The wide open space of the Yellowstone National Park might come as a shock to city kids, when there is not much else but big blue skies and the Rocky Mountains.
We’d entered Yellowstone via the Grand Tetons in the south, travelling through Wyoming. On a tour across the northern United States – aptly named the Northern Trail – we tried to take in a few national parks on the way, and the world’s oldest national park was very high on the list.
Before we checked into the camp we made our way to Old Faithful Geyser, after all it was the one geyser absolutely everyone in our multinational group had heard of, and it erupted just as we pulled up alongside it. Continuing on to the Grand Prismatic Spring as well as the Norris Geyser Basin we got used to the smell of sulphur in the air from the geothermal activity, but walking along the wooden walkways to the colourful spring we got surrounded by clouds of steam and sulphur. As it was quite an overcast day as well, we barely saw the rainbow colours of the Grand Prismatic Spring.
That night we set up our tents in the camp and lived through the most ferocious thunderstorm any of us had ever encountered. It’s one thing to observe a thunderstorm from the safety of a house or car, but it’s a different thing altogether when there is only a layer of canvas between you and the elements.
At least the thunder kept the bears away. Yellowstone was our last stop in “bear country”, so we were all eager to finally see one, though preferably not going through the camp at night.
Exploring the national park in bright sunshine, we made our way to the park’s namesake Canyon of the Yellowstone and found a scenic spot overlooking the falls. After hiking to another lookout and back, we made our way north to Mammoth Hot Springs and the travertine terraces. We had to stop several times in order to let bison cross the road but we still had not seen a bear.
A short hop into the Montana side of Yellowstone National Park and we crossed the 45th Parallel about 2 miles further north. We were halfway between the equator and the North Pole but then turned back towards the border. Right on the border to Wyoming, there is a small parking space right next to the river. Our guide kept quiet when he kicked us out the van for another hike. So imagine our surprise when we came across a few shallow pools along the river and he told us to get in the water! We all had a change of clothes in the van and we were heading back to camp anyway, so we jumped into the water. Imagine our even greater surprise when we realised we were sitting in Boiling River – so named because the natural hot springs heat it up! Lounging in the hot water definitely made a nice change from cold camp showers, it has to be said.
The next morning, we left Yellowstone National Park on our way eastwards. We had come across many wild animals, herds of bison, moose, elk. We had heard coyotes – but we still had not seen a single grizzly bear. As soon as we’d leave Yellowstone our chances of encountering a bear would be very slim, especially once we left the Rockies behind for prairie. Our guide ad boasted that every tour he’s ever had managed to see bears in the wild and it looked like we’d be the one exception. With one mile to go to the eastern entrance of Yellowstone National Park, the guide hit the brakes and simply pointed out of the window.
There, in the woods, was a young grizzly bear foraging for food.