Stretching over three states, Yellowstone is a treasure chest of breathtaking vistas, wildlife, steaming geysers, and bubbling cascades. Each of the four days we spent in the park brought about a different and more impressive side of the diverse ecosystem.
Our drive to West Yellowstone took us through wide open fields, dotted with colorful flowers and alongside wide rivers well-suited for fly fishing, with the omnipresent snow-capped peaks unfurling in the horizon. I can see why Montana is Big Sky Country.
We passed Butte and its mountaintop guardian: a giant statue of Jesus, carved in stone. We took a step back in time, strolling through Ennis, which reminded me of the old Western movie towns, with its wooden storefronts lined up on the main road. I almost expected some cowboys would roll into town, their horses kicking up dust. We breezed through the little town of Ennis and onward to our camping destination, Madison Arm Resort.
As soon as we took a left turn off I-20, things got really rocky. We drove over a washboard road, really stirring up some dust, rattling everything inside our RV. We tried going very slowly but it didn’t help. Everything was falling open and falling out of the drawers. We stopped. An older man passing by in his four wheeler stopped to check on us. He said it was a rough 6 miles but the view would be worth it. He also advised us to go fast, as to skim over the jarring bumps. 6 miles? We thought it would be 3 miles and most definitely did NOT expect an RV disintegration experience in the process…. We’ve decided to turn around and get out. We didn’t care if we lost our first night’s fare. Better that than losing our dishes or our RV…. Later we found out that there was a 3-mile dirt road option off of I-191 and thought that if that driveway was as bad as the first one, even one mile wouldn’t have been worth it.
We pulled over in a PAVED motel parking lot to assess our options for spending the night. Since we were losing daylight fast, we wanted to find our spot soon. Working with a sparse internet connection, we managed to pull up a list of nearby RV parks. Availability, however, proved to be a challenge, given the VERY short notice. We finally tried Mountainside KOA. Success! They had a space for us AND they were literally right around the corner from where we had parked. Even if the nightly fee was higher than what we wanted to pay, we were extremely happy to have found a cushy respite from our earlier rattling drive.
Yellowstone South Loop
A short drive from our campsite, we reached the park entrance. We picked up a map and set off to explore the South Loop. We were promptly greeted by a beautiful elk buck, grazing near the road. The half-a-mile Fountain Paint Pots trail revealed clear blue pools of hot springs, spewing geysers, fumaroles, and gurgling mudpots.
We waited patiently for Old Faithful to blow its top, then admired the Bluebell Pool and its other visitors, an elk family, and some Canada geese.
We crossed the Continental Divide just as the day was coming to an end, then watched in admiration a lone bison’s slow stroll toward its nightly rest.
Yellowstone North Loop
Beryl Spring might not be as well-known as Old Faithful but it is one of the hottest springs in Yellowstone. Under a certain light, this mighty and hissy spring displays a beautiful blue-green color, similar to the stone that gave it its name.
At Mammoth Hotsprings, we admired the shimmering terraces and wide open mountainside covered by sage brush. Fort Yellowstone stood strong, an old bastion protecting the park. An unassuming pullout revealed a spectacular view of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. Calcite Springs run their hot water through the canyon, releasing black oil and sulfur, contrasting with the shimmering white calcite crystals and honey-colored barite crystals.
The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone River
I stop to catch my breath as I hike at around 8,000 feet toward the better view of the magnificent Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River and the Kepler Cascades. The river tumbles 150 feet over multiple drops, with an impressive 50-foot fall that can be admired from up close by the bravest. On my way back, a child points at a massive rock and I notice an osprey perched high above the canyon, vigilantly guarding its nest.
I fight the crowds snaking around the narrow boardwalk to the Grand Prismatic Spring, and take in the beauty of the hot water sizzling as it flows into the river below.
Our outing rewards us with plenty of wildlife encounters. We witness a quiet moment shared by a deer and her two fawns, a lovely meal in the meadow had by a momma bear and her two cubs, elk grazing peacefully, and bison herds in the distance.
As we drive out of the park, a funny silhouette appears in the middle of the road, looking like a man wearing funky pantaloons, swaying gently as he ignores traffic. As he approaches our car, we realize it’s a bison, walking a straight line between cars, determined to get home.