Our Awesome World: Yellowstone National Park

Grand Canyon of Yellowstone

I’ve spent my whole life fascinated by the outdoors.  It might be one of those situations that occurred because of my curiosity; I grew up in the suburbs, moved to the city and only went camping a handful of times as a kid, never in the woods or anything like that.  I had this urge to get away from civilization, at least temporarily, and really experience nature.  By the time I did, I felt like I had missed a lifetime of experiences, so my wife and I decided that for our first camping trip, we should do it up.  Instead of going and doing a trip to a KOA or something like that, we aimed high. We were realistic and knew that we would likely be “car camping,” which involves a designated campground, parking near your tent, and having some sort of access to bathrooms, water, etc.  To us, the more appealing option was to spend a day and a half driving across the country to a place with no nearby airport, no TV or radio, no cell phone service and a decent chance of being attacked and eaten by a bear.

That place turned out to be Yellowstone National Park.  The first, the original, the iconic national park.  Hell, Yogi Bear lived in a crude parody of it in the Hanna-Barbera universe (great universe, by the way).  It had wide open spaces, forests, mountains, geysers, boiling rivers, a huge lake and is just undeveloped enough to make you feel like you’re actually roughing it.  There are bears, wolves, bison, elk, coyotes, moose and more.  The whole place oozes that Americana I’m obsessed with so much (Americana: people still drive station wagons, enjoy a highball or two after work, grill with charcoal, take their coffee black and enjoy hot dogs.  All that good stuff.)  To me, it’s pretty much the ultimate American vacation.

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I don’t work for Fodor’s or anything like that, but I do sadly work in the travel industry, so I can at least pretend I know what I’m talking about.

The level of accommodation varies greatly in Yellowstone, the most basic (in camping terms this is referred to as “rustic”) option is what the park calls “back country camping.”  Put simply, this involves getting a permit to walk out into the middle of nowhere with only the things on your back, pitch a tent, sleep, and carry everything back out.  There are no rangers watching over you, no bathrooms and no lights.  The other, more popular camping option, involves going to a campsite, paying a small fee, and camping more or less near your vehicle.  Designated campsites in the park vary from location to location, but they all offer some sort of running water and a bathroom (though some have vault toilets.  Use your imagination if you don’t already know.) and a place to build a campfire.  Certain sites allow generators, are RV only, have showers available, as well as other amenities.  There are also an assortment of hotels and cabins available within the park, but as I said before, no radio and no TV, along with no Internet and no air conditioning.  These range from rustic, lodge styled buildings to Victorian architecture.

Dining in the park can be hit or miss.  Ideally, one would cook or otherwise prepare all of their meals at their campsite, but the limitation of having to return midday or to spend time prepping sandwiches to drive around with in the car lacks some appeal.  There are an assortment of quick-service restaurants operated by the park, but expect to pay about eight dollars for a very basic meal, sans beverage, per person.  It is pricey for what it is, but understandably since transporting food into Yellowstone must be exceedingly expensive.  There are also some casual dining options in the park, which after a few rainy days, it was nice to enjoy a hot meal and a beer indoors.

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The park offers breathtaking views from various high points around the park.  There are a variety of thermal features to see, not just the ever-popular Old Faithful Geyser.  Aside from other geysers, this includes places where the mud appears to boil up from the earth and pools of water that feature a brilliant array of colors, all of it stinging the noses of observers with a strong sulfuric odor.  Yellowstone also has its own “grand canyon,” aptly named The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, which can be viewed from dozens of points and elevations (read: some steep elevation changes on foot required).  Throughout the park there are also massive numbers of charred remains of trees, a reminder of the wildfires of 1988, but with new trees and plants sprouting from everywhere in between.  There are literally more things than I could have imagined before I came to the park, and yet there were numerous things I did not have a chance to see.

So what things can I recommend, as an expert on all things awesome, for a first time visitor?
Campground:
Norris
This campground is located fairly equidistant to most major attractions in the park, “real” bathrooms (no hot water or showers though, sorry), has a few somewhat private sites and only allows in a few RVs (these are the loudest things in the park from what I could tell).  Cost wise, it’s on the low end of the spectrum and is a first come, first pick site.

Dining, Restaurant:
Canyon Lodge Dining Room
The food was decent, but I really liked the atmosphere here.  Kind of a 1960’s supper club in the woods kind of feel.  They also had a decent bar, which went a long way with me.

Dining, quick-service:
The Lake area’s general store had a nice lunch counter, and had most of the items carried at similar locations, with some malt-shop type options as well.

Must see sights:
-Old Faithful Geyser
-Grand Canyon of Yellowstone
-Lake Yellowstone
-Mammoth Hot Springs
-Norris Geyser Basin
-Artists Paint Pots

Side note: I know a lot of people who dream of backpacking around Europe.  So it was odd to me to see a lot of Europeans backpacking around Wyoming.  And if you leave via Gardiner, MT, hit up the Wash Tub.  Best four dollar shower I’ve ever had.

Posted on November 17, 2009 at 02:25 by socketeer · Permalink
In: Our Awesome World, Travel, Vacation

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