With only a few weeks left in Farmington, we opted to revisit one of Adam’s favourites: Yellowstone. An added bonus was the opportunity to meet up with Adam’s brother, Simon, who was travelling with Jade (his girlfriend) and Travis (Jade’s brother). Not only was it lovely to have their company, it was a huge help to have another group with a car when arrived at Jackson Hole’s airport to find Thrifty (a) wasn’t based at the airport, and (b) closed at 9pm (we arrived at 9:05pm). Note to all: do not hire Thrifty cars from Jackson Hole! Also reminded us to use TripAdvisor to check these things before booking….
The drive up through the Grand Tetons was a striking prelude to our 3 days in the park. Even in the gloom of rain clouds, they are a phenomenal sight: massive craggy peaks rising from a flat plain. We took the shots below on the way home when the sun was shining. As you can imagine, it’s hard to keep your eyes on the road when you’re driving past such amazing scenery.
Yellowstone seems to be a one-stop-shop for all the interesting and beautiful parts of nature. Some areas of the park resemble a moonscape, others are thickly forested, and then there are the sweeping plains, the canyon, waterfalls and lakes. So much to see, so little time!
There are other places with so many attractions to recommend them, but the thing that sets Yellowstone apart is its volcanic activity. The ground is literally alive with geysers, mud pits and springs. Not knowing when or where steam may burst forth from the earth is a great incentive to stay on the paths! Some, like Old Faithful, are so predictable and impressive that there are stadiums built for watching their regular(ish) eruptions.
The pools and springs are perhaps the most visually stunning. The colouring comes from the heat tolerance of various bacteria present. In the most extreme examples, the cyanobacteria turn the middle of the pools glacier-blue, while the edges fade into various shades of rust and eventually green. The outlets for these pools are so small that all it takes is a coin to block them forever, hence there is a hefty fine for anyone silly enough to throw something into one. The Mammoth Springs are gobsmacking for their sheer size – the cascading terraces that have formed time look like infinity pools, albeit very smelly ones.
Yellowstone is also known to be crawling with wildlife, and we can verify that it has bison in spades. There are three to four thousand of them throughout the park, and they’re pretty comfortable around vehicles and walking on roads. We were stuck in mile-long car queues a few times for half an hour or more. Just as you’re thinking: ‘This queue better be for watching a bear attacking a moose’, you see an immense brown behind plodding slowly along. It’s amazing the first time, mildly amusing the second time, and a tad irritating from then on. However, it does remind you that we are merely visitors in their domain.
We saw a number of mule deer and elk sporting their impressive furry antlers, but by far the most exciting four-legged creature was the two moose (mooses?) we saw on the way to the airport at the appropriately named ‘Moose Junction’ – just when we thought we would miss out!
That’s our last national park on this trip to the USA, and what a way to finish up. Yellowstone is a must-see for USA visitors that enjoy the outdoors. Now, to the east, with its many and varied cities. First stop: Houston, Texas!
Travelling in June/July has distinct advantages – warmer weather, open roads, awake animals and the benefit of the melt: copiously flowing waterfalls and rivers. Then there’s the stuff that water carves in its path – canyons, valleys and other curious rock formations that need to be seen to be believed.
The goosenecks at Dead Horse State Park in Utah were the first insight into what the desert hides. These winding waterways carve a giant snake into the land.
Then there’s the rocks that get left behind, only to slowly weather away in the wind and heat.
Some of the structures are so extraordinary they seem man-made. The Double Arches do not seem like something that could be formed naturally. You can almost imagine a giant holding a chisel, shaping the rock into this spectacular formation.
Yellowstone was a direct contrast to the deserts we travelled – instead of cutting deeper and soaking into the ground, water here shoots up into the sky from the sheer pressure caused by heat.
St Mary Falls is at the end of a short walk in Glacier National Park. Not huge, but the area is so peaceful and so obviously natural that it was a special experience.
Marble Canyon is on the road through the Kootenays and carves a deep groove into the rock. This is the head of the canyon, where the water barely cuts a groove. Further down, the canyon is dozens of metres deep and funnels the water into a raging torrent.
Athabasca Glacier on the Icefields Parkway offers a chance to walk on ice. Buses on giant tyres traverse a 30% gradient (you should have seen Jeneen’s white knuckles on that leg!) to drop you in the middle of the flow. It’s a cold and awe-inspiring experience.
Slightly warmer, much smaller, but just as special was Tangle Creek. The map clearly states ‘Watch out for goats!’ – for once, the maps were right.
