Week 77: Yellowstone

   Posted by: Rhona   in USA

photos to come

Leaving Helena, we first stopped in Bozeman, about an hour away, to meet up with an old college friend of Brett’s. From there we headed further east to Billings, Montana’s largest city with a population of about 106,000. We spent an evening hanging out with Brett’s mum and stepdad, chatting and, (in Brett’s case) eating the biggest steak I’ve ever seen! It was nice to catch up as we haven’t seen them since the wedding. The next morning we headed on to Yellowstone National Park, where we spent two nights near the west entrance. It was an animal spotting safari, with elk, bison, bears, antelope, foxes and chipmunks!

Unfortunately we didn’t see any moose but a few close encounters with other animals made up for that. A bear sow and two cubs were wandering alongside the road at one point, unfazed by the slow moving line of cars that eased past. The closest you can get to a wild bear while still in the safety of your car! And the same with a bison, though I have to say that when he turned to look at us, I enthusiastically encouraged Brett to go go go! They’re big animals, weighing anywhere between 400 to 1,000kg for a fully grown adult. Not something you want ramming your car, especially if you happen to have your window down trying to max out your wide angle lens to get a full body shot!

We drove all over the park in our time there, enjoying the geothermal attractions as well as the wildlife. The park is centred on the Yellowstone caldera, North America’s largest super volcano and still an active hotspot. The last eruption was around 640,000 years ago but the caldera is being closely monitored for rising of the land, indicative of the pressure within the magma chamber underneath. There are also 1,000-2,000 earthquakes a year, though most of them are minor.

Possibly the most well known attraction in the park is Old Faithful Geyser. Not because it’s the biggest or tallest but because it has the tourist friendly trait of erupting regularly. Eruption intervals have changed over the years, with a current average of 90 minutes. There are around 300 geysers in the park, including the largest, Steamboat Geyser. Its eruptions are unpredictable though, with intervals between major eruptions between 4 days and 50 years. When it goes off it really goes off though, with water shooting up to 90m into the air compared to Old Faithful’s highest eruption of 56m.

Of course there are also plenty of other geothermal features; bubbling mud pools, travertine pools, fumaroles, steaming hot springs and multicoloured bacterial mats which look a lot nicer than they sound. And plenty of smelly smells. The yellow stone that gives the park its name is found near one of the other well known attractions, Yellowstone Falls. The colour comes from rich deposits of sulphur, the origin of many of the delightful smells we came across in our visit.

Leaving the park and heading toward Denver we passed the Grand Teton mountain range, which we found out is French for “big breasts”. So there we were, staring at Grand Breast, Middle Breast and South Breast… At sunset we headed to a cool area that Brett and I found last time we were in the area, an old collection of houses on Mormon Row. Back in the late 1800s and early 1900s it was a thriving community but now all the houses are abandoned, making for some photogenic scenes as the sun set and a storm moved in.

We spent a night outside Jackson then spent yesterday driving all the way down to Denver, where we are now. We’re staying with Brett’s sister and her three kids for a few days before we head further south.

This entry was posted on Thursday, September 16th, 2010 at 2:03 pm and is filed under USA. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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