Inside the Volcano – Yellowstone National Park

yellowstone  001This was our second trip to Yellowstone National Park. Yellowstone is the national park I always wanted to visit when I was a kid. Old Faithful and other geysers.  Hot springs.  Fumaroles.  Bears. Buffalo. Wolves. Elk. Lakes. Canyons. Rivers. Mountains.yellowstone  002

yellowstone  141 (1)yellowstone  033Yellowstone has its critics. Yes, there is horrible traffic and mobs of people in the park during peak season. Yes, there are people who drive through the park and don’t get out of their cars. But this is the first national park.  THE Yellowstone.  All American and unique.

The central part of the park is a 30 by 45 mile caldera (basin) formed after three huge volcanic eruptions during the past 2.1 million years (the most recent was 640,000 years ago). The heat powering those eruptions still powers the park’s more than 10,000 thermal features, evidence that the volcano is still active.  But scientists do not foresee another eruption for thousands of years.   We hope.

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yellowstone  086The thermal features are not all there is to Yellowstone. The park covers 28,000 square miles. Visitor and information centers are located in several major areas of the park: Canyon, Fishing Bridge, Grant, West Thumb, Madison, Mammoth, Old Faithful and West Yellowstone. There are also entrances on all four sides of the park.  yellowstone  085

yellowstone  143yellowstone  088Driving distances can be long so it’s important to do some research prior to visiting to determine which city or campground is closest to the places you are most interested in. And to avoid spending too much time in the car, it may be best to stay in more than one side of the park.

Another factor to consider is road construction. Yellowstone’s roads, which date back to the turn of the 20th century, were not designed for modern traffic.  So there is a 20-year construction project to repair and reconstruct them. Construction may cause 30-minute delays or even close down portions of the road entirely. For information on construction in the park click here.yellowstone  003

yellowstone  009We stayed in the town of Gardiner at the North entrance to Yellowstone since on our previous visit we stayed in the Fishing Bridge area in the center of the park. Gardiner is a nice old style western town.  yellowstone  004

yellowstone  008This is where the original entrance to Yellowstone, with the grand Roosevelt Archway as its marker, is located. The archway was built as a way to add some grandeur to this “not so impressive” area; primarily rolling hills.yellowstone  006

yellowstone  005We did experience some road construction delays during our stay – a portion of the construction was taking place on the way from the North entrance to the geyser basins.yellowstone  031

yellowstone  037The Upper Geyser Basin is one of three large geyser basins along the Firehole River. Yellowstone National Park was created primarily to protect these geothermal areas that contain about half the world’s active geysers.  yellowstone  041

“Only four other locations in the world – Russia (Kamchatka), Chile, New Zealand and Iceland – have large concentrations of hydrothermal features like these.”yellowstone  056yellowstone  032yellowstone  140 (1)yellowstone  018

yellowstone  020yellowstone  021yellowstone  023A new visitor center with a viewing area directly across from the Old Faithful Geyser was built in 2010. It’s a fabulous building with many educational exhibits about the nature and science of geothermal features, and volcanic geology. In the summer, rangers forecast and post the eruption times of five geysers – Old Faithful, Castle, Grand, Daisy and Riverside – in the lobby of this visitor center.  A phone number and Twitter account listed under the Old Faithful Visitor Center information on this page also provide updates of the five geysers’ eruption times.

We arrived shortly before Old Faithful’s next eruption and joined the crowd outside for the show. This most famous geyser erupts more frequently than any of the other big geysers, but is neither the largest nor the most regular geyser in the park.  Erupting at an average interval of about 90 minutes, it expels between 3,700-8,400 gallons of boiling water, reaching a height of between 106-184 feet. Each eruption lasts between 1.5-5 minutes.  Always fun to watch.yellowstone  022yellowstone  024yellowstone  025


yellowstone  028yellowstone  144The Old Faithful Inn is a phenomenal structure built between 1903 and 1904 of local logs and stone. It’s considered the largest log structure in the world and has a stunning lobby as its centerpiece.yellowstone  013yellowstone  011

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yellowstone  143 (1)yellowstone  039A short trail in the Midway Geyser Basin leads to the famous Grand Prismatic Spring, one of Hector’s intended photographic subjects. We visited on a cool, breezy day. The spring is almost always partially covered by steam, but cool temperatures greatly increase the amount of steam produced and the wind spreads the steam over the entire spring.  yellowstone  040yellowstone  038

yellowstone  045It was quite an eerie scene. And Hector had lots of fun taking photographs of the steamy landscape and the intricate patterns in the earth around the springs.yellowstone  055yellowstone  036

yellowstone  035yellowstone  047yellowstone  054Our next visit was to Mammoth Hot Springs, just a few miles and very easy access from Gardiner. We walked on several boardwalks that wind their way around the various hot springs and the interesting rock formations created by them. yellowstone  059yellowstone  053yellowstone  060yellowstone  061

yellowstone  052yellowstone  058yellowstone  057yellowstone  051yellowstone  063yellowstone  066That evening, we spotted some big-horned sheep on a nearby hill. The sheep continue to amaze us with their ability to negotiate the steep sides of mountains.yellowstone  064

yellowstone  069yellowstone  067yellowstone  065yellowstone  062yellowstone  074Yellowstone National Park is also where we’ve seen the largest amount of buffalo. Various times, they blocked traffic while crossing the road. They also took over a bridge at one point, holding cars up while they used the bridge to cross a river.

