Early morning sunlight creates a rainbow at the base of the Lower Falls of the Yellowstone, which plunges from twice the height of Niagara to carve out the Yellowstone Canyon.
Terrace Springs form beautiful sapphire pools on the way to the Norris Geyser Basins.
The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone shows the sulfurous rocks that gave the area its colorful name.
Old Faithful, while not the largest geyser in the park, has the most predictable schedule, erupting within ten minutes of its approximately ninety-minute intervals.
(Thanks to Bob and Joyce Ebenreck for sharing some of their photos. For more photos from Bob and Cindy, Bob and Joyce Ebenreck, and David and Rona Frensley, visit the FROG Facebook page.)
According to Genesis, God created the world in six days. If so, then Yellowstone might have been one of His finest hours. Its splendor, its grandeur, its spectacular beauty and its desolation are simply hard to imagine.
Early visitors to the area must have wondered if they’d stumbled across heaven or hell. Vast expanses of lodge pole pines reach high into the sky. Broad plains are home to her...ds of elk and of bison, which once blanketed the land. Wolves, once hunted to extinction, have been reintroduced to the park, although they’re not seen as frequently as their cousin, the coyote. At the top of the food chain, the grizzly shares space with the black bear.
Thundering waterfalls and idyllic rivers cut through the area. One of the world’s highest and largest alpine lakes, stunning in its calm and tranquil beauty, defines much of the park. But from it flows the Yellowstone River that soon plunges over powerful falls, one nearly twice as high as Niagara, to gouge out the vast cavern of sulfurous rock that gives the park its colorful name.
Yet in the midst of this serenity there exists another world. This world of boiling underground pools, building pressure than blasting their water a few inches or hundreds of feet into the air, completely belies the surrounding beauty. This seemingly lifeless landscape smells of sulfur and brimstone. Signs warn the visitor not to leave the boardwalks because of the danger of falling through the earth’s crust into the boiling water. Various chemicals transform the pools into eerie and yet spectacular colors. “Paint pots” of rainbow-hued clay bubble in pools to add an unearthly effect.
In fact, Yellowstone lies almost entirely within the caldera of a still-active volcano, estimated to have experienced its most recent massive eruption 600,000 years ago. It was this stunning, almost incomprehensible setting that provided the backdrop for the third stop on the FROG Wild West Roundup.
For those of us continuing on from Grand Teton National Park, it was an easy drive north on the John D. Rockefeller Parkway to the South Entrance of Yellowstone. Waterfalls, wildlife, and Old Faithful proved to be too much of a temptation for some, so they began their visit to the park right away. For others, the trip continued on through geyser basins and along the Madison River Valley to the West Entrance and the town of West Yellowstone. A few more miles took us to Lionshead RV Park, our next base of operations. Lionshead proved to be a beautiful location, outside of town and adorned with a spectacular blanket of stars. Harold and Michelle and their outstanding staff, along with many new facilities, provided a great setting for us.
On Friday, following setup and meeting new members who had not been with us on the earlier stops, we gathered under a pavilion for a chicken and brisket bar-b-q prepared by the campground staff. In the “small world” department, two of our folks turned out to live less than five miles apart in Lethbridge, Alberta, and had to come to Yellowstone to meet.
Following a satisfying meal and a chance to become more acquainted, many of the group gathered around the community campfire ring for what would quickly become a regular ritual. (Thanks, Michael, for being our “fire guy” for much of the trip!) Two of our members, sisters who are “True GRITS” (Girls Raised in the South) and cowgirls at heart, were interested in attending the nearby West Yellowstone Rodeo (which we were all planning to attend the next night), and our host offered to take them over on an ATV. It wasn’t really clear whether the girls enjoyed the rodeo or the ATV trip more, but they were all smiles as they recounted the adventure later.
On Saturday many of our members headed for the main attraction – Yellowstone National Park. As noted above, the park simply defies imagination, both in size and in spectacle. From the West Entrance, one of five access points, it’s fourteen miles along the Madison River to the first intersection, Madison Junction. From there it’s a right turn toward the Firehole River, geyser basins, Old Faithful, the West Thumb of Yellowstone Lake, and much more. To the left lie access to the Terrace Springs, Norris Geyser Basins, Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, the Upper and Lower Falls of the Yellowstone, Mammoth Hot Springs, Lamar Valley, and too many other locales to mention. A week is barely time to scratch the surface.
Others in the group chose to take an orientation approach. Their welcome package included tickets to the IMAX Theater to see a film depicting the history and geography of the park, and passes to the next door Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center to view and learn about these magnificent and elusive predators.
That evening we gathered for a pizza party and a group trip to the rodeo, grateful for the opportunity to sit on stable bleachers rather than on the backs of bucking bulls and broncos.
