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Ultimate Guide to Yellowstone

November 24, 2015

Mount Moran in the Rear View
Grand Teton - September 12, 2015

You may be aware that Yellowstone was the firstAmerican National Park, but you may not know that in 1872 when this 2.2million acre land parcel was first declared a National Park, it was the first national parkin the world.This concept of land for all the people- not just the wealthy and privileged- has since been dubbed “America’s Best Idea.”

Welcome to Yellowstone
Yellowstone National Park - September 10, 2015

Nearly the entire park rests on top of the Yellowstone Caldera, the largest active supervolcano on the continent and home to 300-500 geothermal features (depending on who you ask), hundreds of species (a few of most popular photographed below), and more than 4 million visitors each year.

Grand Geyser
Old Faithful Inn Boardwalk - September 10, 2015

Our adventure began at Old Faithful, among the most famous geothermal features in the world. Rightfully earning its name as one of the most predictable geysers in the park -- showing off for tourists every 90 minutes -- watching it and many of the others in the park is both incredible to see and even more so to learn about the series of pressurization events that occur leading up to each eruption. Located a short walk away from world-famous Old Faithful, the Grand Geyser draws fewer crowds but boasts a much more impressive show.

Fountain Geyser
Towards Madison Village - September 10, 2015

Depending on the geyser, time between eruptions can be measured in minutes, hours, or sometimes years. We had the chance to see seven eruptions from different geysers, several of which are just a short walk down the boardwalk from Old Faithful and others farther along the drive down Firehole Canyon Dr.

Upcoming Showings
Old Faithful Inn Boardwalk - September 9, 2015

Littered across the geyser basins are a huge variety of other geothermal features, some of the more colorful of which dubbed “Paint Pots.” As is nature’s trademark, the more colorful, often the more dangerous. The vibrant rocks and water pools are chock full of bacteria and dangerously hot temperatures. The colors of the water are an indicator of the types of bacteria that grow in a given temperature, indicating their consistent heat level. For example, a bright yellow may be a mere130 degrees Fahrenheit while a deep clear blue can beseveral hundred degrees. Ironically, tourists often complain to the local Inns that they can’t get a hot cup of coffee because the boiling temperature at the 8,000 feet elevation is considerably lower than the average US city.

Sapphire Pool
Biscuit Basin - September 11, 2015

Follow the Yellow Brick Road
Biscuit Basin - September 11, 2015

Boiling Mud Pot
Paint Pots - September 12, 2015

Several times a year, tourists are treated with extreme burns from the geothermal features from either inadvertently stepping into them or testing them with their hands. Although it may sound ridiculous, the water can appear deceptively welcoming and it’s not uncommon for what looks to be stable ground to give way due to the extreme temperatures.

Major burns happen almost instantly and full immersion in most of the pools means nearly certain death. Not surprisingly, for these reasons and more Colter (fellow crew member of the Lewis & Clark expedition) fondly referred to the Yellowstone Caldera as Colter’s Hell.

Keep Out...And No Drones
Midway Geyser Basin - September 11, 2015

Another crazy phenomenon to life on the surface of a volcano can be found in the Bobby Socks trees. These once healthy Lodgepole Pines have formed sections of solid glass at the base of their trunks visible in the white sections stemming from the grounds. The tree capillaries soaked up mineral water, and over time with some science in between, turned to petrified glass. These trees have been dead, and standing strong, for decades.

Healthy Lodgepole Pines were popular with Native American tribes building village lodges (preferred to “teepees”) due to their consistent diameter and limited number of branches that would need to be trimmed.

Bobby Socks
Unknown Geyser Basin - September 11, 2015


Solo Shot
Fountain Paint 
Pot - September 11, 2015

Throughout our discovery and fascination with these geologic wonders, we often encountered wildlife along the road and trails. Our first and most frequent encounter was with the now recovered Bison population. At one time, these wild Bison were down to an estimated population of 12-36 total Bison. In other words, at mostthree dozen Bison remained in the US. Thankfully, this species is one of the major success stories of the Parks system with a population of more than 3,000 in the area today.

Sibling Rivalry
Fountain Paint Pot - September 11, 2015

You may be more familiar with the term American Buffalo from middle school days but this was an incorrect naming by Lewis, Clark, and crew after having studied African wildlife resources before beginning their expedition to the US. As a species, the Bison and Buffalo have little to nothing in common biologically.

