We didn't plan it this way but we got lucky and arrived at the peak of fall colors. We used a great GPS driving tour phone app that helped us get oriented to this large area with so much to see.
It was heartening to see so much wildlife in Yellowstone and Grand Teton - it felt like such a healthy ecosystem. Clockwise from top left, we saw: a pika, a grizzly and her 2-year old cub, elk and bison. In addition to the usual squirrels and chipmunks, we also saw wolves, big horn sheep, antelope, coyotes, and a bald eagle. Sadly, we didn't see any moose, black bears or foxes.
Our first hydrothermal experience was at Mammoth Hot Springs where we walked boardwalks and climbed stairs over the varied terraced travertine hot springs. This is the delicate Jupiter terrace. We never could find a good answer about how the springs form the terrace structure through the deposit of dissolved calcium carbonate in the hot spring water - I'm hoping one of my geologist friends can enlighten me!
Each terrace is made up of many smaller terraces. The brown and green colors are from different thermophilic bacteria living in the nearly boiling water.
Luck was on our side when it came to weather for this trip during a time of year where it can easily snow 12 inches. The weather forecast for our third day in Yellowstone was for rain so we decided to take a driving tour on the scenic Beartooth Highway to the top of Beartooth Pass. We enjoyed incredible vistas along the way (although clouds and wildfire smoke appeared later in the day).
Although it was late season, there was still quite a bit of water flowing in the Yellowstone River over the falls and into the vast and colorful Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone
I had to include a couple #vanlife photos. Although we stayed in campgrounds every night, we hardly spent any time there - we would arrive after dark and leave before the sunrise. We usually found a nice spot with a view for our meals, often watching for wildlife at dawn and dusk.
Speaking of great dinner spots, this was one of them, with beautiful views of hot springs, geysers, fumeroles and the sunset in Yellowstone, just south of Midway Geyser Basin.
The unreal colors of the Morning Glory Pool. Sadly, the aqua blue hues have vanished because, over the years, people have thrown massive quantities of coins, trash, rocks, and logs into the pool. Much of the debris subsequently became embedded in the sides and vent of the spring, affecting water circulation and causing its temperature to drop. Orange and yellow bacteria that formerly colored only the periphery of the spring are now spreading toward its center.
I first saw a photo of the stunning Grand Prismatic Spring years ago and I've wanted to see it in person ever since. We arrived at Midway Geyser Basin early in the morning and the air temperature was below freezing, making it nearly impossible to see the spring through the steam. Although it was magical to watch the swirls of steam rising, it wasn't what I had hoped for and I was determined to get a good view of the spring.
I learned about an overlook for Grand Prismatic Spring and I carefully considered the air temperature and the direction of the sun and figured out the perfect time of day to hike up there. Although I was able to see the view of the spring I had hoped for, there were dozens of other people doing the same thing with everyone jockeying for a position at the railing of the overlook; I don't even want to think about what it's like during the summer. You can see the boardwalk behind the spring from where I took the previous photos.
Many people are familiar with the legendary Old Faithful geyser and I learned that many of the other geysers at Yellowstone have predictable eruption times as well. We got hooked on the experience of watching the different geysers erupt and we spent several days walking and driving from geyser to geyser to try to catch an eruption - it reminded me of a music festival with multiple stages and bands playing simultaneously where you have to decide which performance you want to see.
The Riverside Geyser is unusually and picturesquely situated on the bank of the Firehole River. We saw the painting to the right during an overnight trip to Cody, WY, when we visited the Whitney Western Art Museum at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West (well worth a visit!). The painting of Riverside Geyser by Howard Russell Butler is dated 1920 and I was interested to see the people standing so close to the geyser, something you could never do today.
On our drive to Cody, WY, we passed this intriguing log cabin "pagoda". The property is gated with threatening "no trespassing" and "guard dog on premises" signs which piqued my curiosity. Some quick searching turned up the tragic backstory of the Smith Mansion, documented in this New York Times article.
Great Fountain is my favorite geyser location in Yellowstone - so beautifully situated. It erupts semi-regularly and we tried to catch it 3 times. It takes some effort to get there and the eruption window is long (+/- 2 hours) so having the camper van was a real bonus by providing a comfortable place to hang out and cook meals while we waited.
We tried to see Great Fountain Geyser for an eruption predicted in the late afternoon however it didn't start erupting until after dark. It was hard to see in the dark until people got the idea to shine their car headlights on it which enabled me to get this photo with the Big Dipper constellation. It turned out to be a minor eruption which was a little disappointing since it meant that the next eruption was unpredictable.
We tried again the next morning and arrived before sunrise only to discover that it had erupted before we got there. Hopefully we can see it on a future trip.
I took hundreds of photos of the colors and patterns created by the thermophilic bacteria living in the hydrothermal features and I'm sharing just 4 of them here. Nature is the best artist.
Sunset view from the top of Signal Mountain in Grand Teton, the last night of our trip. Thank you for following along!