Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Yellowstone National Park

We left Red Lodge for Yellowstone (or as close as we could get to it at Wapiti, WY) and the road between the two is pretty dry and barren.  But even that scenery can be beautiful in its own way. The mountains do not even look real sometimes.

Wapiti is 25 miles west of Cody, WY and 25 miles east of the east entrance to Yellowstone. Yellowstone has 5 entrances - N, S, E, W, and NE.  No matter which entrance you use, or even if you are at a campsite inside the park, you have to do a lot of driving.  Yellowstone is 3500 square miles and there are two primary circular routes, north and south.  It is vast and beautiful but I say again - there is a lot of traffic and a lot of driving between the sights. Rhonda saw a news report this evening that said they are actually now considering regulating the amount of traffic since it has gotten so bad. 

Yellowstone was the first designated national park with President Grant doing the honors in 1872.  It was a US Army post previous to that.  It is centered over the Yellowstone Caldera, a super volcano, the reason so many geothermal features are the primary attraction there.  Wildlife is a big deal also and Yellowstone is part of major national and international programs dedicated to the preservation of many species.

I am glad we ended up on the east side of Yellowstone.  The drive into the park was truly some of the best scenery possible, inside and outside of the park.  Our campsite at Wapiti was in a canyon surrounded by mountains.


Rhonda says this is wild sage in the picture below, definitely a prevalent smell in the air.

Twice a day, morning and evening, we got to see ranchers move about 100 horses to and from a grazing pasture about a quarter of a mile down the highway. They literally have two people on the highway stop traffic while the horses make the trip down the road. The pathway was  right in front of the door of the RV. 

This has been a dry season for the area and teams of firefighters had set up a base operation between us and Yellowstone - quite a big deal, including helicopters carrying water to the fire areas.  Once we arrived it rained every evening for 5 days and the firefighters were closing the camp as we left.  One interesting note - the raindrops here are huge.  No idea why, just an observation.  

Yellowstone has seen its share of forest fires and it is evident throughout the park.  In a 1988 fire, 1/3 of the forests were destroyed.

Yellowstone Lake is a huge attraction, part of our daily ride into the park.

Throughout the park, you will see steam rising from the ground, including along the lake.  You don't have to get close to pick up the sulphur smell of some of them.

We never saw large herds of buffalo as we did in South Dakota, but there was this one that always seemed to be hanging out around one of the visitor centers! In the morning, he would be near the sidewalk for all of the tourists to photograph as they began their day.

Here he is plodding back to his position at the visitor center at the end of the day to welcome all of the tired tourists returning to camp.

Again, the geothermal thing is a big deal here.  Boiling springs are common.

The runoff from the pools can be quite colorful.

And of course, Old Faithful is the main attraction.  Here she is between eruptions calmly steaming away with crowds of onlookers awaiting the next event, generally timed about 90 minutes apart (just enough time to tour the lodge and eat Moose Track ice cream).  We had a front row seat.

And here she goes, blows, or whatever the right term is!

And there are hot springs close by, with "Prismatic" being the featured one.  Here's an advertised aerial shot with no steam.

Those colors are real, but you don't get the full effect from the boardwalk. We later found out you can hike way, way up a mountain and look down for the above view. We are kind of glad we did not know about the climb.

Some of the other hot springs and runoff.

This one makes me think of my heart after eating Moose Track ice cream - these "arteries" look like they could use a couple of stents too!

Time for a diversion - Rhonda is driving the truck more and more and getting pretty good at it.  This is her first attempt parking at one of the visitor centers, no second try necessary!  

Probably the best wildlife shot we got was of an elk - our first.  Wish he had been standing but this will have to do.  Personally, I would think antlers (which can weigh up to 40 pounds) would be annoying to have, but I guess I'll never know.

Another big attraction for us was  the "Grand Canyon of Yellowstone."  We have not been to THE Grand Canyon yet but it is planned for later on this trip.  So, we can't make a judgment on this one other than pretty impressive.  Yes, these are our pictures - almost do not look real either.

Here are some closeups of the headwaters at the waterfall in the picture above.

More of the canyon. The colors are hard to believe! The canyon  and waterfall are actually the most photographed areas of Yellowstone, even more than Old Faithful.

And those are the highlights of Yellowstone for us (well, there was the ice cream too).  There are some attractions we missed but all in all definitely worth seeing.  One lesson we have finally learned - never buy a hamburger at a national park or museum eatery of any kind (we have tried several now). They even advertised their Yellowstone burgers as something really special.  Speaking of some of the canyon pictures not looking real - the gray meat in their burgers cannot possibly be real.  Never again!

Some more sights along the ride home each day, including rainbows and wildflowers.

And one of Rhonda's favorites - Chimney Rock. We always saw the "Watch For Falling Rocks" sign and thought of this one. It would definitely take out our truck.

Now, don't think all of Wapiti and Cody is just Yellowstone.  Cody had the highest concrete arch-gravity dam in the US at 350 feet when it was completed in 1910. By comparison, the Hoover Dam (also planned for this trip) is 720 feet tall.

The debris field on the upstream side is pretty impressive also.  Reminded us of some of the messes we plowed through on Help Me Rhonda at some of the locks on the Erie Canal.

Cody gets its name from Buffalo Bill Cody of course, very influential in the area.  The town hosts 90 consecutive days of rodeos each summer, from 8 to 10 PM.  We chose a night with rain threatening but we knew the bleachers were covered and took our chances.  Well, it rained and it poured for at least an hour of the rodeo and the participants deserve a lot of credit for not allowing it to slow them down.  We never got wet but there were serious winds that did dampen the evening a little for us. The animals definitely won as 30 MPH winds made it tough for the cowboys and cowgirls to lasso anything! By the way, the kids are the most fun to watch.  We got just a couple of shots and this is about the best we have to offer.  The more "active" events are a bit of a blur!

It was like all rodeos with bull riding, barrel races, rodeo clowns, calf roping, etc., but fun to watch. Speaking of kids, a western thing we had never seen before involved putting all of the spectator kids under the age of 12 in the arena and then turning loose 2 calves with ribbons tied to their tails (Not sure what these parents were thinking - 70 pound kids versus 200 pound calves with the winner getting a free Dairy Queen Blizzard.) Watching 75 kids trying to get the ribbons was something I never would have thought of doing to my kids but now I have a new game for the grandkids if I can only find some calves agreeable to wearing ribbons on their tails for kids to chase.  Oh, and we may have trouble finding a suitable venue for the event.

So, that's about it for us at Wapiti, Cody, and Yellowstone.  We have moved on to Missoula, MT for 3 days and are headed to Glacier National Park for 4 days later this week.  Oh yeh, you may wonder why we did not venture south for the Tetons which are just south of Yellowstone - it was about an 8 to 9-hour roundtrip from our campsite so we are going to try and catch them later from the west or south.

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