For us, Yellowstone has represented an incredible journey, one of those that remain carved in the soul and dramatically raise the personal threshold of wonder.
Our six-day itinerary included the wonderful Grand Teton, and gave us enough time to enjoy these two parks and its unforgettable inhabitants.
Yellowstone has two souls: a geological one, made of rocks and springs, geysers and sulphurous waters, and an animal one, made of fur and feathers, dens and predations. Two lively and throbbing souls that show themselves especially at dawn and sunset, in the silent and patient contemplations of those who know the value of little moments.
[Our article on practical tips, gates, tickets, equipment and services can be found HERE.]
DAY 1: THE GRAND TETON
We arrived from Colorado and we stopped in Jackson for the night. Jackson is the Teton Park’s southern gate-city: nice and well served, but very expensive. If you are traveling low-cost, it’s better you find an alternative. We stocked up on food and then headed to Mormon Row, to visit the barns the Mormons built around 1890, during their West quest. As it is easy to guess from the local road names - Moose Junction, Antelope Flats Roads - moose, pronghorns and bison roam free in this area (we met none, though). We drove to the Moran Junction to enjoy the perfect beauty of the Oxbow Bend and then went up to the Jackson Point Overlook for the panoramic view on the Signal Mountain.
While having a bite in the car, we drove back south and we set out at the Moose Pond, where moose usually go to drink at dawn and dusk: we managed to see a courtship ritual (probably better defined as “chase”), and also a big male resting after a bellyful of willows.
As night fell, we returned to Jackson by the Moose-Wilson Road, but we didn’t spot any other moose. The road is an interesting alternative to the Jackson Hole Highway.
DAY 2: GRAND TETON> YELLOWSTONE
At dawn we stopped again at the Moose Pond, but this time we could only enjoy the colours of autumn and the icy awakening of nature: no moose on the horizon. We went up north, parking at the String Lake to take a hike in the surrounding woods. Big signs warned us about bear presence in backcountry, and so we made sure to leave food and other kinds or attractor (candies included!) in the car. Trying be noisy with steps and words, to make wildlife aware of our presence, we walked to the Leigh Lake, where we enjoyed its silent stillness and the perfection of the Boulder Island. We did not go further on the path that runs around the lake: we did not have any bear spray with us and we preferred to go back to the car.
We then headed north, entering Yellowstone. Just beyond the border, we had the most extraordinary encounter of this trip: the one with the grizzly. Our excitement and wonder were so great that we weren’t even able to switch on the cameras. The grizzly was quietly feeding at 50 meters from the roadside, snout plunged in the bushes, paws scratching the ground searching for tasteful roots. The intense beefing-up ritual that precedes the hibernation, its thick and shiny fur, its round and impressive shape: we felt like in front of a king.
[Discover HERE our wildlife spotting in Yellowstone Park]
After a couple of hours spent admiring the plantigrade, we headed to the Yellowstone Lake: a stop at the Grant Village to fuel up and to get a nice cup of hot tea, and then an hour at the West Thumb Geyser Basin. A feast of colours, fumes, sulfur and muffled sounds.
We then drove straight to the Fishing Bridge, a very popular area for bears. We didn’t spot any, but we spotted our first bald eagles: really spectacular.
Towards evening, as it began to snow, we went back south to the Headwaters Lodge & Cabins, inside the Flagg Ranch: we had dinner at the ranch restaurant and then spent the night in a forest bungalow with no light, no water and no heating. A real adventure, considering the darkness, the temperatures and the abundant snowfall.
As we had sleeping bags, we’d rather sleep in the car, but unfortunately in Yellowstone you can’t do it freely: you must always stay in a campground.
DAY 3: GEYSER BASIN
We are in the heart of the Continental Divide, a hydrogeological border between adjacent bodies of water that separates the watercourses that flow into the Pacific from those that flow into the Atlantic. The West Thumb Geyser Basin we visited yesterday has already shown us that we are in an area of intense geothermal activity.
We head towards the famous Old Faithful and admire one of its long and high eruptions, which have been happening for decades at fairly regular intervals. We leave the Visitor Centre hastily to explore the Upper and Lower Geyser Basins, full of hot springs and amazing fumaroles. An incredible succession of rainbows and boiling muds, like a geothermal poetry carved in the rocks: an infernal nudity in paradise disguise.
We stop at the Prismatic Spring and we are dazzled by the reverberations that light up at every ray of sun that makes its way through the clouds.
We then go to Madison Junction and head towards the Sawtelle Mountain Resort, where we spend the night, outside the western borders of the park in the state of Montana.
DAY 4: NORRIS BASIN AND CANYON VILLAGE
After some groceries shopping at a local supermarket, we head to the Norris Geyser Basin where, hit and frozen by the strong gusts of wind, we step into something that looks like another planet. A vast basin where the many active fumaroles produce a ghostly, smelly fog that the wind makes continuously twirling.
Because of the snow, the stretch of the Grand Loop that goes from Norris to Mammoth is closed, so we decide to change the plan and head towards the Canyon Village.
Here the scenography changes completely: we are back in the mountains, surrounded by the dense forests of Lodgepole Pines and Engelmann Spruce. We are literally enchanted by the scenic waterfalls and the orange cliffs, which show their best at the Artist Point. It seems to be on a film set: a masterpiece of nature that overwhelms the soul with the sounds of the precipices.
We drive to Tower Junction and then to the Soda Butte Lodge, on the eastern border of the Lamar Valley, where we will stay for the next three nights.
DAY 5: THE LAMAR VALLEY
The valley of the Lamar river is known as "the American Serengeti". On the mountains around, packs of wolves roam, breed and hunt. When the night falls, their howling can sometimes be heard in the distance. The valley is regularly beaten by coyotes, pronghorns, bison, bears and bald eagles.
We were lucky enough to witness the funny jumps of the coyotes hunting small preys, the exhausting love chase of the pronghorns, a bunch of playful baby bison crossing a torrent, the moments of laziness of a pack of wolves (but only thanks to the scopes of some guys we met: our binoculars were not powerful enough to watch them properly).
In the Lamar Valley we could watch for two hours a black bear mother playing with her two cubs on the steep slope of the mountain where we were lurking. At first, from afar, we thought they were three stones, but their movement led us on the right path.
After keeping an eye on us for about ten minutes, the mama bear understood we would not move or approach: she stopped worrying about us and went on strolling in the clearing with her two cubs, exploring dead trunks and stones.
Always on alert, looking out for any other bear approaching from behind, we enjoyed the great privilege of living such a special moment.
DAY 6: MAMMOTH
On the last day we visited Mammoth, in the northwest corner of the Yellowstone Park. A place that seems more Moon than Earth, an unmissable destination for those who love the geothermal phenomena typical of this part of the United States.
A widespread network of wooden pathways guides visitors among active and inactive hot springs, clouds of steam, coloured ponds and dead trees. A millennial work of water, minerals and geothermal energy that gave life to large terraces, sparkling pools and stones that look like sculptures.
Just a cute note about the elks of Mammoth: they particularly love the Mammoth ranger station. They often chill out in its front garden, like lazy guardians of this surreal place.
In the late afternoon, driving back to the hotel, we crossed the Lamar Valley again, lingering until sunset in the Slough Creek. When the full moon rose in the sky, we said goodbye to the bison, the wolves, the pronghorns and the coyotes, and we took our leave of this wonderful part of the world.
Another trip to Colorado was waiting for us, but it was not easy to make the heart accept that our time in the magic of Yellowstone was over.
Click on a picture to open the full-width gallery