Yellowstone Vacation, part 3: Lodges, and Geysers, and Bears, oh my!

The view of Grand Prismatic Spring from the overlook is truly incredible.

Picking up where I left off on my last blog, we began the Yellowstone National Park portion of our recent trip having driven through the South Entrance from Grand Teton National Park, after having spent several days in the Jackson Hole area.

The entrance sign at the South Entrance of Yellowstone National Park

The entrance sign at the South Entrance of Yellowstone National Park

Since we were staying way up in the Northwest quadrant of the park in the Canyon Lodge area, there was a fairly large portion of the park to traverse and explore before we reached our destination.

Just inside the boundary of the park, we made our first stop, to take in the lovely Moose Falls. Though we didn’t see any moose, the falls are just off the road and a super quick stop for anyone coming in the South entrance.

Shortly after, we reached the West Thumb Geyser Basin where we not only encountered our first thermal features, we also encountered one attention-loving elk, mugging for photos among the hot springs.

An elk standing among the thermal features at the West Thumb Geyser Basin in Yellowstone National Park

An elk stands among thermal features at West Thumb Geyser Basin in Yellowstone National Park

West Thumb also provided us our first glimpse of the multi-colored pools that dot Yellowstone’s geyser areas. This one, called Surging Spring, with it’s nearly neon-blue color, was one of my favorites. You can also see Lake Yellowstone in the background.

The Surging Spring Hot Pool, in the West Thumb Geyser Basin, in Yellowstone National Park

The Surging Spring Hot Pool, in the West Thumb Geyser Basin, in Yellowstone National Park

Further along the way to our hotel, we stopped at another thermal attraction known as Dragon’s Mouth, which was one of my favorite in the park. The way the steam hisses from the cave, you really can imagine that a shy dragon is huffing and puffing away in there, just out of sight.

After all our many stops along the way, we finally reached our accommodations for this section of the trip, staying at the Canyon Lodge, in a Superior Room. As I’ve described in a previous post, if you want to stay in the park proper, you don’t have a lot of options — a company called Xanterra runs all the lodges and campgrounds within the park boundaries proper and with this complete monopoly firmly in place, are able to charge quite exorbitant rates. We paid $350 a night for our room, but given that there are no options for points-redemption hotels in the park, we reluctantly succumbed to the only game in town.

The Chittendon Lodge, part of the massive Canyon Lodge complex, is where we stayed in Yellowstone National Park

The Chittendon Lodge, part of the massive Canyon Lodge complex, is where we stayed in Yellowstone National Park

And the lodges are nice…ish. Our room was clean and fairly modern too. But paying $350 for a night for a place that offers no air conditioning, no tvs, no internet, crappy overpriced restaurants, etc…it just chafes my Mustachian sensibilities a little. But as they say in real estate: location, location, location. Our prime location allowed us to beat the tour bus crowds who were staying outside the park to most of the attractions we visited throughout our trip, which was a major plus.

The bed area of a Superior Room in the Canyon Lodge in Yellowstone National Park

There were no superior rooms with King beds in Canyon Lodge, so we ended up with two Queens

Amenities in the Superior Room at the Canyon Lodge in Yellowstone National Park.

A framed photo in place of a tv; a small fan in place of an air conditioner. Luckily, Superior Rooms do come with a small fridge, but other than that, you’re on your own.

The sink and vanity area of a Superior Room, Canyon Lodge, Yellowstone National Park

The single sink, small vanity, and coffee maker were next to the main room door, fully exposed to the rest of the room. This meant once one person is up, everyone is up!

Superior rooms come with one big upgrade however: a private bathroom with a bathtub!

Superior rooms come with one big upgrade however: a private bathroom with a bathtub!

Speaking of major attractions, after settling in for our first night in Yellowstone we hopped up early…6am early!…in order to get a jump on the crowds still asleep in their beds. We headed straight toward Old Faithful, the park’s most popular attraction, and were able to see the geyser from a front row seat with only maybe 100 or so of our new closest friends watching with us. (I’ll come back to this point in a bit!)

While waiting for the eruption, we also had time to tour the boardwalks to check out the many other geysers at the Lower Geyser Basin, including the Lion geyser, which we got to see erupt as well. This one was also well named, as it seemed to “roar” as it erupted.

The Lion geyser is just down the boardwalk a bit from Old Faithful in the Lower Geyser Basin in Yellowstone National Park

The Lion geyser is just down the boardwalk a bit from Old Faithful

Next up was the Grand Prismatic Spring, which was truly breathtaking. Here, the hot spring has attracted particular bacteria that color the edges of the pool the rainbow shades seen here. We viewed it first from the boardwalk platforms at ground level, and then from the viewing platform to get the full, colorful picture.

The view of Grand Prismatic Spring from the overlook is truly incredible.

The view of Grand Prismatic Spring from the overlook is truly incredible.

The Grand Prismatic Spring in Yellowstone National Park

The colors don’t even look real!

We continued the morning geyser exploration with another hike, this time out to Fairy Falls, which was about a 6-mile round trip hike to see one of the top 5 largest waterfalls in the park.

The hubby and Fairy Falls in Yellowstone National Park

The hubby and Fairy Falls in Yellowstone National Park

Then, famished from such a busy morning, we actually headed BACK to the Old Faithful area to have lunch at the Old Faithful Inn. The architecture of the inn is really incredible, and I’ll fully admit — getting to feel slightly superior to the literally THOUSANDS of people now clamoring for a spot on the boardwalks to see Old Faithful, when we had seen it much early in the day with only a few dozen others, was fun too.

The Old Faithful Inn is rumored to be the largest still-standing log cabin structure on Earth.

The Old Faithful Inn is rumored to be the largest still-standing log cabin structure on Earth.

That evening, we headed up into the Tower section of park for the first time, to do a little wildlife spotting in the Lamar Valley. While pronghorns and buffalo were abundant, our real prize was getting to see a mama black bear and her two cubs. (Sadly, as we spotted the bears closer to nightfall and didn’t want to startle her with a camera flash, we didn’t really get any good photos of this sighting.)

Buffalo are everywhere in Yellowstone. This one's still sloughing his winter coat.

Buffalo are everywhere in Yellowstone. This one’s still sloughing his winter coat.

Unfortunately, we were so mesmerized by the bear that we didn’t see the clouds darkening ominously back towards our hotel. Our ride back to our Canyon Lodge required us to go through the Dunravel Pass, one of the highest points in the park, navigable only through a series of winding hairpin switchbacks, often with no shoulder or guardrail to prevent you from careening down into the Canyon proper. If that’s not scary enough on a normal day, our journey was made even more “exciting” by a freak thunder-snow storm. Crazy lightning, hail, sleet….all of it raged down upon us during what, just an hour earlier, had been a sunny, 70-degree day. Luckily, the hubby handled the driving like a champ, and we managed to escape the storm’s fury.

Well, except that when we returned back to our Lodge, we learned the storm had also knocked the power out there too. So, we drank beers by flashlight, before heading to bed.

Stay tuned for the next and final installment of our trip, part four, where I’ll talk about our final full day in Yellowstone, exploring the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone and the Mammoth Hot Springs.

Whitney