Traveling with Paula: Yellowstone National Park

In this past April’s article, I told you my sister Gail and I take a trip together, just the two of us, every five or six years. She lives in Oakland, California and we only get to see each other a couple of times a year during hurried family events. Last year we went out West and this is Day Six of our adventure.
We woke up late in Western Yellowstone. We had stayed a little too late at Mt. Rushmore the day before and didn’t arrive until 2 a.m. I forgot to mention last time that we did stop to see the site of The Little Big Horn in Montana — mostly for my husband’s sake who would have loved to see this famous battleground. We stopped at the official site and then were just a few minutes too late to get in — but we did talk to the park ranger locking up.
We stayed in a time-share my sister has and luckily calling ahead the day before got us in a suite without a prior reservation — usually you have to book it a year ahead, but there is always a cancellation (lucky us). We were in Western Yellowstone, a small tourist town (in Idaho) right outside the western gate. We found a quaint family owned restaurant (Running Bear Pancake House) to have breakfast in every morning we were there. Great pancakes and good coffee!
I had no idea what Yellowstone was all about — all I knew was  Old Faithful erupted every so many minutes. Yellowstone is huge — two million acres! Where do you start? We stopped at the ranger station not far from the entrance and got maps and talked to a park ranger — always stop and talk to a park ranger because they can help you narrow down what you’ve just got to see, if you only have a few days. Sights are spread out — many over 20 miles apart. I was amazed to find out Yellowstone was the top of a caldera (a volcano that last erupted 70,000 years ago). It is full of geysers (going off anytime they like), mud pots of gurgling minerals, gorgeous colored pools, steaming lakes and amazing waterfalls. For anyone who likes to take photos this is a dream come true. My sister and I are both avid photographers. Gail is a professional, who has taught college photography classes at Ball State, and I just keep the camera on automatic and shoot. She has the latest and greatest equipment and mine has been dropped so many times I have a black corner or two on every shot — thank goodness for Photoshop.
The park has two huge loops of roads that meet in the middle like a giant 8. The upper loop is 70 miles, the lower loop 96 miles and the grand loop 142 miles. We started going south because we wanted to go to the Grand Tetons that evening for our day seven and then come back to Yellowstone for the remainder of our adventure.
The entrance from the west is 14 miles long and runs adjacent to a stream with mountains on our left — a very peaceful, lovely drive before you get to the weird stuff. Our first stop was a waterfall in Firehole Canyon which was spectacular, but nothing to compare to later in the day.
The Grand Prismatic Spring was next and it is grand with a huge pool of steaming steaming-pot-lake-use-dscn8177minerals that were shades of orange and turquoise. Long narrow boardwalks with no railings circled the pool with lots of steam and there were shallower quiet pools with incredible colors and textures. Warnings were posted everywhere – do not get off the boardwalk.
We then stopped at several more sights including Mud Pots and Red Spouter; all with the most unusual bubbling, gurgling pools — one literally throws mud at you.
It started raining right before we got to Old Faithful which was such a blessing. There was no crowd and we parked right up front next to the huge visitor center. Old Faithful has a huge wide walkway all the way around, but it is close enough to the visitor center that we could stand under the roof overhang and see everything and stay dry. Old Faithful erupts every 45 to 125 minutes (average 90 min.) and shoots boiling water 106 to 185 ft. into the air, lasting from 1 1/2 to 5 minutes.
Late in the day as the sun was going down we stopped at Fountain Paint Pots boardwalk Turquoise-pool-dscn8331and hiked around the Celestine Pool with Lodge Pole Pines surrounding it. The water is at the boiling point and huge geysers go off every 6 hours or so and we were there at the right time. This whole area felt like it should be on another planet. The trees are mostly white, leafless and look like drift wood — breathtaking, literally — the fumes were rather strong.
During this whole trip I didn’t make any phone calls, check the Internet, or text (old flip phone with no reception in most places) no TV, no newspaper — it was wonderful! Try it sometime.
That evening we drove down to the Grand Tetons out the south gate.
Thus ended Day Six of a nine day adventure. Next time, I’ll write about The Grand Tetons.