Spectacular mountains and grand plateaus

Trip Start May 14, 2012
Trip End Nov 06, 2012

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Flag of United States  , Wyoming
Monday, October 15, 2012

Spectacular mountains and grand plateaus of the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone National Parks

During our visits to these areas we traveled between 3 states - we camped in Victor in the Tetons Valley, Idaho and did day trips to the Grand Tetons Park and Jacksons Hole area in Wyoming; we camped in the town of West Yellowstone, Montana and took day trips into Yellowstone Park (which is mostly in Wyoming). When we left Yellowstone we stopped in Cody, Wyoming for a couple of nights. We are finding now that most RV parks and many other tourist related facilities have closed for the season.  While the weather has been unusually good the locals say that it could snow any time! The Grand Tetons National Park is south of Yellowstone and part of the Greater West Yellowstone ecosystem which encompasses a lot more area than the two parks.  Although smaller than Yellowstone the park is spectacular with the Tetons mountain range rising on the western edge of a scenic valley called Jackson Hole.  Hole is the name early settlers gave to valleys ringed by mountains.  Jackson Hole is a very popular ski destination with four downhill skill facilities in the immediate area. The Tetons are also a popular climbing destination.

Also located in the park is the National Elk Refuge where between 5,000-10,000 elk congregate in winter. At the end of the season local Boy Scouts gather and auction off the elk antlers that are shed every spring, contributing most of the funds raised to purchase winter feed for the elk.  The largest group of buyers for the antlers are from Asia.

We spent a morning at the National Museum of Wildlife Art in Jackson Hole which has a very large collection of wonderful wildlife art.   This museum was involved in the Yellowstone to Yukon initiative (Y2Y) which sponsored the art show we saw at the Whyte Art Gallery in Banff in June.   The museum building is located in a spectacular setting overlooking the National Elk Refuge. 

First Nations people used both Yellowstone and Grand Tetons/Jackson Hole as summer hunting areas.  Early explorers travelled through in the early 1800's, followed by fur traders and later survey expeditions and homesteaders in the late 1800’s resulted in some settlement in the area.   Then in the early 1900’s like in Banff in the Canadian Rockies the trend for the wealthy to travel to these remote areas led to the creation of the first dude ranches - this proved to be more profitable for the locals than agriculture and is still big business today. 

Next stop was Yellowstone National Park which, established in 1872, is considered as the World’s first national park.  It is one of the busiest national parks with over 600,000 visitors in September alone.  The roads in the park are quite narrow with no shoulder so it must be bumper to bumper during the summer months.   Basically the park sits on a volcano that has erupted 3 times in the past.  The volcano powering those past eruptions still powers the geysers, hot springs, fumaroles and mud pots.  Everywhere you see evidence of this history - the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River and its waterfalls show the boundaries of the lava flows and around the volcanic plateau (all about 7000 feet above sea level) are mountains. There are cliffs of obsidian-volcanic glass that first nations people valued for their arrow and spear points.   

Yellowstone is mostly known for the Old Faithful  geyser but it has a lot more geothermal features than that particular geyser.  We learned that one half of the world’s geysers are located in Yellowstone.  There are five geyser basins where we saw fumaroles, small geysers, mud pots, sulphur ponds and bubbling pools.  When you walked around these areas you would hear the hissing of steam, the glug blub of mud bubbling and bubbling of water.   It is nothing to be driving along the road and see puffs of steam wafting across the road particularly in the cooler early mornings.  It all seemed quite other worldly!

Yellowstone has a very diverse landscape with grasslands, the sage bush steppe, river canyons and of course Yellowstone Lake which is the largest high altitude lake in the world.  The park is a very popular fishing area because of its pristine waters and is famous for its herds of bison and elk.  This time of year these animals were on the move to their wintering areas; some of the elk moving to the Jackson Hole winter refuge.

Quite evident as you drive and walk through the park are the huge tracts of land that were burnt in the 1988 fires when over 1.6 million acres of the park were burnt over 3 months.   While it was considered a disaster at the time it has resulted in a more diversified area since the fire with new species of plants and animals appearing in the area.  

After our visit of Yellowstone we headed across the Absaroke Mountains to Cody, Wyoming for a couple of days before heading to Denver.  Cody is a town established by "Buffalo Bill" Cody – yes he was a real person!  While the town has its share of western style tourist attractions it does have a major national calibre museum dedicated to the west.  The Buffalo Bill Historical Center is really 5 museums and a research library in one: the Plains Indians Museum not only tells their stories but has a rich display of functional and artistic artifacts, the Buffalo Bill Museum showed the life of “Buffalo Bill” Cody, the Draper Museum of Natural History focused on the West Yellowstone ecosystem including the industrial and agricultural uses,  the Cody Firearms Museum wing houses  the world’s largest assemblage of American arms and European Arms,  and the Whitney Gallery of Western Art focused on paintings and bronzes made between 1820 and 1930.  Our admission was good for 2 days and you definitely needed that.  It was very impressive spot!

On our way to Denver, Colorado we stopped for a soak in the hot springs at Thermopolis, Wyoming.   There are 3 spa type facilities at the hot springs; one is state run and is free to the public. Public access to the hot springs was a condition of the agreement of sale between the government and the Indian nation that owned the land.

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