Sunday kicked off with a breakfast of pancakes, potatoes, sausage, ham, coffee and juice before everyone set out for a day on their own. Some stayed around the campground to visit, tend to various chores, or simply relax. Most of the group went off on their own or in small groups, many to return with tales of incredible scenery, abundant wildlife, and great adventures. In the distance to the southwest we could see smoke from a forest fire, and watched as firefighters executed precision helicopter flights to fill huge buckets of water from a nearby lake and fly into the smoke to douse the flames. Thanks to their heroic efforts on that day and several days later in the week, the fires were contained and presented no threat to any nearby communities.
The biggest adventure of the day belonged to the Frensleys, a wonderful family from Tennessee. (It’s on their blog, so I’m not telling tales out of school.) The Frensleys are an active and adventurous group. Rona, the Mom, had been determined to see a moose on the trip, and ended up seeing five in the Tetons. Whether a bear was also on the “must see” list I can’t say, but when they found three rangers near Roosevelt Lodge trying to chase off a black bear that had been venturing too close to the Lodge and stables for several days, they had to check things out.
With permission from the rangers, most of the family followed to see what was happening. Rona and one of the girls stayed behind with two other rangers to observe from a “safe” distance. The rangers managed to shoot the bear with a paintball gun, hoping that the stinging pellets would dissuade the bear from returning, but they didn’t explain that to the bear. After disappearing over a hill, it soon turned up again, rounding the corner of a building near the “safe” observation area.
Having attended Junior Ranger programs at each park we visited, the family knew that you don’t run when approached by a bear. On the other hand, when the bear is suddenly 30 feet away rather than the prescribed 300 feet (apparently bears don’t attend the Junior Ranger program), and when the rangers suddenly charge the bear, waving their arms and shouting at the bear while yelling at you to run – well, you run. Some of you run toward the RV. Some of you run toward a nearby building, charging inside and slamming the door behind you when your daughter is only halfway through it. (If you have more than one daughter, it’s apparently OK to use one as bear bait to save everyone else.)
In the end, everything turned out fine. The bear was routed, and everyone was safe and unharmed if you don’t count a leg caught in a door. As the week went on and the story was retold, it became much funnier and far less harrowing than it must have been at the time that it was happening.
(For the other story of why you never lie down in mud unless you’re certain that it’s really mud, you’ll have to find their blog online.)
Monday was not only Labor Day but, as it turned out, unofficial “Cowgirl Day” as well. Several of the ladies in the group had gotten together and decided to visit one of the nearby ranches and take a trail ride. With varying degrees of experience, and more than a little trepidation, they all managed not only to survive but to enjoy a couple of hours in the saddle. Having soothed their aches and pains with a coffee and dessert stop at a small lodge on the way back to the campground, they all proclaimed that it had been a great day.
That evening we again gathered for a bar-b-q put on by the campground staff, topped off by visits, tall tales, and s’mores. (Thanks to Michael and Chloe for keeping everyone more than amply supplied with s’mores!)
Tuesday morning we again met to kick off the day with a bountiful breakfast of scrambled eggs, sausage and ham, potatoes, juice and coffee. (Did I mention that FROGs eat well on their trips?) It was again time to be off to explore. Cindy and I spent time in the southern end of the park visiting the falls along the Firehole River, some of the geyser basins, and several wildlife enclaves. Late in the afternoon we met several other couples who had invited us to join them for dinner at Old Faithful Inn. Following a lovely dinner, to which we were unexpectedly treated, we adjourned to the viewing area at Old Faithful to watch a spectacular eruption almost right on schedule.
That evening, on the way back to camp, we traveled through rain and darkness, intermittently dodging elk along the way. Braking for a cow near Madison Junction proved a good move, as a second emerged from the brush and sprinted across the road just in front of us, and a magnificent bull standing by the edge of the pavement along the Madison River seemed as if it would be an awfully easy target for someone traveling the opposite direction. While the heavy rains caused driving issues, they also fortunately put to rest any remaining concerns about forest fires in the area.
Wednesday was a final full day for touring; visiting the IMAX and the Grizzly and Wolf Sanctuary for those who had not already gone; chores; and relaxing. That evening we ventured into Idaho for a dinner of beef tri-tips, baked chicken breast, and sides, along with a show at the Pinecone Playhouse. Everyone returned to camp ready to call it a night.
On the final morning, most of the FROGs gathered at the clubhouse restaurant for a light continental breakfast, hugs, and farewells (no “good-byes” allowed). Plans were laid to get together in couples or groups for future travels and to be sure to join in future FROG events. Some were on their way home, or on to their own adventures, while the rest of us prepared to move to the Black Hills. Along the way, most of those going to the Black Hills would be crossing through the park and exiting via the East Entrance From there we would travel to Cody, through the Bighorn Mountains, and eventually to near Sheridan, WY before seeing anything resembling a four-lane road. The scenery along that route is breathtaking, even when viewed over the top of white knuckles. We’ll have more about that later.
Thanks to everyone who participated in the Yellowstone leg of the Wild West Roundup. We hope that you enjoyed it at least as much as we did, and until we see you again, we wish you safe travels and great adventures.