Since becoming America’s first national park in 1872, Yellowstone has amazed visitors with its fantastic beauty and abundant wildlife.
And nearby Grand Teton National Park, with its awesome views of the Teton mountains abruptly rising out of a flattened valley, exudes some of the most rugged beauty the eyes can behold.
This summer, the hiking group known as Atkinson’s Expeditions visited Yellowstone and Grand Teton to take in their sheer beauty and hike some of the parks’ backcountry trails.
Friday, June 15
After arriving the evening before at nearby Jackson Hole, Wyo., the Atkinson’s Expeditions group set out to visit the pristine Jenny Lake area in Grand Teton National Park. Following a 15-minute boat ride across the lake, the group hiked up to Hidden Falls and then Inspiration Point looking down on Jenny Lake. The spring snowmelt had engorged the streams, which raged and roared down the mountains to exit into the lake.
After the overlook, we hiked up picturesque Cascade Canyon for several miles. Looking up at the snow-capped mountains was awe-inspiring as we made our way along the banks of Cascade Creek.
Later that day, we drove nearly 25 miles to the Jackson Lake area. Along the way, we saw numerous cars pulled over on both sides of the road — an indication that wildlife had been spotted. Sure enough, a mother grizzly bear and three cubs were in an adjacent field nearly 400 feet away. Needless to say, dozens of people were gathered around with binoculars and cameras to take in this phenomenon.
A few miles later, we hiked up the trail to Grandview Point. The trail continuously meandered through the hills, providing a lung-gasping experience. Once at the top, the views were fantastic. We were able to see three lakes and the majestic Tetons in the distance.
Saturday, June 16
Our group had booked an inflatable kayak trip through a local adventure company to travel down a 9-mile portion of Snake River with its engorging rapids. But the significant snowmelt runoff from the mountains had made traversing the rapids even more challenging. After completing almost half the trip, some of our group decided to return to shore. Only four completed the trip.
That afternoon, we traveled to Teton Village and took the new tram to the top of the mountain — an altitude of some 10,450 feet. An abundance of snow still surrounded the top. Narrow winding ski trails with severe drop-offs permeate the sides of this mountaintop. For expert skiers, this promises to be a paradise in winter.
Sunday, June 17
Leaving Jackson Hole and heading north, we encountered several overlooks with breathtaking views of the Grand Tetons. The rugged, craggy rocks that form the spires of the mountains were truly awesome. Among the awe-inspiring overlooks were Glacier View Turnout, Schwabacher’s Landing, Snake River Overlook and Oxbow Bend Turnout.
Entering Yellowstone National Park, we encountered Moose Falls, Lewis Canyon and Lewis Falls. All were simply beautiful.
Yellowstone National Park was created as America’s first national park so that its stunning natural beauty could be forever preserved. The park is approximately 40 miles by 60 miles, with an average altitude of more than 7,000 feet. The Western Continental Divide permeates the lower part. Huge Yellowstone Lake, in the southeastern area, is approximately 150 square miles. It is the highest-altitude lake of its size in America.
The road system to view the most spectacular natural areas of Yellowstone is in the shape of a figure eight and was laid out in the 1890s.
One of the most heavily visited areas is the Old Faithful village area in the southwestern quadrant. Just a few miles before the village area, we encountered an enchanting cascade on the Firehole River called Kepler Cascades. The water from the Firehole River, as it descended from the Continental Divide, actively spilled over this cascade of rocks for hundreds of feet.
Upon our arrival at the historic Old Faithful Inn, where we stayed for five days, the scenery was unbelievable. This historic inn, built in 1904, is a grand old lodge that is the flagship for subsequent national park lodges. Driving into a covered portico for our check-in revealed the spectacular Old Faithful geyser straight ahead. The Inn itself was constructed of natural materials that were found in the area. Its walls were made from nearby native logs, and the staircases — with their banisters and balustrades, as well as all the railings — were constructed from natural timbers, too. The main lobby is a four-story atrium that leaves visitors stunned in silence upon entrance. A massive stone fireplace and chimney climbs the entire height.
The rest of this first afternoon at Yellowstone was spent viewing the historic Old Faithful and other steaming geysers in the Upper Geyser Basin. Carefully crafted boardwalks meander throughout the geyser basin to help protect the environment and keep visitors from getting too close and being injured by the steam.
Monday, June 18
Waking up to a rather cold morning in the low 30s, we continued our walking tour through the rest of the Upper Geyser Basin. The wind had begun to pick up, and by mid-morning, it was gusting to 25 mph. The predicted geyser eruption schedule times are posted at the information desk each day, but the range for some was as much as two hours on either side of a predicted time.
Castle Geyser, which resembles a castle turret, was spewing steam at a low level when we walked by. Just beyond that, people were beginning to find seats on the benches in front of Grand Geyser, whose eruptions can reach up to 200 feet high. The predicted time was 10 a.m., plus or minus two hours, so when we passed at 9:30 a.m., we continued on. Grand Geyser did erupt around 10, but we were too far past to see it.
Many other small geysers and springs dotted the landscape as we continued our walk. Riverside Geyser, so named because its cone is on the edge of the Firehole River, was not scheduled to erupt for several more hours — we chalked it up to another missed geyser opportunity. When an eruption occurs there, it shoots out steaming water in a curving arc over the river.
