Grand Tetons and Yellowstone by Richard

Trip Start Apr 08, 2009
Trip End Jun 19, 2009

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Flag of United States  , Wyoming
Friday, May 15, 2009

Heading north from Jackson we spent a day driving through Grand Tetons National Park, stopping at various viewpoints to admire the mammarian qualities of the Grand Teton Range. (Look up a French dictionary). We started to walk to Jenny Lake, trudging over snow in places, and were delighted to discover that the pretty lake was still completely frozen over. We gave up any thought of walking further, instead the girls enjoyed picking up sheets of ice while managing to avoid falling in.

The road north passed more picturesque frozen lakes, with the mountains in view the whole way. Being Mothers Day, Karen got to sit in the front all day and admire the view - pointy mountains capped with snow is a favourite of hers.

Then up over a snowy range we went and down into the Yellowstone caldera. Yes, that's right, Yellowstone is a giant volcano. And it's still active. All over the place is thermal activity, geysers, thermal springs, boiling mud and more.

The highlight of Yellowstone is its geyser country, beginning with Old Faithful. The park rangers have a noticeboard predicting the approximate times of the regular geysers, so with some planning and good fortune we were able to view the eruptions of Old Faithful, Castle Geyser, Grand Geyser and Riverside Geyser as well as a host of other features - particularly the brightly coloured pools where bacteria and other weird microrganisms make rainbow coloured rings.

The geysers and other features are all evidence of the thinness of the earth's crust in Yellowstone. In fact, you can see steam rising at various points along the road and on distant hillsides, even in a carpark in one place.

Unfortunately a strong and bitterly cold wind was blowing and one of the junior scientists had her workbook blown into Beauty Pool, which somewhat marred its beauty. In order to thaw out we went to the magnificent Old Faithful Inn which offered a buffet lunch with such delights as Bison Chili and cornbread. When we saw the bison wandering on the thermal areas, ignoring the "dangerous ground" signs, we wondered whether our meat had been naturally steamed.

Bison are American buffalo and having been driven to the brink of extinction, have now reached large numbers in Yellowstone. They can be seen in all the grassland areas, and sometimes use roads as their pathways. We got used to at least one bison jam each day, with the bison thinking that they have the right of way. They are much bigger than the average bull and have a nasty reputation for losing their tempers and goring people, although the ones we saw were all very peaceful.

The cold wind was followed by a good snowfall the following morning. We set out on our planned drive round the lower loop road, and as it continued snowing, the trees and ground were covered with a lovely coating of crisp fresh snow. We were only slightly deterred by the sight of a car that had run off the road in the icy conditions, but our motor home was weighty enough to carry us through. We stopped to make a snowman in the Hayden Valley and had lunch by Yellowstone Lake, which even though it is huge it was still frozen over. Close to the lake a coyote was hunting and further along (just after singing our fourth verse of "We're going on a bear hunt") we saw a grizzly bear and her 2 cubs on a forested hillside, where they were foraging out of the snow. Fantastic!

We also got to see ponds of boiling mud, which are as acidic as battery acid, and if you are standing downwind the sulphuric fumes are stifling. It is no wonder they have names like Dragons Cauldron and Sour Lake.

Our third day in Yellowstone began with a look at the Norris Geyser basin, which offered a lot of smelly steam and beautiful hot springs but not much in the way of geysers. Then at the north end of the park we found Mammoth Hot Springs, where calcium rich water created a series of colourful terraces and other interesting features. We enjoyed walking around the lower and upper terraces.

As evening approached we headed towards the Lamar Valley looking for wildlife. We were very fortunate to see lots - first a wolf, then a coyote, followed by a pronghorn, a black bear and a beaver. We were very excited to see all these animals in such a short time. And we saw elk galore, including a couple with antlers. We'd seen some at the campground, but none with antlers, as they shed them each winter and the new ones are just growing now.

Yellowstone is definitely our favourite park so far. It seems to have everything - fascinating thermal features, wildlife, beautiful mountain scenery and heaps of snow to play in. Enough to keep everyone happy.
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katta7 on

Grand Tetons in May
Hiking would be difficult in May, but I guess it depends on how the season is going. We met a local who says that Jenny Lake is usually frozen at the beginning of May and thaws during May. In early May this year the tracks by the lake were still covered in snow and to go higher into the mountains would have been impossible.

Jenny Lake campground opened mid-May this year, and that would be the earliest you would be able to go hiking. After the Memorial Day weekend (last long weekend in May) when most things officially open, things would get more crowded and booked out. So you could plan to go in the week in between (15-21st May 2010), but you take a risk that the thaw is late and that tracks are still closed. Otherwise go in early June. Or even better stay a while!

Keep any eye on the NPS website - I found it excellent for giving expected opening times, etc.

katta7 on

Roads in May
Again I'd recommend the NPS website.
The main road through the park is open all year round I think, and the Teton Park Road reopens at the beginning of May. The side roads will all be blocked by snow through most of May.

I'd recommend you see Yellowstone for at least a few days while you are there. The roads have official opening times so it is easy to plan around them. The side roads and walking tracks will mostly be open from the last week of May.
You can call the number they provide once you are getting close, for up-to-date information. Be prepared for walking on snow in any case.

Enjoy the sunrise and sunset animal viewing!

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