I spent two days at Yellowstone, home of the supervolcano which will destroy humanity. Grand Teton and Yellowstone are only separated by about 20 miles, so in many respects they’re sister-parks. But they’re very different from one another. Grand Teton was filled with bikers, kayakers, and hikers. Yellowstone is mostly filled with tourists and car-drivers. Grand Teton has tremendous views and hikes, Yellowstone has lots of overlooks and small hot springs, geysers, and other features.
If I thought that Teton was crowded, Yellowstone was far worse.
As soon as I entered the park, I went to the first campground I found and got a site (there were only a few available). I think almost all the campgrounds at the park filled up (and when I left early Friday morning, there was a steady stream of cars from nearby West Yellowstone).
What was unexpected to me was the sheer size of the park. I camped about 15 miles from the entrance, in southern Lewis Lake campground. This was 40 miles from Old Faithful, and that was not even halfway through the park! Needless to say, I spent a lot of time driving around.
Old Faithful, from a distant observation point
After checking in at the campground, I was at a loss for what to do, and decided to visit Old Faithful, the classic icon of the National Park System. I’ve never seen anything like it – and I’m not talking about the natural wonder. The geyser is ringed halfway round with stadium-style seating, as well as a visitor center, lodge, and various peripheral buildings, walkways, and more. There’s at least 8 or 9 parking lots, and they were nearly all full. It felt like Disneyland.
The typical hot springs at Yellowstone
I hiked up to a nearby observation point just before the geyser erupted – it has a regular, 90-minute schedule. Then I saw some other geysers, hot springs, and so forth. There’s 3 miles of boardwalk and paved trails – here at least they serve a purpose, which is that the ground is quite fragile (and dangerous, with boiling water under the surface).
After that I was looking for a longer trail, and settled on the 7-mile Fairy Falls trail, to the largest falls in Yellowstone. The falls were pretty anemic, but the hike was interesting. There were various hot springs along the way, and it was cool to see them in comparative wilderness, away from the crowds.
Along the hike to Fairy Falls
The other strange thing about Yellowstone is that it has had some bad forest fires. Those fires left logs lying haphazardly all over the place; with the last fire in the area I walked about 10 years ago, it was eerie walking among the trees which lay, undecayed, like toothpicks across the landscape. On this hike as well, I saw a buffalo, but he seemed old and lethargic, and ignored me.
Black sand beaches, at Yellowstone. Who knew?
The following day I relaxed and did an 8-mile out-and-back hike to Shoshone Lake, the “largest backcountry lake in Yellowstone.” The cool thing about this lake was that all the beaches were black-sand style. I waded in, but it was too cold to swim.
On the way back, through marshy country, the mosquitoes attacked. I must have killed at least 30 mosquitoes, and those were the unlucky ones. My arms felt like they’d been put in those laboratory boxes they use to test bug repellents (except the repellents they were testing must not have worked…). After the hike, I returned to my tent and read for a few hours. The next day I’d be traveling again.