The Athabasca Falls are several miles from the Glacier, but the roar was loud enough I reckon it would carry to its origin.
Not sure of the name of this cute little falls, but was so impressed with Adam’s photography I just had to include it…
You can climb to the top of Yosemite Falls, but why would you when you can see the entire cascade from ground level?
And after the magnificence of Grand Canyon, we thought Bryce would be dull. No chance!
Ah, so many incredible sights! We could go on forever… but we won’t 🙂
First item to note: Adam has a new camera. That camera is ideal for close-up photos. It also turns out Adam has inherited his mother’s passion for photographing flowers. As such, there are quite a few for you to enjoy! Our first experience with the beautiful wildflowers this continent has on offer was at Glacier Park, on the road just before you reach the park. It was, as you can see, a stunning day:
The rest of the flowers were spotted in numerous places – walking to lookouts, on the side of the road, in the parks, growing in peoples’ front yards – we’ve condensed the best below:
And this is one of my fave shots. No idea where Adam took it…
Okay, that’s enough flora. Time for the fauna!
For an Australian, sharks, spiders and snakes are animals you’re used to (if not quite comfortable with). You can avoid sharks by not going in the water, you can deter snakes my making lots of noise and you can kill a spider with your flip-flop (if you spot it). Over here, they’ve got very few of the animals we are familiar with. Instead, they have bison, goats, elk, deer, sheep, squirrels, porcupines and bears. It’s not only the bears you need to avoid apparently: all these animals (except perhaps the squirrels) need to be given a wide berth. Pity they don’t give you an induction for national park – we only found out about the need to keep your distance when Adam received a firm lecture after getting this too-close shot of a bison in Yellowstone:
Following this, we kept a more respectable distance:
Numerous were elk and deer (sorry, my ignorance is so bad I don’t know which is which!). They’re certainly not shy, and litter the side of the road in the same way kangaroos do back home. Adam had a close call on the way to Great Falls, so we tried to give them as much room as possible. These two were happy enough within a few metres of us:
And of course, these little fellas are EVERYWHERE, and they’re not shy either! One of them nearly climbed my leg, and if I’d had a crumb in my pocket I think he would have found it…
The most agile and gravity-defying of all we saw were the infamous mountain goats. These two were not the least fazed by the parade of cars and camera-wielding people following them on their grazing journey, When they were done, they simply leaped the vertical face next to the road and took off – this was taken out of our sunroof:
Last, but never least: the rambling bears. Fortunately we only ever saw these on the side of the road (I’ve no idea how we would have coped with finding one on the trail!) and the etiquette is to roll slowly past in your vehicle, leaning out the window to rapidly snap a couple of shots. We saw black bears, black bears with brown coats (yes, apparently the name ‘black bear’ is often a misnomer) and what we think were a couple of baby grizzlys:
They were keen to avoid humans and frequently vacated the area when spotted – especially when some people were stupid enough to get out of their vehicles and cross the road to take a photo – so we were treated to the sight of a lot of bear bums (hee, hee, hee). It was wonderful to see them in the wild, but we were reminded of their danger: a woman was killed on July 1 by a bear. Best admired from a distance, we think.
After a couple of warm-ups (Ouray and Santa Fe) it was time to hit the road on Tuesday 21 June for the Filipich Road Trip. Adam had been planning for weeks, and Mario and Jeneen were relishing the opportunity to see some of the diverse landscape of the States. The map below roughly shows the trip, minus meanderings, mistakes and repeats:
Yep, it was HUGE! Here’s the key stats:
- 6,000+ miles (Google tells me it’s 4750 miles, so we must have done a fair bit of wandering off the track)
- 2 cars (first one broke)
- 2 countries
- 15 states
- 2 land border crossings
- 2 public holidays (Canada Day and Independence Day)
- 16 national parks – Yellowstone, Glacier (USA), Kootenays, Jasper, Banff, Yoho, Yosemite, Grand Canyon… the list goes on
- 25 hotels/motels (or maybe more… they all blend into one another after a while)
- Too many amazing sights to name (or count!)
In fact, there were so many sights we decided to split them up into 4 separate posts that follow this one, be sure to check them out:
- Flora and Fauna
- Lakes and Mountains
- Moving Water
Here’s the stuff that didn’t fit into those posts:
Okay, we’re exhausted just looking at these photos! It was a truly epic adventure. We farewelled Jeneen and Mario on Wednesday, and four hours later welcomed Mark – so there will be more travels to come. We promise to update the blog more promptly next time…