Yellowstone

This is additional info on Yellowstone National Park for our Outdoor Club Grand Tetons trip. For our event, any side trip you take to Yellowstone will not be an official club event and the college owned kayaks can’t be used there unless the advisor is along.

Below, on the left, a National Park Service aerial view of Yellowstone Park

to the right, in the NASA photo from space the biggest lake in the upper half is Yellowstone Lake, and the long one further south is Jackson Lake, with the Teton range showing as a white snow covered strip to the left of it.

NPS Yellowstone aerial view: NASA Yellowstone Tetons: NASA Aerial view from space of Yellowstone and Grand Teton National parks

an NPS raised relief map of Yellowstone:

NPS photo raised relief map Yellowstone:

and in this NPS panorama, the Teton range, with Jackson Lake showing just below it, is at the top:
painting of raised relief of Yellowstone

 

simple map

The south border of Yellowstone is only 8 miles from the north border of Grand Teton. It’s 56 miles from Colter Bay to Old Faithful, Colter Bay to West Thumb in Yellowstone is 39 miles. It’s possible to do the whole figure eight sightseeing loop of Yellowstone’s main road (the Grand Loop) in one day, but not advised. Cumulative mileages: Upper Loop 70 mi/113 km, Lower Loop 96 mi/155 km, Grand Loop 142 mi/229 km)

Expect traffic jams at entrance stations and along the road when bison decide it is time to cross the road:

long lines of cars

and traffic jams when people try to park just off the roadway (often illegally) and can’t get their vehicle far enough off the road, but take of to sightsee, get a photo, making it difficult for others to get by:

cars in roadway and across center lane

Expect people who ignore No Parking signs, making it difficult for people who park legally to back out of their parking space.

driver with door  open, leaning out to look behind his car in an attempt to not back into an illegally parked car behind him

Another reason to only park in wide-enough paved turnouts along the road
is that if you park a vehicle in tall dry grass,
hot tailpipes can cause fine fuels to catch on fire.

Yellowstone has a page about parking, including busy times (you guessed it, often noonish to 4 p.m.)
https://www.nps.gov/yell/planyourvisit/parking.htm

safe parking drawing

herd of elk, bull with head raised to bugle

Yellowstone safety basics really worth reading:

https://www.nps.gov/yell/planyourvisit/safety.htm

Lots of travel companies that say you can see wolves while there. Sightings are actually rare and from quite a distance.

From a 2018 wolf report: “There were at least 80 wolves in 9 packs (7 breeding pairs) living primarily in Yellowstone National Park (YNP) at the end of December 2018.” “As of January 2020, there are at least 94 wolves in Yellowstone park. Eight packs were noted.”
According to Yellowstone Forever, as of 2021 “31 wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone National Park between 1995 and 1997, and today, at least 94 wolves in 8 unique packs thrive in the park”
https://www.yellowstone.org/

Wolf pack territories in Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks and wolf watching tips includes links to years of park service wolf reports.

Yellowstone National park had this in the Yellowstone Visitor Guide:

And see the 2018 Yellowstone Bird Report. Many of the same birds are in Grand Teton National park. See pictures and links to bird calls.

2018 Bear Management Annual Report.

Yellowstone Science https://www.nps.gov/subjects/yellowstonescience/yellowstone-science-archive.htm

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A photo competition with some great pictures: https://www.yellowstone.org/photo-contest-2016-winners/

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These photos are by Quang-Tuan Luong/terragalleria.com
, all rights reserved.

two bison QTL: upper geyser basin QTL: GF Geyser QTL: grizzly QTL:

See what people were doing before a bison charged them.

old faithful terragalleria: hayden valley bison terragalleria: Falls of the Yellowstone River early morning by Quang-Tuan Luong:

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We really recommend that people who are planning a long trip take the time for the hike to the top of Mount Washburn near Dunraven Pass in Yellowstone. When we last did this hike they had warnings that there is no water along the trail or at the fire lookout at the top. Others on the trail did not take this warning seriously and were quite dehydrated by only half way through. From the top you can see (far off) Old Faithful and other geysers erupting.

people on trail nearing top of peak

Here, a view of Mount Washburn from the Hellroaring Creek trail in the Absaroka Beartooth Wilderness:

view of far off mountain

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The park newspaper Yellowstone Today (Yellowstone Guide)

https://www.nps.gov/yell/planyourvisit/visitor-guide.htm

Planning a visit to Yellowstone is at:
http://www.nps.gov/yell/planyourvisit/index.htm

with links to maps, and a complete park trip planner. At the maps section you can click on individual section maps, many of which have online tours.

