Dipping Our Toes into Yellowstone
[Great Falls, MT / Gardiner, MT / Yellowstone National Park, WY]
Never ever have I been so happy to spend the night in a hotel room! We were all happy when we woke up on Monday morning and could make coffee, catch up on social media and just chill in our hotel room! The rest of the girls got ready for their flights, while Laura and I researched brunch. This turned out to be somewhat of an ordeal. We were looking for something semi-healthy with a breakfast menu, so that proved challenging, but we did finally find something. We all headed to the airport afterwards, where our gal pals caught their flights while Laura and I exchanged our rental car for a new one with a crack-free windshield.
Our drive to Yellowstone took just over 4 hours. Our first stop was the little town of Gardiner, MT, on the northern edge of the park. We had dinner there at a great place called “The Raven Grill”, then gassed up the car and hit up the market for some wine. We are staying within the park for the next 5 days and are not sure what will be easily found inside, so we wanted to be prepared. Yellowstone is huge, so we’d rather not leave unless we have to! 🙂 We also got to take our traditional photo at the sign.
We made it to the Albright Visitor Center just before their 7 pm closing time. This visitor center was somewhat unique because it is part of historic Fort Yellowstone. When Yellowstone became the first national park in the nation (and the world) in 1872, the National Park Service had not been created yet. As a matter of fact, Wyoming and Montana hadn’t even become states yet! There were a couple of competent park superintendents who built roads and tried to provide infrastructure, but their successors were useless and Yellowstone ran wild. The US Army stepped in in 1886 and started managing the park from several forts on the territories of Montana, Idaho and Wyoming. One of those forts was Fort Yellowstone. The buildings that were part of the fort remain today, housing the visitor center on this side of the park, a post office and buildings for park employees.
Before I continue on, I should pause and say a word about what makes Yellowstone so unique. Yellowstone sits on top of a supervolcano – a monster of a volcano that last erupted 1.3 million years ago. Its eruptions were so big that volcanic ash spread to Canada and Mexico. Yellowstone sits on top of a hot spot – a place where the molten lava comes close to the earth’s surface. This hot spot has been traveling for the last few millions of years, starting out in present-day Nevada/Utah and moving to where is is today. This makes it similar to the Hawaiian island arc, whose movement has produced the Hawaiian islands we know today and will produce more in the future. Many are surprised to find out that Yellowstone used to have glaciers, which then melted and gave way to volcanic activity.
The unique combination of magma near the surface, water and fractures in the earth due to earthquakes has created a unique environment for the hydrothermal features you can see all over the park. These include geysers (big clogs of boiling water that result in that water being blown in the air), hot springs (similar to geysers but they don’t clog up), mud pots (depressions that occur when hot water saturates clay-like sediments), and fumaroles (vents with small amounts of boiling water that comes out of the vent as steam). Another feature of the park are the so-called bobby-sox trees – trees that were killed by thermal activity whose base turns white due to the silica in the water.
Once we left the visitors center, we got to see our first hydrothermal feature – the Mammoth Hot Springs. Here, the hot springs have helped limestone create travertine terraces. We got to see our first pools of boiling water, and smelled sulfur for the very first time. The boardwalks went on and on, and this is just one of many hydrothermal features in the park! We had vowed to not take too many photos, but that went right out of the window.
On our drive to our hotel on Lake Yellowstone, we experienced our first bison jam. A bison was just casually walking on the other side of the road, backing up traffic in both directions.
We got to our hotel at sunset (which is not as late as in Montana, but still after 9 pm). We have no wifi or TV in the room, so the 4 bottles of wine we got in Gardiner are coming in handy!