Dirt Bath
Firehole Canyon Dr. - September 12, 2015

Bison roam in herds, called obstinancies, but can often be spotted getting some alone time in wide open pastures. They can jump a four-foot fence from a standstill and although they appear to move slowly can run up to 35mph when the circumstances demand it. Just this year on four different occasions tourists were ill-prepared for their rapid movements and consequently were gored while taking selfies.Public service announcement: Be smart, take photos facing forwards and from afar. As a rule of thumb, Rangers recommend to keep at least 25 yards from most wildlife and no less than 100 yards from bears.

Pardon Me
Old Faithful Inn Boardwalk - September 10, 2015

Speaking of bears, we were fortunate to see a Grizzly cross the boardwalk while geyser gazing. We were later informed you can identify a Black Bear from a Grizzly most easily by the massive muscle humps Grizzlies have above their shoulders used for digging after food as well as dens for hibernation. Sightings in September can be few and far between as bear activity slows dramatically after the warm summer months.

Unfortunately, after two years of little to no incident there was a fatality earlier this year from a bear attack. One of the seasonal employees was attacked while running one of the park’s trails. Experts have commented that he committed multiple ‘no-nos’ in bear country:

  1. He was traveling solo, not in groups as is recommended
  2. He wasn’t making much noise as he travelled, bears don’t want to cross your path as much as you don’t theirs, so making noise lets them know to move on before you get there
  3. He wasn’t aware of his surroundings; he was wearing headphones on a trail run
  4. He came in between a mother and her cubsAND between her and her recent kill
  5. He didn’t have bear spray with him for protection; bear spray can be found at any local shop and is an intense form of pepper spray

More sadly still, as soon as a bear has tasted human flesh they must be put down immediately. They are habitual creatures and once they discover a new food source (such as humans) they are likely to search out that food source repeatedly. On a lighter note, the cubs were able to be saved by finding them new homes at various zoos across the country.

Land Sea
Hayden Valley - September 12, 2015

Our next animal encounter was in the famed Hayden Valley region. This area was once hundreds of feet underwater and a part of the ancient Yellowstone Lake formed by melting glaciers. As the water cleared it left a massive meadow that is alive and well with wildlife today. Herds of bison can be seen from afar and on a lucky day bear as well. We stumbled across a group informally called the “Wolf Watchers” prepped with lenses and cameras peering miles into the vast expanse. Within fifteen minutes of our arrival they had spotted the Alpha female of a local pack with two of her cubs in tow. We were able to sneak a peek into their lens, but even with massive magnification she appeared to be little more than a fast moving white blur in the viewfinder.

The Wolf Watchers
Hayden Valley - September 12, 2015

**This photo was taken bySandy Sisti not at the time the Rheos team visited.**

As we continued our loop around the Yellowstone ‘figure 8’ roads, we were able to grab several exposures of a Coyote hunting in the fields and even an Elk in the middle of a river crossing (or maybe sunbathing?). On the road, we rested while gazing on the Upper and Lower Falls of Yellowstone’s Grand Canyon. These natural falls and the canyon itself were initially formed by flowing lava from the caldera eruption over 640,000 years ago and continually evolved from glacier movements over hundreds and thousands of years.The Canyon is approximately 24 miles long, between 800 and 1,200 ft deep and up to .75 miles wide, compared to the Grand Canyon in Nevada, which is 277 miles long, 18 miles wide, and more than 6,000 feet deep.

Coyote on the Prowl
Firehole Canyon Dr. - September 11, 2015

Elk Sun Soak
Firehole Canyon Dr - September 12, 2015

Fire Over Grand Canyon
Yellowstone Grand Canyon, Upper Falls - September 12, 2015

The smoke on the horizon of the Canyon picture above is from a wildfire that broke out several days earlier. The fire started from a lightning strike just before we arrived and lasted until we left, was located closer to the Fishing Bridge area. The Park Service typically does not interfere so long as the fire doesn’t threaten the boundaries of developed areas endangering park visitors. One of the largest fires in recent history started on September 11th, 1988, which lasted for months and wiped out massive areas of the park.

Home Sweet Home
Dragons Mouth Spring - September 12, 2015

That pretty much sums up our short visit and education in Yellowstone. Such a special and unique place, unlike any area I had been or seen before. We couldn’t help but snap a photo of the Thermals among one of their namesake geothermal features at Dragon’s Mouth Spring.

As the sun set into the night at our last stop of Midway Geyser Basin, we reflected fondly on our days and prepped for the Airstream for the next stop on the Rheos Roadtrip: Jackson Hole.

Until Next Time
Midway Geyser Basin - September 12, 2015

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