There were mixed feelings to be had about visiting Yellowstone. On the one hand its the most famous park in all of North America. On the other, our mountain guide friend warned us that it was completely overrated. So you could understand our confusion.
Driving into the park is somewhat lackluster. We followed the Snake River from Grand Teton NP through the John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Memorial Parkway. You drive through pristine forests of Lodgepole Pine encircling Mt. Sheridan to the east and Lewis Lake to the west until arriving at West Thumb. It is the southern most point of what seems like a figure eight pattern of main roads that connect the 8 major hubs in Yellowstone.
Deciding to head west, our first stop was Old Faithful. It reminds one of a scene out of Dantes Inferno. The three story tall Old Faithful Inn with its black cedar shingles is a domineering presence. The enormous wood structure with its seventy-six foot tall lobby is considered a masterpiece. The immediate area surrounding the lodge is a patch work of steaming 212 *F geysers. One literally has to pay attention to where they walk for fear that a misstep could land you into a one-way ticket to spontaneous evaporation.
Better yet the area is home to one of Yellowstones' bison herds. I found myself in awe of the gentle nature of these tank like creatures. At 2,000 pounds they move with the precision of a ballerina. We watched one slowly walk towards a four foot high pole fence and gingerly hop over it.
I didn’t know those things could jump! After leaving Old Faithful we traveled through a geyser filled scape passing Madison and onwards through Canyon Village. Along the way we caught glimpses of elk bathing in the Madison River. Bison are as common place here as are geese anywhere else. Canyon Village is the hub for The Grand Canyon Of The Yellowstone. The short hikes to Grand View, Inspiration View, and Artist View. The deceptively strenuous hikes to these points will reward you with a spectacular view of the Yellowstone River Waterfall.
From Canyon Village to Lake Village is roughly an hour drive. It crosses what is undoubtedly my favorite part of the park, Hayden Valley. Imagine a vast mountain prairie with rolling hills and creeks criss crossing throughout, shielded by mountain peaks at every corner. Bison roam freely in herds of six or more. They’re so ubiquitous to the park that after awhile most people pass by them without a second thought! Wildflowers were in peak blooming season. We watched in complete stupor as a gray wolf stalked a flock of Canada geese.
This was my version of heaven on earth. We found a solitary hill with a view of the entire valley to sit and have an afternoon picnic and just take it all in.
Sigh. There is so much going on in this park. More than two days could ever give it justice, but it was enough to appreciate how magical it is. And NO, it is not overrated.
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