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A Lot of Travel, A Little Bit of History, and a Whole Bunch of Photos

Category: National Parks & Places (Page 1 of 7)

Yellowstone: Hot Springs and Geysers

Grand Prismatic Spring

Colors of Grand Prismatic Spring

Yellowstone National Park is known for its geysers, the most famous of course being Old Faithful. We spent our second day in the park seeing as many geysers and hot springs as we could. The geyser basins are crisscrossed by boardwalk trails to allow you to see the geothermal features safely. One thing I didn’t know before visiting Yellowstone is that geysers and hot springs smell like sulfur. Looking at these photos is bringing the smell back to me!

Steam coming off Grand Prismatic SpringWe started the day with the Angel Falls trail to the Grand Prismatic Spring overlook. Grand Prismatic is another iconic location in the park. It was funny, driving around the park and seeing all of the Cruise America RVs with a picture of it on the side. I’ve wanted to see Grand Prismatic since I saw a picture of it in my geography class in college. Years later, I forgot what it was called and tried to figure out where it was by googling “rainbow pond” (true story). The overlook is the best way to get a birds-eye view of the spring. The spring was very steamy when we got up there so, that was disappointing. Probably the most upsetting thing about it was going home and all my Facebook friends going to Yellowstone and posting their beautiful, clear, Grand Prismatic shots. If we had more time in the park, we probably would’ve tried again. At least the pictures from later in the day on the boardwalk (top) made up for it!

Emerald Spring in Norris Geyser Basin

Emerald Spring in Norris Geyser Basin

After the hike, we headed to the Norris Geyser Basin. Two and a quarter miles of boardwalks take you around seven geysers and nine hot springs in the Norris Geyser Basin. While lesser-known, Norris is the hottest and oldest of Yellowstone’s thermal areas. Steamboat Geyser is one of the most popular features in this area and is the tallest geyser in the world. Its eruptions are unpredictable but it has begun to erupt more often in recent years.

View from Artists Paint Pots

View from Artists Paint Pots

From Norris, we made a stop at the more obscure Artist Paint Pots. While interesting to look at, these bubbling mud pots are not very photogenic. But, a walk through this area is a way to get away from the crowds you will find at the other geyser basins. It is also a good spot to get a view of the Tetons (above).

Clepsydra Geyser

Clepsydra Geyser in the Lower Geyser Basin

Next, we headed to the Lower Geyser Basin. At twelve square miles, the lower basin is huge with the geothermal features scattered around in small groups. Mud pots, geysers, hot springs, pools, and fumaroles abound in this basin. Great Fountain Geyser is one of the highlights of the area and Clepsydra  Geyser (above) is fun to photograph because of its almost constant stream of water, 10-40 feet in the air.

Texture around Grand Prismatic Spring

After Lower Geyser Basin, we figured it was late enough in the day to explore Midway Geyser Basin without too much of a crowd. Being home to Grand Prismatic Spring (right), Midway can get very crowded and parking can be near impossible in the middle of the day. After getting an acceptable view of the iconic spring, we had walked over ten miles and I was ready to head back to the Old Faithful Inn and enjoy watching Old Faithful erupt one last time before heading to bed.

Thanks for stopping by! Be sure to check back next week when I detail our drive through Grand Teton National Park! To read more about this trip, check out the Epic National Park Road Trip. To read about some of our previous trips, visit my Trips Page. If you like my photos be sure to “like” my Facebook Page and follow me on Instagram! You can purchase prints on Etsy and Fine Art America. To see inside my camera bag, check out my updated Gear Page.

Wordless Wednesday: Yellowstone Bears

Mother Bear and Two Cubs

Yellowstone: Mammoth and Canyon in One Day

Mammoth Hot Springs

Steam coming off Mammoth Hot Springs

This post contains a lot of information about driving around Yellowstone. Here is a link to a map of the park, that will probably be a helpful reference while you read about our first day in Yellowstone.

Our first day in Yellowstone, we came into the park from Cody. I really believe this played a hand in our ability to see so much of the park in just one day. Unlike the west entrance, there was no line coming in from the east side of the park. The first point of interest coming in this way is Yellowstone Lake and the Fishing Bridge area. This is one of the lesser-visited parts of the park and it felt like we were the only people around for miles.

