Yellowstone – Grand Prismatic

There are some pictures that are quintessential and the shot of the Grand Prismatic is definitely that. I can vividly remember seeing this picture on various blogs and thinking I want to go THERE! But like many things in this lifestyle the story behind the shot is way more interesting than the picture and in this case unfortunately the experience did not live up to the beauty of the shot.

So how did we get this picture?? Well first of all you need to get to higher ground because if you look at the grand prismatic from its boardwalk you can’t see much. There are two entrances to a path that goes behind the Grand Prismatic. Neither of the path entrances have signs for Grand Prismatic though so look for signs that say Fairy Falls. You can use a bike on these paths or walk like we did and since we picked the closer of the two entrances our walk ended up being 1.8 miles round trip.

That’s not terribly long for a hike but unfortunately to get the views above you need to wait until late July or early August because that’s when the algae forms and the bright colors appear. You also need to wait until the hottest part of the day. Why? Well the steam obscures the view if you go early in the morning but when we went around 3pm it was 81 degrees and the steam was minimal.

The path itself is OK, but when you get to the side path to go to the overlook that was pretty steep. It’s also extremely crowded most of the time and there were lots of families and small kids on the path. Definitely not a quiet nature hike. Grand Prismatic is actually the second most visited site in Yellowstone and the crowds definitely show it.

As you start to wind through the path you could see the Prismatic through the trees a little. There were no clear shots so we continued to the platform at the top. We heard that the forest service was going to improve on this platform this year, but unfortunately the money was diverted to pay for the road damage done by the floods. It is a shame because the platform is relatively small and the trees obscure a LOT of the view.

There was actually only one small section that was completely tree free and if you are short like I am even that had trees in it. Here’s what the raw pictures looked like.

Don’t get me wrong these aren’t terrible pictures but definitely not on par with the images I have seen. So how did I get those? Well I used Photoshop to erase the trees from the shot and then punched up the colors. Here’s the revised version of the pictures above.

So better but still not the best and unfortunately when we reached the top of the platform Lee was only able to take one picture before the battery on his camera died. Basically it was a long, hot crowded walk to squeeze into a small space and take a mediocre picture. I know that sounds harsh but it was not fun for us and I wanted to share that before you decide to go. By all means take the hike and get your picture, just know what you are getting into.

One last thing I wanted to mention. Lee is working for a professional photographer this summer and he of course has an outstanding shot of the prismatic. In order to get that shot though he made several flights in a powered parachute, and flew directly over it. Before we went he was really honest with us about not the difficulty in getting the shot we wanted and I appreciated his sharing that with us so I was at least somewhat prepared.

All that being said I am glad I got the first picture I showed you. But as is often the case some things do not live up to their press.

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Yellowstone – Mud Volcano and Virginia Cascades

The weather has been a little interesting in early August, with some days in the 90s and others in the 70s. That difference matters to me as 90s is a little hot for me to be seeing the geological sites (that hot steam can really add to the heat) but the 70s are just perfect. One cooler evening we decided to go into the park and check out the Mud Volcano which looked pretty interesting. Basically it is a small hill full of geologic and thermal formations but this one has some unique features.

The hill was covered in boardwalks

Right after that we saw another pool with a buffalo laying right next to it. We have seen this several times but never so close up and watching him take a nap. Honestly for me this might be the quintessential Yellowstone picture and we stayed for a long time taking pictures until the rangers shooed us off since we were so close. They made it pretty clear that the wooden railing on the boardwalk would provide no protection if the bison got annoyed but he honestly didn’t seem to care. He was sleeping 🙂

After the first couple of sites we had to walk up a pretty steep hill but it was worth it. Beautiful views from the top and more neat things to see. I will say the boardwalk was pretty torn up though and we guessed that bison were walking on it.

Another really cool feature was called Black Dragon Cauldron. This was very active and the water was churning so much it actually made waves. We learned the water wasn’t boiling but was was caused by gasses rising.

Finally we saw an area where there used to be a huge mud geyser. It’s dormant now but still lots of steam. The everchanging nature of these features fascinates me and I told Lee I would love to have a time machine just to go backwards and forwards to see how it would all change. You have to remember this whole area was a volcano and these spots are what are left after it exploded.

As we headed back home we got caught in a buffalo jam and watched a young man get waaaay to close to the buffalo that ultimately walked right in front of our truck. These bison are getting close to rut season and are particularly aggressive right now so we stayed safely in our truck. Here is how it played out. 1500 pounds and those horns are no joke.

Then there’s this guy who just wanted to scratch an itch, much to the sadness of this poor tree….

