As the 100 year celebration of the U.S. National Parks gets into full swing, this is the time to visit Yellowstone National Park, an enduring masterpiece of nature.
A mid-night thunder storm has lowered the temperature in West Yellowstone. As lightning flashes illuminate my tiny cabin I simply snuggle under my covers, unperturbed, listening to the sound of rolling thunder. I am staying at the Parade Rest Guest Ranch located just outside of town; not far from the park's West Entrance. There are a few faint whinnies from horses at the corral but, otherwise, no one is disturbed by nature's noisy display.
The dawn is clear, if cold - a brisk 44F - but the perfect time to head over to the Midway Geyser Basin near Old Faithful before it fills up with tourists. The steam spiralling up from these incredible bubbling springs is even more voluminous than usual. The few folks that are walking on the boardwalk have it billowing up and surrounding them. It is still possible, though, to view the nearly surreal ochre, orange and turquoise colours that the sulphurous waters create.
When first observed by human eyes, an early explorer said the area was 'full of fire and brimstone'. These first observations of yellow sulphurous emissions gave the park its name. Established in 1872, Yellowstone National Park covers over 3,468 sq. miles and has 10,000 of these natural geysers.
Wildlife is the other key feature of Yellowstone. By June (read: spring) young bison are old enough to follow the herd and there is long grass for grazing. The iridescent blue birds have returned and flit around as strong breezes blow clouds heavy with rain across the sky. There is a slow speed limit on park roads to accommodate animals and the park's creatures always have right of way. A herd of buffalo that decide to cross can create traffic hold ups of nigh on half an hour. Grizzly and black bears are roaming in the back woods so it is recommended that hikers take a spray repellent and keep a very safe distance.
Don't fancy an up close and personal encounter? Then visit the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center in West Yellowstone where bears and two parks of wolves are in spacious enclosures.
For travellers, either from overseas or from out of state, the Yellowstone Loop is basically a road route described as a 'loop'. There are two routes from Salt Lake City, Utah, one via Wyoming (to the east) or via Idaho to the west. These are practical ways of getting to the park and back again to the airport. The journey takes visitors up through canyons, across beautiful meadows and over mountain passes to reach two of the most famous National Parks in the U.S., Yellowstone and Grand Teton.
Just south of Yellowstone National Park - along the Loop - is Jackson Hole, Wyoming. On motoring into Jackson Hole, it is as you have been taken back in the Tardis to a wild west town in the nineteenth century.
Getting around Jackson Hole is a lark as the entire town only takes up a few city blocks. Pop into the charming Million Dollar Cowboy Bar. It's a hoot and one shouldn't miss a chance to hang out with the locals at this historic watering hole. Across the street, four elk horn arches adorn the four corners of the small city park and are simply spectacular as is the western art work in various galleries dotted around town.
Checking in for my night at the Hotel Jackson, rated four diamonds by AAA, I notice their modern décor has a western flair. A particular favourite art piece of mine is the turquoise stone encrusted antelope antlers next to the bar.
My room has a fireplace and a balcony with views of ski runs a short distance away. I find it easy, in my comfy bed, to get a good night's sleep.
Even further south on the Loop is Bear Lake in North Utah. A two-and-a half hour drive from Salt Lake City, this enormous lake shimmers with a gorgeous turquoise colour giving it the moniker 'the Caribbean of Utah'.
If you are staying here on route, the Conestoga Ranch is a perfect choice for this area with its 'true to the original' Conestoga wagons. There is then the opportunity to try out boating, kayaking, wakeboarding, water-skiing, canoeing, paddle boarding, swimming or fishing. And one mustn't forget to slurp up one of the areas specialities, a smooth raspberry milkshake.
Old Faithful erupts on schedule once an hour and is possibly one of the most famous natural attractions in the entire U.S. But there is so much more to the park than geysers. Views that overlook mile upon mile of spectacular scenery are common. The night sky is full of stars so bright it is as though you could touch them. Yellowstone Lake and the Yellowstone Falls are spectacular but then so is the tremendous Mammoth Hot Springs.
This is the year to visit and experience the enduring magic of Yellowstone National Park.
All images @roamingscribe
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