Is this it? Discovering Yellowstone National Park


I have to admit, my initial impressions of Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming / Montana were far from enthusiastic, and as we drove around on our first day in the park I got to wondering what on earth all the fuss is about.

It’s never a good idea to go to a place with too many expectations.


After three weeks exploring the wilderness of Alaska I have to keep reminding myself that not everywhere is going to be aesthetically thrilling. I need to stop comparing every single place we go to Alaska…especially since our next stop is Arizona and the Grand Canyon, which I know will be worlds apart.



bison grazing near Lamar Valley

© Quiet Wanderings. All photography by Cherina Hadley. Bison grazing near Lamar Valley.



But of course when I arrived at Yellowstone my first thought was: “Well, it’s not nearly as pretty as Alaska”.

Childish, I know.


We were lucky enough to be travelling in Alaska when the fall colours were at their peak and being mid-September I naively expected Yellowstone to be the same. I also expected it to be incredibly mountainous. It was neither.


I’m not sure when it was exactly that I got over myself and allowed Yellowstone to win me over.



The Grand Prismatic Springs.

© Quiet Wanderings. The Grand Prismatic Springs.



Maybe it was as I stood shivering in the pre-dawn chill at the Lamar Valley watching a pack of five wolves lazing and playing on the ridge; or when I heard the high pitched, somewhat musical screech of a bull elk bugling (mating call) at dusk at the Mammoth Hot Springs and watched him lead his entourage of  ‘women’ over the hill for a bit of privacy.



Steaming terraces at the Mammoth Hot Springs.

© Quiet Wanderings. Steaming terraces at the Mammoth Hot Springs.



Or maybe it was when I realised that while I’d been sulking about the fact that the Yellowstone sights weren’t doing it for me nearly as much as Alaska….we’d actually been driving and walking over the largest and most volatile active geothermal area in the northern hemisphere.


And that all 2.2 million acres of it could blow at any moment causing…well, you can imagine what an eruption of that magnitude could do. Let’s just say, best to tie up your loose ends now people!


Now that caught my attention!

(Note to self: read guidebook sections on ‘environment’ thoroughly before arriving at one of the world’s most geologically phenomenal places.)



 Morning Glory Hot Spring

© Quiet Wanderings. Morning Glory Hot Spring



So here’s the lowdown of what makes Yellowstone, uh…tick.


The area known as Yellowstone is sitting above what is referred to by scientists as a ‘hotspot’. A hotspot is a place where heated molten rock under the earth has been pushed up to sit just below the surface essentially causing a massive below-ground furnace.


Not impressed? Then let me remind you that this furnace is 2.2 million acres in size.


There are forty other active hotspots in the world but Yellowstone is the only one that is not below the ocean. The eruption that formed the crater that is now Yellowstone occurred 2.1 million years ago and there have been two more since then.


The first eruption is the reason that Yellowstone is not really mountainous (another of my unfulfilled expectations, as you may recall).


The mountains simply sunk into the caldera.



Bubbling hot spring near Old Faithful Geyser.

© Quiet Wanderings. Bubbling hot spring near Old Faithful Geyser.



What we see of all this when we travel through Yellowstone are the geothermal features that result from this crazy commotion under the surface: exploding geysers, boiling hot springs, steaming fumaroles and bubbling mud pots.


So this all put a different spin on things and I started to see Yellowstone with new eyes.


Instead of just seeing tiny puffs or massive plumes of steam rising from the earth and going “hmm, that’s nice”… I imagined the intensity of the pressure and heat, and molten lava bubbling below the earth that was causing it.


I imagined what it would be like if the pressure built up so much that it all erupted and turned us all to ash.


I imagined how these valleys were once massive mountain ranges that were engulfed by the eruptions.


I was suitably fascinated.



Fumerole near Grand Prismatic Spring

© Quiet Wanderings. Fumarole near Grand Prismatic Spring



So yes, I stopped my sulking and sat back and took it all in.


