A drive to Yellowstone
I've not yet learned to plan a vacation few months ahead. I usually have few targets in mind and pick one on the night before travel. Only in rare case, it might be a month ahead because I either need a visa to the destination or have to reserve a plane ticket or both.
So when I thought about Yellowstone and search the internet, I discovered that you would need to book your hotel room at least a year ahead if you wanna stay inside the park. There are plenty of hotels outside the park, but they too get sold out during summer. Fortunately, I got a hotel at West Yellowstone, just less than a mile from the west gate entrance. There are other options to stay south ( Jackson, Moran), north, or even east. But West Yellowstone is the best for people driving from San Francisco.
The distance is about 1000 miles that you shouldn't drive in one day. I decided to drive 600 on day one and stopped at Wells, NV for the night. Got up early the second day and headed for Twin Fall, Idaho. Highway 93 is very scenic. Our first stop was at Shoshone Fall, Twin Fall, Idaho. It's an amazing waterfall on the Snake River. The park has an entree fee just $3.00. There are ample parking available inside the park . There is also a gift shop and the restroom is just behind it. We spent about 2 hours in the park before we headed for the West Yellowstone.
|The amazing Shoshone Fall on Snake River, at Twin Fall, Idaho|
From Twin Fall to West Yellowstone is about 4 hours drive. By 3 pm, we were at our hotel gate. We took about half hour to freshen up before we headed for Old Faithful Biscuit Basin. It's Geysers everywhere. They smell awful but looks spectacular.
The long boardwalk goes around all geysers. Be sure to stay on the boardwalk. There were incidence where people tripped while taking selfie. The result could be a badly burned body, if not death. So, stay on the boardwalk and enjoy the nature's wonder.
|Sunburst in the Geyser|
Some of the Geysers erupt at regular interval. So you need real patience to stick around one of those to see hot spring water erupting out of holes. The steam makes it foggy very often. Protect your camera lens and wipe off the water if you find few sprinkler drop on the glass. They have sulphur which would be difficult to remove once dried up.
|A Geyser in Biscuit Basin|
|Hot Steam Erupting from a Geyser at Old Faithful|
We were done with the Old Faithful Geysers by the end of Day 2. We had our dinner at 'Three Bears Restaurant' at West Yellowstone. There are a lot of restaurant around, but I'm not talking about food here. However, most restaurant closes at 10 pm, pretty early compared to Bay Area.
If you want to see animals, get up early and stay late. Animal loves dawn and dusk more than bright sunny day. On day 3, we drove to the Canyon Village early morning. It's called 'Grand Canyon of Yellowstone', has two spectacular waterfall on the Yellowstone River.
|The Lower Fall at Canyon Village|
This is the Lower Fall. It's a bit of hike to go all the way near the fall. But it sure worth it. However, you get a wide view of the fall and the valley just from the vista point, 200' from the parking, only if you get to park there. It's a long queue to park near the view point. People usually park on Grand Loop road side. Be sure to park off the road, the park rangers could give you ticket if you block the traffic.
Drive south from Canyon Village, and the whole animal kingdom will emerge as you hit the 'Hayden Valley'. There are Bison everywhere. If you are lucky, you would see wolves, bears, elk and moose too. Unfortunately, we saw only Bison. The bulls started a fight over the small sand pit. All bulls want to take sand bath and there were only one sand pit :)
|The bulls were locked in horns over the sand pit|
|A moose flying over the boardwalk|
From West Thumb, the Grand Loop road turns towards Old Faithful which we already visited on our first day in the park. So we decided to take an 'U' turn and head towards Mammoth Hot Spring. It was a long drive through single lane narrow road. We took right at north-east junction to see Lamar Valley, where we saw more bison with calves, but no bears. Disappointed, we headed back to Mammoth, which is again full of Geysers. This one is probably biggest boardwalk in the Yellowstone. By the time we finished the walk, it was already dark. Then it was time to return to hotel for our last night.
Day 4, our last day in the park. We had half a day for Yellowstone & Grand Tetons. We drove straight to Hayden Valley to see some animals. Once again it was Bisons everywhere and lots of Geese in the river. This pair of Bison was crossing the road just in front of us. The shot is full framed, no cropped. They were that close :)
|A pair of Bison exercising their right of way in Hayden Valley|
|The picturesque Grand Tetons mountain range|
|Jackson Lake Dam|
Day 5 was all driving back to home on I-80 west. We started lazy, stopped in every 2 hours, ate fast food and enjoyed the drive. We were back home by 6 pm, Yellowstone was now conquered once. I'm already looking forward for my 2nd trip. This time I would want to see bears, and so I would have to visit during early June, which is the best time to see bears with calves.