One of the natural wonders that were always high on my “places –to-visit list” was Yellowstone National Park. I knew about the geysers, the bison and the bear. However what I saw exceed my expectations.
The first archaeological findings date back to 11.000 years ago. 5000 years ago Indians began to mine obsidian. The Shoshones were still living in the park when the first European visitors arrived in the 19th century.
One of these visitors was John Colter in 1807. He was the first to report about hydrothermal features, but no-one believed him. Only in the 1860’s after the expedition of Henry Dana Washburn, Nathaniel Pitt Langford and Gustavus Cheyney Doane, the world believed the existence of these hydrothermal features.
In 1871 the first scientific expedition was organized. Conservationists started lobbying for the creation of a protected area. A year later the first national park in the world was created by president Ulysses S. Grant.
Location and organization
Yellowstone National Park is situated in North-western Wyoming.
Visitors can enter the park at five locations: Gardiner, West-Yellowstone, Grand Teton National Park, Billings, Cody. We chose the entrance at West-Yellowstone because of the easy access to both the Upper Grand Loop and Lower Grand Loop via the Madison Junction.
These two itineraries pass by all the attractions of the park. The Upper Grand Loop has a length of 203 km. The Lower Grand Loop is 177 km long.
The park is divided into five countries: Mammoth Country, Roosevelt Country, Canyon Country, Lake Country and Geyser Country, each with its own visitor centre.
What to do
Visiting the hydrothermal features will keep you busy for quite a while. There are, however, a lot of other things you can do.
You can go hiking, bicycling, boating, fishing, wildlife viewing, horseback riding, llama packing, join one of the guided tours or ranger activities.
The park provides for some winter activities as well. You can choose between cross-country skiing, snow shoeing or take a guided tour in a snow-coach or with snowmobiles.
Yellowstone National park is well-known for its bison population, especially in the Lamar and Hayden valleys. But visitors can also encounter pronghorns, mule deer, cougars, bobcats, bighorn sheep mountain goats, wapiti’s, moose, black bears, grizzly’s, wolves and coyotes.
Some of the animals possess deadly force, so be vigilant at all times.
The national park is one giant volcanic plateau. It was created by numerous volcanic eruptions and earthquakes. There are between 1.000 and 3.000 per year.
The lowest point is Reese Creek at 1.610 m; the highest point is Eagle Peak at 3.462 m.
The park has over 10.000 hydrothermal features. There are five kinds of hydrothermal features: hot springs, geysers, mud pots, fumaroles and travertine terraces.
Hot water cools as it reaches the surface; it sinks and is replaced by new hot water.
The colours of the hot springs are caused by thermophiles. These are micro-organisms that thrive in a hot environment.
Mud pots are acidic features with a limited water supply.
They are known for their specific odor and sound. When iron oxides, this causes colours like beige, gray and pink to appear.
Within the boundaries of Yellowstone National park there are over 300 geysers. This is the largest number of geysers in the world.
A geyser is a hot spring with a mechanical failure that prevents water from freely circulating to the surface.
The most famous geyser is Old Faithful. The name is derived from the fact that it faithfully erupts every 90 minutes.
The biggest geyser is Steamboat Geyser. Its eruptions can reach heights up to 122 m. Unfortunately is impossible to predict its eruptions.
These terraces are formed by limestone. Because of the softness of the limestone, the terraces change form on a regular basis.
The color is, once again, caused by thermophiles.
Most of the terraces are located at Mammoth Hot Springs.
Fumaroles have so little water that it boils away before reaching the surface.
Depending on how often you decide to stop, you need at least one day per loop. However, if you want to visit the park thoroughly, it might even take you a week. The visitor pass at the entrance is valid for seven days.
There are numerous hotels, lodges, camp sites and restaurants located within the park boundaries. We booked a motel in West-Yellowstone, outside the park. This turned out to be not such a good idea. There were a lot more tourists in the town than diners and restaurants.
For more information about Yellowstone National Park, please follow this link.
If you like to see more photos of the park, please click here.
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