Day 7: Leaving Yellowstone


Follow this link to see a full album of our photos from the seventh day of our travels.

We packed up our van at the Canyon Campground and headed out for our return journey to Salt Lake City.  The Artists Paintpots was the one remaining attraction we hadn’t seen that was still on my wish list, so Susan graciously agreed to make a stop there on the way.  I thought the Artists Paintpots was a roadside attraction like the other geysers, but upon arriving we learned there was a 1.2-mile hike for the round trip to the paintpots.  Kay was not up for this, so Susan returned with her to wait in the van while Peter and I made the hike.

It was worth the trip.  We’d seen geothermal features by Lake Yellowstone in West Thumb and in arid basins in the Old Faithful area, but this was the first time we saw them in a forest.  The rising steam in the woods gave it a fairy tale feel.  I did have the impression there would be more bubbling mud than we actually saw, but I guess it was the dry season.  We returned to the van at the right time, because a wave of other tourists were just heading in. In fact we’d see a lot of inbound traffic heading into the park for the Labor Day weekend as we drove out.  Not all the congestion was human-made, though, as we delighted in the awesome experience of seeing a large bison bull saunter down the road.

Leaving Yellowstone through the west gate, we arrived in the town of West Yellowstone, Montana.  We stopped here to visit the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center, a small zoo for rescue animals that would give us the chance to see some of the wildlife we didn’t see in the parks, including grizzly bears, wolves, raptors, and otters! We arrived at the right time being the last family admitted for a noon entry group. Inside we saw the grizzly bear Nakina, and then the change over when the twin sister cubs Condi and Seeley enter the enclosure.  One of the cubs climbed the tree to get a feeder left by the center’s staff, but had some trouble getting back down from the tree.

Susan spent a lot of time talking with the naturalist, learning facts about the bears and their behavior.  She also got confirmation that she and Peter probably saw a glimpse of a bear several days earlier on the Moose-Wilson Road.  I spent a lot of time watching the otters until dragged away by the children. We headed into Yellowstone and were able to get lunch from a 50s-style diner.  Then it was on the road again for a long drive to Salt Lake City.  The route back through Idaho was less scenic than on our drive to Grand Teton, but we did pass numerous locations for boating and tubing that were attracting Labor Day crowds. We arrived in Salt Lake City just after sunset, happy to check into a hotel room with comfy beds and a television.

Day 6: From Old Faithful to Mammoth Hot Springs


Follow this link to see a full album of our photos from the sixth day of our travels.

We had a full day catching on many Yellowstone attractions we hadn’t seen yet.  Since we didn’t make it to Old Faithful on our geyser day, we headed there first. We arrived in the confusing complex of parking, access roads, hotels, and support buildings wondering where the actual geyser was located.  But it was Kay who pointed and said, “It’s right there, Dad!”

The next eruption was not expected for another hour so we went into the Old Faithful Lodge to pick up breakfast food from the cafeteria.  We took it outside to eat on a bench under the eaves of the Lodge and watch the steam rise from Old Faithful in the distance.  People were already gathering on the crescent of benches around Old Faithful, so after breakfast we claimed our own socially-distanced bench.  Peter & I went for a walk on the trails around Old Faithful and saw some of the smaller geothermal features in the area.

On schedule, Old Faithful erupted as it always does.  Kind of remarkable to think it has been doing so for hundreds probably thousands of years.  Having fulfilled our Old Faithful obligation, we returned to the van and drove to the Midway Geyser Basin.  It was also crowded and we ended up parking down the road along the Firehole River instead of the parking lot.  This gave us a nice walk along the river before reaching the boardwalks around the Grand Prismatic Spring.

The Grand Prismatic Spring was lovely and the boardwalks were nowhere near as crowded as all the parked cars would indicate.  I also began to notice that it was “Wear Lycra Leggings to Yellowstone Day” but we didn’t get the memo.  So embarrassing.  There is a path that leads to an overlook to see the Grand Prismatic Spring but we didn’t know where it was and after being in direct sunlight at both Old Faithful and Midway Geyser Basin, it was getting too hot to consider hiking up a hill.

So we returned to the van for a nice, long air-conditioned ride through the scenery to the park entrance in the northwest corner.  This included passing through a windy, mountain pass and into lower elevations than we had been to since arriving in the park (although still higher than most of the peaks in New Hampshire’s White Mountains!).  We visited Roosevelt Arch, the formal gateway to Yellowstone dedicated in 1903 by President Theodore Roosevelt himself. We did some shopping at a Yellowstone gift shop – where Kay got a bison hoodie – and then ate lunch at a pizza place.

We reentered the park and made our next and final stop at Mammoth Hot Springs. These springs deposit minerals creating terraces of stone with remarkable patterns.  Susan said it was like the inside of cave on the outside.  We walked up and around the boardwalks increasingly noticing that we were feeling quite warm.  The kids had enough so I took them to the van while Susan did some more climbing to an overlook.  While in the van we checked the local weather and learned that it was 90°! I guess this is what people call a “dry heat.”

Day 4: Geyser Basins


Follow this link to see a full album of our photos from the fourth day of our travels.

We had trouble setting up the fold-out bed in our campervan the night before, so everyone was tired and cranky on our first full day in Yellowstone.  Nevertheless, we headed out to attempt to visit the geysers and geothermal features along the Grand Loop Road, leading up to Old Faithful.  We stopped first at Fountain Flat Drive where I got out to attempt some artsy photos of a hot pool draining into the Firehole River.

Turning around and returning to the van I spotted a bison walking right across the flat on the opposite side of the street.  We saw him poop and then approach a small pine tree which he used as a backscratcher.  We named him Itchy. Heading back to the main road we saw another bison sleeping by the side of the road.  We named him Sleepy.  Driving off, Susan was shocked to see in her rear view mirror that people were getting out of their cars to walk right up to Sleepy!

The next stop was the Lower Geyser Basin where Peter and I got out and saw the many geothermal features including the Fountain Paint Pots and the always-erupting Clepsydra Geyser.  Then we drove down Firehole Lake Drive and saw many more pools and geysers.  The White Cone Geyser is supposed to erupt every 20 to 40 minutes, so Susan got out to wait while the rest of us kept cool in the van.  We waited and waited, but it never erupted.

We stopped next at Whisky Flats Picnic Area for a late lunch.  By this time it was clear that everyone was too tired to go on.  So we made the plan to go back to our campground for a nap and/or quiet time.  By the time we were rested it was too late to head out again.