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Adventure 10 : Part II – Yellowstone National Park

July 9, 2012

We left South Dakota feeling pretty good about ourselves. The temperatures was mid 80s Fahrenheit and sunny, sunny, sunny. It was such a beautiful day that we decided to break up the drive from South Dakota to western Wyoming with a few fun stops, including Deadwood, SD (death and grave site of Wild Bill Hickok), Devil’s Tower, WY (Where we saw some crazy rock climbers. Also, filming site of Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Very interesting hike, I’d recommend it to anyone passing through. Just don’t feed the prairie dogs…they can carry the bubonic plague.)

Our drive took us up, up, up into and through the Bighorn Mountains where we saw our first (and not last) glimpse of snow.
At around 11pm we reached the entrance to Yellowstone National Park. Only two campsites were open this early in the season, and of course, ours was a 69 mile drive from the park entrance. We sent up camp around midnight after dodging many antelope and deer in the road.

The antelope and deer on the first night were only the beginning of the wildlife experience at Yellowstone. The first morning in the park, we awoke to a deep huffing sound outside of our tent. I placed bets on a snoring camper, my husband thought it was a frog. When we unzipped the “window” to our tent, we couldn’t see the origin of the sound, but we did see campers behind us taking pictures of our tent. We do not have a particularly cool tent, so we assumed it was a particularly cool animal making the noise and crossed our fingers that it wasn’t a bear. As it turns out, a herd of 15 – 20 bison went through camp that morning, some just feet from our tent, leaving behind enormous piles of bison poop. I thought seeing bison would be a rare experience, they are ALL OVER the place. Be prepared to stop your car for these oversized, hooved rats. Still…they’re pretty cool.

In case you didn’t notice, the picture of bison poop includes teeny tiny bits of hail that froze together during the night. How cold was it? Cold enough to not only hail but snow as well. While our first day at Yellowstone was spent in a light rain, the entire second day was spent in snow.

The temperature during our last night at camp dropped to around 27 degrees Fahrenheit. Still, we maintained our sleeping bare naked philosophy and didn’t freeze to death. At least we can say that our first  camping trip was definitely on the rough side. Camping should be a piece of cake the next time, right?

Yellowstone’s most fascinating features, in my opinion, are the steam vents, geysers, and thermal areas. Mountains you can see in a lot of different places, but sapphire blue acidic pools that reach beneath the Earth’s crust? Pretty rare. And absolutely gorgeous. Even the thermophilic algae was beautiful as it formed in shades of green, red, orange and brown on the surface. The scent doesn’t match the visual, however. The high sulfur content makes these areas smell strongly of rotten eggs.

The walkways are lined with signs warning  of “Scalding water” or “Don’t be fooled by bison prints in thermal areas. Sometimes the ground will support bison. Sometimes it won’t.” Winding through this hydrothermic wasteland, is a 3 ft wide wooden walkway. My glasses fogged up in the steam, making me a bit nervous. One wrong step could mean the skin being stripped from my bones by scalding water and acid. Yikes.

We did a little bit of hiking through Yellowstone, but we spent most of our time checking out the thermal sites, especially since we still had more hiking at our next stop in Glacier National Park. Even through the rain, thunderstorms, hail, and snow, we still managed to have a wonderful time. We even got to see a pack of black wolves through the camera lens of some professional photographers.

There were so many beautiful, unique aspects to Yellowstone, and a part of me wishes we had gotten to spend more time there. Another part of me, the part that was tired of being cold and wet for three days, was ready to move on to Glacier National — to the mountains, the cowboys, and the grizzly bears.

Here are a few more pictures of Yellowstone National Park to leave you with:

 

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