geysers, grizzlies, and guardrails

“All animals in Yellowstone National Park are wild and dangerous!”

“All wildlife is dangerous! Remain at least 25 yards from any animal.  Remain at least 100 yards away from bison and bear.”

“Yellowstone is a Dangerous Place”

These and similar signs are all over Yellowstone.  We need to be wary of all the animals!

Beware dangerous chipmunks! Or is it some kind of western squirrel? He was greatly enjoying a gourmet mushroom he’d found nearby.

We did see quite an array of wildlife in the park, in addition to the chipmunk.  We saw bison, including some close enough to get good pictures of (but far enough to still be safe). We also saw deer, elk, and an osprey.  No bear (of which I’m very glad), and no moose (of which there are very few remaining in the park).

Practicing for rutting season, I guess.
An after dinner drink!
An osprey on the prowl for dinner,
Gotcha! How would you like your trout?

There are many dangerous things in the park, as in most of the National Parks.  Their wildness is what calls many of us to go to them; it is what makes these places special.  Being attacked by wild animals, driving off the edge of a narrow mountain road, or falling into a pool of boiling water are some of the things that can befall a careless or inattentive visitor.

We got a late start on our first day in the park, so we decided to just do the north part of the park (we were staying outside the north entrance). We’d go down the western side through Mammoth Hot Springs, to Norris, across to Canyon, up through Tower, and then back to Mammoth. Here’s a picture of the Yellowstone river near Tower.

Yellowstone River

We had visited Yellowstone eleven years ago after a service trip to Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota with our church.  We were in a small rental car and enjoyed driving in the park. The roads on the east side of the park are quite mountainous, twisty and narrow—a challenge! Fun! 

Driving them in a crew cab long bed dually pickup truck (basically, the biggest F350 that Ford makes) is an entirely different experience from driving them in a compact!  White knuckle time. Through a good portion of the park, there were no guardrails. And it was hundreds and hundreds of feet to the ground below. We decided to not go to the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone and the Lamar Valley because they would have required retracing some of that route.  But those were the only places we had wanted to visit that we missed. If we go back in the future, we may rent a compact car to make touring the park less terrifying!

The geysers and geothermal pools are, of course, Yellowstone’s calling card. The density of these features is unique in the world. They are unquestionably beautiful and awe inspiring, but you need to be careful.  There are boardwalks in many of the dense areas of springs, pools, and geysers, and there are frequent signs warning people to stay on the boardwalks.  The “ground” they traverse is often simply a thin coating over a hot spring, most of which will be fatal if a person becomes immersed.

Travertine and hot pools in the Norris Basin area.

On our previous visit, I watched two men ahead of me on a boardwalk.  They came to one of the “Danger! Hot water. Stay on the boardwalk” signs, and one handed the other his camera, stepped off the boardwalk (right next to the sign), and had his friend take a picture of him and the sign.  As a former boss of mine was fond of saying, “You can’t fix stupid.”  But Darwin clearly missed an opportunity here.

This time, we saw many unattended small children on the boardwalks, some standing on the edge of the boardwalks (there are often no railings), or kneeling at the edge leaning over—presumably, “to get a better view.” As parents, it was very tough to see these situations.

But… these pools and springs are unquestionably beautiful!

Grand Prismatic Spring

The colors of the pools are caused by thermophyllic bacteria, also referred to as “extremophiles.” Different types of bacteria have different colors and live in different water temperature ranges: blue indicates the hottest temperatures, then yellow, then red.

I didn’t get a good picture of it, but the steam drifting above the Grand Prismatic Spring was tinged with the reds and blues of the water.

Quick: what was the Roman Coliseum built out of?  Travertine. Didn’t know that myself until a few hours ago. Travertine is a type of rock made by the evaporation of mineral laden water.  And it is all over Yellowstone, particularly in the Mammoth Hot Springs and Norris Basin areas.

Travertine terraces.
I wish I knew what causes it to form terraces instead of just smooth slopes.

Over time, the travertine will envelop anything it encounters.

Such as this tree…
Or this walkway.

The pools and springs sometimes warn of their danger by continuously steaming. 

Caution: blue indicates the hottest springs and pools.

Others are quiet and appear inviting!

