Yellowstone National Park: A look back on our trip

For my last blog post, I thought I would take a look back and reflect on the amazing trip that we had.

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You don’t realise how good it was until you actually return home and start talking about it with friends and family. I’ve already had plenty of people ask me about it and I’m sure I will be talking about it for years to come, because it is just a stunningly beautiful place! It is like another world, with all the volcanic features and the rare wildlife which you will probably only get to see once in a lifetime… I mean it’s highly unlikely that the UK government will introduce bears back into the wild in the UK (where they are supposed to be). However, there have been talks about reintroducing wolves, but that seems a long way off right now due to public opinion…

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If it wasn’t for the funding from my university, I don’t think I would have ever thought of going to visit Yellowstone National Park in a million years. But, all 4 of us are so thankful that we got given the funding and got the chance to go, because it was honestly the trip if a lifetime.

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If anyone ever asks me what I think about Yellowstone, or if it is worth going… I would say it is 100% worth it, and it will be a trip you will never forget.

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Now we have to spend our summer writing reports and putting the video and photo diary together to complete the task.

Thank you for reading my blog, I hope you have enjoyed hearing about our wonderful trip!

Love from Sophie, Natalie, Rebecca and Ellen 🙂

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Yellowstone National Park: Final day

To finish off our trip to Yellowstone we decided to book a tour with a wolf tracker. It turned out to be quite expensive and we had to get up at 4am and drive through the Park in icy conditions whilst it was pitch black. Luckily all turned out to be ok and we met the lovely lady called Bonnie at 5.30am at Mammoth hot springs.

After providing us with hot drinks, she asked us which animals we would like her to find for us, so we decided we definitely wanted see the wolves in the wild, as investigating the reintroduction of wolves was one of the tasks we had to carry out. We also decided that we wanted to see grizzly bears in the wild, moose and big horned sheep.

Immediately she set out with us in her truck and met up with some of the other trackers, who had recently seen a grizzly bear on an old carcass which the wolves had caught in the Lamar Valley, so we headed in the direction in which that was. And to our luck the grizzly was still eating away at the carcass, with a coyote nearby trying to get some scraps! It was amazing to see a grizzly bear in the wild! It was something I thought I would never see in my lifetime, so it was a privilege to see this giant beast in the flesh.

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After getting over the shock of seeing the grizzly bear, and hearing nothing on the wolf situation, Bonnie got a call from someone who had information on where some moose were seen. So we drove to the location, a few miles down the road from the Lamar Valley. When we drove up in the car we could see one moose across the river, however, once we had gotten out of the car the moose had moved being the trees. We did manage to get a glimpse of it’s nose but unfortunately it wasn’t enough to take a picture of.

We decided to stop for breakfast near a wolf den, luckily the breakfast was provided with the package we bought. After about 10 minutes, Bonnie received another call with information regarding some wolves, that 6 could be seen in the Lamar Valley. So we quickly rushed over to where the sighting was, and when we arrived it was chaos! All of the wolf trackers and wildlife watchers has obviously heard that wolves were visible and also rushed down to see them. We managed to get a spot to set up the scopes and after scanning the area, we caught sight of the wolves! They were just trotting about the landscape, and at one point we even heard them howling. Although nobody knows why they howl… And no they don’t howl everytime there is a full moon… that is a myth. We ended up watching the wolves for about an hour to an hour and a half, it was an unusual day, as apparently the wolf activity is never usually that lively, so we were very lucky! It was amazing to see them in their natural habitat, where they belong.

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After watching the wolves in the valley, we went back to the wolf den to see if we could see the mother come out of the den or even some pups. We did see the mother from afar but unfortunately no little pups. On our way back to Mammoth, after a long 6 hour morning, we drove slowly to see if there was anything else we could spot. We ended up spotting a herd of big horned sheep, which look like rams. Their horns are massive and they never stop growing! Which were an impressive sight.

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All in all it was an amazing day and worth the money that we paid, and I would definitely recommend the wolf tracker to anyone who is interested in wildlife and happens to travel to Yellowstone.

It was an amazing day, one that I will never forget.

http://www.wolftracker.com

Yellowstone National Park: Old Faithful

On the Wednesday and Thursday of our trip we decided to spend time in the southern area of the park, where the very famous cone geyser Old Faithful resides. The reason why we split it over two days is because it is SO tectonically active, and is very much within the Yellowstone caldera, so there is a lot to see in that area.

Our first priority, obviously, was to watch Old Faithful erupt. The eruptions happen around once every 90 to 120 minutes, which is less frequent than what I imagined. So we were waiting around for a while. Another very obvious observation is the amount of Chinese tourist group that visit not just the park in general, but the Old Faithful area. It is insane. And this is the quiet time of year!

After waiting a long time, Old Faithful eventually put on its show, each eruption expels enough water to fill more than 150 bath tubs and shoots approximately 140 feet into the air. It is so famous because it is predictable and is one of the tallest geysers in the park.

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After seeing Old Faithful erupt, we decided to take a walk around the other geysers and hot springs nearby, including the morning glory pool, grotto geyser, giant geyser, to name a few.

We visited the grand prismatic spring on both days, but it was difficult to see the entire thing because it was shrouded in smoke, this was due to the dramatic temperature difference between the 70 degree spring and the snowy weather. Although you can just about grasp how HUGE it is, being 200 feet across.