And as we were driving home we saw that side road to Virginia Cascades was open. They open and close side roads frequently here and this one has been closed for awhile. Once again the side road led to something really cool and I loved the hoodoo like rock formations.

What amazes me as always is the variety of landscapes Yellowstone provides. It really makes for great experiences.

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Yellowstone – Thumb Basin and Brink of Upper Falls

This is a long one so you might want to grab a cup of coffee!

Now that the park is opened up we have been trying to see many of the sites we previously missed. On this particular day we left Jack at home and headed into the park to see Thumb Basin. This geyser area is right on the lake and is particularly cool because some of the geysers are actually under the lake water. Unfortunately the geysers are all pretty much dormant but I still really enjoyed the views.

The colors are really starting to pop. They are best in late July and early August as the sun encourages algae to grow

Some of the pools are draining right into the lake which makes for a very cool effect and change of color.

My favorite though was the geysers in the lake itself. Apparently they stay warm enough to keep the ice clear around them and the otters use them as “fishing holes” in the winter. Super cool. I wish they were still going off that would be neat to see.

After Thumb Basin we were driving towards Canyon Village and saw a little turnoff along the lake and on impulse stopped and saw a beautiful sandbar full of people enjoying the views of the lake. It was a windy but wonderful views and a great spot to hang out on a hot day.

I should also mention that we saw several Elk and a couple of buffalo as we were traveling.

Lastly we went to the Brink of the Upper Falls (based on a recommendation by one of Lee’s work friends) and WOW was it spectacular. I have been to the head of many waterfalls and I have never seen anything like this. First of all it has three different levels and each view is pretty unique. Plus the water levels are really high and the power of it was thrilling. I heard a local say she visits the site all of the time and she had never seen it this high. I did the best I could to capture it in pictures but really Lee’s video does a much better job.

The rainbow was a great addition

After spending a long time getting pictures at the falls we walked back up the stairs and down the old road to a bridge and got some more cool shots. It really was spectacular and my favorite of the the Yellowstone waterfall sightings so far. I like my waterfalls up close and personal and this certainly provided that.

Like I said the pictures simply don’t do it justice but I think Lee’s video does. Highly recommend taking a few minutes to watch it, and as always, it looks better full screen and in HD.

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Yellowstone – Lewis Falls

After all the flooding craziness we were thrilled to learn that the park had reopened most of the roads and was removing the every other day restrictions. The National Park Service has done a fantastic job of gathering resources, but I have to admit I was surprised they could fix all the road damage in a three week period. Turns out the roads aren’t all fixed, but they are all passable and they did an excellent job of balancing pressure to fully reopen and public safety. Here is a map someone made. The roads in red are still closed.

With the exception of Lee’s one night time visit to the park we had not been in at all, so were both excited. Since we thought most people would be heading north (and we always try to go the opposite way of crowds) we headed south. There was no line to get into the park at 7am and the roads were pretty free of people. It was also a beautifully clear morning and we could see the steam rising from the various geysers. I would love to be able to capture what that looks like in a picture, but below is the closest I could get. On a clear, cool day you can see the steam rising from miles away and its really very beautiful.

We also stopped at the Continental Divide sign when we were going over a pass, and this was nice because this area has been pretty snowy. We made the trip short though because we got dive bombed by mosquitos (a first since we have been here) and Jack started making snarling noises towards the woods. To the best of our recollection neither of us have ever heard him snarl like that so we figured it was a good idea to get back in the truck 🙂

I love when we cross the Continental Divide

Finally we arrived at Lewis Falls and grabbed a great parking spot. We passed these falls once when it was still really snowy but all the paths and parking areas were closed in. This stop was really beautiful and the falls are much nicer than they looked from a quick glance. There is also a path (pretty rough) going up to an observation area which I would have missed. Lee found it though and we got several nice views of the falls. Here are my favorite pics.

The path up to the falls

A man and his dog 🙂

If you do get a chance to go don’t forget to walk across the road because those views are gorgeous as well.

After Lewis Falls we headed into Grand Teton, but I am going to save that for another post. I did want to mention though that when we came out of the park that same evening the wind had kicked up and there were clouds (not an exaggeration) of pollen coming from the trees. I personally have never seen anything like it and unfortunately couldn’t capture it well in a pic, but the visibility was less than 100 yards and people immediately turned their lights on. So far I am doing ok with allergies but if you are a person who struggles keep that in mind when you decide what month to come in.

Those clouds in the sky were actually yellow and filled with pollen

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Yellowstone – Firehole Lake Drive

Update: This post was completed before the Yellowstone flooding and closure.

