June 5th, 2022 (continued)
*note: you can learn more about Yellowstone on earlier blog posts from my Yellowstone Discovery series. I share my inside travel tips for traveling in and around Yellowstone. You can also get maps and all the resources on Yellowstone’s NPS site.*
From The Lake Hotel, I continued northwest on the Grand Loop Road roughly eight miles until the smell of sulphur penetrated my rental car. Steam rose furiously, hitting the chilly fifty degree air from the Mud Volcano thermal area.
A fan favorite with park visitors, The Mud Volcano area is just west of Yellowstone Lake, on cusp of The Hayden Valley. It features ominious thermal features like Black Cauldron and the Dragon’s Mouth. It houses several of the most acidic features in park. To learn more about Mud Volcano click here. Definitely recommend the thirty-forty five minute stop.
*Travel insight: Yellowstone has over 200 miles of roads, mostly with two connected loops – known ‘The Upper and Lower Loops.’ The road from Lake to Canyon is what I call the ‘Central Road’ because it connects the the two loops (and overlaps as part of both loops).*
The Yellowstone River reveals its splendor in The Hayden Valley – a hauntingly beautiful stretch of wild expanse of marshland like meadows set against rolling hills. The Hayden Valley (along with the Lamar Valley) is one of the best places in the United States to view wildlife. It is an American Serengeti – where on any given day you can see hundreds of bison roaming along the banks of the Yellowstone River, alongside of bears, elk, antelope, moose, wolves and bighorn wander.
There is a peace that flows through The Hayden Valley and in many ways I see it as the heartbeat of Yellowstone. It is in the center of the park, and a ‘bridge’ from Yellowstone Lake to the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone on the west. South of the Hayden Valley (accessible via the Mary Mountain hiking trail – a strenous path on an old ‘Buffalo Road) – leads to Yellowstone’s Lower Geyser Basin.
In many ways The Hayden Valley is the heart of Yellowstone and the Yellowstone River an artery ambling through it.
The Yellowstone is relatively calm in the valley – you can often see ducks, geese and trumpeter swans floating on the water, while bison enjoy a splash in the water. This ‘intermission’ of the Yellowstone is one of active contemplation – where life teems but in a strange way the world stands still. Contrast this to the Yellowstone a few miles downstream where the Yellowstone River rapids unrelentingly thrash before tumbling down the Upper and Lower Falls into The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.
The Hayden Valley is not a place you rush through. It is notorious for traffic jams as bison cross the highway. I was once caught in a two hour buffalo jam in the Hayden Valley during ‘five o’clock buffalo rush hour.’
Always keep your distance – bison are wild and remember you are crossing through their backyard.
Want to learn more about Bison – click here
After taking my time admiring the views in The Hayden Valley I continued west on The Grand Loop Road toward The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. Words can never describe the beauty of Yellowstone’s Grand Canyon – from it’s painted rocks or thundering waterfalls – it simply is one of earth’s most beautiful places. I imagine God breathing this into formation through geology and volcanism – and looking at his sculpture with a sigh of contentment – ‘it is good’
Rain began to drizzle as I parked at the Artist Point of the Lower Falls of the Yellowstone. While every viewpoint on the Canyon’s north and south rims is gorgeous, as an artist the Artist’s Point View is my favorite because it displays the panoramic scope and depth of the canyon.
I imagined artists and explorer, Thomas Moran sitting near the precipice (at a safe distance of course) mixing his watercolors and trying to do justice in his art to reflect the living masterpiece before him. (He actually painted the canyon from ‘Lookout Point/Moran Point’ area – but this is still a favorite spot for artists to ‘paint’ and take pictures of the canyon.
Since returning home, I have been able to paint my view of Yellowstone’s Grand Canyon..
Given my short time in the park and the increasing threat of heavy rain, I decided to continue on the Grand Loop Road after fifteen minutes in the Canyon area.
I originally planned to head south towards the Norris Geyser Basin area, then on to Old Faithful, because I was under the impression the Northern Road from Canyon to Tower Junction was closed.
Much to my delight – the road to Tower Fall just reopened after roadwork, so I was able to drive north on perhaps one of my favorite scenic drives in the park.
The road from Canyon to Tower Junction is the definition of sweeping. You learn the charm of the lower gears on this road as you scale up the Dunraven Pass and zig zag among the clouds near Mt. Washburn.
While the weather was too frigid (the ground covered in snow) – I usually stop at Mt. Washburn to enjoy a hike. In the peak of summer – Mt. Washburn overflows with wildflowers and you can see views of the top of Yellowstone Canyon – which gives you an entirely different perspective on the awesome geology of the area.
Today I encounter clear roads that were completely surrounded by snow bank. This unfortunately was part of the problem that led to the massive flooding in Yellowstone several days after I left the park.
I saw a few lone bison and elk in the distance at one scenic turnout. I recommend bringing binoculars – as I was the tourist who couldn’t see anything in the distance with only my prescription glasses. I ended up getting a pair of binoculars at Old Faithful later in the day.
I’ll pause here so you can enjoy the views before we stop for a spell near Tower Fall and The Lamar Valley.