Friday, June 20, 2003

2003 Yellowstone--- a Geological Wonder

My 2003 Yellowstone National Park Vacation:

If you would like to take a vacation to a foreign planet, Yellowstone might be a good alternative! The geological attractions here do seem quite alien! Seeing such a wonderland of geysers, hot springs, bubbling and oozing mud pots, brightly colored bacteria mats, colorful rock formations, canyons, rivers, waterfalls, not to mention all the wildlife---bears, buffalos, elk, deer, and fish ---made for a very interesting and wonderful vacation!

(My pricing is from 2003, so expect there to be some increases now)

Yellowstone National Park is America's first National Park. It was established in 1872 and draws over three million visitors yearly. It has five entrances and about 370 miles of paved roadway in it's 2.2 million acres of wilderness. It has about 10,000 thermal features, including about 250 active geysers.

What to do in Yellowstone:

There was an entrance fee of $20 per car (good for 7 days).  (I think it’s $25 now in 2009, but it's well worth it.) We only had 3 days there, so didn't get to do much but hike some of the trails and take lots of pictures. Would have been nice to rent a boat from the marina at Yellowstone Lake, or do some fine dining in the Yellowstone Lake Hotel diner, or fish in the beautiful rivers, or take longer hikes, but 3 days just isn't very long in a park like Yellowstone!

Restaurant: Old Faithful Inn Restuarant

Depending on what time of the day you go will decide whether or not you need reservations. Breakfast is first come, first serve--without much of a wait. Lunch is also first come, first serve. You will most likely need a reservation for dinner. We made ours the night we got there for the next night. Dinner reservations are handled through the reservations office at 307.344.7311 up until April 30, 2002. After April 30, reservations can only be made directly with the Dining Room once they have opened for the season. To contact the Dining Room directly call 307.545.4999.

Not only was the dinner excellent (steak for me, pork loin roast for my Dad, and trout for my husband), but the servers were very friendly and helpful. It was interesting to hear about where these young folks' home towns are and how they're working there for the summer and what life is like for them living there in the park.

In addition to a breakfast menu, they also have a really nice reasonably priced breakfast buffet everyday. We had no problem getting in for breakfast right away. The buffet was about $7.50 including the drink. The buffet included oatmeal, cold cereal, cream of wheat, fresh fruit, bacon, ham, buffet type scrambled eggs (not really sure what they're made of, but you know the type), fried potatoes, waffles, lots of fancy delicious pastries, and probably some things I'm forgetting now. We liked it so much, we got it both mornings we were there.

Lunch offers a selection of fresh salads, sandwiches, house specialties and a western buffet. Dinner includes favorites like--- meatloaf, beef tenderloin and parmesan chicken, and much more. Don't forget the desserts! We had their specialty-- a huckleberry icecream and pie which was delicious.

The dining centerpiece of the historic Inn is a large stone fireplace with a painting of the geyser basin on it. Behind this fireplace, is a newer section to the dining room. Old Faithful Inn dining room is open May 10 - October 13, for 2002.Favorite Dish: The buffet breakfast was very good---great variety. The steak dinner was great, too. And their specialty--the Huckleberry icecream and pie was fabulous!
Specialty: American
Comparison: about averagePrices: US$11-20
Phone: 307.344.7311
Address: In Old Faithful Inn

Old Faithful Inn

Construction of the Old Faithful Inn began in late summer 1903 and was completed by opening of the tourist season in June 1904, requiring most work to be done during Yellowstone's severe winter. Architect Robert Reamer supervised nearly everything done and designed nearly everything used. In the end, construction costs have been estimated at between $120,000 and $200,000. You can't miss the 500 ton chimney/fireplace in the center of the lobby. It is actually a central support for the rest of the lobby. It, and the Inn's foundation, was built from rhyolite quarried about five miles from the building site--- on the road to Thumb Geyser Basin. 
The lobby rises to a height of nearly 80 feet, mostly constructed of lodgepole pine from the area. On one side of the fireplace, Reamer designed a large clock and had it built on site by a blacksmith. There were origanally 140 guest rooms. In 1913 a 100 room east wing (left side as you look at the Inn from the front) was added. In 1922 a back diningroom was added. In 1927-1928, a 150-room west wing was also added by Reamer and the lobby was pushed out 30 feet. Also at that time, a half-moon-shaped room to the side of the old dining room was added. That room is now the Bear Pit Lounge. There have been other changes to the Old Faithful Inn , too, but the overall appearance of the old section of the Old Faithful Inn hasn't changed much.
Our 2 bed room with attached bath:

