Sea Kayak Trips in Yellowstone, Jackson Hole, Grand Teton Wyoming Kayaking and Canoeing – Sea Kayaking and Guided Fishing Trips, Eco Tours in Yellowstone National Park Kayak Trips in Yellowstone, Jackson Hole, Grand Teton Wyoming Kayaking and Canoeing – Sea Kayaking and Guided Fishing Trips, Eco Tours in yellowstone National Park

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Moose on the Loose

As we drove south into Grand Teton National Park, eight miles from the southern entrance of Yellowstone, the snow at the side of the road was often higher than the roof of our car. The fog and rain obscured any views of the Teton range when we arrived late in the afternoon at Signal Mountain Lodge, on the shore of Jackson Lake.

We were upgraded to a lakefront suite because the hotel had few guests and met our first moose when we left the nearby restaurant. It was feeding on a bush and oblivious to tourists and employees. A ranger soon arrived to make sure no one got too close. We saw many more moose during our two days in the park but missed sightings of a bear and her two cubs, feeding across the street from our hotel.

The next day dawned sunny and cold, and we gasped when we pulled back the curtains and saw the Grand Tetons. With no foothills, the jagged peaks rise from the valley, and the snow provided a sharp contrast to the rock. The tallest peak of what some call the Cathedral Group of five principal mountains is the Grand Teton, at 13,770 feet.

Grand Teton park, at 309,994 acres, is not large, and while the mountains are the top attraction, hikers, fishermen and boaters also are drawn to Jackson Lake and the Snake River. It is recommended that only experienced floaters go down the river alone, but several raft companies offer trips, and it can get crowded on warm summer days. On our 10-mile float trip, there was only one other couple in our 16-person raft, and we were the only craft on the fast-moving water. We dressed for winter, including gloves and hats, and enjoyed the eagles, ospreys, animals and historic highlights pointed out by our guide.

We later drove south to Moose Junction, site of the impressive Craig Thomas Discovery and Visitor Center, which opened in 2007. It includes many interactive exhibits and breathtaking views of the mountains. Nearby is Mormon Row, one of the most popular areas of the park — and some say more photographed than the mountain range. The stretch of historic barns built by Mormon homesteaders in the early 1900s are framed by the mountains and prairies.

While a boat ride and trail to a waterfall were closed because of snow and ice at usually crowded Jenny Lake, we were entertained by a large bull moose feeding in the nearby woods. More moose were grazing in the fields off the deck of the Jackson Lake Lodge. While the lodge is not as architecturally pleasing as the historic inns in Yellowstone, its second-floor lobby’s massive picture windows frame the Teton range.

We did not drive to Jackson, Wyo., five miles south of the southern boundary of Grand Teton. Instead we headed north, back to Yellowstone, lured by the geysers, the wildlife and all the attributes that led us to understand why its original nickname — Wonderland — is so apt.

 

Eagles, Wolves and Waterfalls

The east side of Yellowstone National Park is known for its fertile valleys, the Yellowstone River and Yellowstone Lake.

In late May, the waterfalls in the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone are roaring, and the overlooks had just opened the day we were there. While we could only view the canyon, which has many hiking trails from above, we saw eagles and other raptors flying to their nests.

Snow-covered fields along the road provided the perfect contrast to see a wolf in the distance. There are several wolf packs in the park, and they have proliferated since several dozen were captured in Canada and turned loose in 1995. But they are usually viewed only at dawn as they cross the valleys.

Throughout the park, there is still evidence of the 1988 forest fire, the worst in its history, which burned nearly 800,000 acres. Burned-out trees remain standing in many locations, while new lodgepole pines grow near them.

Yellowstone Lake was frozen, which made it difficult to admire its beauty and size — 132 square miles with a shoreline of 141 miles. But we did see open water at the West Thumb Geyser Basin at its south end, which includes hot pools that empty into the lake.

We stopped for a beverage in the Lake Yellowstone Hotel, the oldest standing building in any national park. The original portion opened in 1891. The entrance to the sunny yellow structure, with massive white columns, faces the lake instead of the road because visitors used to arrive by ship. The view from its large sunroom was impressive, even though the landscape was white.

 

Yellowstone Visitor Education Center Open

The hub of Yellowstone National Park is centered around Old Faithful. It includes a $27 million visitor education center that opened in August 2010 and several hotels, including what the park considers its most glorious structure: the shingle-coated Old Faithful Inn. This is the original “Old House,” built in 1903, with its seven-story lobby and banisters and rails made from gnarled and twisted lodgepole pine branches. Staying here for most, means sharing a bathroom, though others can opt for more traditional rooms in connected wings.

Even if you don’t stay there, try to take one of the several hour-long tours offered each day. The area is a central point to miles of boardwalks and roads to several geyser basins. Old Faithful truly lives up to its name because a half-dozen other major geysers erupt on a less precise schedule that ranges from about every three hours for the Daisy Geyser to a dozen times a year for the Giant Geyser.

For the average visitor, seeing an eruption is a matter of luck. Last spring we saw Daisy Geyser twice. We sat on a bench in awe to watch Riverside Geyser, which is on the bank of the Firehole River and erupts about every six hours, arching a 75-foot stream of steaming water into the frigid river for 20 minutes.

As for the rest, including the Grand Geyser — which erupts about twice a day with bursts going up to 200 feet — we were never near them when they put on a show. But we did spend time with another park attraction — geyser gazers.

These men and women, mostly retired, spend months at Yellowstone, sitting in chairs for hours by their favorite geyser and keeping a log of when it erupts. They then contact rangers, who update information on a large board in the visitor center. The geyser gazers said no one day or eruption is the same, and they love being out in nature. They tell stories of the most memorable eruptions and pass their time reading or chatting with visitors.