No, it wasn’t as pretty as the places we explored in Alaska but ultimately, it was the geological wonder of Yellowstone National Park that finally got me. This place is truly phenomenal – and now I totally see what all the fuss is about.



© Quiet Wanderings. Mammoth Hot Springs



Recommended Reading
Lost in My Own Backyard by travel writer Tim Cahill.

…”Cahill stumbles from glacier to geyser, encounters wildlife (some of it, like bisons, weighing in the neighborhood of a ton), muses on the microbiology of thermal pools, gets spooked in the mysterious Hoodoos, sees moonbows arcing across waterfalls at midnight, and generally has a fine old time walking several hundred miles while contemplating the concept and value of wilderness….”





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Comments (15)
  • Avatar

    Raymond @ Man On The Lam Oct 8 2011 - 8:04 pm Reply

    Those springs look out of this world! Glad that the place won you over… :)
    Raymond @ Man On The Lam recently posted..It’s a Man Eat Dog WorldMy Profile

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    Maria Oct 8 2011 - 8:17 pm Reply

    Used to live just up the street from there (so to speak) and can smell the sulfur – the photos are that good.

    Got stuck driving thru one day – 3 hours w/the engine shut off due to a Bison herd on the road who decided to just hang out. One crossed behind my car and kicked the rear bumper – quit a thud!
    Maria recently posted..Manna from Heaven!My Profile

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      quietwanderings Oct 13 2011 - 5:37 am Reply

      Ah, the sulfur! I totally forgot to mention that. I was amazed the first time I saw a herd of bison on the road. Everything just comes to a standstill. The ones we saw seemed pretty chilled but they can be very scary from what I’ve heard.

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    Maggie Oct 9 2011 - 10:09 am Reply

    I went to Yellowstone once when I was little with some of my extended family. What I remember is driving a LOT, it smelling really bad, and seeing lots of deer, which all us kids dubbed “muffin butts.” However, the most clear memory is coming out of a bathroom stall to find a huge bison IN the ladies room! I was shocked!
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      quietwanderings Oct 13 2011 - 5:41 am Reply

      Haha, my thoughts exactly…and I’m not so little 😉 The driving is crazy. I have no idea how many miles we covered in a week but I felt like I was driving constantly. That is hilarious about the bison – wish I’d had a photo op like that!

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    Kindra Oct 9 2011 - 5:46 pm Reply

    Your photo of the Morning Glory Hot Spring made me catch my breath. Beautiful shots.
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  • KJ Gardner via Facebook Oct 9 2011 - 9:24 pm Reply

    Glad you succumbed to the glory of Yellowstone in the end!! It is full of varying wonders…

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    Stephanie - The Travel Chica Oct 10 2011 - 1:52 pm Reply

    I have never had the pleasure of seeing either Yellowstone or the wilderness of Alaska, but I am amazed every time I see photos from Yellowstone.

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    Sherry Oct 14 2011 - 2:08 am Reply

    Its hard to compare anything to Alaska since there is no place in the US quite like it. I think Yellowstone deserves its own accolades. I know I’ve always wanted to go here, but sadly, I have never made it yet. One day soon… I hope. For now, I so jealous of you. I am especially looking forward to seeing the Morning Glory, especially after I’ve viewed tons of other photos of it over the years. Looks almost like it wasn’t taken from earth.
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    Journey Photographic Oct 24 2011 - 11:16 am Reply

    These pictures have definitely won me over – amazing landscape, and great shots.
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    Caz Makepeace Nov 10 2011 - 12:29 pm Reply

    these are the most amazing photos!! Love it.
    Can’t wait to go to Yellowstone. Funny how we were just at Rotorua smelling the same stench
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    Kim Jan 14 2012 - 1:25 am Reply

    Wonderful!! My husband and I are starting our trip around the world by traveling through the US first (we’re from the US… Oregon). Anyway, we’ve always dreamed of roadtripping the National Parks, so that’s where we’re starting! And Yellowstone is our first stop. This post just got me excited, and we’ll definitely be reading that book you recommend at the end. Thanks!

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