Updated: Nov 23, 2020
Old Faithful Geyser; Norris Geyser Basin; Mammoth Terrace; Lamar Valley; Undine Falls;
With one day under our belts in Yellowstone National Park, we were eager for what day two would bring us! Today we were going to try and tackle the northern half of Yellowstone. This loop presented us with geysers, a waterfall, wildlife, more thermal features, and one incredible sunset!
Old Faithful Geyser
As we walked by Old Faithful Visitor Center, we noticed a billboard with the time that various geysers are scheduled to erupt. Old Faithful erupts roughly every hour and a half, and according to the National Park Service (NPS), Old Faithful is true to her name as the time between eruptions has only increased 30 minutes over the last 30 years.
The eruptions were a spectacle as the water began oozing out of its underground chamber as if one had just sat down in a full bathtub. Every few seconds, water was sent soaring higher and higher, eventually getting around 100 feet in the air!
Elk Grazing in the Woods
After watching Old Faithful erupt a couple of times between eating breakfast and shopping around, it was time to explore the northern loop. Because we stayed in West Yellowstone and would eventually be making it to the northeast corner of the Park to see Lamar Valley, we thought it best to skip all of the sights between Old Faithful and Lamar Valley and drive straight there. Driving straight to Lamar Valley would also enable us to catch the sunset on the West side of the Park and then jump right over to the KOA.
For me, I was interested in the animals living in these environments. To see some real "locals" fascinated me, so you KNOW I stopped at every wildlife traffic jam! We spotted this Bull Elk grazing in the woods, and the flowers he was standing in made the scene so delightful.
Bison in Lamar Valley
SUPRISE!! More Bison! From mother's nursing their young to bulls (male bison) "flirting" with the cows (female bison), it was like an episode of Planet Earth. We saw two separate herds, one in Lamar Valley and the other one, I believe, was near Blacktail Deer Plateau.
The bottom two pictures were vivid moments for me as a photographer, as I sat out the passenger window and rested my camera on the roof of the 4 Runner. I even had my girlfriend, Becca, watching my back for the rest of the herd scattered behind me (bottom right picture). SCENES; it was incredible!
Sadly, we were driving around during the middle of the day, so these herds of grazing bison were all we could see from the road; most animal activity is during sunrise and sunset. Nonetheless, we still saw picturesque landscapes that will forever be with me.
From Lamar Valley, we began our campaign west to see some of the destinations that we passed on the way out to Lamar Valley. The first stop on our list was Undine Falls. These Falls were tucked down below the road and had signs of landslides all around the base! It is truly incredible the impact rivers make on an ecosystem.
Not much longer after leaving Undine Falls did we arrive in Mammoth Hot Springs. Mammoth Hot Springs is a quaint town in the northwest corner of the Park. We stopped by Terrace Grill, which was appropriately named after our next stop: Mammoth Terraces.
After finishing our food, we set off to the lower terraces. According to the NPS, travertine is the chalky white mineral that has formed on these limestone rocks. Thermal water that has risen through the limestone carries high amounts of dissolved limestone. Carbon dioxide is then released at the surface, producing calcium carbonate (dissolved limestone), forming travertine. It looked like a frozen waterfall and kept giving signals to my brain of wintertime!
The upper terraces provided us with more expansive views of the travertine terraces and shallow infinity pools. The NPS says that early visitors used to be attracted to the mineral waters to treat ailments. Today, they are off-limits to preserve these delicate structures.
The sun was beginning to set lower in the sky, so we started heading south towards Norris Geyser Basin. My eyes were trained on the tree line, searching for wildlife. No matter where we were, I was always on the lookout for movement. Shortly after coming out of the mountain pass, I spotted elk off in the distance as we were driving past Swan Lake.
It was magical to watch this family of elk moving along the field. I pulled off in a parking area and waited for the elk to gradually get closer to the road. We got back on the road, and these elk were RIGHT THERE (see bottom picture)! As we crept up to them, I kept my foot trained on the brake, Becca held the steering wheel and I snapped some quick photos.
Norris Geyser Basin - "hottest, oldest, and most dynamic"
A few pictures later and we made it to Norris Geyser Basin! Once we parked, we all but ran to catch the sun as the parking lot was already dark. Norris Geyser Basin is composed of two areas: Back Basin and Porcelain Basin. With a fleeting glance at the map, we carried on to Porcelain Basin as it was the shortest distance from us. I quickly scoped out a good spot to shoot and set up. Once we finished catching our breath and setting up, we set our eyes to Porcelain Basin, which was gorgeous yet apocalyptic, simultaneously.
The NPS declares Norris Geyser Basin "the hottest, oldest, and most dynamic of Yellowstone's thermal areas." In fact, "the highest temperature yet recorded in any geothermal area in Yellowstone was measured in a scientific drill hole at Norris: 459°F (237°C) just 1,087 feet (326 meters) below the surface! There are very few thermal features at Norris under the boiling point (199°F at this elevation)."
Thank you for following along on my journey! If you haven't subscribed, make sure you hit the subscribe button at the top for all of my epic adventures! Also, if you're interested in prints of any of the pictures you see visit www.chadgunton.com/prints .