Yellowstone – Finally

It was a long overdue. My friends and I have been planning this trip for almost 7 years now. It was one of the frequent topics of discussion in my friends’ circle that never materialized. When it almost does, at least one of us would give the confusing nod and we put off for another day when everyone could join.

Things changed. Some of my friends migrated to other cities for jobs, some of us tied the knot but one thing that endured all this is the talk of a trip to the first ever national park of USA as if it is the sacred trip this brotherhood had to embark on. Anyway, when it happened, it only took a week to convince everyone, well most of them, to book the tickets and rest fell in place.

It was a 4 day trip that we wished we booked for a week as there is so much to experience. Nonetheless, we all came back with so much to cherish.

Day 1 – SLC to West Yellowstone

We took the beaten path of Salt Lake City to Yellowstone as Bozeman and Jackson-hole demanded deeper pockets especially that we didn’t plan it in advance. SLC is much more than a pit stop en route to Yellowstone and I can empathize with our car rental associate’s disappointment that we are using SLC just as a rest place when the city itself has so much to offer for tourists and nature lovers.

Most of us gathered in SLC, Airbnbed that night and started early to the park. It is a 5 hour drive so we wanted to choose a route that offered something for tourists.
We were all sure with almost no research that there is a huge waterfall at Idaho Falls – boy, we were so wrong – “but it is in the name”, is how we consoled ourselves once we arrived there. I mean, yeah, there is a man-made one but it is not the one worth driving to. We were dejected because we missed the gorgeous bear lake and most importantly the infamous raspberry shake as it was too late when we stumbled upon this blog.

The drive itself was not so bad. Some of us were singing loud from the excitement fueled by delicious breakfast at a local brunch cafe. We got to see how large-scale farming was done. We saw sprinklers everywhere and it was just farm lands on both sides of the road throughout the drive. It was exciting for me to witness the difference in scale and methodology in how we cultivated plants when I was growing up in a smaller scale farm in India.

We then took a detour to meet our other friend at Jackson-hole. Jackson-hole is a beautiful small city where I would have liked to spend a night and explore its tourist offerings but we had to skip it because of our tight schedule. If you happen to be there, pay a visit to the visitor centre for life-size Elk exhibits and Elk refuge. Plus, the people who work there show genuine interest in helping you better organize your day. We drove to West Yellowstone from there with a fruitless stop at Old Faithful along the way to realize we missed the last eruption.

Day 2 – Yellowstone – Mission accomplished

This the day I have been waiting for. Grand Prismatic Spring and Old Faithful. South loop is where they are located so the plan was clear to us. We drove to the Midway Geyser Basin that hosts Grand Prismatic Spring along with other geysers and springs.

Geysers and Hot Springs are natural outlets for water that is heated up from below the surface. Hot Springs let water and steam come up to the surface and circulate freely whereas Geysers have obstructions that prevent water from escaping until it reaches a point where the steam gushes out when these constrictions cannot hold the pressure that is built up from inside anymore. It works just like a pressure cooker.

Grand Prismatic is a hot spring that supports a wide range of thermophiles (heat loving microbes) that thrive in extreme conditions be it temperature, acidity/alkalinity content of the spring, etc. They also have the unique ability to emit colors based on the temperature of the water they live in. Because they are temperature specific, they form vibrantly colored concentric circles making it one of the most beautiful attractions in the world.

Pictures of Grad Prismatic on the internet is so appealing to the eye but when you go on the boardwalk and get too close to it, you miss the beauty. We had to take a step back and observe from the hill right next to it. It is hard to miss as you could see throng of tourists taking pictures from there. It was a quick hike that takes around 15 min to get to the top and there it is – a much better view and a feast for your eyes. It looks like a crater created by a huge paintball.

Then we continued to Old Faithful. It is not the biggest geyser out there but it is highly dependable hence its name. It erupts every 90 minutes. Predictability is high because it shares its underground pluming only with one other geyser which the rangers call it’s ‘little brother’ whose structure doesn’t affect the pressure much.

For us, the next prediction was scheduled to be at 4:11pm and it erupted right on time which itself surprised us. It was a spectacle to watch. It went on for about 2 minutes before losing energy. It reminded me of the flower pot cracker that we used to fire up during Deepavali. We collected several memorabilia in the gift shop there and went straight to watch some fumaroles before calling it a day.

