It seemed like a pleasant, simple task. Drive through Yellowstone, spend some time enjoying the thermal features and great views on the road from Madison to West Thumb, then head to Jackson, Wyoming, to spend a few days in the autumn splendor of Grand Teton National Park. Its about a four-hour trip, but with stops it will be a bit longer. The weather is a bit iffy today. We have some snow falling, rain, even sleet, but the roads are clear. We’ll hope for the best as we begin our journey driving through the Gallatin River Canyon to the West Entrance of Yellowstone National Park. Besides, you never know, so many times the journey is the adventure!
Now that we are through the entrance gate, let’s stop along the Madison River. We are crossing 7-Mile Bridge where the Madison flows to the south side of the road. No, the bridge is not 7 miles long. It is halfway between the West Entrance and Madison Junction, a 14 mile road. A few miles past the bridge is my favorite pull out. Let’s stop and see what we can see. Ahh, some blue sky and the sun peeking through the clouds. This is good.
This could turn out to be a much nicer day than we thought!
As we turn the corner near Fountain Flats we see the first exciting view of what Yellowstone is famous for–amazing thermal features. We are looking at Fountain Paint Pot. This basin continues to grow giving ever more steam from its features. There is a herd of bison that lives here, but we don’t see them today.
Let’s stop at a pull out, walk down the road, and get a look at the bobby sock trees. You see many of these dead trees with white bottoms (hence their nickname–bobby sock trees) near thermal areas. Actually, this happens when silica-laced hot water from thermals takes over an area where the trees are growing. The trees soak up the water and over time the minerals plug the base causing the tree to die leaving the base white from the absorbed silica. We can’t see the minerals in the water, but we can see the steam rising up telling us the water is hot and coming from a thermal area. This particular stream originated from hot springs along Firehole Lake Drive to our east.
Walking a bit further down the road we can see White Dome Geyser, a feature along Firehole Lake Drive. Wow, it is erupting–it is also starting to snow again. Looks like a crazy weather day in store.
Across the street we see more bobby sock trees and a peek at Fountain Paint Pot, the steam to the back right. Yup, snowing. Let’s get on our way.
After a quick stop at the Old Faithful Visitor’s Center to visit a friend who works there, we head south. Only fourteen miles to West Thumb then our trip to the South Entrance. Let’s stop and look at Kepler Cascades, just a few miles from Old Faithful.
The headwaters (beginning) of the Firehole River is about six miles from this 150 foot drop known as Kepler Cascades. The Cascades are easily seen from a pullout about 2.5 miles southeast of Old Faithful. From here the Firehole winds it way through many of the major thermal basins before it joins the Gibbon River creating the Madison River near Madison Junction. The Madison continues north, and about 30 miles from where I live, the Madison joins two other rivers creating the Missouri, the longest river in North America. Cool!
Oh no! Disaster strikes!! As we head out to begin our 14-mile drive over Craig Pass to West Thumb, the Rangers close Craig Pass. There is a multi-car accident due to icy road conditions and they don’t expect the road to open for at least four hours. Well, let’s consider our choices. Waiting for the road to open makes no sense since there are no guarantees it will open again today. We are still over two hours away from Jackson. It is already 11am and no matter what we do, we are looking at adding an additional two hours or more to our trip. We better decide.
We could turn around, go outside the park, and down through Idaho. The catch there is we have to go over Teton Pass which sits at 8,432 feet. It rarely closes, but did last week due to icy conditions and no one having their snow tires on quite yet. Even if it is open, it could be very dangerous. We’d have to travel about three hours to Teton Pass to find we couldn’t cross then another hour heading south to finally turn north.
OK, here it is. We travel the lower loop road inside Yellowstone. From Old Faithful to Madison, to Norris, to Canyon, to Lake Yellowstone, and finally West Thumb. Instead of 14 miles, we will now travel 79 miles, but hey, is there ever really a bad day in Yellowstone? The speed limit is 45mph and with this weather we’ll probably go slower. Better get a move on.
We are traveling in snow, occasional sleet, rain here and there and very low clouds. The road is wet but not slippery. One stop, Carrington Island in Lake Yellowstone. A small, basically rock island that is frequented by many birds and occasionally otters.
Finally, West Thumb and the 22 mile South Entrance road. A major feature on this beautiful drive, better in the sun by hey, we have to work with what we have, is Lewis Lake. The Lewis River begins about three miles north of the lake and continues out the south end of the lake paralleling the road. From end to end the Lewis River is entirely in Yellowstone. Near the border of the park the Lewis empties into the Snake River which we will parallel on our trip to Jackson. Quick get a picture while the sun is out. What a crazy day.
The river drops down and runs through a canyon for a portion of its journey. Oops. So much for sunshine, it is totally overcast again with a little rain.
Out the South Entrance gate, it is only about seven miles to Grand Teton National Park. This stretch of scenic road that connects the two parks is the John D. Rockefeller Jr. Memorial Parkway. A little over two miles from the Yellowstone boundary is a privately operated resort known as Flagg Ranch. Key word–reserve early!
This year you may have heard of the fires in Yellowstone. One fire, the Berry fire, crossed this road a few times causing the occasional road closures in August and September. The Berry fire ultimately burned almost 21,000 acres, but Flagg Ranch was saved, due to the hard work of firefighters.
Fire is fascinating and scary. It can completely char one area yet a stand of trees right in the middle of the action remains untouched.
Well, here we go again–snow. Then again, it is the snow that finally ends the fires so I’m not really complaining, however, time to move on.
In about 40 minutes we’ll be at Oxbow Bend, a bend in the Snake River that is the most photographed place in Grand Teton National Park. The Snake River with Mount Moran’s reflection is iconic. Mount Moran is a massive, 12,605 foot high mountain that dominates the northern end of the Teton Range. Well . . . not today. The clouds are so low we don’t even catch a glimpse of the mountains. But look at the colors!
Just turn around and there’s another bend, still no mountains, but the sun on the tops of the aspens is breathtaking.
Well, it is about 45 minutes to Jackson and the sun is getting low in the sky. We just have to stop here. Can’t see much of the mountains, but the sky and the line of cottonwoods and aspens–this is just gorgeous. The forecast is partly cloudy to sunny for the next few days so we’ll hope for sun and the resulting spectacular views of the Tetons. Sounds like a trip to Schwabacher Landing is a must.
That journey was an adventure, but now? It’s time for dinner. See you soon . . .