Postcard: Yellowstone

Scenes from vacations past

Steaming pool of water with coral- and crystal-looking rocks along the edges

Hot spring in the West Thumb Geyser Basin, on the shores of Lake Yellowstone. September 2019

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November 17th, 2020 at 10:22pm

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In September, 2019, we took a trip out west.

Our vacation consisted of stops in: Salt Lake City, UT, Blackfoot, ID, Yellowstone National Park, Idaho Falls, ID, Arco, ID and Craters-of-the-Moon National Monument, Boise, ID, and Twin Falls, ID.

This is a postcard from Blackfoot and Yellowstone.

Stopover

On our way from Salt Lake City to Yellowstone National Park (Wikipedia, NPS), in northwest Wyoming, we spent a night in Blackfoot, Idaho. It was only halfway to Yellowstone, a mere two and a half hour drive, but our toddler - and, therefore, our parental sanity - demanded short car rides.

Naturally, once we arrived, we visited the Idaho Potato Museum.

Father and son standing in front of an enormous baked potato topped with sour cream and butter

That's not real sour cream. Or butter.

When you're at the Idaho Potato Museum, of course, you admire the world's largest potato crisp (and its fissures).

Enormous Pringle with two cracks in it

I'd eat it.

Downtown Blackfoot had a strong western feel, but not much was happening. We ate dinner in a decent 50s style joint called Rupe's Burgers and... that was about it for Blackfoot.

West Yellowstone, MT

We stayed in a functional, perfectly fine hotel in the city of West Yellowstone.

I'd been to Missoula and Glacier National Park before, but this was my first time in the stub of Montana that drops down between Idaho and Wyoming.

Mom and child sitting on stools eating at a narrow counter with a menu on the wall behind them

Interior of the Taqueria Malverde. It's an old school bus.

Mom and child at a picnic table, looking in a cooler

Lunch near some buffalo. Bears were rumored to check in occasionally.

About West Yellowstone:

  • The streets off the main highway felt like they were made for horse-drawn carriages to turn around in
  • I wondered if the rest of the town was going to be as tacky as the bars and souvenir shops on the main highway (it wasn't)
  • We found a few outstanding restaurants, in particular Taqueria Malverde, if you like Mexican food in a school bus - and it turns out that we do

The Park

If you've never been to Yellowstone, here are some basics:

  • It was the world's first national park
  • It sits on top of a supervolcano that last erupted ≈650,000 years ago
  • The park is also inside a crater called a caldera
  • It is beautiful in the traditional sense, and in some places it looks like Middle-earth
Enormous bison walking along the highway.

We saw a lot of bison. Some in the valleys, a few on the highway. They are magnificent creatures.

We bought a one week entrance pass for $35.

Fountain Paint Pot Trail

The "paint pots" are really mud pots containing iron - in various oxidation states - which colors the mud.

We walked along a boardwalk past several paint pots and geysers. The Jelly Geyser welcomed us with a thick burst of foggy steam.

The area had a light but pervasive odor of rotten eggs.

Grand Prismatic Spring

The most striking attraction at Yellowstone was the largest hot spring in the United States, and the third largest in the world: the Grand Prismatic Spring.

Mother holding child and struggling to walk through steam

Near the Jelly Geyser, part of the Fountain Paint Pot Tour.

Child looking at camera with colorful hole of steam in the background

Observation deck overlooking the Grand Prismatic Spring.

It's blue in the center, with rings of color that vary with the seasons. The presence and sharpness of the green, yellow, orange, and red depend on bacteria, chlorophyl, algae, and natural plant pigments in the water. We decided to view the spring from an overlook roughly a quarter mile away.

The average temperature of the Grand Prismatic Spring is about 160ºF (70ºC), whereas a hot tub is between 100º and 105ºF.

West Thumb

The west end of Lake Yellowstone juts out into a shape which, on a map, looks nothing like a thumb. But it's a big lake surrounded by mountains and pine trees.

A deep pool of blue-tinted water with salty orange edges

Another hot spring in the West Thumb geyser basin. Yellowstone Lake is a couple hundred feet to the right.

On one edge of West Thumb lies a geyser basin similar in look, feel, and smell to the Fountain Paint Pot trail. The indigo water in the hot springs made for a lovely walk.

Old Faithful

We spent ten minutes looking for a parking spot. We walked ten minutes to the geyser.

Less than sixty seconds later, before we had even chosen a place to stand, Old Faithful went off. It was glorious!

A travertine mound formed a century ago by a hot spring

Soda Butte in Lamar Valley, formed by a hot spring a century ago.

A huge jet of water shotting straight up into the air with mist blowing in one direction

Old Faithful. It's majestic.

Lamar Valley

It was roughly two and a half hours to drive from West Yellowstone to Lamar Valley. Completely worth it. We drove along mountains and saw crazy rock formations, expansive valleys, and hundreds of bison.

We stopped at a campsite along the Lamar River, where Francis threw rocks and we went on a short hike.

Child really winding up to throw rocks in a river

Throwing rocks in the Lamar River.

Mom and child standing at the river's edge, surrounded by rock dotted with hanging vegetation

Further up the Lamar River.

Upper Falls

It's a good thing we're not in horrible shape.

To see the Upper Falls of the Yellowstone River up close, you have to walk from a parking lot down, down, down to an observation deck. The emerald water crashes into a dusty canyon, the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, toward Artist Point.

A misty, twisting river snaking through a steep canyon

The Yellowstone River after the Upper Falls.

Father holding son, pointing down at something

Watching water and tree limbs go through the Upper Falls.

And then you get to walk up, up, up to your car.

Artist Point

Pack a light lunch and go to Artist Point, just a short drive away, and behold the Upper Falls from a distance. It's stunning.

Last word

We aren't outdoorsmen, but we were thrilled to have spent four incredible days in Yellowstone. There was so much more to see and do, but we probably won't be back. For us, once was enough.

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