Ok, there are more ways than geysers and springs in which the volcano underneath makes it’s presence felt. There are mudpots, fumaroles, and travertine terraces, etc.

Fumaroles are just like geysers but lack water to sprout out. Instead, water is boiled away before it reaches the surface and vented out as steam. We saw plenty of fumaroles and a special one which is half fumarole and half spring appropriately named Dragon mouth spring which also has an interesting legend attached to it.

Day 3 – Yellowstone – Terraces, Valleys and Wildlife

We were not done with the geothermal features of Yellowstone. We went to see mudpots. Ground surface made of clay that happens to be on the steam’s way out from underground gets heated up creating bubbles. Paintpots is a place where you see mudpots in different colors and the color depends on the chemicals present in the rocks that the heat melted to mud.

Norris Geyser Basin, our next stop, is the most active and densest hydrothermal region of Yellowstone. In one mile of boardwalking, one could see several fumaroles, hot-springs, geysers, etc., all in one place. Our earth is hissing and whistling everywhere which made me realize that the land the skyscrapers stand on, the roads we travel, mountains that we hike, slopes that we ski from are all byproducts of the oldest yet perpetually running chemical factory which happens to have one of its extravagant display of outlets in Wyoming, USA.

We are now headed to see some lovely terraces with water graciously sliding off like the ones in the courtyards of fancy hotels but this one is architected completely by nature. This is Mammoth Hot Spring, a sight to behold. Water that is heated up to the surface by volcanic magma underneath has been depositing limestone and other minerals for thousands of years forming terrace like structures called Travertines. These deposits vary in color from bright orange to snow white. It is so surreal and divine that I felt it does not belong to mortals like us. Imagine this being the background of an Immortal God that you know of. Picture perfect 🙂

We all pretty much had the same fish burger for lunch and it was del-icious. Now that our gut is satisfied, our hearts started to yearn for wildlife. We had been seeing a couple of Elks and Bisons along the way but that is not enough to quench the thirst. What better place to see wildlife other than Lamar valley. It was a long barren drive with almost no companion for us on the road but when we spotted several cars with beaks of DSLRs peeking out of the windows, we knew there is something.

The bisons. We stopped at a safe distance from them and got off the car to get cozy, by that I mean selfies, with the wildlife. But their agenda is somewhat different from ours and they seem to be focused on snacking whatever they could find. Once in a while, some of them would make eye contact with tourists but they don’t seem to be bothered by our presence. It was all fine until one of the big ones started charging us. This is what we don’t understand, we don’t know what’s going in the big head of theirs. Fear engulfed all of us; what we thought would be a safe distance didn’t look safe anymore; we hurriedly sprinted back to the car like it could shield us from the beast. If he wanted to attack us, there is no way we could have escaped it and the car would have been crushed in the process too. But he stopped and continued snacking like nothing happened. I’m sure it was a prank and I bet he chuckled at the reaction of the tiny creatures running for their lives.

We drove a little further and one of us spotted a big bald eagle making a safe landing on a tree which was a bonus. We drove a little further to see another big herd of bisons but this time we were literally in the middle of the big herd. Huge bisons slowly crossing the road in front and back of our car. I could feel the adrenaline rush and we concealed it with whatever silly jokes we could make at our hopeless situation. We observed the ones with the calves are the most sensitive and therefore more dangerous. Once the road was clear we slowly drove the car out of the danger zone feeling accomplished to go back to our shelter.

Day 4 – Bears and back

We had some bear and fox fanatics in our group who refused to end the trip without spotting them. They are incredible animals with interesting characteristics but as with any animal in the wild, it is hard to predict where they would be and we don’t have time to take chances. So we zeroed down to a spot with the probability of seeing them is almost 1. You guessed it, Grizzly Discovery Center.

We learned so much about these animals, such as telling whether it is grizzly or black, from the exhibits and more about the peculiar characteristics of the bears they raise from the rangers themselves who were more than happy to entertain tourists with interesting tidbits.

It was exciting to see Sam, one of the bears, coming out smelling peanut butter from a distance and going straight to the tree where it’s snack is. He effortless stands up to grab his food given his size and how sluggish he moves.

We quickly said hi to eagles and white foxes before departing to SLC to catch our flights.

Finally, it was a great trip that has given me a chance to reconnect with nature at a much more intimate level, a reprieve from work and a great time with friends as always.

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