We rented a premium room. It was rather simple, but nice. It had 2 queen beds, a small table and 2 chairs and a bathroom. No tv, and to try and make a long distance e-mail with our laptop cost $8 for the one try (and it didn't go through).   There are several levels of accommodations in the lodge. There are 6 suites available for about $330/night and some semi suite for about $250. The rooms without bathrooms were $69, and there were 1and 2 bed rooms with bathrooms for $92 or $123. Plan on reserving any of these accommodations months in advance through the booking company for the whole park---Xanterra Parks and Resorts at 307.344.7311. I reserve our room for the end of June in March. At that time, only 2 other rooms were showing availability.

The lobby is huge with 2 balconies around it. On the 2nd level, there's access to a porch for overlooking the upper basin geysers, including Old Faithful. On the porch are many benches, tables, and chairs. There are also several writing desks and lounging chairs along the walls of the balconies. There's even a catwalk on the top of the lodge, but earthquakes have made that unsafe for visitors to assend to now.

Directions: In the Upper Geyser Basin of the Park

Mammoth Hot Springs

The formations at Mammoth Hot Springs are formed differently than the formations in the geyser basins. In this area, the dominant rock is limestone. This area is north of the huge caldera in Yellowstone, but fault zones run to this area and create a network of fractures and fissures where the hot water in this area comes from. The hot water underground mixes with carbon dioxide to make carbonic acid. As this solution comes to the top of the limestone, it dissolves the primary mineral in limestone and deposits it at the surface. These deposits are called travertine and are what makes up the terraces of Mammoth Hot Springs. The best activity at Mammoth is at Minerva Terrace and at Canary Spring. Both of these must-see attractions are located on the Main Terrace. There are few places where geologic changes occur so quickly since water flows at Mammoth are constantly being redirected.Coming into the park from the north entrance, this will be the first geological place of interest you'll come to. There is even a museum here in an old fort. Plus there are hotel, cabin, and camping accommodations here as well as the gift shops, restuarants, etc. like in most of the other main tourist areas.The trails here are quite extensive. You can park below and walk up and around one way, then drive up above and walk around some of the trails up there if you don't have a lot of time. But do spend some time here! The terraces here are not like anything else in the park! Look closely at them as you walk by, many of them have a stream of water running over them constantly---which is how the terraces are created. The areas that are gray, are where the ground is now dry from the water being redirected.
Directions: northern part of the park
Liberty Cap

Mammoth Lodge from Terrace

Cupid Spring

Upper Geyser Basin

The Upper Geyser Basin is approximately two square miles in area. It contains the largest concentration and nearly one-quarter of all of the geysers in the world. A variety of thermal features exist here: spouting geysers, colorful hot springs, and steaming fumaroles. Only 3 other places in the world have large thermal features such as these (Iceland, New Zealand, and Siberia). Geyser Hill is in the upper geyser basin and just north of Old Faithful. This is a very easy walk from Old Faithful Inn. There are over 40 geysers on geyser hill. Two of these, Giantess and Beehive are among the largest in the world. Geysers are caused when the water is constricted from moving freely underground. The pressure increases until small bubbles of steam actually push heated water out in a forceful manner.
Directions: by Old Faithful Inn

firehole river towards castle geyser

firehole river

walkway through upper basin

giantess geyser

anemone geyser
Directions:  walking boardwalk from Old Faithful Inn

Old Faithful Geyser

Old Faithful is in the Upper basin. It is one of 5 predictable geysers. It is a cone-type geyser and erupts every 35 to 120 minutes. Its eruptions last from 1 1/2 to 5 minutes and reach a height of 90 to 184 feet.
spectator area

Directions: by Old Faithful Inn

Black Sand Basin

This is a short drive from Old Faithful Inn (or you can walk to it from geyser hill). We thought this basin had some of the prettiest hot springs in Yellowstone! Black Sand Basin is actually part of the Upper Geyser Basin, but is somewhat isolated from the rest of the basin. It was originally named the Emerald Group by A.C. Peale in 1878. But turn of the century tourists began calling it Black Sand Basin because of the small fragments of black obsidian sand which cover portions of the basin. We actually spent several minutes trying to find this black sand before we noticed the little bit of it by the parking lot! Black Sand Basin contains a small collection of geysers, and colorful hot springs. Emerald Pool is the most colorful and famous of these springs. It is a deep emerald green fringed by an outer ring of yellow and orange. My favorite pools were the rather large Caribbean blue Sunset Lake and Rainbow Pool. The walkway between them takes you right up into the steaming mist.