Clouds over Yellowstone Lake

Yellowstone Lake (above) is a sight to behold. Situated at 7700 feet above sea level and taking up 132 square miles, Yellowstone Lake is the largest high elevation lake in North America. Because of the large surface area, sudden gusts of wind can create large waves making open water crossings of the lake very challenging. Because of that and the cold water temperatures, boating on Yellowstone Lake is not incredibly common.

Grand Canyon of the YellowstoneFrom Fishing Bridge, we headed north to Canyon Village and one of my must-sees, Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. There is a very large parking area in the canyon area and we had no trouble finding a spot to park.  One of the best views of the falls can be found at the Artist Point trailhead (left). I love how even unedited photos of the waterfall look like a watercolor painting. This is one of the most popular areas to hike in the park with plenty of hiking trails for all abilities. For more information about hiking in Yellowstone, visit NPS.gov.

The color of the rock makes The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone one of the most unique waterfalls I have ever seen. At one time a geyser basin was located at what is now the base of the waterfall. The heat and chemical activity of those geysers created rhyolite, a soft and brittle rock. The rhyolite reacts to oxygen in the air and in effect, the canyon walls are rusting, which gives it that unique yellow color.

From Canyon, we headed toward Mammoth. The drive through that part of the park felt longer than going from Lake to Canyon, but maybe it was just that there isn’t anything to stop and see from Norris to Mammoth. I’m not sure if this is normally the route you would take to get from one area to another, but the road from Tower/Roosevelt to Canyon was closed for construction in 2021.

Mammoth Hot Springs

Mammoth Hot Springs (top and right) was another feature on my Yellowstone Must-See list. I had seen photos of the unique, stair-like geothermal feature and wanted to see it for myself. The water in the springs container calcium carbonate that over time cools and creates these unique rock formations. It was interesting walking around and seeing how the pools have shifted over time, as evidenced by forests of dead trees with white, calcified bases.

Bear and Two Cubs

From Mammoth, we headed to Tower/Roosevelt and this is where we encountered our biggest “jam” of our time in the park. This time, instead of elk, it was a mother bear with two cubs (viewed from a safe distance, of course, and with a ranger standing by with bear spray). It was super cool to see these wild animals through a zoom lens. It was definitely better than seeing them at the zoo!

After our bear encounter, we headed out the Northwest Entrance of the park to Gardiner for dinner. Be sure to stop back next week as I share about our day of exploring geysers and hot springs!

Thanks for stopping by! To read more about this trip, check out the Epic National Park Road Trip. To read about some of our previous trips, visit my Trips Page. If you like my photos be sure to “like” my Facebook Page and follow me on Instagram! You can purchase prints on Etsy and Fine Art America. To see inside my camera bag, check out my updated Gear Page.

Yellowtone National Park Overview

Bison in Yellowstone

Yellowstone National Park was the world’s first national park and was signed into law by Ulysses S. Grant in 1872 to protect the otherworldly landscape that is Yellowstone. Located in northwestern Wyoming and spanning into Idaho and southern Montana the park encompasses 3,400 square miles, and is larger than the state of Rhode Island. It is separated into distinct geological areas formed by geothermal features unlike anything I had ever seen. From the sprawling Yellowstone Lake to hot springs and geysers and the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, you could spend weeks in the park and not see everything. Ever since we were driving around Yellowstone, I have been trying to figure out how I am going to recap this enormous park!

We only had three days to see as much of the park as we could. Of course, I wanted to hit the highlights: Old Faithful, Grand Prismatic Spring, Mammoth Hot Springs, and Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. Surprisingly, in such a short time, we were able to see everything we had hoped to and more.

Old Faithful InnStaying in the park helped us tremendously. Driving in and out of the park can take away 2 or more hours of your time and when you are battling the record number of visitors that are coming through the gates in 2021, you need all the time you can get. While exploring the park, we heard many people say that you cannot get a room at the Yellowstone Lodges unless you book a year in advance. We managed to get our room at the Old Faithful Inn two weeks in advance. Just keep checking and it helps to subscribe to the Yellowstone National Park Lodges newsletter. They sent out a newsletter that they were opening up more rooms for the 2021 season and I was able to snatch one up before they were gone.