Quiet, but deadly. Notice how thin the crust is!

Geysers are the other thermal features most people associate with Yellowstone. Some are grand, but erupt unpredictably; others are small and erupt frequently. A few are large and predictable. Eruptions can last for a short time, releasing all their pressure quickly, or they can last for hours. We saw quite a few of the small geysers,

Even small geysers can build up a significant cone over time from the dissolved minerals.
Not sure whether this is a small geyser or just a bubbling spring.

And what visit to Yellowstone National Park is complete without watching Old Faithful erupt?

It really is impressive seeing this eruption. Not the biggest in the park, but the biggest we were to see on this trip.

We had the great pleasure of meeting a member of the Mount Desert Island Search and Rescue team who is now a law enforcement ranger at the Old Faithful District. We hadn’t seen each other since last July, and it was very good to see him again!

We finished our trip by hiking to the Morning Glory Pool. When we visited eleven years ago, it was about six weeks earlier in the year than we were here this time. On our previous visit, the Morning Glory area was closed due to grizzly bear activity in the area, feeding on several bison which had not survived the winter.

Morning Glory has a reputation of being one of the prettiest pools in the park and I was really looking forward to finally getting to see it this time. It was pretty, but I was somewhat disappointed.

It is widely reported that Morning Glory has been damaged by visitors throwing coins and trash into it, and the colors are reportedly not as striking as before; some articles refer to the name “Faded Glory,” The park is making efforts to try to repair the damage, but it is unknown whether it will ever be completely restored.

Morning Glory Pool

It was a real treat to be able to explore and enjoy Yellowstone again—it’s a real gem and should be on everyone’s bucket list.

12 thoughts on “geysers, grizzlies, and guardrails”

  1. This post and your previous post were great as usual. I found it sad to read about children being unsupervised or even leaving the posted pathways. I am sure there were signs directing everyone to stay on the trail, but the continued abuse may eventually close some areas of our National Parks to visitors, and this will be really sad.
    I love Yellowstone and Glacier Parks, close enough to Idaho that we have made several trips over the years.
    I noticed that you have not colored in Idaho. You did pass through the panhandle, which would count for a visit. And it was a lovely visit, thanks for taking time to catch up with me and two of my children.

    1. Hi, Jean. The empty space for Idaho is another reason to come back! Our practice for the map is to only color those states in which we have camped for at least one night. We’d have several others colored if we were doing those we have been in at all. We’ll be back… count on it!

  2. The stupidity of some of the tourists can really take away part of the enjoyment of the National Parks. When we were at the Grand Canyon several years ago, we saw several people with flip flops on climb over the railings to stand on the edge for pictures! We were told by one of the rangers a man slipped off an edge the week before falling to his death! At Mammoth Springs the following summer when we went to Yellowstone, a woman asked Mike to take a picture of her standing beside an elk. Mike said he would only take a picture if she stood a good distance from the elk! And also while in Yellowstone another day, the vehicles on one of the roads were all stopped for the crossing of a herd of buffalo. As we sat in our vehicle waiting, we watched parents letting their children out of their cars to run up to the herd for pictures!! What are people thinking??!! You will have to go back to see the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone for sure!

    1. We got to see the GC of Y when we visited Yellowstone 12 years ago after the mission trip to Pine Ridge with the church. Next time we’ll rent a smaller car and leave our big truck at the campsite.

  3. Kathe and Al,
    Your posts are always very informative and have wonderful photos! I love reading them and hearing of your adventures. They make me jealous😊, but give me ideas and dreams for the future. Thank you for posting and sharing them!🥰

    1. We’re so glad you’re enjoying following our adventures, Judy! Maybe someday we can go camping together somewhere. That would be fun!

  4. I haven’t been to Yellowstone in decades. Our parents took us there as kids. I can still remember the smell of the mud pots and hot springs! So glad you got to spend time there,it really is an outstanding place. The year that we traveled there,it was commonplace to see people feeding black bears. Hence the reason why there had been so many problems with the bears over the years. A bear came up to our car while we were stuck in a traffic jam and actually put it’s claws through one of the windows! I don’t remember what my mom or dad said,but I am sure it was colorful:) Anyway,it made for fantastic childhood memories!

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