One of the other side roads that we have been waiting to open up is Firehole Lake Drive, and one evening we were happy to see that it was open. Like every other side road we have been on this one was GREAT and it was one cool surprise after another. I don’t know what I was expecting but it definitely wasn’t this.

We were surprised to find the Great Fountain Geyser which is popular enough that it has seating. The sign said it wasn’t due to erupt until after 6pm so we just moved on to the next which was a super cool white dome geyser. These cones are formed by minerals from the geyser and will eventually close off. Lee and I both loved it and took some great pictures. Check out the sky…that is 100% what it looked like that day and it went perfectly with the dome.

After we checked out the dome we started to leave when suddenly it went off. I jumped back out of the truck and got some pictures, but they don’t do justice to how magnificent it was. There are people who track geyser eruptions like others who track animals and I always feel lucky when one randomly goes off when we are around. It’s like a gift from Mother Nature.

Super Cool!!!

Next was the lake itself that is an interesting mix of of hot springs, and the lake. You can see where cool water meets hot in the lake itself and the springs have little steaming waterfalls. It was very interesting and we spent a lot of time walking around.

After Firehole Lake we headed further east but most of the named geyser parking lots were full. Instead we stopped at Kepler Cascades for what I thought was a quick stop to look at rapids. Well there were rapids but also an amazing multi-level waterfall and I was once again shocked at the view. We have found there are so many unassuming corners of Yellowstone that can really blow us away.

Small parking lot and small walkway wasn’t expecting much
And then this is what we saw

After the cascades, we decided to popup to Old Faithful Inn so we could take a look. The old National lodges are really amazing and this was one of the best we have seen. It has three levels with open balconies to the inside. It provides free tours which I would love to take but unfortunately we were there at the wrong time. They also have a prime rib buffet ($39.99 per person) and at 5:00 the line was already really long. The lodge gift shop was nice though and they had unique items we hadn’t seen anywhere else. I bought some huckleberry flavored margarita mix 🙂

One of the most interesting things about the Inn is that the bison graze freely really close to the entrances and exits. Since the woman from Ohio was gored recently we saw several rangers watching the area, but despite their presence several people got too close. Lee and I kept a wide berth though when walking back to our truck just to be on the safe side.

These evening jaunts are turning out to be really fun even with the larger crowds. Getting back out of the park is still taking awhile but we just build that time into what we want to do. Next up I finally get to Big Sky and Bozeman.

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Yellowstone – Dunraven Pass

On the Friday afternoon of Memorial Day we took advantage of some glorious weather and went into the park. Dunraven pass (the road between Canyon Village and Tower Roosevelt had finally opened!!!) and I was really excited to see this last section of the park. The day started out great as along the way I got to see my first Momma Grizzly and her two cubs. Thankfully Lee was able to find a parking spot and we jumped out and took some pictures.

At first I just saw this one lone cub

Then Momma poked her head out. She was a beauty

We were watching her dig for grubs and then a second baby popped out. What a wonderful moment
My best shot came when a car made a noise and the babies stood up and looked right at us. Momma could have cared less but she did look frequently behind herself into the woods.

I got some great shots with my 400MM but Lee’s were better with the 600MM, plus he’s a better photographer in general so here are his shots.

We could have watched this all day but we got our shots and moved on. Partly to allow others a chance at a plum parking spot and partly because I really wanted to drive the road. Turned out that was a good call because the road was absolutely gorgeous. I did understand why they had kept it closed so long though because the snow pack was crazy high and the road was twisty turney. It reminded both of us of some of our Alaskan long drives and we loved it. I learned later the road have been under construction and been closed for the last couple of years so we were one of the first ones on it.

Look for the road on the upper left . Gorgeous views

The road got even better though because near the end we saw a black bear and her two cubs. This time there was no place to park but we drove right by her and I got a few shots out of the truck window. Not too bad if I do say so myself 🙂 I didn’t even see the cubs at first I was so focused on her, but when one started to try and climb a tree I got the shot.

She was a beauty

so cute

Again not bad from a moving truck

After seeing the bears we went to the Tower gift shop and were surprised to see that the parking lot was packed. It is right next to the falls and there were some bears far down in the valley so people were having a really good time. I am glad we got to see the falls when hardly anyone was there though.

Afterwards we turned around and drove back down the same road (it was pretty both ways) and stopped at Canyon Village for a buffet dinner. In order to help with staffing shortages they are offering a cafeteria style meal which was pretty decent. It was $22, a little on the pricey side, but the food was tasty after a long day. Plus a new gift shop was open and we got some terrific 150th anniversary shirts (2 for $25). This shirt is by far my favorite and I am so glad I found it. As a side note there is much repetition between the various gift shops but each one seems to have some unique items, so it is worth stopping at all of them. And its fun of course!

