My experience as far as large, popular national parks has primarily been with the Great Smokey Mountains NP which was basically in my backyard. I grew up hiking all through its backcountry, taking field and family trips to Cades Cove and falling in love with nature on its gentle sloping peaks. On all my many backpacking trips (including 71 miles of the AT in the park completed over several years) I admit that in addition to learning to cherish and respect the Great Outdoors I also developed some snobbery towards the 95% of the visitors that visit the park every year and only leave their cars for pancake breakfasts and all you can eat buffets.
13 year old Elise
I saw such awesome views in the backcountry and felt such peace in the solitude of walking miles without seeing another person that I never understood how they could only drive through such a minute part of it all crowded together.
When planning our trip to Yellowstone I resigned myself to knowing we were going to have to be in that 95% of driving fools in order to see a lot and continue West (you know, that whole starting residency thing and all). The Smokies and her highlights are easily visitable if you put in a good, long day of driving so I assumed we could do the same in Yellowstone.
The original plan was to spend two full days in the park: Day 1 driving both upper and lower loops and on Day 2 take a good long hike in the backcountry to cleanse my conscience of being a car tourist from the previous day.
We got into the park late after driving across Wyoming and set up camp in Bridge Bay.
Driving into the park.
View across Yellowstone Lake to the snow capped mountains beyond.
Home Sweet Tent
We were really lucky to discover that the air mattress we brought to tide us over for our first few nights in Seattle fit perfectly into the tent I’ve had since I was 14. Its an old Marmot tent, but I love this thing despite its funky smells and the fact I have to McGuyver one of the tent poles into its holder. Its been all over with me and now Jeff too: from camping on Cape Lookout to camping for a spot to secure our wedding date for the Duke Chapel:
Now we can add Yellowstone to its long history!
Jeff and I made delicious fried bologna and cheese sandwiches over a campfire for dinner. The best part about this type of camp food (and something we’ve learned from experience) is that even if you can’t get a fire going you can still eat it. Fortunately this wasn’t a problem this time!
Jeff making dinner
While we were eating some jarred fruit for dessert, Jeff had the brilliant idea to mix some of the alcohol we brought with some and Drunk Fruit was born! Recipe: some rum in a jar of mangos and bourbon in a jar of pears to taste. Shake well. Later we mixed it with our remaining jars of fruit to marinate it until the next night’s dinner – highly recommend this, it turned out incredibly!
We were woefully unprepared for how cold it would be to camp in Yellowstone in June (apparently the week before sixteen inches of snowfall had shut down all the entrances trapping everyone in – or out). It was a long, frigid night so we weren’t in the mood to eat our cold granola bars for breakfast when morning finally broke. We decided to check out one of the nearby lodges on the map to see if we could at least get some coffee – for me to warm up my bones and for Jeff so he could function as a person. I’m pretty sure that if coffee wasn’t readily available we would have had to leave Yellowstone before we’d even started.
The Lake Lodge was quaint and had that old 1960’s Parent Trap camp charm about it and had a wonderfully hot and reasonably priced breakfast. We asked, but they didn’t have any rooms for the following night so we decided we’d just try and find another blanket at a gift shop later in the day for the next night.
Inside Lake Lodge – sorry for the quality
Best part for Jeff – they left the coffee pot on the table! Feeling a million times better after some caffeine, food and warmth we started out on our ambitious plan to drive the entire park in a day.
First stop: West Thumb Geyser Basin
West Thumb Geyser Basin
Underwater geyser in Lake Yellowstone with the mountains in the background
Or else you will die. Seriously – they’ve had many deaths in Yellowstone from stupid or unfortunate people. When we were driving in we had seen some steam coming off an area on the side of the road and I had gotten out to investigate only to run into one of these signs. Part of me wanted to ignore it and keep going, but fortunately didn’t and was really glad I had after reading about all the accounts of people being steamed to death the next day. We can leave that fate for the lobsters thank you.
The different colors correspond to different species of bacteria that thrive at different temperatures. Ergo, the color tells you how hot it is – that beautiful blue being the hottest
I knew we weren’t even to the big draws like Old Faithful and spouting geysers yet – but my inner nerd was going berserk! I MEAN SO COOL!! You have these pockets of earth that are steaming against this unreal backdrop of snow capped mountains and this gorgeous lake – ah! It was enough to inundate the senses. Seriously, coolest thing ever, ever, ever. We had to walk along these beautifully maintained boardwalks because the Earth’s crust is incredibly thin and you could step through into the magma. Science and danger. Love it!
And all this before 10am.