Sunset Lake and Rainbow Pool

Another colorful pool by the entrance is Opalescent Pool. This recently formed pool flooded a stand of lodgepole pine, creating a stand of white skeletons amidst another beautifully multi-
colored pool.

Opalescent Pool

Near the parking lot, an unusual geyser formed on the bank of Iron Creek. It is Cliff Geyser and it erupts 30 to 40 feet high--several times a day and for quite a while each time.

Cliff Geyser
This basin is easily accessible and there's a lot to see in such a small area. Don't miss it!

bacteria mat

boardwalk to emerald pool

sunset lake

rainbow pool

Directions: across the main road from Old Faithful inn

West Thumb Geyser Basin

· ephedra spring, perforated pool

Driving south from Old Faithful Inn, you'll come to the West Thumb Geyser Basin in about 15 miles. The walkways here are only about 1/2 mile long and on an easy grade. The views all along the pathway here are spectacular---geysers, pools, Yellowstone lake, flora!West Thumb Geyser Basin consists of a narrow strip of geysers, hot springs and a few mud pots and is located on the west shore of the "West Thumb" portion of Yellowstone Lake. The lake views add to this very beautiful area. West Thumb is actually a caldera within a larger caldera. If you look closely, you'll even be able to see evidence of hot springs coming up along the lakes edge here. One geyser near the edge use to even be used by fisherman to cook their catch right on the line. The impressive colors of the pools in Yellowstone are dependant on what grows in them. Thermophiles (heat-loving microorganisms) have different colors and grow in different temperatures. Usually, green and brown organisms grow in cooler water; orange and yellow ones live in hotter water. Not many live in near boiling temperatures, so these springs look clear blue. We didn't see any geysers erupting in this area, but the colors in the pools were beautiful. This is also one of the few areas that we saw a lot of flowers. There was a carpet of little yellow flowers surrounding many of the pools while we were there in July. Another do not miss area!
Yellowstone Lake

thumb pots

seismograph and bluebell pools

black pool

ledge spring

Directions: south of Old Faithful Inn

Mud Volcano Area

· dragon spring

The sounds and smells are what are so interesting in this area! You'll immediately notice a strong rotten egg like smell as soon as you get out of the car! Further along the trail, you'll be treated to interesting sounds from the belching and fizzling springs and geysers. This is one of the most acidic areas in the park. This makes it different from hot springs and geysers. The hydrogen sulfide gas deep in the earth at Mud Volcano is used by microorganisms and the resulting sulfuric acid then breaks down rock into wet clay mud. The steam and gases cause the volcanic action of the mud here. It was a lot more active in the days of the 1871 Hayden Expedition.There is a very large bacteria matt by the parking lot. Hydrogen sulfide produces the rotten egg like smell which is quite strong here. There were a couple little noisy geysers going off while we were there---only shot up about a foot, but crackled and fizzled like a sparkler. Dragon's mouth spring was an interesting noise maker, too. It is a hot spring that shoots sideways out of a cave opening. Hot water rising to the surface, hydrogen sulfide, carbon dioxide, and water vapor gases expanding create a pressure explosion in the cavern. The result is sloshing, belching, and steaming.The walkway around this area is another short easy walk. Along with your sense of sight, this is a great place for your senses of smelling and hearing, too!

Directions: between Yellowstone lake and the canyon area

Canyon Area

· artist point towards lower falls

The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone is the primary geologic feature in the Canyon District. It is roughly 20 miles long, measured from the Upper Falls to the Tower Fall area. It's depth is 800 to 1,200 ft.and is 1,500 to 4,000 ft wide. The colorful walls of the canyon are made by the hydrothermal activity on them. It is believed that many years ago, a rhyolite lava flow covered the present canyon area. Under this flow was a thermal area. Steam and gases weakened the rhyolite. Other lava flows blocked rivers until they overflowed and cut through the rhyolite. Then glaciers came and melted, deepening the canyon. The falls were caused by lava flow areas that didn't erode. The Upper Falls is 109 ft. high. It can be seen from the Brink of the Upper Falls Trail and from Uncle Tom's Trail. The Lower Falls is 308 ft. high and can be seen from Lookout Point, Red Rock Point, Artist Point, Brink of the Lower Falls Trail, and from various points on the South Rim Trail. Drive both the north and south rims for great views! If you're feeling like taking a tough hike, the trail to the brink of the lower falls is challenging. We didn't do the Uncle Tom's Trail, but got a good view of it from the brink of the upper falls. It consisted of stair going about half way into the canyon. If you have time for a really long hike, there are even trails running along the rims of the canyons on both sides. Many of the lookouts are right along the road, but if you're afraid of heights, you may not want to walk to the railing. The view from Artist Point was my favorite.
river in canyon