While the geysers draw the crowds, some of the most beautiful features in the park are the thermal pools, or hot springs, in which the water is several shades of breathtaking blue, from deep sapphire to bright teal. The colors that surround them, orange, brown, green and yellow, get their hues from bacteria and other organisms living on the rock. The Grand Prismatic Spring is the largest hot spring in Yellowstone, and its brilliant colors are best appreciated from viewing photos taken from above the 360-foot spring.

 

Watch out for Buffalo

On any visit to Yellowstone National Park, you will encounter at least one Bison. More likely, you will come face to face with hundreds of them. Commonly referred to as Buffalo, Bison herds in Yellowstone are regularly found roaming the meadows and crossing the roadways, often causing traffic jams, or “buffalo-jams”. On a recent spring drive through the Park, some friends of ours had this to say about their many Buffalo sightings.

We flew into Billings, Mont., then drove 170 miles to Gardiner, entering Wyoming and the north end of the park through the stone Roosevelt Arch, dedicated in 1903 by President Teddy Roosevelt. The road system through the park looks like a figure eight, with five roads extending through the park boundaries. A few miles south of the entrance is Mammoth Hot Springs, known for its travertine terraces and grazing buffalo and elk. The animals often gather around the Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel and park headquarters, a former Army officers’ quarters built in 1909.

Despite numerous warnings, it was amazing how close some tourists attempted to get to buffalo. It is not uncommon for visitors to be injured, since the large animals can run three times faster than a human, rangers said. We spent the night at the 100-year-old hotel, which requires sharing a bathroom — but provided views through our ground floor window of grazing buffalo and their calves.

The drive from Mammoth to Old Faithful — 47 miles — took a full day. Not only did we stop often at attractions, but we drove slowly because we were constantly on the lookout for wildlife. Many of those who visit Yellowstone in the spring are photographers, rising before dawn to seek the elusive wolves, bears and other animals that feed in the valleys early in the spring, then retreat into the woods and higher elevations during the summer. We never got up that early, but we saw elk, deer, bighorn sheep, bear, a coyote crossing the street and many buffalo, including several that lumbered along the berm of the road.

The drive south gave an overview of the amazing natural attractions in the park. Roaring Mountain is a barren hillside filled with scores of steaming fumeroles. Norris Geyser Basin is touted as the oldest, hottest and most dynamic hydrothermal area. It takes several hours to walk two loops past multicolored springs and steaming geysers. You can feel the heat below the boardwalk, measured by scientists to as high as 450 degrees. It is like being on another planet. The Obsidian Cliff of black volcanic glass was formed from a long-ago lava flow. The one-mile Artist Paint Pots trail takes you by gurgling mudpots and air that smells of sulfur.

 

See Yellowstone before Summer

Visiting Yellowstone National Park in April and May, is an excellent time to see the Park before the summer crowds are there, as long as you dont mind snow. Last year on a trip in late May, we encountered both. The hike to the Monument Geyser Basin at Yellowstone National Park seemed like a nice way to spend an hour — a moderate two-mile round trip along the Gibbon River, then up a zigzagging trail to see bizarre chimney-shaped cones. We followed the dirt path above the river, then began climbing through strands of trees — and soon became mired to our thighs in snow. Reluctantly, we turned around.

Deep snow at the end of May was one of the many unexpected things we encountered on an eight-day trip to Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Park last spring. But the lack of crowds, gorgeous vistas and up-close encounters with animals, including a foraging grizzly bear that led us to make a quick retreat, more than compensated for the cold and snow.

Yellowstone, which has a short tourist season, is crowded during the summer. Its narrow roads can become almost impassible due to tour buses, travel trailers and “bear jams” caused by people leaving their vehicles to try to get a photo of a nearby animal. Last year, 2.9 million of the 3.4 million people who visited the park arrived between June 1 and Oct. 1. July alone drew 907,000 visitors — which is why we made the trip two months earlier. Most lodging and roads are open to vehicles by early May, and everything, including the scenic road through Dunraven Pass, at 8,859 feet, is generally ready for Memorial Day weekend crowds.

We thought the week before the holiday would be a fine time to tour the park — but did not anticipate a winter that produced twice as much snow as normal. The road through Dunraven Pass, buried under 20 feet of snow, was not cleared until June 8, and some campgrounds and trails were not accessible until the end of June.

This year’s winter has not been as severe. Park officials plan to open roads to traffic between April 20 and May 11; Dunraven Pass should be cleared by May 25, the Friday before Memorial Day. Many trails during our visit remained closed because of either snow or bears, which had emerged from hibernation and were seeking food in lower elevations because of the snow pack. Some roads were closed during the week by snow or rock slides.

While disappointed that we couldn’t walk to the bottom of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone or up Mount Washburn, we found most of the park was accessible, including miles of boardwalks that weave around its most famous features. Despite its high elevation, the nation’s first national park is not renowned for its mountains. It’s what happens deep underground that draws people from around the world. Huge volcanic eruptions 2 million years ago, 1.3 million years ago and 640,000 years ago have defined the 2 million-acre park. Half the geothermal features and two-thirds of the world’s geysers are concentrated in Yellowstone. The heat from molten rock powers the park’s geysers, hot springs, bubbling mudpots and fumaroles, openings from which hot gases escape.

While Yellowstone has about 300 geysers and at least 10,000 geothermal features, its most famous is Old Faithful, which erupts about every 90 minutes. During the summer, thousands may cluster around the geyser awaiting an eruption, which can be as high as 184 feet and last up to five minutes. One morning on our spring visit, I was among only a half-dozen people who watched an impressive eruption at 6:30 a.m.


 

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