Thursday, June 3, 2010

YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK, PART 1

1. After Glacier National Park, our next destination was Yellowstone National Park. Unfortunately it meant traveling there on 28 May, Day 11, the Friday of the Memorial Weekend. Internet searches showed that many hotels in and near the Park were fully booked for the weekend. We decided to proceed anyway. We reckoned the situation was not likely to be better elsewhere.

2. It was a long day of driving, leaving Whitefish on 28 May at about 9.30 am for Gardiner, a town just outside the North Entrance of Yellowstone National Park. At 400 miles away, this was one of our longer day drives. On the way just out of Whitefish I managed to take this rare picture - a snow-capped mountain range floating above the clouds. We were tired when we reached Gardiner at about 4.30 pm. Also, the rain did not help as it dampened our mood somewhat.

3. As Albright Visitor Centre at the North Entrance of Yellowstone National Park was a short drive away from Gardiner, we managed to rush there in time to pick up some maps and brochures. Across from the visitor centre was the beautiful Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel. It did have one room left but could only take 2 persons. Back in Gardiner, we were happy to accept the last available room at Absaroka Lodge at US$89. We passed it earlier and its signage showed no vacancy. Somebody must had just canceled the booking - our lucky day. We were happy to stay another night here but the Lodge was fully booked.

4. The next day, we had more anxious moments with our accommodation. After breakfast, we packed our bags and drove to West Yellowstone to find accommodation for the next 2 nights. It was a bigger town and we were glad to see many hotels there. After looking around, we found Yellowstone Country Inn with 2 rooms left. We decided to check out another 2-3 hotels before deciding. No luck, they were full. When we returned to Yellowstone Country Inn half an hour later, the cheaper of the 2 remaining rooms had just been taken up and we had no alternative but to take the bigger last available room at US$99 a night. After settling our accommodation, we proceeded back to Yellowstone National Park to begin our tour.

5. With its 2.4 mil acres of park land, Yellowstone National Park inspires awe in travelers from around the world. It has the world's largest concentration of geysers, more than Iceland and New Zealand. Its central portion is a caldera, 30 by 45 miles wide, formed some 640 000 years ago, the last of 3 major volcanic eruptions. The earth's magma, in some areas only 2-3 miles below the thin crust, powers the park's many geysers, hot springs, fumaroles and mud-pots. The presence of various minerals adds colours to these features. It is also home to many animals, like grizzly and black bears, bison, elks etc.

6. On the way back into the National Park, the traffic unexpectedly slowed to a halt. Cars were parked discriminately and people were rushing forward, some carrying their big cameras. As it turned out, they were all getting excited with the sighting of a black bear with its 2 cubs. I managed to capture them with my camera as they were about to disappear into the woods. Further on, a whole herd of bison was crossing the road, bringing traffic again to a stop.
video

7. With the herd of bison among the cars, we could see a cow, still with its umbilical cord hanging out, trying to nudge its new born calf which was unable to stand properly, to move along with the herd. The mother instinct is all the same.
video

8. Of the many attractions in Yellowstone, we decided to start with Old Faithful before moving Northwards. Old Faithful got its name because it could perform "faithfully". Unlike other geysers, its eruptions could be predicted fairly accurately. It also erupts more frequently than other big geysers. When we arrived, people were gathering to see the 3 pm eruption. It was wet and cold but it did not deter the large number of people who were there. It erupted on schedule. It was over fairly quickly, a few minutes, sort of anti-climax, after the wait.


9. Next to Old Faithful are 2 lovely hotels, Old Faithful Lodge Cabins and Old Faithful Inn. I like Old Faithful Inn better, especially its timber finishes and its architecture - its tall lobby and overhanging balconies. We checked and its full. We had a cup of coffee in hotel, to escape from the cold outside and to appreciate the beauty of this old hotel.

10. After the short rest, we decided to brave the cold and rain to walk the Old Faithful Geyser Loop and the Geyser Hill Loop to see more geysers and hot springs. There were many of them, big and small holes, with steam emanating from some, and others like boiling pots with water bubbling. The bigger ones have names like Spasmodic Geyser, Beehive Geyser, Sawmill Geyser (see video below) and etc. At one point, near the Castle Geyser, it started to snow. Snow in end May !!
video

11. On the way North and back to the hotel, we stopped to look at another cluster of 4 main geysers - Midway Geyser Basin. Here's Turqoise and Grand Prismatic Geyser.



12. That evening, we had more challenges with our accommodation. At 9 pm, water started to drip from the ceiling. After exploring various alternatives, the hotel staff eventually moved us to a 2 room unit that was temporarily used by some workers. As it was an upgrading, we gladly accepted. We were only able to settle down at about 11 pm.

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