Video of geyser eruption
https://www.nps.gov/media/video/view.htm?id=8EB6716F-D62C-4D5A-9641-1F88AACA5ACA

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Bison sometimes wander through some of the Yellowstone National Park campgrounds (notice the size of these two bison in comparison to the tents):

two bison in campground, bigger than two tents

Where can you find bison herds in Yellowstone? The NPS map below shows bison July-August breeding range (in dark red), Sept-May fall-winter range (orange). Bison movement routes are shown with red arrows:
NPS yellowstone bison winter summer range map: map shows July-August breeding range, Sept-May fall-winter range and bison movement routes

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The Yellowstone Park website also has links to online nature tours, geology, at:
http://www.nps.gov/yell/learn/nature/index.htm

There can be bear management areas closed or restricted to travel http://www.nps.gov/yell/parkmgmt/bearclosures.htm

The Yellowstone park site has mini-videos well worth watching:
“Park regulations state that visitors must stay more than 100 yards away from bears and 25 yards away from other wildlife. Many visitors see large wild animals that seem tame and therefore approach far closer than they should. These videos are intended to convince everyone that it is unwise to approach wild animals even if they seem tame.” One shows an elk redoing the paint job on a Cadillac.

NPS photo of an elk ramming a car:

Watch the videos at: http://www.nps.gov/yell/learn/photosmultimedia/safetyvideos.htm

(When we watched them they took quite awhile longer than advertised to watch, as they had to rebuffer a few times, but they are worth it. No, we’ve never gotten even close to having anything like this happen.)

NPS chart depicting bear -cause injuries and fatalities in Yellowstone National park

https://www.nps.gov/yell/learn/nature/injuries.htm has this:
“Since Yellowstone was established in 1872, eight people have been killed by bears in the park. More people in the park have died from drowning (121 incidents), burns (after falling into hot springs, 21 incidents), and suicide (26 incidents) than have been killed by bears. To put it in perspective, the probability of being killed by a bear in the park (8 incidents) is only slightly higher than the probability of being killed by a falling tree (7 incidents), in an avalanche (6 incidents), or being struck and killed by lightning (5 incidents).”

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Stay on boardwalks and designated trails. Do not touch any thermal features and keep foreign objects out of springs. It can be windy so cinch your hats and secure your items.

Every year people are badly burned when they fall into thermal features in Yellowstone.

sign thin crust area: warning sign at Yellowstone thermal basin: thin crust area

Most of this is due to not staying on the boardwalks, or playing/running on the board walks, or not looking and respecting instructions on warning signs:.

people walking the wrong way on a boardwalk with a large one way sign

The boardwalks are narrow and do not always have railings. Running, playing or bringing dogs on these would be dangerous:

dozens of people close together on boardwalk

A park news release said: “Yellowstone park visitors are reminded that for their own safety it is important to stay on boardwalks and designated trails while viewing all thermal features in the park. Scalding water underlies thin, breakable crusts; many geyser eruptions are unpredictable, and many thermal features are near or above boiling temperatures. Boardwalks and trails help protect park visitors and prevent damage to delicate formations.”

January 9, 2020

MAMMOTH HOT SPRINGS, WY – Two men were recently sentenced for trespassing on the cone of Old Faithful Geyser, a closed thermal area. Eric Schefflin, 20, of Lakewood, Colorado, and Ryan Goetz, 25, of Woodstock, New York, appeared in court on December 5, 2019, before U.S. Magistrate Judge Mark Carman at the Yellowstone Justice Center in Mammoth Hot Springs, Wyoming.

