very large wolf prints walk out of the woods, around the nearby pit toilet and then disappear back into the woods.
So close! But again we were just left with wolf prints without meeting their owner. Another good reason to return to Yellowstone one day, just to catch a glimpse of some wild wolves—we’ll be back!
With most of the park’s roads due to close and time on our visa down to a week, we continued to head south.