At the end of the trail was one of the highlights of our trip. Morning Glory Pool, with its spectacular clear aquamarine water surrounded by a perimeter of orange and yellow algae and bacteria, proved to be breathtaking. Unfortunately, visitors through the years have thrown coins and other objects into this colorful pool, and the color has faded as a result.
By mid-morning, we were at the Mid Geyser Basin some seven or eight miles away. Parking is always a problem at this popular area. A looping boardwalk took us past Excelsior Geyser with its clear blue water and a cloud of steam hovering above. The runoff from this prolific geyser goes into the Firehole River and exceeds five million gallons a day.
Continuing along the gently curving boardwalk, we came upon Grand Prismatic Spring. This massive area was almost 300 feet in diameter and appeared fairly non-spectacular from the boardwalk. It was blue in the middle, and had an orange-and-yellow perimeter with the waters spilling over to create gently curving exit paths.
The winds reached a crescendo while we were on the boardwalk, and most of us crouched down and placed our feet widely apart to keep from falling down. However, we had read in one of the guidebooks that climbing a nearby mountain would provide some good views of this colorful area. So off we went, driving to the head of the trail a mile or two away to climb the mountain behind Grand Prismatic Spring.
We had to create our own path for most of the climb, but the view was well-worth the effort. It was unbelievably beautiful. Of course, our cameras clicked away to record this fantastic view. The 1988 fire at Yellowstone had burned the timber in that area, leaving us with an unobstructed view — perhaps the most spectacular and vivid scene we experienced in the whole park.
The day culminated with a visit to the Biscuit Basin, with its steaming pools and a hike to the beautiful, cascading Mystic Falls.
Tuesday, June 19
We took an interesting trip to Yellowstone History and Research Center at the north end of the park. A behind-the-scenes tour was given of their collections, from stuffed wildlife to research files. One of our group members donated roughly 25 old stereograph pictures for their collection. All of these were scenes taken at Yellowstone in 1904.
That afternoon, we meandered on the boardwalk among the travertine terraces in the Mammoth Hot Springs area. These were formed when the mineral travertine, or calcium carbonate, was deposited by the hot springs there.
Leaving the Mammoth Hot Springs area, we passed by several very high waterfalls — Undine Falls and Tower Falls. Along the way, we made a side trip to Lamar Valley and were fascinated by the many bison herds leisurely grazing and resting. Of the more than 4,000 bison at Yellowstone, we probably saw as many as 1,000 during this foray.
Wednesday, June 20
Visiting the unparalleled views at the Canyon Area provided our group with some of the most famous photo opportunities in America. The breathtaking Upper Falls and Lower Falls in the Canyon Area were unbelievably beautiful. The Upper Falls are 109 feet high, and the Lower Falls, nearly a half-mile downstream, are 308 feet high.
We took Uncle Tom’s Trail down to one of the viewpoints near the base of the Lower Falls. This involved negotiating 328 steps down metal staircases to land at this pristine lookout, not to mention some huffing and puffing on the trip back up.
That afternoon, we travelled through the wildlife-laden Hayden Valley. Again, the bison sightings were quite numerous — probably more than 1,000 total. At one pullout where we parked, a male bison grazed so close to our car that we could have reached out and touched him. We even saw several bison rolling and dusting themselves right beside the road, as well as several grizzly bears in the distance and a small elk herd grazing.
A visit to the upper part of the Yellowstone Lake area and the famous “Fishing Bridge” came next. We doubled back through the Hayden Valley and saw all the buffalo herds again leisurely ambling adjacent to the road.
That evening on the way back to the Old Faithful Inn, we had to come to a complete stop in the road as a small herd of bison walked down the middle of the road straight towards us. They ambled along totally oblivious to the stalled traffic and kept walking down the yellow lines in the middle of the road well past us.
Thursday, June 21
We traveled to the lower part of Yellowstone Lake in the Grant Village and West Thumb areas. The West Thumb Geyser Basin exhibited many smaller geysers along its figure-eight boardwalk. The Famous Fishing Cone, where legend has it that the Indians cooked their fish in its boiling and bubbling water, was covered with nearly a foot of water due to higher lake levels. The colorful Abyss Pool also caught our attention. We then went on a 2-1/2-mile hike to a high promontory, where we could see the vastness of Yellowstone Lake.
That afternoon, we made our way back to the Mid Geyser Basin and went on a 5-plus-mile hike to see the impressive Fairy Falls, where the water tumbles uninterrupted for 197 feet. This whole area was devastated by the 1988 fire. Logs were scattered over the area like jumbled toothpicks. However, the forest was being regenerated with the new growth of lodge pole pines that now stood 15 to 20 feet or so in height.
Friday, June 22
June 22 was checkout day at Old Faithful Inn. We had a delightful surprise in meeting the youth group from Orangeburg’s First Baptist Church in the lobby. They were taking in the highlights of Yellowstone after a week-long mission trip in an area near the park.
Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end. But we certainly had the experience of a lifetime in visiting the pristine natural wonders that Grand Teton and Yellowstone have to offer. This is definitely a “two thumbs up” trip for those who share a love for America’s natural beauty and its wildlife habitats.