The Amateur Traveler talks to Erik Smith (who was a guest on Travel to America’s National Parks – Amateur Traveler Episode 121) about Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks.
We talk about all the different geothermal highlights of the park including Old Faithful, other geysers, thermal pools, etc. You will learn some of the facts about the history of the park.
We also talk about wildlife (bison, moose, wolves, elk, bears, etc), hiking, camping, floating down the Snake River, the grand canyon of the Yellowstone, the grandeur of the Tetons (and the strange origin of the name Teton).
So listen in for information on Yellowstone National Park and Grand Teton National Park and please don’t be like many Yellowstone National Park visitors who watch Old Faithful geyser go off and think they have seen Yellowstone.
We talk about the park lodge and other lodging options including camping. We also talk about some of the gateway towns in Montana where you may want to stay to visit Yellowstone.
click here to download (mp3)
click here to download (iTunes enhanced)
Erik Smith’s blog
Erik’s National Park quest
Yellowstone National Park
Yellowstone Super Volcano
Bill Bryson books we mention:
Yellowstone: The Official Guide to Touring America’s First National Park
Travel News – Stay Seated! Bomb Hoax, Swiss Ban German Buns, Stupid Complaints, Must-See National Parks
- Pay attention to that seat belt sign
- Stupid is as stupid does
- Swiss heartland voters ban nude hiking in Alps
- 20 ridiculous complaints made by holidaymakers
A special thanks to Hazel and Cindy!
Chris: I’d like to welcome back to the show, Eric Smith, who’s come to talk to us about Yellowstone National Park. Eric, welcome back to the show.
Erik: Thanks for having me back Chris.
Chris: And I say welcome back to the show, for those of you who haven’t listened that long, Erik came on earlier because he has a quest to visit all of the US National Parks and so he is a great lover of the National Parks as am I. How we doing on the quest, first of all?
Erik: Well, I’m limiting the quest for right now to the lower 48 and I’ve got about 340 parks on the list and I visited 243 of those so far.
Chris: And when we talked last time, we said that we would have him come back on and go into detail about some of the other parks and Yellowstone seemed like a really good one. For one thing, the oldest National Park in the US.
Erik: In the world.
Chris: In the world. Well, I hadn’t thought about that but I suppose that’s true. Ok, why else should we talk about Yellowstone National Park? I won’t steal your thunder here.
Erik: Well, it’s a great summer destination. I have a few friends who are preparing to visit Yellowstone and Grand Teton this summer. Coming from Michigan where I’m at it’s a perfect trip to the west. You get your mountain scenery and you can stop and visit places along the way. Like the Black Hills is about a one-day drive from Yellowstone so you stop there and then you hop into your good mountain scenery with all the unique features that Yellowstone has to offer.
Chris: Well, we also have done it as a driving trip from California when I was a kid. It is accessible via a car trip without spending too much time in it unless you’re very far away.
Erik: It’s a long way from anywhere. It’s a long way from California, a long way from Michigan, a long way from the East Coast. But that’s part of the fun about the drive out, is you know you’re not at home anymore.
Chris: Well and when you’re driving through portions of Wyoming, it feels like a particularly long way. My cousins in Colorado, I think we’ve mentioned, have talked about Wyoming as a state that’s kind of like a cake with all the frosting pushed up into one corner and that would be Yellowstone and also Grand Teton. We should mention the other beautiful area just south of there.
Erik: It’s funny, that’s absolutely true about Wyoming. You drive through on I80 and the lower portion of the state and it’s badlands, but it’s not the pretty type badlands that you have in Badlands National Park and South Dakota. It’s higher elevation badlands, which are just more wind swept. You drive through tiny little towns like Cheyenne, even the capital, is a very small town.
Chris: Right. In terms of windswept my grandfather, when he lived in Cheyenne, said the way you measured whether the wind was blowing is you’d put a chain on a post in the center of town and if the chain was whipping around, then they didn’t consider that windy but if it started to pop the links off the chain that was considered a windy day according to him.
Erik: Yikes. I know I’ve been camping in southern Wyoming where we couldn’t get a grill lit or a campfire lit period because we just couldn’t get enough flame with the wind there.
Chris: So let’s go back to Yellowstone. What should we see in Yellowstone? Tell us a little about Yellowstone. The history of it, the layout of it.
