After a night full of rumbling thunder and rain pelting against our tents, we surfaced at 7:30 for an early drive to Artist’s Paint Pots, with a little bit of hopeful bear-spotting on the way but sadly it was to no avail!
Our campsite within Yellowstone, although basic (and known to be roamed by bears at night), did have a toilet block with sinks, mirrors and charging points. However, this particular campsite was a shower-free zone, so there were no showers for us to wake us up in the morning! I took this surprisingly well – considering I am really not the camping type, I basically considered myself a professional by this point, and the prospect of no showers was just something to add to my camp-repertoire.Tumbling into the van in our many layers (it was 6 degrees outside at this point – I blame the altitude!), we struggled to keep our eyes open and search for the Yellowstone’s most famous inhabitants; bears.
As it was so early and so cold, there was a thick fog curling around the park, outlining the trees and smothering the mountains that surrounded us. A big part of my experience of Yellowstone was witnessing the carcasses of burnt trees. It was shocking to see so much ash and blackness within such a lush park, however we learnt that Yellowstone National Park respects natural forest fires and initially will let them flow free. There are particular trees in Yellowstone that only actually release their seed to make new trees when they are put under an immense heat – typically a fire. Natural forest fires are very common in National Parks in America, and in some occasions, they end up actually benefiting the park by creating more wildlife in the long run. This was quite a hard concept to grasp initially, but I think it’s amazing how respectful the park rangers are of nature’s course, allowing the park to form itself undeterred by man.
Pulling up to Artist’s Paint Pots, the place had a very eerie feel to it. By this point, the fog had enveloped us like a blanket, and everything appeared in stark black and white around us. Again, there was a wooden decking for us to follow a route around the ‘paint pots’ which were hot springs erupting below us. The combination of the heat from the springs and the cold air around us, resulted in even more fog being created, and really let us see the springs in a completely different environment from the previous day, where we saw them in the sunshine in the middle of the day.
Due to the altitude, we all became really out of breath really quickly despite the walk (I can’t call it a hike), being mostly flat and not strenuous in the slightest! Although I always say I prefer sunshine and heat, I am so glad we got to experience the springs and geysers in this particular setting; with the fog and the burnt trees it reminded me of the ‘Elephant Graveyard’ from the Lion King.
Back in the van, we headed to our next stop: Mammoth Falls.
Mammoth Falls is another set of geysers, but again – totally different to anything we’d seen at this point. The actual terrain at Mammoth Falls was really different to the other geysers, and it really felt like we could have been on the moon. Chalk-like dust covered the ground below us (we were on a boardwalk again as the ground is so hot), and there was an emptiness and a nothingness to the place that made you feel like you were stepping into unknown territory. It was hard to grasp that an environment so stark, which is so far away from producing life, and so far away from anything I have ever seen before, could be on our planet; in the middle of Yellowstone National Park.
Mammoth Falls is actually based on the outskirts of a little town within the National Park that features a little hotel called Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel if camping just isn’t your thing, and of course the local wildlife (elk) can be seen wandering around past the local shops!
We eagerly scoffed some hot food, which went down SO well, firstly because it warmed us to the core, and secondly, we weren’t having to cook the food! Bellies full, most of us sneakily used the hotel bathrooms to get into our swimming stuff (and check out the lobby wifi).
We’d been told to bring our swim gear with us when we left camp in the morning but weren’t too sure what to expect, especially as it was so cold! En route to our next destination we actually crossed over the state border and dipped into Montana for the afternoon. We parked on the edge of a river and started making our way up the river bed (at this point I was thinking there is no way I am getting in that river), it had warmed up significantly, and although still cold, the sun beamed onto our faces, warming them and making the river shine.
We then stumbled upon what appeared to be a scene from a David Attenborough documentary and saw a family of elk frolicking and drinking from the river, a few of them sunbathing on the banks! We edged past them and made our way to our destination; the boiling river.
It was one of the most amazing moments of the trip!
Completely undisturbed by tourism, this secret spot was the most perfect natural jacuzzi. The ‘boiling river’ is created by a hot springs that runs into the natural cold water river, there is a large spot within the river that is a perfect combination of the two water flows and allows you to relax in the bubbling water – nature’s own spa!
Mother nature certainly makes you work to get there though! To get to the perfect part of the river you have to navigate your way through slippery (and really painful) rocks under the freezing cold water, as well as half-swimming/half-falling your way through some points of the river that are so hot you don’t think you can make it! I think it took me a good 20 minutes to get to the other side which probably isn’t even 100 metres, and involved a lot of swearing on my behalf, but it is so worth it! One of the great things about the springs is that it’s really shallow, so you can sit on the floor with your head well above the water – just like you’re sat in a hot tub!
If you’re in the Mammoth area of the park you simply must add this to your list!
We spent about 2 hours soaking ourselves in the outdoor-bath, and could have stayed a lot longer. This was an extra special treat for us, as our campsite didn’t have showers so we felt really clean after emerging from the springs!
Heading back to camp, we chilled in our tents for a little while and one of the groups cooked a soul-warming stew for us before we headed on yet another bear-search but they were all hiding! – although we did manage to spot about 50 bison and a guy getting arrested – we assumed drugs (we had no idea), but they were searching his car and tipping everything out, very dramatic! We headed back to bed a little sad at not seeing any bears but more than excited to collapse into our tents for some well-needed sleep!
Another 7:30 am start, another cold and foggy day! We rather dishearteningly packed up our tents, sad to leave our little home we had grown to love in Yellowstone. We found some more incredibly beautiful geysers (the ice blue colour is something you have to witness first-hand!) , and made our way over to the famous Old Faithful site.
Old Faithful was the first geyser to actually be named, and gained its name through its steady predictability; it erupts pretty much hourly, lasting from 1-5 minutes, and reaching heights of up to 55 metres! There’s a lodge right next to Old Faithful that serves hot food (I recommend the veggie chilli!), and has an awesome gift shop, which is handy if you’re wanting to stay out of the cold for as long as possible!
I’d recommend getting to Old Faithful a little early, checking out the time of the next eruption (there are signs posted around the area), and grabbing a drink or a bite to eat. Inevitably, as one of the most famous landmarks within Yellowstone National Park, there are crowds. So i’d recommend getting there a little early, finding the best photo-spot, and grabbing a seat as sometimes the eruptions aren’t as time-perfect as you’d imagine.
Leaving Yellowstone behind us, we made our way to Grand Teton National Park which weirdly gained its name as the mountains apparently looked like a woman’s breasts… Grand Tetons … big tits? Seems strange but it’s true!
We had just over an hour or so to explore a little of the Grand Tetons and had stopped on the border of the beautiful Lake Jenny so decided to head to the waterfront! I’ll let the pictures do the talking here…
After exploring what we could of Jenny’s waters, we headed for our next adventure; Jackson Hole.