Yellowstone is my favorite National Park. The landscapes are amazing and diverse, with mountains, canyons, lakes, meadows, and rivers covering almost 3,500 square miles. Bison, deer, and elk are everywhere, and with a little luck you can see coyotes, antelope, bald eagles, wolves, and bears. But it’s the geothermal features that make the park truly unique. Old Faithful, Mammoth Hot Springs, Grand Prismatic Spring – you can’t find anything like them anywhere else in the country. The whole area is perched precariously on top of a massive supervolcano that, theoretically, could erupt again at any time.
I followed my usual approach to Yellowstone by first stopping for a night in Jackson and then heading to Grand Teton National Park for sunrise photos the next morning. I wasn’t lucky enough to get interesting clouds, but I always enjoy watching the first light of day hit the very top of the scenic Teton Range.
From Grand Teton I made the short drive north to Yellowstone and spent the day exploring the park under a beautiful clear sky.
For two nights I stayed at the Madison campground and revisited many of my favorite spots. I watched Old Faithful erupt, I hiked to the top of the hill next to Grand Prismatic Springs, and I spent hours watching bison, elk, and coyotes. I often saw people walk right up to bison and elk, seemingly oblivious to the danger. I wasn’t surprised to read that at least five people have been injured by bison so far this season.
For a while now I’ve been turning around the idea of spending an entire year photographing Yellowstone through a full range of seasons. I’m not sure if it’s something I’ll eventually act on, but it’s fun to consider and it seems feasible. I’d been thinking the best plan would be to rent a place in West Yellowstone, just outside the park’s western entrance, but during this visit I realized that the northern entrance is the only one that’s open year-round, which would make the small town of Gardiner a better choice. I drove through Gardiner briefly and tried to imagine myself living there in the dark, frozen depths of a brutal winter.
Before leaving Yellowstone I had a chance to see my niece Kate. Kate recently started her freshman year at Montana State University in Bozeman, Montana, about 80 miles northwest of Yellowstone, and she and some of her friends drove down to meet me at the Boiling River near the park’s northern entrance.
I hadn’t been to the Boiling River before. The National Park Service keeps the place pretty quiet. It’s not called out on their Yellowstone map and there’s no sign from the road. The appeal is that at the convergence of the Boiling River – which contains the superheated runoff from Mammoth Hot Springs – with the cold water of the Gardner River, there’s a great swimming area with a mix of comfortable water temperatures. I was really glad Kate suggested it, and it was great to catch up with her, meet her friends, and relax in the river.
From the Boiling River I left Yellowstone, spent the night in Idaho Falls, and drove all the way back to San Francisco the following day. During the drive I found myself thinking about the definition of happiness often shared by the CEO of my former company: “Happiness is looking forward to going to work in the morning, and then looking forward to coming home at night.” My spin is slightly different: “Happiness is looking forward to going on your next trip, and then looking forward to going back home when your trip is over.”