Once again it was a lovely day, bookended by two different bear encounters. If you are a person who loves happy endings (you know who you are) I want you to stop right here. For those who are more interested in the good and the bad please continue…

The day did go very well but when we headed out of the park we finally ran into the traffic we have been hearing so much about. We hit two bison jams on the way out and it took over 1-1/2 hours to finally get back to West Yellowstone. Sometimes the jams are legitimate because the bison are in the middle of the road, but usually people are just stopping or slowing down to get pictures. Since there is only one way in and out you just have to wait. To give you an example during the worst one I got out and walked the dog for some time before Lee caught up with me.

Here was one of them and it can feel you are being held hostage by the car in front.

Which leads me to what else I want to talk about. Yellowstone is not a zoo. The animals are not contained in any way, and although bison look like cute fluffy cows, they are wild animals. People get seriously hurt, and sometimes killed, every year, and this years first serious injury was a 25 year old (coincidently from my home town of Grove City, Ohio) who got gored by a bison. Originally reports said she died, but we later learned she did survive although I have no idea of the permanent damage. Have you ever seen a cowboy try to ride a bull and then get thrown off and attacked? Think that scenario but with no rodeo clowns to intervene. This is serious business, but people repeatedly ignore signs and get too close. We see it every time we go into the park.

In addition, wild animals hunt each other. I hate to tell you (and hated to learn) that those two baby grizzlies shown above were killed by a male grizzly the day after we saw them. I found this particularly upsetting, but male bears will kill the cubs of another male to protect their territory and put the female back in estrus. Lee is on local Facebook groups that track this sort of thing and I told him going forward I would rather not know. I am a happy ending kind of person myself and would prefer to believe those babies grew up to have babies of their own. Only one in three cubs actually survive though which helps keep the bear population manageable. Mother nature is glorious and brutal in its wonder and death is a key part of maintaining the balance.

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Yellowstone – Tower Roosevelt

The one section of the park we were struggling to get to was Lamar Valley, so we set out on a day we both had off with the goal of finally exploring it. I say finally because the weather has been so different here that we have had to turn back a couple of times trying to make it there and this day didn’t start out promisingly as you can see from the snow on our windshield. Still we decided to give it a go because you really never know what weather you will see in different areas of the park. To prove that please keep an eye on the sky during the next two blog posts. They all happened in one day and the weather changed frequently.

This is what we started with but like Lee says nothing exciting happens sitting on the couch.

The one benefit of overcast weather is we have found it does increase the chance of animal sightings. We saw this beautiful Elk early on in the day and most exciting a moose! I am in awe of how people see animals like the moose when driving by, but I am always happy to cheat from their paper when I see cars pulled off the road.

Thankfully the weather started to clear when we hit Mammoth Springs and the drive to Tower Roosevelt was really pleasant. Since we left early we also had that part of the park largely to ourselves and we were both surprised when we came upon a beautiful waterfall. I had no idea this waterfall was here, but what a great surprise and we enjoyed walking around and taking pictures with Jack.

Th visitors center was still closed. It finally opened Memorial Day weekend. We actually went back that weekend and the parking lot was packed so I am extra glad we got up here early in the season.
Absolutely gorgeous vistas

We walked Jack up the road a bit and saw a small waterfall and a creek. There was an explosion of smells and Jack really enjoyed himself.

Unfortunately Jack couldn’t walk to the waterfall so back in the car he went and we took a very short walk to see the falls. What a beauty, it was truly unexpected. The only bummer was there was no way we could see to walk down to it and get closer.

The rock spire next to the fall was the coolest part and makes this waterfall pretty unique. Using my 18-400mm lens I got some pictures that were closer.

Super cool

Out last stop in the Tower Roosevelt area was to drive a couple miles down the road to Canyon Village. The rest of the road is closed until May 27th, but our new friends Lisa and Bob (Lee’s coworkers at the camera store) had told us they had seen a black bear there. It’s been great getting to know them, because they like us take full advantage of their days off and sharing information has improved our animal sightings. Still we didn’t expect how lucky we would get when we pulled up and saw a mama black bear with her baby right across the road. It drew quite the crowd, but we got a great spot and both of us got some awesome pictures.

Lee’s closeup pictures with the 600mm were so good

I am going to stop here before I head into Lamar Valley, but as you can see the weather is much improved even at higher elevation. We did stop at a gift shop on our way home though and Lee bought a black bear and a moose magnet which are now added to the Grizzly and Bison we have on our fridge. It’s the little things in life 🙂

We very much appreciate your support of our blog

  • You can purchase the ebook telling the story of how we became full-time RVers.
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