Staying at the Old Faithful Inn (above) was a once-in-a-lifetime kind of experience. The Inn was built in 1904 from locally sourced materials including lodgepole pine. We stayed in one of the Old House rooms that has walls made of logs. Staying in that (admittedly small) room, you really got a sense of the history of the place. The GyPSy guide called the Old Faithful Inn the only building in the park that feels like it belongs. The Disney Nerd in me understands now where the idea for the Wilderness Lodge came from. Probably the best part of staying at the Inn is sitting out on the Mezzanine and watching Old Faithful erupt without having to be crowded around strangers and enjoying a drink.

Walkway at Mud Volcano

Walkway at Mud Volcano just before the rain

Another trick we learned when visiting the park in the summer was to leave in the middle of the day. The parking lots filled up and it got hot, so we headed to one of the towns outside the park for food and air conditioning. Then, we headed back into the park as the day guests were leaving for the day and we explored until the sun went down. We also got lucky with the weather. Our first day in the park was forecasted to thunderstorm most of the day and I think this kept some visitors out. We managed to time it so we were driving when the worst of the rain was coming down and we managed to see most of what we wanted to on that first day.

Now that I’ve given you a little overview and some tips for making the most of your time at Yellowstone, next week I will begin to recap the highlights of the park! Thanks for stopping by! To read more about this trip, check out the Epic National Park Road Trip. To read about some of our previous trips, visit my Trips Page. If you like my photos be sure to “like” my Facebook Page and follow me on Instagram! You can purchase prints on Etsy and Fine Art America. To see inside my camera bag, check out my updated Gear Page.

Wordless Wednesday: Jewel Cave

Jewel Cave Stairs

Jewel Cave National Monument

Jewel Cave Header

Jewel Cave was discovered in 1900 when two brothers felt cold air blowing out of a hole in a canyon. They opened the hole with dynamite and found a cave lined with calcite crystals, which is where Jewel Cave gets its name. Word of the cave reached Washington and Theodore Roosevelt named Jewel Cave a National Monument in 1908.

Up until 1956, only about 2 miles of the cave had been explored. Famous rock climbers Herb and Jan Conn explored Jewel Cave for twenty years and mapped out over 65 miles of the cave. Herb Conn wrote a scientific paper about airflow in the cave and based on pressure changes, he estimated that 95% of the cave has never been explored. With 209 miles of cave mapped, Jewel Cave is the 3rd largest cave in the world. Experienced cavers are still exploring the cave and finding new rooms and passageways that no other person is known to have explored.

Calcite Crystals in Jewel CaveIn 2021, Jewel Cave National Monument is undergoing elevator maintenance to resolve chronic problems with the elevators. The elevators are expected to reopen in the late fall. When planning this trip, I didn’t think we would be able to visit Jewel Cave because of this maintenance, but for now, the park service is offering a modified tour. This tour involves walking down (and then back up) a steep hill and the park service describes it as “moderate to strenuous”.

I’m not sure if people were staying away from Jewel Cave because of the elevator repairs or if this park just isn’t as popular as Wind Cave because it doesn’t have the “National Park” designation. Either way, we arrived around 9:30 AM and there were only a handful of other people on the tour with us. It was a much more relaxed experience and even though we only go to see one room of the cave, I enjoyed this tour a lot more than Wind Cave. If you only have time to tour one cave in the Black Hills, I recommend Jewel Cave.

Thanks for stopping by! To read more about this trip, check out the Epic National Park Road Trip. To read about some of our previous trips, visit my Trips Page. If you like my photos be sure to “like” my Facebook Page and follow me on Instagram! You can purchase prints on Etsy and Fine Art America. To see inside my camera bag, check out my updated Gear Page.

Wordless Wednesday: Devils Tower

Devils Tower

Devils Tower National Monument

Devils Tower

Devils Tower National Monument is located in the northeastern corner of Wyoming, only about an hour and a half away from Rapid City, South Dakota. Signed into law by Theodore Roosevelt on September 25, 1906, Devils Tower was the first National Monument in the world. The monument is a popular place for rock climbers as well as hikers and others who just want to see this unique geological feature for themselves.

