Yellowstone National Park, Upper Loop
When we came here we knew we were going to be quite close to Yellowstone National Park but as we had been before back in 2003 decided not to revisit. It is about a 2.5-hour drive and of course, the time you need to actually drive around and then return would make it a bit of a stretch. But at the last minute we decided that it would be a shame to be so close and not go back.
As a compromise, we decided to only do the top loop of Yellowstone. To explain, Yellowstone is basically a road in the shape of figure 8. The bottom loop is by far the most popular as this is where you find Old Faithful geyser and most of the attractions that Yellowstone is famous for. The last time we visited we did all of the bottom loop, but never got to the upper loop, so this is where we decided to go today.
The last time we visited, I considered Yellowstone to be the most amazing place I had ever visited. That feeling is true to this day. It is like visiting another planet with all the geysers and crazy landscapes. Here are a few pics that we took last time we were here in 2003.
We set off early and made the 179 mile trip to the north entrance of Yellowstone. The journey was very easy and we arrived and paid our $35 entrance fee which is good for 7 days. Our first stop was Mammoth Hot Springs.
First off I have to say the signage was awful. You arrive in a kind of village with shops, hotels etc and you have no clue whether you need to park here or further on. We decided to carry on and a little further up the road we could see the springs. We tried to park in the parking lot, but it was full, so we carried on to the next one which was also full, We ended up parking quite a way up the road and had to walk back down to where the boardwalk started for the tour of Mammoth Hot Springs.
I have to point out that this was the hottest day we had whilst we were away, it was 30C, or a little higher for most of the day. This made walking around extremely exhausting especially when you combine that with the 10,000 ft altitude we were at.
The first rock formation we came to was Liberty Cap which is now dormant.
From here you walk along the boardwalk, up and up towards the main part of Mammoth Hot Springs. believe me, a combination of heat and altitude makes it feel like you are transversing Everest!
The first section we came to was Palette Spring. It is quite beautiful with whites and oranges cascading down the hillside.
The next section we came to was Mound Spring. This was layers of sediment that had formed amazing pools and ridges.
After exploring this area we carried on the drive anti-clockwise around the loop. However, it wasn't long before we encountered roadworks. The sign said to expect delays of up to 30 mins and to turn off your engine whilst waiting. That is all well and good except for the crazy high temps. We had to keep turning the air con on every so often, or we would have fried. In the end we waited about 20 minutes before the traffic started moving again and then it took about 20 mins to actually get through the extensive roadworks.
The roads through the section were terrible and very bumpy and uneven and muddy. Some of the larger RV's were having real difficulty getting through which slowed everyone up. We did see a bison at the side of the road though, so not all lost.
At the bottom corner of the loop is Norris Geyser Basin. We thought we might drive in there as the last time we came we loved it here. The landscape is like nowhere else on earth. But, the queue to get into the place was crazy, just car after car after car. So, instead, we decided to give it a miss carried on towards Canyon Village. This is one of the main areas in the park to get food, lodging etc. We needed to eat, so pulled into the large parking lot.
One large buildings has a restaurant, grocery store and gift shop as well as a snack food area. We didn't want to line up for food at the restaurant, so decided to opt for some fast food. There was a large kiosk in the centre of the store and they sold drinks, hot dogs, snack foods, ice cream and such.
We decided to get hot dogs and drinks, but although there were several people behind the counter, no one was actually serving. Three staff members were standing talking to each other. I asked where we order hot dogs (right in front of them) and looking annoyed at being interrupted pointed to the other side of the kiosk. We went round and found another employee who took our order but was really dismissive and almost rude. I asked for hot chocolate and she just said its self-serve. No indication where to get it or anything. Our hot dogs were pretty much thrown into a tray with a packet of chips (crisps) and that was it. We found the self-serve area and got drinks, but there were no condiments for hot dogs such as onions etc. The hot dogs were okay, the drinks disgusting and the service terrible. Very poor experience.
After this, we wandered around the gift store and got a t-shirt each, then left.
This is Nymph Lake.
A few more bison.
We then saw a waterfall and I took some pics of a really pretty pink flower!
We then came to a scenic pullout called Overhanging Cliff. On one side you get to see these amazing cliff formations and the river. One the side of the road is a fantastic cliff face with even more stuning rock formations.
We also caught a glimpse of a grizzly bear, but it was a long way off and my camera was at it furthest zoom, so the pics came out crappy, but you can see it is a bear.
Overall, if this had been our first visit to Yellowstone I would have been very disappointed. I know the upper loop isn't nearly as good and the lower one, but the roadworks, signage and terrible customer service throughout really made, what should have been an extraordinary experience really poor.
The sheer number of people in the park made it impossible to fully experience and enjoy the area. There were quite a few spots we didn't stop at simply because there was nowhere to park. When we visited in 2003 it was exactly the same time of year and we never had to queue for anything, the whole experience over the few days we where there was magical. How times have changed!