yellowstone  076yellowstone  077But the most amazing sight was one that I missed. After a picnic, Hector walked Angel around the picnic area while I walked over to the port-a-potty. I saw a ranger drive up and run out of his car towards the river. At the same time, I heard Hector from a distance saying something like “that’s a sight you don’t see every day”.yellowstone  075

yellowstone  081yellowstone  150yellowstone  084As Hector came towards me with Angel, I spotted some buffalo headed our way. We quickly got Angel in the car and followed suit.

Turns out that the buffalo, who’d been on the other side of the river, decided to swim across, much to the surprise of some picnickers and to Hector. Hector’s reaction was to say to Angel “we gotta go” to which the ranger replied “smart move”.yellowstone  082

yellowstone  080yellowstone  071The buffalo crossed over the picnic area, with the ranger at the very back of the herd clapping loudly to ensure the last buffalo cleared the area (I’m not sure why they are so tame). That last young buffalo happened to cross right in front of our car as I was driving out.

With the ranger behind him and his “family” within sight but a little ways away he stopped in his tracks. He looked at me as if to say “I feel trapped and don’t know what to do”. I backed up a ways and he finally resumed crossing the street and joined the rest of the herd. But I’ll never forget how vulnerable he looked.yellowstone  070

yellowstone  089Continuing our luck with wildlife spotting, we saw a couple of mule deer, including a fairly large male, lots of pronghorn and a couple of coyotes who were stalking and hunting prey in the distance.yellowstone  153

yellowstone  151yellowstone  152yellowstone  072Eight of Yellowstone’s famous yellow buses, the original tour buses for the National Parks, were put back into service in 2007.  They reminded us of Glacier National Park’s red buses, originally purchased from Yellowstone between 1935 and 1940.  But no more bus rides for us.

yellowstone  096We returned to the Old Faithful area of the park to walk around the geysers. The Upper Geyser Basin has various boardwalks that loop around different geysers and back to the visitor center, up to 5.2 miles total.

yellowstone  043yellowstone  019 We walked about three miles, then drove to the next group of geysers – Biscuit Basin. It was late afternoon, and we only saw three other people on the boardwalk. A beautiful time to see the geysers, with a subtle sunset as a backdrop.yellowstone  099yellowstone  103

yellowstone  101We visited Grand Prismatic Spring, the third largest hot spring in the world, a second time. After some research, Hector discovered that many of the photos of the spring were taken from the top of the hill just behind it. The “trail” to the top is accessed via the Fairy Falls trail – but is not developed and involves scrambling through fallen logs and rocks.yellowstone  098

But the view from above the springs is well worth it. And we were lucky to have warmer weather and much less steam.yellowstone  104yellowstone  100


yellowstone  097At the top Hector met a girl from Poland who told him she had a photo of Grand Prismatic Springs posted in her office for years. She never thought she’d get to see them, but here she was.

yellowstone  108yellowstone  112Yet another beautiful area of the park is the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. We hiked on the partially paved South Rim Trail. A little under three miles, the trail offers views of Chittenden Bridge, the Upper and Lower Falls and ends (or begins) at Artist Point, one of the most photographed views of Yellowstone.yellowstone  113yellowstone  109

There is a famous painting by Thomas Moran from this viewpoint with Yellowstone River, Lower Falls, and multi-hued rocks along the canyon walls surrounded by forest. None of which was appreciated by one visitor who remarked “well, it’s not the Grand Canyon”. No, it’s not, but it’s still stunning.yellowstone  115yellowstone  114yellowstone  107

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yellowstone  119One of the main reasons we came to Yellowstone was to see wolves, which were reintroduced into the park between 1995 and 1997. There are several packs of wolves in the park, and most of them are active in two valleys in the park: Lamar Valley and Hayden Valley.   Since the best time to see the wolves is dawn and dusk, our first wolf-watching expedition was at sunrise.yellowstone  118

We went over to Lamar Valley in the northeast side of the park in search of the wolves. Lamar Valley “has become the premier location world-wide to observe free-ranging wolves.” And the best way to find the wolves is to find the “wolf-watchers”. There are many dedicated wolf lovers and advocates who spend a lot of time at Yellowstone looking for wolves. Many of them have spotting scopes and will happily allow others to look through them.yellowstone  087

Many of these folks are usually “in the know” about where the last wolf sightings have occurred. There are also companies and private individuals for hire to help people find the wolves. And, last but not least, there is a biologist named Rick who seems to be around Lamar Valley every morning (he was there years ago when we first visited). “Ranger Rick” has a radio that receives signals from the collared wolves (about 30% of the population, all adults).