When planning this trip, I originally wanted to visit Devils Tower on the way from Custer to Yellowstone, which would’ve had us arrive mid-morning on a Saturday. Then, I learned that the parking lot fills up early, especially on weekends, and it is not uncommon to have to wait a while for a spot. Since we had quite a bit of ground to cover that day, I decided it would make more sense to make it a day trip from the Black Hills, and that way we could also see Spearfish Canyon on the way back.

We left Custer after Chris got off work and arrived at Devils Tower around 5 pm. There were only a handful of people around and we had no trouble parking. The visitor center closes at 6 but I was happy to see that the passport stamp is outside so that if you arrived when the visitor center was closed, you would still be able to get a stamp. Because we wanted to see Spearfish Canyon before sunset, we didn’t have much time to explore the monument, but we did get to walk a little bit of the Tower Trail.

Roughlock FallsSince this was our last day in the Black Hills, I may have tried to cram too much in, especially with the three-hour round trip drive to Devils Tower. But, we did enjoy the GyPSy tour of the Northern Black Hills and the drive through Spearfish Canyon. The Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway is a beautiful drive that follows a river that has cut through these high rock walls. Spearfish Canyon is an absolutely beautiful area that just blew me away! There are several places along the way to stop and enjoy the beauty of the canyon. We got out and stretched our legs at Roughlock Falls (left). Several scenes from Dances with Wolves were filmed in this area and maybe recognizable to fans of the film. We had planned to checkout Deadwood this day, but the road was closed for a parade or something so we just kept driving. I guess we will just have to come back with more time to explore the Black Hills!

Thanks for stopping by! To read more about this trip, check out the Epic National Park Road Trip. To read about some of our previous trips, visit my Trips Page. If you like my photos be sure to “like” my Facebook Page and follow me on Instagram! You can purchase prints on Etsy and Fine Art America. To see inside my camera bag, check out my updated Gear Page.

Wordless Wednesday: Wind Cave

Wind Cave National Park

Wind Cave Sign

Wind Cave National Park is located in the Black Hills of South Dakota, about 10 miles north of the town of Hot Springs. Wind Cave National Park was established in 1903 by Theodore Roosevelt and was the 7th National Park to be created in the United States, and the first cave to be made a National Park. With 149 miles of explored passageways, Wind Cave is the 7th longest cave in the world.

Boxwork in Wind Cave

Wind Cave is a barometric cave, meaning it equalizes the pressure in the cave to the air above which causes the cave to breathe. The cave got its name when two brothers discovered air blowing from a hole in the ground at the natural entrance to the cave. Wind Cave is known for a calcite formation known as boxwork (above). 95% of the boxwork in the world can be found in Wind Cave.

Aboveground,the park is home to the largest remaining mixed-grass prairie in the United States. The grasslands can be explored through 30 miles of hiking trails where bison, elk, pronghorns, prairie dogs, and other animals roam freely.

Wind Cave BoxworkThe park offers several different cave tours each day but they are very popular and can sell out by mid-morning in the peak season. Knowing this, I arrived shortly after the visitor center opened and had to wait an hour and a half in direct sunlight and unseasonable heat to get tickets. I ended up doing the Natural Entrance Tour which is a longer tour but it doesn’t involve crawling through the cave. They sell 40 tickets per tour so it was pretty crowded in the cave. They try to move so many people through that you are kind of herded through it without really being able to appreciate it. The group I was with was not great and they kept talking over the ranger so all-in-all I did not have a great experience.

I don’t understand why they are not selling tickets in advance. Recreation.gov already exists, the other cave parks are using it for this exact thing. They can save some tickets to be sold same day, but it’s ridiculous that you would have to wait in the hot sun to buy tickets for a tour. I wish there was a way to tour the cave with fewer people and be able to actually appreciate it. It’s possible that some of my bad experience was just due to the other people in my group and if I went back it might be better. If you really like caves or you have a goal to visit all 63 National Parks, obviously you should check out Wind Cave. Otherwise, I enjoyed Jewel Cave (which I will talk about next week) much more.

Thanks for stopping by! To read more about this trip, check out the Epic National Park Road Trip. To read about some of our previous trips, visit my Trips Page. If you like my photos be sure to “like” my Facebook Page and follow me on Instagram! You can purchase prints on Etsy and Fine Art America. To see inside my camera bag, check out my updated Gear Page.

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