A wonder called Yellowstone

A wonder called Yellowstone

When I landed in Jackson Hole airport, the appendage "hole" to the name Jackson kept intriguing me. My taxi driver told me that "hole" actually means a valley and the town Jackson is located in a valley surrounded by Teton Mountains, a part of the Rocky Mountain Range, which abuts Yellowstone National Park. As we drove to the hotel, the driver pointed to the fenced area to our left and said that it is the National Elk Refuge.
"What is elk?" I asked him. He replied that it is one of the largest species of the antler deer family and during winters thousands of elks can be seen wandering near the town. Another deer species called the moose is also found in abundance nearby.
As we entered the town, the driver pointed out at arches made entirely from elk horns and said that the surrounding forest range is home to grizzly bears, bisons, wolves, variety of birds etc., and suggested that we take guided tours both to the Yellowstone and to the Teton Park.

Arch made of elk horns

Bison at Yellowstone

Eruption from the ground

Early next morning, we set off for our tour of the Yellowstone Park. Our guide John said that the park covers an area of more than 8000 sq. kms and it can be broadly divided into three areas: the geothermal area comprising volcanoes and hot springs; canyons and rivers, lakes and forests and we could have a glimpse of all three.

Before we entered the gate of Yellowstone National Park, we visited Jackson Lake Lodge located in the Teton National Park, a resort listed as a historic landmark. From this resort, one gets a panoramic view of the huge Jackson Lake amid the backdrop of the snowclad Teton Mountains. A number of birds were seen in this beautiful placid lake. After clicking pictures, we proceeded towards the geothermal area of Yellowstone keeping the Snake River to our right.
We saw Moose Falls on our way and soon we were at visitor's center of Old Faithful Geyser. This area known as Yellowstone Thermal Basin consists of a volcano and several thermal springs. The most famous geyser is the Old Faithful. This is a cone geyser which has been erupting regularly every 45 to 120 mins since 2000.

Excelsior geyser crater

Fountain paint pot

IGrand Prismatic

Jackson lake

At the visitor's centre, we were told that the next eruption was at 11.20 am and we rushed towards the geyser and sat on the benches placed nearby. Exactly at 11.17 am, a gushing noise came from the earth followed by steam. A trickle of water came but soon like a fountain, the geyser erupted high. We were told that the average height is about 150 ft. When it stopped, we proceeded towards the Grand Prismatic Spring, the largest hot spring in America and the third largest in the world.

Grand Prismatic is part of a several small and medium size springs in the area. It is a deep blue lake of boiling water whose rim has layers of multicolored earth. The myriad colours, which put a rainbow to shame, is due to microbial mats present at the sides of the lake. The mats change their colour depending on the season. Since we visited in summer, the colours were predominantly orange and red. Because of the gushy winds, steam from the spring covered the entire area and when the winds cleared, we could see the colorful lake whose diameter is approximately 350 ft. The water discharged from the spring flows down a rivulet nearby. The entire area had the smell of sulphur.
We also saw Excelsior Geyser Crater a few meters away. It is a dormant geyser now, but when it was active in the late 19th century, its eruptions reached 300ft and it was the world's largest geyser. Now, we see only its crater.
Later, we went to an area which has all types of geothermal formations called Fountain Paint Pot. This small area has all four types of hydrothermal features of the park: hot spring, mudpot, fumarole and geyser.
From the geothermal area, we drove to the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. This is the canyon through which the mighty Yellowstone River flows. The canyon is 39 kms long and is one of the most colourful in the world. Upon viewing this canyon, Thomas Moran, the 19th century painter, said, "It is beyond the reach of human art".

Old Faithful

Snake river

Teton mountains

The walls of the canyon are a riot of colours and the landscape is beyond description. The Yellowstone River makes a grand fall of 308ft at a place called Lower Falls. Though not as beautiful as Jog falls in Karnataka, the Lower Falls presents a very picturesque sight indeed.
Later, we proceeded towards the Lamar Valley, where we found a number of bisons. Soon, we drove towards the Grand Yellowstone Lake which is the largest body of water in the park. Covering 350 sq. kms, this lake made by the Yellowstone River is popular for many aquatic activities like fishing, boating etc. It offers a very beautiful sight. As the daylight faded, we drove back to our hotel in Jackson feeling satisfied at seeing all attractions of Yellowstone. On the way we were fortunate to see a grizzly bear with a cub as well as a number of moose and deers.
Yellowstone, the first national park of US is an all-time favourite with visitors and is a must see.

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