Erik: It was declared a National Park in 1872 and it became more peopled obviously in automotive times. That’s when it became a big draw. And the park is laid out perfectly for a number of driving tours. Obviously, you’re going to want to hike, you’re going to want to get off and do the boardwalks along the geothermal features. But the park if you look at it has two circular roads that connect and it’s sort of like a figure eight with a couple of entrance roads. One heading to the north, which leads you into Montana, through Gardiner, Montana. One to the west into West Yellowstone, Montana and then the one into the east, which takes you to Cody, Wyoming. From any of those destinations, you come in and you can spend anywhere between three and seven days just driving loops.
Chris: Ok, you mentioned the geothermal features. Obviously well known for that. Probably the best-known geyser, of course, being Old Faithful. Not necessarily the most spectacular, but the most reliable.
Erik: That’s a great point. It’s the one everybody’s heard of. But it’s not the only one you should see. The Upper Geyser Basin where Old Faithful is located is home to lots of great geothermal features. You’ll see when you drive up to Old Faithful. First of all, you’ll see the Old Faithful Inn, which is this beautiful old wooden structure from 1903 that was heroically saved during the forest fires of 1988, and it’s a beautiful building to walk around and just absorb the atmosphere. Many presidents have stayed there and it’s a cool thing to see. But then you get out on the boardwalk and you walk up to Old Faithful. The first thing you’ll see is these bleachers which surround Old Faithful and you think, ‘Oh, this is obviously the parks most important spot’ because this is where most of the people go and it’s a great place to watch Old Faithful from. But the real gem of the area is going up to the top of Observation Point which is about a mile or mile and a half hike and it is up a hill and you are at elevation so it’s going to wind you a little bit. But the view from up top of Observation Point is truly phenomenal and you can see over the whole Upper Geyser Basin. You go up there first and you say, “ Hey, I like the looks of that one.” And then you come down and you can get back on the boardwalks and on the paths and walk over and see it in person. But it’s a great place to start because you can see Old Faithful erupt from up there and it’s not as crowded because I’d would say probably oh 10% of the people actually do the hike up there.
Chris: Well and my experience is that once you leave Old Faithful, it’s not as crowded because a lot of people see Old Faithful and then go, get back in the car.
Erik: What a shame. It’s true though. Old Faithful is where most people I think head right away. They think… Well, you think Yellowstone and that’s the iconic image of Yellowstone.
Erik: Obviously if you’re going to Yellowstone, definitely see Old Faithful. But if you have one day and you’re driving from one place to another and you’re going to go through Yellowstone, Upper Geyser Basin is a good place to start. You can see Old Faithful erupt. They have it timed out now to where when you walk up to it, there’s a board there that says roughly the time it’s supposed to go off. If you walk up and you have 70 minutes till the next eruption, there are all these wonderful boardwalks that take you around to some of Yellowstone’s most surprising features. Again you think Old Faithful but then you can go around and see something like some of the other colored pools like Anemone Geyser and things like that. They’re right in the area. If you’re worried about missing Old Faithful, you can see it from anywhere in the basin.
Chris: And if we spend a little more time there, we’re going to do the trip up to the top. What other features should we make sure to see?
Erik: Well, I mentioned Anemone Geyser. That’s one of my favorites. It’s a pool. It’s not your typical geyser, even though it’s called a geyser.
Erik: It sort of fills up and then it overflows and then suddenly it will erupt. It’s a very unique feature. They’ve also got some of the great names. A lot of these geysers all over the park have absolutely great names. Another one is the Beehive Geyser which…
Chris: I remember Beehive.
Erik: From the name you probably figured it looks like a beehive and that’s a very good one. And there’s also the Lion group which has a bunch of different geysers, four to be exact, and they will erupt up to 80’ and they can go off for 1-7 minutes and those are just sitting in a little group and that’s not a far walk from Old Faithful either. Like I say most people walk up, see the sign that says ‘Oh we’ve got 40 minutes till Old Faithful erupts’ and they sit down on the benches waiting for Old Faithful to erupt. That’s when you go explore your other ones. It’s not exactly in the area of Old Faithful, but the Morning Glory Pool is one of the favorite destinations that people have had for many years. Unfortunately, there’s been a lot of vandalism so the color of this particular pool has changed a lot over the years. If you look in the deepest part of the pool, you’ll still see that amazing blue. It’s almost a very light teal but around the edge it’s become more yellow and that’s because people before we knew about environmental issues, thought throwing coins or cans or whatever in there was for some reason a good idea. I can’t figure out how that would happen but they did and it caused the geyser itself to be plugged up and that’s what’s caused this yellowish algae to grow. Yellowish algae is actually interesting looking too until you realize that it’s not suppose to look like that.
Chris: The other two geysers that I remember. I guess I’ve been there twice. Once as a kid and then once right after college when my wife and I drove across country. The other two I remember are Castle Geyser which is again like the Beehive Geyser built up from the ground more and then also Riverside Geyser which goes off over the river at a bit of an angle. Both of those happen less frequently and so you’re less likely to see them if you’re just going to that area at one particular time.
Erik: Right. They are less frequent but they also go off for a little longer. Riverside Geyser, for example, can go off for up to 20 minutes at a time. Photographers especially like to go there and take photographs of the rainbows because the geyser actually erupts into the river, which causes the rainbows to be in the sunlight. It’s a very pretty place to take pictures.
Chris: Ok and then while we’re on the geothermal theme, we should probably mention that that’s not the only place in the park where you can see those kinds of things.
Erik: No, it isn’t and I mentioned in the podcast we did earlier. I like the Norris Geyser Basin a lot. There are two basins on either side of a mountain and one is the Porcelain Basin which has another famous feature called the Steamboat Geyser which if you’re going there to see Steamboat go off, you might be waiting a couple of years. Because usually it’s seven or eight years. It’s been known to be 10 or 12 years between eruptions. But it’s dramatically set on a side of a cliff and it does bubble a lot and it does shoot a little bit of water up in the air. But you can read about it and they have pictures on boards along the boardwalk on the way down that show you how high Steamboat Geyser does erupt when it does. That’s very impressive. The Porcelain Basin side of Norris Geyser also has Emerald Spring, which as you can probably guess from the descriptive title, is a very pretty emerald pool. Another one that has been damaged by vandalism but this one is a little bit more pristine even than Morning Glory. And Porcelain Basin has one of the best names of any geyser. One of my favorites is called the Puff ‘N Stuff Geyser. The geyser itself isn’t very dramatic; I just really like the name. The other side of Norris Geyser Basin is called Back Basin. And that is a quite a bit longer walk but it also has some geysers that have great names: one is called Whirligig, the other is called Pinwheel. They also have a feature called the Black Growler Vent, which is a crack in the Earth’s surface, and it doesn’t shoot out water obviously. It shoots out gas, which we should talk about the sulfur smell in Yellowstone right away but this is one of the places where you really get overwhelmed with the sulfur smell. The interesting feature about the Black Growler Vent is that it disappears from time to time. It will fill in and then it will pop up along the side of the mountain in another place so it’s kind of a moving feature.
Chris: And we should mention a little bit why there is so much geothermal activity in this area.
Erik: Well, the whole middle part of Yellowstone is basically the caldera of a volcano. A large volcano that is more or less extinct, but a lot of this is an offshoot of that volcanic activity right below the earth’s surface.
Chris: Well, I think relatively recently they’ve actually classified it as a Super Volcano and dormant rather than extinct.
Erik: Right dormant. Yeah, that’s the proper term. I think most people driving in there would probably feel better knowing their visiting an extinct volcano than a dormant one. Every once in a while you’ll read online or in the paper where somebody is subjected that this volcano is ready to go off and those would worry people but I don’t think that if the scientists thought that was going to happen, they’d let people in. But it is related to the volcanic activity right below the earth’s surface.
Chris: Well, we should be clear too that if it does go off, a Super Volcano, because of the scale of it, they believe the last time it erupted, I believe, that it covered like all of Nebraska in ash like three feet deep. So you don’t really want to be in North America if it goes off. So going to leave Yellowstone is the least of your problems if that’s really going to erupt.
Erik: Yes, absolutely. It makes for a good thing to tell the kids. If you’re not good, this volcano might go off.
Chris: That just reminded me of a traumatic incident when I was five years old visiting Lassen National Park in California where I asked the question, while we were standing in front of some thermal pools,” Dad, do you ever think this could become a volcano?” and right at that moment after my father said, “Well, I don’t know. Maybe it could.” they were blasting for a highway up on the area. My parents said if they hadn’t caught my brother and I, we would still be running so.
Erik: Oh, goodness. I could only imagine. See there’s your volcano trauma for the day.
Chris: Now even if I hate geothermal and the smell of sulfur, there’s something for me in Yellowstone. What else should I do in Yellowstone, even if I never want to see a geyser in my life?
Erik: That’s a good point that there are other things because I have heard people say that after a while, after two or three days in Yellowstone, you get a little bit of geothermal fatigue. There are always a lot of good things to see. Up in the northern part of the park is Mammoth Hot Springs, which is a small village at the site of what used to be Fort Yellowstone. The Albright Visitors Center is up there and that’s a really good visitors center. It gives you more than just the geothermal history. It gives you the people history of the park. There’s also the Bunsen Peak Trail. We talked about geothermal features but you’ve got to remember it’s a mountain park too. Bunsen Peak, it’s not your classic mountain hike; it’s not a technical hike. It’s only about 4 miles or so, but it does give you some great views over the valley. And it’s something that again isn’t geothermal so if you’re worn out on that, you can head up to the north side of the park. There’s also the Canyon area, which is the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, which is probably one of the most photogenic parts of the park. In scale it’s not The Grand Canyon from Arizona but the colors are spectacular and there are two waterfalls: the Upper and Lower Falls. There are good drives on both sides of the canyon. The North Rim Drive ends in a place called Inspiration Point, which is quite elevated and gives you an elevated view down over the valley and then the south rim drive ends at a place called Artists Point, which is perfect because it’s more of an artistic. I know people, photographers especially; really love the colors that come out from Artists Point.
Chris: Right. Exactly. And then I think probably the other thing we need to mention would be wildlife.
Erik: Oh yes, wildlife. I was lucky enough to see a grizzly bear across the river from a safe distance when I was there in 2006 and that was a real thrill. The estimates are there are about 600 grizzlies in Yellowstone and hopefully you don’t run into one on a trail. But people say that there are a lot of sightings especially early and late in the year before the real crunch of the tourist crowds hit in the middle of the summer. There’s also black bears, which are a little bit more populous than the grizzlies, and those are smaller. You can tell the difference between a black bear and a grizzly bear by the grizzly bear has a large hump in its shoulder area and the color is different, although black bears can technically be brown too. Other wildlife, I know people always hear about are the wolves of Yellowstone. In researching for this podcast I looked today and there’s an estimate of somewhere between 120 and 180 gray wolves in the park. I have never seen one. They’re very furtive and they’re a lot harder to see. I was told by a ranger that if you want to really try to see them that the Hayden Valley, which is an area between the canyon we just mentioned and the fishing bridge area more to the east side of the park, is a good place to try to see them and early in the morning.
Chris: Because they’re predominately nocturnal as I recall.
Erik: Right, but everybody’s heard about the … or most people have. I should probably explain it for those who haven’t. They reintroduced the gray wolf into Yellowstone after they had become extinct in this ecosystem and it was such a good thing that they were able to take the Gray Wolf off the endangered species list. Now ranchers and farmers in the surrounding areas have not enjoyed that reintroduction at all. But it has been a success story and it’s one of the things that Yellowstone and the National Park Service is really proud of.
Chris: The other wildlife encounter we had when we were there, besides obviously elk and deer and those sort of things that you’ll see more regularly, was moose. We did see a mother moose and her cub; I want to say no, a foal? mice?
Erik: I don’t know that one. I’ve never seen a moose. I guess you’re kind of lucky in that aspect. I’ve really wanted to and when I was down in Grand Teton I was told, when I pulled off at a scenic wayside, that there was just one there and I waited and searched, used the zoom on my camera, I never did find it. When you said another animal we should mention, I thought you were definitely going to go with buffalo because they’re everywhere too. They just cover the park.
Chris: Or bison we really mean to say when we say buffalo.
Erik: Bison, right. They had a bad disease that the bison caught a couple of years ago, which thinned the numbers out from somewhere about 4500 down to 3000. But you don’t have to worry about not seeing them. They are everywhere. That’s one reason that you really should obey the 40 mph speed limit on Yellowstone’s road is because you could turn a corner and there will be three or four in the middle of the road. I know in 2006 just on my drive in from the east entrance coming from Cody, Wyoming, I had decided to come in very early in the morning because I was told the wildlife would be plentiful. It was probably 7:30 or so when I drove in and turned a corner and there were four buffalo in the middle of the road. That’s a neat thing to see but you also don’t want to hit them because they’re quite big. They look so peaceful and you hear stories of tourists walking right up to them and trying to pet them. But all the literature you get says, “Be very aware of the bison. Visitors are injured and killed every year by them”. So they may look peaceful, but use your common sense and of course listening to the Amateur Traveler you have to be a pretty savvy traveler. I wouldn’t expect I needed to give that warning to any of your listeners, but just in case they’re talking to somebody else. Just be careful.
Chris: Yeah. I haven’t seen somebody do that with a bison but I‘ve seen them do it with a large elk. Not realizing probably how many people are injured by elk or moose. They’re a big animal. And when they get spooked, and this one clearly was spooked. And they wanted to get their picture taken with this beautiful animal and it wasn’t too thrilled about it. I thought we were going to be able to record some very newsworthy event there for a moment.
Erik: It’s funny because that’s the stories that you hear. Bill Bryson, who you mentioned when you were talking about Audible, your sponsor there. He wrote a book a couple of years ago; actually it was quite a while ago. It was back in the 80’s where he traveled…
Chris: Yes, it was one of his earlier ones, Into The Woods.
Erik: No, this one was, I don’t remember the name of it, The Lost Continent maybe.
Chris: Ok, I know which one you are talking about.
Erik: It’s the one where he was living in England; he comes back to the United States and drives out there.
Chris: I’m a Stranger Here Myself.
Erik: Yeah. He describes how when he was in Yellowstone he actually saw a tourist who thought it would be a good idea to get a picture with his kids on the back of a buffalo.
Chris: Oh my goodness.
Erik: Whether that‘s Bill Bryson’s wild imagination, which comes through in a lot of his books, I don’t know. I would hope that people would be smart enough to look at these magnificent creatures and think. They will be just walking in parking lots. I saw just a couple of them wandering through the Old Faithful parking lot when I was there in 2006 and thought, ‘Oh, this is just an accident waiting to happen.’ So hopefully people are smart enough around the buffalo that they are going to understand that this is still a wild animal. It may look domesticated being around all these people, but they’re still wild.
Chris: Well, I think that’s just perhaps natural selection at work there trying to thin out the human herd.
Erik: Yes, exactly.
Chris: This show is gong to be one of the longer ones already. But I don’t want to skip; you had mentioned the Grand Teton.
Erik: It is so easy to overlook Grand Teton because Yellowstone is so incredibly diverse. But if you’re going to Yellowstone, the Grand Teton is just to the south via a short drive on the John D. Rockefeller Memorial Parkway. Which I must say sounds fancy, people conjure up images in their mind, and it’s pretty benign. It’s just a road that connects the two parks. The Rockefeller Parkway showed me was how thoroughly a forest fire can damage a landscape. Because when you drive the Rockefeller Parkway, you’ll see remnants of the forest fires, not just the large one in ’88 but also some of the ones that happened in the last decade. But you pass through that and then you get into Grand Teton National Park which I’ve seen a lot of mountains and these are some of the most fetching mountains you will ever see. Every where you go in the park they are visible to you and you may have seen them a hundred times already in one day, but you’ll still find yourself pulling over at that wayside to get out and look at this magnificent wall of mountains that just lies right over the Snake River. They are just really attractive.
Chris: And it’s odd that you use the term fetching. As the origin of the Grand Teton, I’m not sure if you know that story?
Erik: I know the story but I wanted to keep your clean label on the iTunes broadcast part. It was French travelers across the mountains who obviously hadn’t seen women in a while and named them after a part of the female anatomy that I guess they had longed for after all their many months in the wilderness. Another great description of that comes from the same Bill Bryson book I just mentioned where he describes the desperation of French travelers. You look at them and that’s not what I think of but that’s where the name comes from.
Chris: No, well in fact they’re named after the French word for breast, which is particularly odd considering that there are three predominate peaks. So it had been, as you say, a long time in the wilderness.
Erik: Yes. It’s a great story though. It’s one of those where, yeah you got to figure out if you’re kids are really old enough to handle that story. Because I did look very carefully when I was in visitor centers. The National Park Service can be very politically correct and I wanted to see how they were going to exactly approach that particular story and I couldn’t find any mention of it there. Fortunately I wasn’t having to travel with any teens or pre-teens so I didn’t have to explain that story to and then every time you get out of the car and have to listen to them giggle at that story.
Erik: There are a couple of things about the Grand Teton I’ll mention real quick here. I worried about it when taking notes. I did a page and a half of notes on Yellowstone and have five sentences on Grand Teton. I think that’s probably what you get a lot of with Grand Teton. Everybody hears Yellowstone and is overwhelmed by the size of that park. But there’s good stuff in Grand Teton too. There are two historic sites that I like a lot. One is Menors Ferry, which is down on the south side of the park near the Moose Visitors Center. This was a turn of the century ferry across the Snake River. They have a restored trading post there and a restored church; or replica of those, not exactly restored. And then also The Cunningham Cabin, which is very basic but gives you an idea of what the early settlers in the area had to go through in settling the area.
Chris: As I recall, there’s also a chapel in the Grand Tetons that’s very popular for weddings because basically the background for this chapel is the Grand Teton. I’m drawing a blank on the name of it.
Erik: That’s in the Menors Ferry area. I am drawing a blank on the name too. But that is in the Menors Ferry area as well. Again they mentioned it in the book I was looking through that said the Tetons being your backdrop. That would be a great place to get married. We did a float trip on the Snake River and there are lots of companies where you can do this. Our guide was great. One of the things he did was explain there are six very large peaks in the Tetons and he explained which one was Grand, which one was Mt. Owen, which one was Teewinot. He also was able to point out wildlife that I think we probably would have missed had we just done the drive up and down the side of the Snake River. We were able to see bald eagles and osprey. It was really fascinating. It was not on the expensive side, more on the affordable side. Like I say, it was something that I’ll never forget.
Chris: And we say a float trip, we’re talking about a six person inflatable raft?
Erik: Yeah, six or eight. It wasn’t white water rafting.
Chris: That’s the difference between a float and a white water trip is usually your class one or class two rapids or something like that.
Erik: Exactly. People would think to themselves, ‘Well I don’t want to be tossing up and down.’ It’s nothing like that. It’s very relaxed. The guides are usually people who do that because they want to live in this area. Our guide had just recently got back from hiking Grand Teton. Which if you look at the mountain itself and you can tell that this is not a mountain you’re just going to walk up the side of.
Chris: No, no. I have never been tempted to do that.
Erik It’s a very technical climb. People die every couple of years attempting that climb. And it is one of the more difficult climbs. I guess a few of the other mountains are not as technical. But Grand Teton itself is basically a two-day climb. And there are a lot of companies that advertise to do that as well. I’m just not in that good of physical condition that I have ever wanted to try that.
Chris: And practical tips. Places to stay. Places to eat. Any recommendations that you would add?
Erik: Well, if you are going to try to stay at Old Faithful Inn, you’re going to spend a lot of money. Obviously it’s a historic site. It’d probably be worth it. I would have spent one night there what I spent on my whole trip. The gateway towns are a good place to start looking. You can camp inside the parks. The gateway town for Grant Teton – it is Jackson, Wyoming. The famous Jackson Hole to the south. There are a lot of hotels and campgrounds in that area.
Chris: Also a number of good restaurants in Grant Teton, in Jackson Hole, I found.
Erik: In Jackson. It has become a lot more posh over the years. I met a teacher when I was there last time who actually taught in the Jackson Schools, but had to live across the Idaho border in a town over there because Jackson had become so expensive. But in Yellowstone you’re going to look at the gateway towns. Specifically Gardiner, Montana, which is by the north entrance. And West Yellowstone, Montana, which is by the west entrance to the park. Those are good places and probably a lot cheaper than Jackson Hole itself. In the east, if you are coming from the east like I would and like a lot of people do, Cody, Wyoming is a couple of hours away. Cody, Wyoming is a town that has all the amenities. But you’re also quite aways away from the park. You don’t want to stay in Cody and commute into Yellowstone everyday. It’d be smarter to stop in Cody and head into the park. There’s also a lot of camping options in the park. The fishing Bridge area has an RV park. And the one time I did stay in the park, we stayed in a cabin up in the Mammoth Hot Springs area, which happened to be on September 11, 2001, which really taught me how far out in the middle of nowhere Yellowstone was.
We came into the park in the morning and had absolutely no idea that anything had happened elsewhere in the world until about 4:00 in the afternoon. So it was getting dark in New York by the time we were able to find a TV. I think that more than anything else just showed me how far in the middle of nowhere I was when I was in Yellowstone. We just had somebody mention it while we were sitting on one of the benches waiting for Old Faithful to erupt that something had happened at the World Trade Centers and we tried to get radio and couldn’t get any radio stations. It wasn’t until we got back to our hotel where we actually learned something had happened. That’s your middle of the nowhere Yellowstone story.
Chris: Well, we stayed in West Yellowstone the last trip we were through there in one of the inexpensive motels there. I think at one point we thought we were going to leave our car there because our car was not dealing well with the altitude. It was a car that was used to being at sea level and it wasn’t adjusted for that altitude and gave what we thought was it’s death rattle. But it turned out to start again eventually and we were able to drive on to California.
Erik: Well, that would have been an interesting place to be doing podcasts from. I stayed in West Yellowstone too. I stayed in a particularly good KOA in West Yellowstone. It’s actually quite a bit outside, eight or nine miles outside the city itself. And it’s a beautiful spot. It’s hard to find spots that aren’t beautiful in that area.
Erik: Anywhere you are going to stay, you are going to have the beautiful sunsets over the mountains. That’s one of the advantages of the area, you are going to have to try to find an ugly spot there and I don’t think you can.
Chris: As we go to wind this down, is there anything else you wish that you had known before you went there?
Erik: I can’t really say there is anything that I had wished I had known. My first visit there was like you, when I was a kid my parents took me out there. And I just remember the awe of the whole thing. I was 12 years old when we went out there the first time and at 12 years old you’re starting to get a little bit jaded towards things but there’s no way that you can be jaded in this park. It is such a place of wonder that anybody of any age can love it. As far as things I wished I’d known there are just so many resources out there now with the internet and guidebooks and everything. If I could just recommend one guidebook real quick. The Yellowstone Association is a non-profit organization. And they can be found at Yellowstoneassociation.org. They sell for $7.00 or at least that’s what it was when I bought it. This beautiful color guide. It’s called Yellowstone – The Official Guide to Touring America’s First National Park. It gives you a lot of what you going to need to know so you’re not caught off guard when you get out there. It doesn’t have lodging and that kind of information. It’s more of a park guide, but it’s a great place to start.
Chris Ok. You really know you’re in Yellowstone when ….what?
Erik: Two things: the smell of sulfur and that very odd sound that elk make. It’s their call. It’s like a shrill whistle. You look at elk and they’re big and you think that they’ve got to make … like the bison, you hear them make the real husky huffing sound. Well, the elk is like a sheer whistle. The fist time your hear it, if you don’t see it coming from them, you’re not going to know what it’s coming from. It’s almost like a whistle/scream. It’s very, very strange.
Chris: And then if you had to summarize Yellowstone, and we’ll throw in the Tetons also, in three words, what three words would you use?
Erik: Geothermal, diverse and just gorgeous. I hate to use one that so many other people have used there but every turn you make in Yellowstone you think, ‘Boy, this is amazing how lucky I am to have this as part of my country.’
Chris: Erik, thanks so much for coming back on the show and sharing one of your favorite and also one of my favorite National Parks and telling us a little bit about it.
Erik: Thanks Chris and thanks for all the hard work you do on the podcast. It’s a real pleasure to listen to.
Chris: Well, thank you.
Thanks to Cindy the intern Amateur Traveler for transcribing this episode
+Chris Christensen | @chris2x | facebook
4 Responses to “Travel to Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks – Episode 183”
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Tags: audio travel podcast, erik smith, grand teton national park, national park, podcast, wyoming, yellowstone national park
May 2nd, 2009 at 10:32 pm
Also check out http://www.geyserstudy.org , the official website of the Geyser Observation and Study Association, for more information than you’d ever believe existed about Yellowstone’s geysers.
May 5th, 2009 at 11:40 am
Baby moose are called calves. The gender names are taken from the cow family of mammals. They are so ugly they are cute. I heard they have faces only a mother could love. Jennifer Brown, VA
May 6th, 2009 at 9:49 pm
You are correct. I looked it up. A baby moose is a calf.
Travel to Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks - Amateur Traveler Episode 183 Transcript | Amateur Traveler Travel BlogSays:
June 7th, 2009 at 10:25 pm
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