Are you up for visiting a supervolcano?
Spending 5 days exploring an active supervolcano may not be everyone’s idea of a good time, but as we shivered in the 7:30am frost at the foot of Old Faithful waiting for her to blow, thrilled with the almost prop-like bison who calmly chewed its breakfast right next to the geyser, I knew it was something pretty special.
Yellowstone National Park has been a magnet for scientists, explorers, nature-lovers and families for almost 150 years. Established as the first national park in US history in 1872, Victorian adventurers arrived by train and toured the area by horse drawn carriage to witness the great steamy caldera.
And when we arrived for our very first visit in September, we also were enthralled by the strange, alien landscape that hissed and steamed around us with bubbling geothermal activity.
Fortunately, visiting this famous park is a lot easier with a Ford 4x4 rental car these days. But be warned the hotel system in the park remains firmly stuck in history, more suited for people who like ‘glamping’ than those used to modern hotels. Be prepared for authentic, thin walled ‘cabins’, shared bathrooms and showers and for being cut off from all mobile phone service and wifi.
With an average elevation of 8,000 feet (2,400 meters), autumn September weather was about 32⁰F (0⁰C) each morning rapidly rising to 80⁰F (20⁰C) by 11am. The large swing in temperature made wearing layers essential but also created light, mist, frost and vistas that changed in front of your eyes.
We started our journey in the north, flying into Bozeman, Montana and driving an hour and half to Mammoth Springs. Mammoth Springs terraces are marble-like cascades of travertine created over thousands of years as hot water from the spring cooled and deposited calcium carbonate. After touring the springs and feeling the drag of our jet lag, we nipped south of Mammoth to experience the ‘Boiling River’. Despite its name, Boiling River is one of the few places in Yellowstone where you are allowed to go into the water. It’s a natural hot tub, where the boiling water of a hot spring mixes into the cold water of the Gardiner river, creating the perfect place to relax and enjoy the nature around us.
The next morning, we headed to the Norris Basin Geyser area and were just in time to catch the venting of Steamboat Geyser which had blown the night before about 11pm. Steamboat Geyser is not one of the predicted geysers having only gone off 50 times since records began. While we missed the main show, the ‘venting’ phase was in mid-stream when we arrived giving us plenty to gawk at as steam and water blew over 100 feet into the air.
After a quick stop in Canyon Village for lunch, we headed to the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone itself. A completely different landscape and vista from the morning, we spent 3 hours hiking the north rim train up and down to catch the views of the waterfalls from every angle. We spent the night at Yellowstone Lake and dined on elk chops and bison burgers and shivered through the night in our tiny cabins, grateful when morning and hot coffee finally arrived.
Another stunning day of blue skies followed, were we decided to get off the busy tourist path and explore the geothermals from the lake. With an expert guide at our side, we kayaked along the lake coast from Grand Village and were able to see underwater thermal vents bubbling up in the water as well as the fumaroles steaming out of the rock just next to us.
Our final two days were spent at Old Faithful Inn exploring the most iconic of the geyser basins. The inn features a large outdoor deck overlooking Old Faithful geyser which erupts approximately every 90 minutes. Like watching a fireworks display, crowds ‘ooh’ and ‘ahh’ at the dramatic spouts of water with drinks and cameras in their hands. But while Old Faithful might be the star of the show, there are more than 10 other equally if not more spectacular active geysers regularly blowing which are easily visited through a 3 mile loop of boardwalk paths.
But no visit to Yellowstone would be complete without a hike to see the most photographed feature in Yellowstone National Park – the Grand Prismatic Spring. The spring is right out of a fantasy novel with its bright rainbow of colours. The hot spring has bright bands of orange, yellow, and green ring the deep blue waters in the spring. The multicoloured layers get their hues from different species of thermophile (heat-loving) bacteria living in the progressively cooler water around the spring.
So, was it worth visiting a supervolcano that could potentially erupt at any time? Absolutely! According to the scientists, the hype about our impending doom is greatly exaggerated. The national park has been monitoring the Yellowstone volcanic activity for 30 years and their prediction? The chance of a catastrophic eruption in the next 1,000 – 10,000 years is highly unlikely.
Interesting in visiting?
Flights: We flew into Denver and then took a flight up to Bozeman, Montana. We flew home out of Jackson Hole, Wyoming (another blog about this coming up!)
Hotels: We booked into the national park hotels, staying first in Mammoth Springs , then the
Lake Lodge Cabins at Lake Yellowstone and finally the Old Faithful Inn. Be aware national park hotels book up crazy quick - so be ready to book your room at least 12 months in advance or you will be staying outside the park ....or camping!
Want to plan a trip? Drop me an email: firstname.lastname@example.org - happy to give you any advice and opinions.