Yellowstone National Park is located on the northwestern border of Wyoming and it reaches into Montana and Idaho. The park is the most active earthly wilderness in the world. This is not because of some three million annual visitors, but rather the hot lava bed which shifts the altitudes of the park in relatively short measurement spans. The hotbed of activity means Yellowstone has more geysers than everywhere else in the world combined.
We left for Yellowstone from Cody, Wyoming crossing through Shoshone National Park. Uncertain of the amenities to come, I filled the car’s gasoline tank in Wapiti where remarkably, the coffee is free. In a National Parks passport book, I read the passage about Yellowstone to prepare for the road ahead. Grizzly bears and wolves, buffalo and elk, microbial inhabitants of the hot springs and giants hidden in the forests. These are the animals we would be sharing the terrain with for the next few hours.
For our road trip, we purchased a National Parks Service annual pass — a flat fee of $80 for entrance to all national parks for the year. I highly recommend this option, as even if we were only visiting a handful of parks or wanted to make a repeat trip somewhere, it would have more than paid for itself.
Entering the park from the east entrance, the most obvious observations were: the drop in temperature as we drove to the park’s highest peaks and the barren trees resulting from of a fire which burned down one-third of Yellowstone in 1988. The climb down from the high hilltops leads us right to Lake Yellowstone, a vast blue lake with parts hot and cold and snow-capped mountains peak in the distance.
Yellowstone was established as a national park by President Ulysses S. Grant in 1872, pre-dating even Montana, Wyoming and Idaho in their statehood.
The Act of Dedication reads:
AN ACT to set apart a certain tract of land lying near the headwaters of the Yellowstone River as a public park. Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That the tract of land in the Territories of Montana and Wyoming … is hereby reserved and withdrawn from settlement, occupancy, or sale under the laws of the United States, and dedicated and set apart as a public park or pleasuring ground for the benefit and enjoyment of the people; and all persons who shall locate, or settle upon, or occupy the same or any part thereof, except as hereinafter provided, shall be considered trespassers and removed there from … Approved March 1, 1872.
Yellowstone National Park sits on top of the Yellowstone Caldera, an active super volcano. The magma bed underneath causes earthquakes all the time, generally 3,000 in a single year, and of course, while most are too subtle to feel, measurements have shown that ground levels have “bulged” in areas of the park by as much as 10 inches within the past decade!
Yellowstone’s supervolcano is unfathomably powerful, ominously active and its next eruption is unsettlingly unpredictable. Its previous eruptions are to have been 1,000 times more powerful than Mount St. Helens’s 1980 eruption.
A wooden path leads visitors through a stretch of hot springs and practically within arm’s reach of buffalo. PSA: Don’t reach out to pet them. The nearby information center posts a daily geyser schedule and we were just in time for Old Faithful. Back in Iceland, we had been soaked by Geyser—the first geyser from which all others bear the name: geyser—and now, we would see the world’s most famous.
Approaching Old Faithful’s next “show” crowds began to swarm in and surround the geyser from the comfort of safety as set my roped parameters. We all waited in silence with our cameras on cue.
For several minutes we watched the steam rise up and blow off into the wind, unsure of what to expect but knowing the best was yet to come. And then in one giant swoosh steam rose up several meters into the sky forming a cloud that rolled over us and lasted for several minutes.
Watch the video here: