South Dakotq - Wyoming - Utah Roadtrip Part 2

South Dakota -Wyoming - Utah Roadtrip

Part 2

(Yellowstone National Park)

The trip from the Black Hills to Cody now took us across the State of Wyoming. In the beginning, our drive went through the quite flat landscapes in the northeast of the state. It seemed as if the so-called "Great Plains", a rather monotonous prairie, stretched endlessly. The only changes were the oil wells that appeared from time to time along the way, indicating the wealth of this country.

But pretty soon our journey led us up into the still snow-covered mountains of the Big Horn National Forest. This is also the area where the most decisive battle for Native Americans took place, the "Battle of Little Big Horn", where in the summer of 1876 the US Army of General Custer was defeated by an alliance of Lakota Sioux and Cheyenne Indians.

The highest peaks in these mountains rise to over 13000 ft and are the north-westernmost foothills of the Rocky Mountains. For us, however, time enough to enjoy some winter feeling at this time of the year and to dare a small snowball fight at the wayside. We had a lot of fun in the snow and it made us a little sad that we had to move on. 

Once at the highest point of the pass, we continued along Highway 14, first over steep switchbacks, and then steadily on to Cody.  Cody is a western town named after the western hero Colonel William Frederick Cody, better known by the name "Buffalo Bill", who started his world-famous western show here. With the Buffalo Bill Center and a lovingly restored historic old town, the Wild West is still present today.

Day 3

The town also marks the starting point for all visitors who want to reach Yellowstone via the east entrance. So early the next day, after a wonderful night in our cozy log cabin, we set off in the direction of Yellowstone National Park. Before we left, however, we bought provisions for the day at the nearby Publix, since we wanted to spend the whole day exploring the park with as little time as possible wasted in restaurants. Continuing west, we passed the Buffalo Bill Dam, which provides drinking water for the region. And further, along with breathtaking landscapes, we drove now quickly towards the park entrance.

We reached the east entrance fairly early in the day and were already looking forward to the views and hikes we had planned for the day. After a short wait, the ranger greeted us at the gate and handed us a map of the attractions that awaited us in Yellowstone. Since we wanted to visit several other national parks on our round trip and also planned further trips later in the year, we decided instead to pay the $ 30 one-time park fee, to buy the "America the Beautiful" pass which gives us,  for only $ 80 unlimited admission to all US national parks for a year.

Now that we finally arrived in Yellowstone National Park, which turned out to be one of the highlights of this trip, our route continued uphill. It went past snow-capped mountains towards the still ice-covered Lake Yellowstone at about 8000 ft altitude. Together with the smoking Steamboat geysers the view over the lake was incredible and already a first experience in the park.

After driving a few miles along the lake, we decided to turn off the lake at the Fishing Bridge Overlook and drive north through Hayden Valley instead of following the shore directly to the Yellowstone Grant Visitor Center. This slightly longer round seemed much more attractive to us since Hayden Valley promised animal sightings and herds of buffalo. Also one of the highlights of the park, the visit of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, was waiting for us at the northern end of the round trip.

Although the drive through the Valley did not offer the wildlife that was advertised in the guidebooks, we did see numerous herds of buffalo and some of these giants even came right up to the road. We would have loved to see elk, grizzly bears, or some of the more elusive wolves that live in the area. But maybe it was due to the season that they did not show up for us that day.

It went now directly further along the Yellowstone River with again and again groups of buffalos on both sides of the river to see. After a 20-mile drive through the valley, we finally reached the "Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone". We had heard that from "Artist Point" one has the best view of the Lower Fall, which is the more imposing of the two waterfalls of the canyon. We agreed that this should be our first stop as well. After a short walk to the viewpoint, the whole magnificence of this canyon and a great view of the waterfall opened up to us.

After these unforgettable impressions of the Lower Fall, we now were up to discover the Upper Fall as well. We decided instead of the short car ride back to the parking lot of the Upper Falls, to take a hike along the South Rim to the junction of Uncle Tom's Hike. This heavily trafficked path offered the most spectacular views of the Fall with the Chittenden Bridge in the back.

A bit tired from this wonderful excursion and with these great impressions of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone we decided, although there were more spectacular views from the North Rim, to move on to the next hotspots in the park. Determined to return, we saved the hike down to the falls for our next visit. The next stop this day was the "Noris Geyser Basin" which we reached after about a half-hour drive through a more or less forested area.

To get as many impressions as possible of the different geysers in this basin we decided to walk the 2.9 miles long Back Basin Trail. And man, we were not disappointed. Countless boiling pools shimmering in different colors, and snorting and steaming geysers presented themselves along the way. The path led first over some stairs down into the basin and then mostly over comfortable wooden footbridges through the entire area past the various geysers.

Finally after the second hike of the day, and since the park was already getting filled with many visitors, it was time for us to look for a spot for our lunch break. Now it paid off that we had previously bought sandwiches and drinks in Cody, so we could escape the crowds and find a quiet place to rest. We found a suitable place a little further on our way at a parking space directly on the Gibbon River with a beautiful view of the river.

We both really enjoyed the scenery and after a long break at the river, we were ready to start the second part of our Yellowstone Park adventure in the afternoon. On the plan was now the Midway Geyser Basin with the "Grand Prismatic Spring", as well as another highlight of the day which is one of the largest geysers ever, the "Old Faithful". So we went on our way freshly strengthened and rested. Unfortunately, the park filled now in the afternoon rapidly, and at the entrance to the basin, the vehicles already jammed back from the parking lot to the road.

But that should not be a problem for us at first, since I had read that the best view of the Spring should be from a hill behind the Basin anyway. So our plan was to escape the crowds once again and walk the 1.2 mile Fairy Tail Trail to the Grand Prismatic Overlook. However, we had not done the math with a group of bears in the area, so that the hike was closed by the rangers for visitors.

We were very disappointed, because the view from the top of the "Grand Prismatic Spring" should be another highlight of our Yellowstone visit. So we had no other choice but to return to the parking lot and join the waiting line of cars. Luckily it didn't take too long and after only 20 minutes we got a parking spot directly at the pedestrian bridge over the Firehole river, which leads to the spring.

When we crossed the river and got our first glimpse of the "Grand Prismatic spring" our initial disappointment was gone. Under the misty steam, the spring showed itself in all its beauty and color splendor. It was absolutely breathtaking to walk over the 0.7 mile wooden paths first past the blue shimmering Excelsior Geyser Crater and then further around the Grand Prismatic Spring with its colorful iridescent bacteria cultures. In summary, the spring is probably as impressive when explored from below as it can be from the overlook. Nevertheless, the Fairy Tail Trail remains an integral part of our next visit to the park.

With this great experience we hit the road again and headed for the last leg of the day. On the way to the South Entrance, which was also our exit from Yellowstone Park, we wanted to see Old Faithful, the largest geyser in the park, which rises up to 150 feet over ground. Its relatively precisely timed eruptions are always about 90 minutes apart. For orientation, a clock at the visitor center shows the next event. We arrived at Old Faithful shortly after the eruption, so we had enough time to climb up the 1.2 miles to the Observation Point. From there you have a much better view of the geyser than from the visitor's terrace downstairs right next to the Visitor Center.

And also here the quite strenuous way up to the observation point was worthwhile. After a short wait with numerous other observers waiting for a one-time photo shot, "Old Faithful" showed itself in all its glory. Over several minutes, the boiling water shot vertically into the sky, until it disintegrated in a steam column.

After an exhausting day and countless impressions we sealed our day in Yellowstone National Park and drove in southern direction to our next accommodation. We had again rented a cabin, lying in the immediate vicinity of the adjacent Grand Teton National Park. From there we should start the next day freshly rested our next adventure.