Schefflin and Goetz pleaded guilty to the violation of thermal trespass. On September 10, 2019, at about 8:30 p.m., employees and visitors witnessed two individuals walking on the cone of Old Faithful Geyser and reported it to park dispatch. A ranger contacted and cited Schefflin and Goetz.

Sentencing for each included:

10 days of incarceration
$540 in restitution
Five years of unsupervised probation
Five year ban from Yellowstone National Park

Visitors must realize that walking on thermal features is dangerous, damages the resource, and illegal. Law enforcement officers take this violation seriously. Yellowstone National Park also appreciates the court for recognizing the impact thermal trespass can have on these amazing features,” said Chief Ranger Sarah Davis.

sign danger keep out

read more incidents at:
fatal, near fatal or close call incidents/accidents in camping, backpacking, climbing and mountaineering

Smoking is prohibited in geyser basins, on trails and boardwalks, in buildings, or within 25 feet (7.6 m) of entrances

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travel poster

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Is there a bulge under Yellowstone Lake?

Frequently asked questions about recent findings at Yellowstone Lake is at:

http://volcanoes.usgs.gov/yvo/new.html

Yellowstone Monthly Activity Update — Each update is compiled for the previous month and posted in the first week of the new month.

http://volcanoes.usgs.gov/yvo/

and more FAQs at:

http://volcanoes.usgs.gov/yvo/2005/docudrama.html

including:

QUESTION: Do scientists know if a catastrophic eruption is currently imminent at Yellowstone?

ANSWER: There is no evidence that a catastrophic eruption at Yellowstone is imminent, and such events are unlikely to occur in the next few centuries. Scientists have also found no indication of an imminent smaller eruption of lava.

The Yellowstone caldera is in about the center of the park, including the northern part of Yellowstone Lake. Picture a semi-circle encompassing the area from Madison to Norris to a bit east of Canyon Village, then south to east of Fishing Bridge and Bridge Bay then continue west to south of Grant Village and west of Old Faithfull then finally back up to Madison. If you camp or stay in hotel at Grant Village, Old Faithful or Canyon Village you have literally slept on a caldera.

This display about the caldera details the cubic miles of material erupted by the Yellowstone Super Volcano in the last big eruption 164,00 million years ago versus Mount St. Helens and Crater Lake.

drawings of The giant crater (“caldera”) formed by the eruption and collapse of Yellowstone Supervolcano 640,000 years ago dwarfs the crater on top of Mt. St. Helens and the caldera of Mt. Mazama

The park has an average of around 1,600 earthquakes a year. From January 17 to 22, 2010, a swarm of quakes numbered over 1,000, ten of them magnitude 3.0 or greater (one of those 3.8). Quakes under 3.0 are usually not felt by people.

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There are places out in Lake Yellowstone where vents have been documented:

simple map of lake

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Grand Prismatic Spring, (in Midway Geyser Basin) is the largest hot spring in the United States, and the third largest in the world, approximately 370 feet (110 meters) in diameter and is 160 feet (50 meters) deep. Look for people on the boardwalks in the photo below to better visualize the size:

photo below used with permission from the photographer Ron Niebrugge: http://www.wildnatureimages.com/

Grand Prismatic Spring by Ron Niebrugge: a steaming blue Grand Prismatic Spring, photo used with permission from the photographer Ron Niebrugge

Video of of Grand Prismatic Spring, with links to other Yellowstone videos:
https://www.nps.gov/yell/learn/photosmultimedia/vl_grandprismatic.htm

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Sandhill cranes from public domain 200 pixels:
The birds with the red on their head above are Sandhill Cranes, perhaps the ones we look most forward to hearing.

Grand Teton National Park birds includes Bald Eagle, Canada Goose, Golden Eagle, Great Blue Heron, Great Gray Owl, Harlequin Duck, Loon, Magpie, Northern Flicker (woodpecker), Osprey, Pelican, Ouzel, Peregrine Falcon, Raven, Sandhill Crane, Steller’s Jay and Trumpeter Swan, with links to calls / songs from most of them to listen to.

