We have learned that van life means early bedtime and awake shortly after first light. Honestly, I don’t mind. Our days have been super productive and we have seen so much. It’s hard to think that we’ve only been on the road for 3 days! I feel like we’ve crammed so much in.
The drive from Teton to Yellowstone is quick. Less than an hour. But the difference in the parks is unquestionable. Teton is mountains, prairies, forests, and some wildlife. Yellowstone has so many features! It has mountains, rivers, valleys, wildlife, geothermal features like geysers and hot springs, and out of this world views around every corner. I found as I drove I kept saying, “Wow” when we came around a bend.
After a quick stop to check out our campground we proceeded to the “busy” part of the park. Meaning, the part where things like Old Faithful and Grand Prismatic Spring are located. Neither of us have much patience for traffic in busy parking lots, so we both agreed to skip Old Faithful if it seemed unreasonably busy. Thankfully, there were plenty of spots available. Yellowstone really gets going around 10AM. If you can get to the major sites before then there will be far less hassle in your life. The earlier the better.
As we drove into the Old Faithful parking lot who do we see but Danielle from G Adventures! Small world. We said hello and continued our way towards the madness that is the crowd at Old Faithful. Our plan was to hike up to the observation point to watch it erupt since both of us have already seen it erupt at ground level.
The hike up was a little steeper than expected but we made it. Winded, but we made it. This was our first attempt at a true incline hike at elevation and I think we did ok. Nobody passed out or vomited so that’s a win, right? We had a bit of time before the predicted eruption so we hiked across the forest ridgeline to Solitary Spring. I am still not sure if we actually saw it erupt. The sign stated that it erupted every 5-7 minutes. We were definitely there for that time period and at one point there was kind of a big gas bubble that rose to the surface but I am not convinced that was the eruption.
We headed back towards the observation point for the eruption and literally made it just in time. We watched the geyser erupt 100 ft into the air from a cool perspective.
Since we saw what we came to see we promptly returned to the car. We were determined to leave the area before the parking lot becomes one big traffic jam.
We drove up the road between Old Faithful and Madison junction and checked out all the geothermal features.
Grand Prismatic Spring is one of my favorite spots in Yellowstone. I just think the color are so awesome. The warm steam blowing off the geothermal pools alternating with the feeling of cool morning air on my face is one of my favorite sensations. Grand Prismatic was packed with people but we parked farther down the road and strolled a nice path around the river to the main site.
The hot springs dump right into the river surrounded by a blaze of orange and yellow sulfuric rock. Amy and I kept bending down and testing the river temp near where the springs poured in. It was definitely warmer in some areas! We found a small little hot spring underneath the bank at one point and bathed our hands in it. The sulfur in the water softens the skin.
I dodged the tour groups and dilly-dallyers up the ramps to see the pools. The wind was strong enough to blow the hats right of people’s heads. There were a few scattered items in the landscape. The pic below is the same spring. The wind blows the steam right off!
It is very dangerous to leave the boardwalks because the ground is unstable. So- if it the wind takes it- it’s gone. In addition to the near boiling water temperature, the acid in these pools will dissolve the skin on your body. Nice, right?
We ended up chatting with another older couple for the tail end of the walk and the woman turned out to be a retired nurse! She claimed she knew we were nurses when she saw us. I am not sure I believe her but either way, she was sweet and very friendly. Below is Opal Pool where we ended our journey with them.
After a few more geothermal stop the sulfur was getting to our heads and the crowds were becoming unmanageable. We took a detour down Firehole Lake Road and we were not disappointed with our decision. The ‘lake’ was more like a geyser pit with hot springs spurting out all over the place.
It was a neat area to explore and there were few people on the road. It was nice to get away from the crowds.
We spotted a picnic area near some waterfalls on the map and made that our destination. Well, Virginia Cascades are beautiful but the picnic area is not quite next to it. It’s a bit farther down the road but has views of the forest and some clearings that provided enough eye candy for us to stop and make a charcuterie plate (like I said, charcuterie is now a daily occurrence).
As we devoured our cheese, meat, and beer an interesting vehicle pulled into the parking lot next to us. It looked like maybe at one point in time it was a Land Rover. It was covered with stickers and quotes that mentioned Austria. A couple hopped out and started unloading out door kitchen supplies to one of the picnic tables. When Amy and I finally became curious enough to ask we were told they shipped the car from Germany to Halifax and have been traveling the US and Canada for 17 months. The car was indeed a Land Rover but they had altered and had a pop top sleeping area. The thing was COOL. I was jealous. They plan to travel for 3 years and are headed to South America when winter hits the US. I want this to be my life!!
On our way back to camp we stopped to ask about kayaking and discovered the power was out on that whole side of the park. All of the villages, restauarants, and marinas were closed. We took our time getting back to our campground it hopes that the power would be restored so we could shower (it had been 4 days at this point) when we arrived. Spoiler: it was back on and everything was fine.
During our drive back to camp we were treated to a wildlife show. First we came across bison in Hayden Valley. I was starting to become concerned that we had been in Yellowstone for over 12 hours and had not caught a single glimpse of bison. In my memory they were scattered all over the park. But, in reality they are located in the valleys and I had exaggerated things a bit in my head.
We got into a small bison jam as they meandered across the road. No Fs given to the cars patiently waiting to pass. It was great.
As we traveled on we came across 2 huge elk with massive antler racks in a field near Bridge Bay. It’s especially easy to spot wildlife near the road in Yellowstone because usually there are already 10-30 other cars pulled over trying to snap a pic. We parked, exited the car (you really aren’t supposed to block traffic but many visitors seem to ignore this rule), and were able to take to some up close elk photos.
Still trying to buy time for power restoration we diverted down Gull Point Road for some fantastic views of Yellowstone Lake. The road hugs the coast for a short ride filled with vistas and reflections on the lake. And we spied a great picnic area to return and make breakfast in the morning. There were few people on this road. I think most of the visitors stick to the main roads and at least 50% of them only see the main attractions. Taking the side road almost always provides a moment of solitude in Yellowstone.
We made a quick stop at West Thumb Geyser Basin to check out a few more geothermal pools. We couldn’t bring ourselves to walk around the whole loop. Our legs felt like bricks after hiking Jenny Lake yesterday, Old Faithful this morning, and countless geyser boardwalk loops along the way. Plus, we were hungry.
Since the power had been restored (turns out Grant Village, where we are staying, only lost if for a few minutes in the morning) we opted to stop at the restaurant. Since we were the only village in East Yellowstone with power everyone on this side of the park had flocked to this restaurant. Most parties were larger than our and we only had to wait 20 minutes for a table. But, man, people were hangry. I sat and watched people interacting with the host stand and was shocked to see how rudely people were speaking to the restaurant employees. First of all- reservations are recommended for this place. Secondly- Yes I am sorry you and your party of 10 are going to have to wait a fair while to sit down. Patience was not a virtue for anyone that night.
We happily ate our meals- steak for me, tasty trout for Amy- and finally made it to the showers. Of course, my shower could not, would not, absolutely refused to get hot. I was so sad. All I wanted was a steaming hot shower. It had gotten chilly and I needed warm up.
Instead, I got lukewarm water that would occasionally blast ice cold. I cut my shower short and dried off. Amy had no issue with the water. I just chose the wrong stall.
It was getting late so we registered and drove to our campsite. Grant Village Campground packs people in! The sites are real close to one another and you better hope you have friendly neighbors. We went straight to bed with plans to wake up real early for some wildlife spotting and breakfast at an offsite location.
Rachel (RNRN) Roaming with Rachel Travel