lower falls down canyon

river at upper falls

Directions: eastern part of the park

Fountain Paint Pot

· paint pot

This is near Firehole Drive and between the upper and lower basins. Along this short walk you will see very good examples of most types of thermal features found in Yellowstone---such as some very pretty hot pools, steaming fumaroles, erupting geysers and probably the best and largest easily accessed mud pots in the park. The amount of acidity in the ground controls how thick a mud pot will be. The more acidic mud dissolves the ground into wet clay mud. Precipitation and groundwater levels cause the mud pots to vary from time to time. Chemicals in the mud give it different colors, too. The area is highly active and at least one geyser is usually erupting here at all times. The pathways here are not tough. You'll be able to walk to and around the huge paintpot---it had gray and pink mud in it while we were there. You'll also come to a couple really pretty deep blue hot pools and a bunch of smaller geysers behind the hill that the huge paint pot is on. Along the path to and from the parking lot is another large bacteria mat.

Directions: in the lower geyser basin on the west side of the park by Firehole Lake Drive.

Firehole Lake Drive

This is one of the few places in Yellowstone that you can watch geysers from your car.  White Dome erupts from one of the largest sinter mounds in Yellowstone. 
firehole spring

white dome geyser
 Directions:  on the West side of the park

Yellowstone Lake

· lake view from West Thumb Geyser Basin

Yellowstone Lake is the largest lake at high elevation (i.e., more than 7,000 ft.) in North America with a surface area of 136 square miles. It is a natural lake, situated at 7,733 ft. above sea level. It is roughly 20 miles long and 14 miles wide with 110 miles of shoreline and is frozen nearly half the year. It freezes in late December or early January and thaws in late May or early June. Hot springs and thermal vents do enter the lake bottom, but the average summer temperature of the lake is still 45 degrees. Outboards and rowboats may be rented (first come, first served) from AmFac Parks & Resorts at Bridge Bay Marina on Yellowstone Lake (a short drive from the West Thumb Basin area). AmFac also provides guided fishing boats which may be reserved in advance by calling (307) 344-7311. Private boats may be launched from the marina, too.Fishing is allowed. The native fish are on a catch and release basis only. Lake trout are to be killed if caught. Anglers 16 years of age and older are required to purchase either a $10 ten-day or $20 season permit. Anglers 12 to 15 years of age are required to obtain a non-fee permit. Children 11 years of age or younger may fish without a permit when supervised by an adult. Fishing permits are available at all ranger stations, visitor centers, and Hamilton General Stores. Yellowstone National Park has implemented a non-toxic fishing program. Tackle such as leaded split shot sinkers, weighted jigs, and soft weighted ribbon for fly fishing are prohibited. Since we only had 3 days in the park, we didn't spend much time by the lake. But we were able to enjoy a lot of beautiful views of it's northern shore while driving from the West Thumb Basin on to the Canyon area.

Directions: By West Thumb in the southern part of the park

Tower Falls

The 132-foot drop of Tower Creek is framed by eroded volcanic pinnacles.

Wildlife: The wildlife can be dangerous

brown bear

The wildlife is amazing. There are herds of buffalo, elk, deer, ... . But the animal that really seems to get everyone's attention is the bear. Cars stop where ever they are -- in the middle of the road and people get out to gaze at the bear. It's amazing how quickly a park ranger appears to get people back in their cars and on their way again

Sights along the road

construction traffic

one of the many meadows

river along the road

river again

rapids on the river

snow---in June

rolling hills

This was my 2nd time to Yellowstone (first time was when I was about 5 and I was pretty scared most of that trip---the animals and geysers can be overwhelming for little ones!)  I hope to make it back there again.  It is a really unique and special place!


  1. I just love reading all your vacation info...thanks for taking the time to post.

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