 

350 x 61 bison from public domain:

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huge geyser

Live shots of Old Faithful geyser (in Yellowstone) and the Upper Geyser Basin,

http://www.nps.gov/yell/learn/photosmultimedia/webcams.htm

The most famous of 200 to 250 active geysers in Yellowstone, Old Faithful (in the Upper Geyser Basin) erupts on the average every 65 minutes (33 to 110 minutes), for 1 1/2 to 5 minutes, with a height of 106-184 feet (32–56 m) with an average near 130 feet (40 m). See https://www.nps.gov/yell/learn/nature/oldfaithfulgeyserfaq.htm for an app of the next eruption prediction. “The famous geyser currently erupts around 17 times a day and can be predicted with a 90 percent confidence rate within a 10 minute variation.”

Plan to have enough time to find parking and get to where you can see the eruption:

simple map

Ansel Adams took this photo of Old Faithful at a time of day most people are not watching the eruption: (photo courtesy of the National Archives)

geyser erupting

Our favorite memory of an Old Faithful eruption was at night with light from a full moon and lightning from a thunderstorm in the background.

boardwalk around geyser, hotel in background

As usual, you can miss the crowds if you are out early. (above and below NPS photos of a typical crowd waiting for an eruption of Old Faithful Geyser)

row of people watching geyser

crowds of people

If you are out early you have a better chance of getting the photo you want.

people holding up cell phones to try to get a photo

dozens of people crowded together holding cameras up

and maybe see park residents using the boardwalk:

bears walking on boardwalk, hotel in background

Elsewhere in the nearby Upper Geyser Basin,
https://www.nps.gov/yell/planyourvisit/exploreoldfaithful.htm

get up in the middle of the night and you might be lucky enough to get a photo as good as this one of Castle Geyser and the Milky Way from the NPS:

milky way and geyser

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You can hike (1.6-mile (2.6-kilometer round trip) to where this next photo was taken:
https://www.nps.gov/thingstodo/yell-trail-observation-point.htm

photo used with permission from Ron Niebrugge: http://www.wildnatureimages.com/

old faithful geyser by Ron Niebrugge: old faithful geyser and surrounding forest and lodges, photo used with permission from the photographer Ron Niebrugge

Old Faithful Hotel is the one you see in the picture.
Info about the hotels and cabins in Yellowstone is at:
http://www.ynp-lodges.com/

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According to a Yellowstone fact sheet

WILDLIFE

photo below used with permission from the photographer Ron Niebrugge http://www.wildnatureimages.com/

rambunctious buffalo calf by Ron Niebrugge: a buffalo calf frolics, photo used with permission from the photographer Ron Niebrugge

7 species of native ungulates (this includes 15,000 to 20,000 elk in summer, more than 500 moose, more than 2,000 mule deer).

2 species of bears (500 to 650 black bears, 280 to 610 grizzlies)

Approximately 50 species of other mammals, including 171 wolves and 20-35 cougars

311 recorded species of birds (148 nesting species)

18 species of fish (6 non-native)

6 species of reptiles

4 species of amphibians

5 species protected as “threatened or endangered”

Threatened: bald eagle, grizzly bear, lynx

Endangered: whooping crane, gray wolf

FLORA

8 species of conifers

Approximately 80% of forest is comprised of lodgepole pine

More than 1,700 species of native vascular plants

More than 170 species of exotic (non-native) plants

186 species of lichens

GEOLOGY

An Active Volcano

Approximately 2,000 earthquakes annually

Approximately 10,000 thermal features

More than 300 geysers

One of the world’s largest calderas, measuring 45 by 30 miles (72 by 48 km)

One of the world’s largest petrified forests

Approximately 290 waterfalls, 15 ft. or higher, flowing year-round

Tallest waterfall: Lower Falls of the Yellowstone River at 308 ft. (94 m)

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Which is the best place in Yellowstone to watch wildlife, Hayden Valley or Lamar Valley?

