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Saturday, 10 August 2013

91 Minutes and Counting

Written by  David Camp

Photo1_Geyser

PlanetHop! loves nothing more in the entire world than enjoying the unequalled wonders provided by Mother Nature. While she is more than generous with her blessings, her most abundant riches tend to be found in the world's extensive network of National Parks. These havens can be found on every continent and tend to encompass her richest virtues. It's one such as this – the world's oldest (in fact) – which is also perhaps it's greatest. It is known world-round simply as Yellowstone and it's home to the legendary Old Faithful Geyser – the most reliable (and famous) geothermal feature on the planet. If you want to experience one of the world's truly unequalled natural wonders, read on...

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The parking lot for the Old Faithful Geyser was absolutely packed with cars. It took me all of ten minutes driving round in circles before a huge Winnebago finally relinquished its hold on 3 parking spots. Come on – that's not fair! Anyway, after finally securing my place, it was a mad dash through the information center and out onto the geothermal plains of Yellowstone's most famous attraction. Unfortunately, I could instantly tell that I had missed the event. Imagine showing up to a concert just as the main act was leaving the stage. This is how I felt.

"That was awesome!" said a young boy to his father. "I want to see it again."

"Then you'll have to be patient, because it won't go off again for 90 minutes," replied the boy's father.

"91 to be exact," chimed in an elderly man (another Winnebago'er by the look of him). "And you can set your clock by it – it hasn't been late in a thousand years!"

This was my first trip to Yellowstone National Park, and I'd purposefully saved Old Faithful for last. I'd spent the past 2 full days exploring the wonders of what is widely hailed as the "oldest National Park in the world". It was also the most popular park in the entire US with over 3 million annual visitors. Needless to say, it had been absolutely incredible!

Photo2_Grand_Tetons

I looked down at my watch and set my stopwatch for 91 minutes. Apparently it now appeared I had a bit more time on my hands to enjoy the Wyoming countryside before the old girl blew her top again.

My arrival to the park had been via the southern route from the town of Jackson Hole, through Grand Teton National Park. This was essentially the north/south migration path for one of Yellowstone's massive elk herds and afforded views that could only be described as stunning. If you're planning a trip to Yellowstone, my first and foremost recommendation is to budget enough time to explore this lesser known neighbour to Yellowstone. The Teton Range is storybook-perfect in every way as you can see from the adjacent photo of an old barn with snow-topped peaks in the background. Awesome!

Yellowstone National Park is approximately 60 miles from north to south, and 50 miles from east to west, and spans 3 states (Wyoming, Montana and Idaho). It's also located directly on top of North America's largest volcanic system, which encompasses over half of the entire world's geothermal features. I could only imagine what early explorers must have thought of the place – Dante's Inferno tends to come to mind.

 

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Geothermal Plains


However, the thing that's probably most ironic about the inferno lying just below the ground is how beautiful it translates on the surface. There's no better example of this than the travertine terraces that form when the hot, thermal waters rise to the surface through the limestone, leaving calcium deposits in their wake. These deposits form some of the most bizarre and beautiful formations you can imagine. Consider them just another example of Mother Nature's artistic license.

 

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Traventine Terraces

 

I looked down at my watch, which read 80 minutes and counting.

One of the first stops I had made after arriving at the park had been to the legendary Morning Glory Pool. This is a multi-colored pool, whose unique coloring is the result of a particular strain of bacteria that lives in the warm, thermal waters of the pool. Most of you probably aren't aware of the fact that this pool has been known to geyser in the past, although this is quite rare. Park authorities have also been known to try and induce a "blow" to try and clean the pool out as people seem compelled to thrown things in (coins, rubbish, etc.). The scale of the problem can best be summed up by the fact that many have started referring to the pool as "Faded Glory".

So, my advice – don't mess with the pool!

 

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Morning Glory Pool

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Countdown: 70 minutes.

While the many geothermal features are what draw many to the park, no one should ignore some of the more traditional "treats" that the park also possesses (in abundance). Chief among these is the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. At some 24 miles long and 800 feet deep, it provides the canvas for an amazing network (approximately 950 miles) of hiking trails that criss-cross the entire region. I spent one afternoon traversing a 10 mile trail down to a network of waterfalls. For anyone who loves a good trek – Yellowstone is pure gold!


Countdown: 60 minutes

The park also offers up one of America's most classic adrenaline activities – white water rafting! The Yellowstone River offers full and half day trips through Class II-III rapids that will give you an unequalled view of the sheer bedrock walls of Yankee Jim's Canyon. Trips leave from Gardiner, Montana and are suitable for family members of all ages. For a sample of the fun, check out the video below:

Video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jm7j0DqFBUU

 

Countdown: 50 minutes

Another cool Yellowstone photo op includes two very distinct (and famous) natural landmarks. These are the Continental Divide (the point where water drains either to the Atlantic or the Pacific) and the 45th Parallel (the point half way between the equator and the North Pole). Gotta love natural landmarks!