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After one sunrise and one sunset outing, we’d not spotted any wolves. It seemed we arrived in places just after the wolves had laid down or gone off into the woods. Then, on our second sunrise outing we spotted three wolves – very far away but definitely recognizable, especially when looking through the scopes. yellowstone  154

There were folks in the group who knew exactly which pack these wolves belonged to and even knew their identifying numbers/letters. Apparently, these were three of six pups who were born last spring. In just three months, they looked to be the size of German Shepherds. There were two black and one gray one, and people were very excited about the gray pup. Unfortunately, Hector’s long lens was not enough to capture clear images of the wolves. But we will never forget them.

Yellowstone National Park is definitely a place everyone should try to visit at least once.

~ Brendayellowstone  007

30 thoughts on “Inside the Volcano – Yellowstone National Park

  1. Thank you for yet another wonderful tour. Yellowstone is definitely on our list and you provided some great info in helping us plan. Were you there in early September?

    • Glad you enjoyed it. Yes, we were there the first week of September. The leaves had just started to turn when we left, but we heard they got some snow the week after. I’m sure September is variable, just like in Colorado. Let me know if you plan to go there and I can send you more information.

  2. Another stunning collection of images Hector! We are hoping to get up to YNP next summer and this post has definitely whetted our appetites. It sounds like the roads within the park haven’t changed much since we lived there.

    • Thanks! We’re thinking of stopping there in May on our way up to Alaska to see some babies! I kept trying to find information on when the 20 year road construction started or is scheduled to end but couldn’t.

  3. That was so fun! I love this blog post! First, because Hector’s photos are amazing, as always. Second, because your writing holds my interest. And third, because we spent over a month there this summer and saw all of these places. I loved revisiting the park through Hector’s lens!

    • Thanks, we loved putting it together! I always enjoy reading about a place I’ve visited too, it brings back good memories, and everyone has just a slightly different perspective on places. Your post got me excited just before going because of all the wildlife you saw.

    • Thank you! Hearing from our friends on the blog means a lot, makes us feel like you’re along for part of our journey.

  4. Yellowstone is my favorite park. I love the variety of activities and physical features. I’m so glad you found the place to get the aerial view of the Prismatic Pool. We climbed there also. Sure gives an unbelievable picture.

  5. What a wonderful post, with lots of great pictures and info. The next best thing to visiting! I love those later pictures of the prismatic spring from up the trail – incredible colours!

    • Glad you enjoyed the post. Spring sounds great, I’m told that it is a great time to see bears and other species with cubs, pups etc. I wouldn’t count on the road work being done, I think they are biting it off in chunks over a 20 YEAR span. Not sure where we are in the 20 … i suggest you check in w the park when you are planning so you can be aware of where the delay is as u plan your drive around the gigantic park. Have fun! Hector

    • Welcome to our blog! We hear that May is a great time to go because a lot of the animals are having babies, however, the weather can be quite variable. In fact, we may be stopping by there in May as well. Quoting from the Yellowstone website “construction in Yellowstone is perennial”. Your best bet is to keep checking their website at for construction updates, or you can call the phone number on that same page. Let me know if you have any other questions. Have a great trip!

  6. I had never been to Yellowstone until now. Can’t wait to go back and see it in person. Loved all the commentary and of course, the photos but the one of Brenda alone on misty boardwalk is Terrific!!!! Thanks!

  7. We love Yellowstone, although we were not there with Betsy. And Hector’s captures brought back lots of good memories of wildlife including the wolves and the Grand Prismatic Spring.

  8. Ah — you are catching up! 🙂 So eager to hear how your Oct 1 departure went, whether camera equipment was on board or forwarded, and how the balloon festival and volunteering went! Thinking of you… missing you… Godspeed, Friends! xo

    • Well, lots happened in those last few days, in a nutshell the hail storm in Denver damaged Island Girl (she’s going to be ok), Angel’s blood test brought up some concerns (we think she’s going to be ok), but our camera gear arrived in Denver the day before we left – not a moment to spare and balloon festival was amazing; I’ll keep you in suspense until the post. We hope to post Grand Teton in the next day or so, then Denver by the weekend so we can at last be (almost) caught up. We enjoyed seeing you so much and hope we can connect again at some point before next year.

      • OMG!!! I forgot about the freak nightmarish late Sept hail!!! UGH! And Angel’s blood work sounds troublesome… So sorry to hear it all. We were thinking of you the week of your departure and really enjoyed our shared time while you were rebooting here. See you soon, we hope! You 3 are in our thoughts and prayers. Godspeed!

  9. Awesome recount and gorgeous photos! Wowee!!!! ; )

    This sure brings back memories. As a kid, my grandpa used to take my brother and I up to Yellowstone to camp and fish. My Aunt Carolyn was always with us, too. These trips were what started my love affair with the natural world. Thank you, Grandpa.

    And thank you, Brenda and Hector! It’s so fun being together with you on your wonderful journey! : ))

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