Teton Science school gives us this answer:

Wolves: Lamar valley
Grizzly bears : Hayden Valley or Lamar Valley are equally good.
Birds: “For bird photography, Lamar has a slight edge over Hayden during nesting season, but for the real bird-nerds, head to Hayden Valley.”
Bison: “For sheer year-round numbers and just a teasing hint at the rich bison-covered plains seen by Lewis and Clark, the win goes to Lamar.”
Moose: “There is almost no moose food in Hayden Valley – no willows or cottonwoods along the river, no aspens on the hillside. Lamar Valley has seen an increase in moose sightings over the last decade as the deciduous trees and shrubs grow back after decades of overbrowsing by overpopulated elk. Moose are one of the most heat-sensitive animals in the Park, so look for moose early in the morning or on cold rainy days.”
Elk: Lamar

Lamar Valley . . . “is home to bighorn sheep, pronghorn (in the snow-free months), deer, and the non-native mountain goat”

https://www.tetonscience.org/battle-of-the-yellowstone-wildlife-valleys-hayden-valley-vs-lamar-valley/

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NPS photo of Moran's castle geyser:
The diary of artist Thomas Moran is at:
http://www.nps.gov/yell/historyculture/thomasmoransdiary.htm

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You will really want your own binoculars.

Info on selecting binoculars is at:
http://www.birdwatching.com/optics/binoculars1.html

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Photo of Yellowstone Fall below by David Whitten http://www.davidwhittenphoto.com/index.html?yellowteton.html~home

Yellowstone Falls, Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone river, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming copyright david whitten: Yellowstone Falls, Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone river, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming copyright david whitten

See: https://www.nps.gov/thingstodo/yell-grand-canyon-of-the-yellowstone.htm

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All watercraft must be permitted and inspected.
Each visitor center is different. At each you can get boat and backpack permits

and also pick up the paperwork to earn your Yellowstone Junior Ranger badge, which you will want to start at the beginning of your trip.

Yellowstone Junior Ranger:

One of our favorite Visitor Centers is Canyon, where you can see a display showing the extent of ashfall from various western United States eruptions (the biggest (red) circle, showing ash fall over most of the western United States, is from the Yellowstone Caldera):

map of the United States with circles showing extent of ashfall from eruptions

At Canyon we really enjoyed the projects to earn our Yellowstone Young Scientist award:

Yellowstone Young Scientist award

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Yellowstone National park has a live weather display
https://www.nps.gov/features/yell/kiosk/weather.html

brief weather descriptions

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Your safety in grizzly bear territory.

hiking in bear country poster

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Recommended reading
Yellowstone Grizzly Bears: Ecology and Conservation of an Icon of Wildness

” . . . Bears can see in color, can hear in the ultrasonic range, and possess an incredible sense of smell.. . Heaviest Known Body Mass in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem: Adult male 715 pounds (324 kilograms); Adult female 436 pounds (198 kilograms)
Speed: 35 to 40 miles per hour (56 to 64 kilometers per hour)
Strength: 2.5 to 5 times greater than humans

. . . 1944: Olaus Murie . . . experimented with electric cattle prods to teach bears to avoid campgrounds, but concluded “the bear learns to recognize the particular person or car that administers the shock or other punishment, and simply avoids that person or car in the future, but does not fear other persons or cars.”

$39.95 or a free download https://www.nps.gov/yell/learn/nature/upload/Yellowstone_Grizzlies_Web.pdf

 

two bears walking

See also: animal sign comparisons

(how to use tracks and scat to distinguish species)


grizzly bear scat photo by J Schmidt:

Please do not handle scat. Wolf scat, for example, can transmit tapeworm eggs to humans.

Watch a Grand Teton National park video identifying and comparing animal tracks

https://www.nps.gov/media/video/view.htm?id=2896C9FD-155D-451F-67912A1CB1362CCF

 

2 moose

There is more info about the De Anza College Outdoor Club trip at:

Grand Tetons

Grand Tetons recommended reading

includes a link to The Journals of Lewis and Clark

Clark: “…bison were so numerous and loud that the men had difficulty sleeping.”

Grand Tetons kayaking

Grand Tetons sightseeing

(Alanna on Montana sign photo by Mark Nevill)

Alanna on Montana sign photo by Mark Nevill 250 pixels: girl sits on sign that says entering montana