 

  Photo7_Continental_Divide       Photo8_45th_Parallel

 

Countdown: 40 minutes

During any visit to Yellowstone you're bound to encounter some type of wildlife. While it's theoretically possible to run across almost anything, especially if you're out in one of the more remote trails, the odds are you won't see any grizzly bears or the reclusive grey wolves. These fellows tend to stay away from human populated areas – lucky for us! Although it is worth mentioning that a recent survey did identify upwards of a dozen different wolf packs roaming the park's ecosystem and perhaps as many as 600 grizzlies. Make sure to listen to any warnings that may be in place and try to avoid any areas where these apex predators have been sighted.

 

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Countdown: 30 minutes

Unlike wolves and grizzlies, bison are much more prevalent and you'll be hard pressed not to spot a few during any typical visit. With a population as high as 5,000, the Yellowstone herd represents the largest herd in all of North America. However, when you take into account that there was once (circa 1800) upwards of 30-60 million bison in North America, you can see just how much man's impact has been felt. This fellow was just walking along the side of the road minding his own business!

 

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Photo10_Elk

 

Countdown: 20 minutes

This brings us to the most prolific of Yellowstone's denizens – the elk. With a population in excess of 30,000 (separated into a Northern and Southern herds), these fellows can grow to over 8 feet in height (at the antler) and weigh in excess of 1000 lbs. But perhaps the most amazing and scary thing is where you'll find these goliaths. The photo below was taken at one of the busiest visitor centers I stopped at during my stay. No one was quite prepared to tell him to move along! Although you'd be amazed at how close people tried to get for a photo!

 

Countdown: 10 minutes

The crowd was once again starting to build around the perimeter of the Old Faithful viewing area. This is the show that most people come to the park to see and I must admit that I was looking forward to it. In many ways, it's more famous than the Statue of Liberty or the Eiffel Tower and has definitely been doing its thing for far longer. In reality, it's been blowing its top for thousands of years – long before man came on the scene.

For the record, it's considered to be the most predictable geographical feature on earth, erupting every 91 minutes. Apparently, there are a few rare occasions when it doesn't quite go too plan, but these are few and far between. A typical eruption can expel anywhere up to 8,000 gallons of boiling water to a height of nearly 200 feet, with an average eruption lasting anywhere up to 5 minutes.

 

Countdown: 1 minute

Photo11_Old_Faithful_EruptionI noticed the same father and son that I had overhead just after arriving. The boy was sitting on his dad's shoulders with a look of eager anticipation on his face. In fact, everyone gathered (about 200 people) were all fixated on the geyser – awaiting for what was to come.

Then with a whoosh, the geyser let loose, spewing thermally heated water far into the sky. The only way I can describe it was like the earth was expelling pent up pressure – almost like the morning after a long night on the beers (forgive the analogy). But even more than this was the sheer power of the eruption. It was so strong that you could literally feel it through the soles of your feet. Mother Nature certainly packs a wallop, far beyond anything that man can easily bring to bear.

It's awesome. There's no other way to describe it.

"How was that?" asked the father, grinning up at the boy on his shoulders.

"That was better than the first one!" replied the boy.

I could only imagine how many generations of fathers and sons had played out this same scene through the years. But then I guess this is how we pass life's most special experiences down through the generations. It's just one of the many things that makes travel so special.

It's also why Yellowstone is destined to remain one of the world's most amazing destinations for young and old alike.

Just don't forget your watch!

 

Photo12_Old_Faithful_Sign

 

 

Yellowstone National Park

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Wow – talk about the power of Mother Nature! Yellowstone is easily one of the most amazing, accessible and mesmerizing National Parks in the entire world. It's also a place where you'll not only be able to admire the beauty of Mother Nature, but also feel the unequalled power she holds in the palm of her hand. It's something every PlanetHopper! should experience. As always, we'd like to thank David for sharing his adventure with us!

David is President and Co-Founder of PlanetHop! and has spent much of the past 15 years traveling the world for business and pleasure. The following article has been adapted from a travel journal he kept during a 2-year jaunt around the world.

Who (will enjoy)

There's something for the entire family at Yellowstone National Park.

What (to do)

Admire the amazing natural environment (courtesy of Mother Nature), hike part of the 950 mile network of trails, enjoy the wildlife (don't feed the bears), go white water rafting. This is just the tip of the iceberg, as the park offers an enormous range of activities for the entire family to enjoy.

When (should I visit)

The park is accessible year round. However, if you're going to really get out there and explore, you probably want to avoid the worst of the winter weather. Anytime between May-October should provide you with decent weather.

Where (to stay)

There are 9 hotels and 12 campgrounds scattered throughout the park that cater for a wide range of budgets. There's also an almost endless selection of nearby, if you're not fussed about going outside of the park.

How (much will it cost)

Entrance to the park will set you back $25/car for 7 days. Talk about affordable!


White water rafting on Yellowstone River
David Camp

David Camp

Dave is President and Co-Founder of PlanetHop! and has spent much of the past 15 years traveling the world for business and pleasure. His longest journey was a two year romp around the world!