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As you can see, the geothermal features of Yellowstone are stunningly beautiful. All in all, it was a busy couple of days with some long walks, but with some amazing sights.

Yellowstone National Park: the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone

Our third day in the park consisted of visiting what is known as the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, and Artists Point.

We woke early on Monday morning to a very heavy snow storm, both the car and the roads had a thick layer of snow on them. Obviously we were worried about driving in the snow in our little Ford Focus hire car, but we were told we would be fine as it is front wheel drive.

Rebecca was the first to drive in the morning, braving the snow, which being British, we are not used to as any small bit of snow we get in England the entire country freaks out and goes into meltdown. The drive was a little difficult but we took our time and eventually got to Canyon Village.

We parked up and walked to the lookout point where we could see the lower falls. Immediately you can see why they call it the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, as it is a huge steep valley which the Yellowstone River carved through the hardened lava and welded ash from the last time the supervolcano erupted (about 600,000 years ago). As you would expect, there are still steam vents within the canyon showing the presence of the underground volcano.

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After visiting the lookout point we drove a little further away to another very famous lookout point called Artists Point. This viewpoint is the one where all the famous pictures of the waterfall are taken. Unfortunately it was a cloudy and dull day so we didnt get a great view from here.

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The next day, on the tuesday, we set out early again to go back to Mammoth hot springs to go to the visitor centre. On our way there there were a few cars pulled up on the side of the road, so we decided to stop and take a look at what they were all taking photos of. We saw what looked like a small wolf, although it was on its own, and wolves hunt in packs. So when everyone was saying that it was a wolf, I was a bit suspicious. As much as i wanted it to be a wolf, it turned out to be a coyote, which are distant relatives of the wolf, and a lot smaller. Coyote are probably a rarer sight than a wolf due to them being much smaller and more elusive.

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It was an interesting couple of days to say the least, and it’s always good when you see an unusual wildlife sighting other than bison.

Yellowstone National Park: Northern area

The itinerary for our second day at West Yellowstone consisted of venturing into Yellowstone National Park. We entered via the west entrance and drove all the way north to the Lamar Valley past the Tower-Roosevelt junction. The northern part of the park is considered bear and wolf country, especially the Lamar Valley where there are plenty of wolf sightings.

On the journey up to the Lamar Valley, just after the Tower-Roosevelt junction we noticed that there were a lot of cars pulled up at the side of the road and lots of people with their cameras out. So, we decided to join the party and see what was going on. When we wandered over to see what everyone was looking at, to our surprise, we suddenly realised there was a REAL wild bear! It turned out to be a cinnamon coloured black bear, yes I know what you’re thinking, why is it not coloured black if it’s called a black bear… well I don’t actually know, because there are also brown bears and grizzly bears present in Yellowstone. But that’s not the point, we saw a REAL bear in the wild! I didn’t think we would have been able to see the captured ones in the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Centre, let alone in the wild. It was amazing!

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After getting over the initial shock of seeing a bear, we got back in the car and carried on towards the Lamar Valley. Now all we needed to see was a wolf in the wild and that would pretty much be my life complete! But, sadly that was not the case. The Lamar Valley is such a vast and open space that it would have been difficult to spot a wolf even with binoculars. Still, I suppose I am content with seeing the captured ones the previous day at the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Centre.

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We decided to turn the car around to go back to Mammoth junction, which we had passed in our way to Tower-Roosevelt. At Mammoth junction you will find the Mammoth Hot Spring Terraces, which are a series of hot springs which dissolve calcium carbonate as the hot water rises to the surface. Above the surface, the  hot spring water deposits the calcium carbonate which is what builds the travertine terraces that you see today. Because this area is so active, it means it is a rapidly changing landscape, and will likely look different everytime you visit.

After exploring the upper middle and lower hot spring terraces, we drove all the way up to the northern entrance of the park to see the famous Roosevelt Arch, which was built in 1872 by an act of congress.

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All in all, it was a very busy day.

West Yellowstone

Let’s pick up from where we left off…

We swiftly left Salt Lake City on Friday 21st at around 9am, after picking our hire car up we started driving, crossing the Utah state border into Idaho, and up to West Yellowstone in Montana, which took us five and a half hours. Yes, it was a very long drive, but it was very scenic.

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On our first full day in West Yellowstone, we decided to go to the tourist information centre, like every tourist does… We then went to visit the West Yellowstone Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Centre, where they take in bears and wolves that otherwise wouldn’t survive in the wild. It was amazing to be able to see grizzly bears and wolves up close, which is definitely a once in a lifetime experience.

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After visiting the centre, we went back to the hotel for lunch before setting off on a little road trip to see Quake Lake, which was formed by an 7.3 magnitude earthquake in 1959. This is why you can see loads of dead trees sticking up out of the water, as they were quickly engulfed by the water. Earthquake lake is 4 miles long, 120 feet deep and slowly getting smaller over time as the lake drains and the river resumes it’s original path.

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In the afternoon, we had quite a lot of time to spare so we decided to go into Yellowstone National Park a day earlier than originally planned. As soon as we entered the park it was obvious why everyone we had spoken to had said that we would love it. It is a stunning place, and so vast that you forget that you’re actually driving on top of a supervolcano! However, there are many reminders of the volcano everywhere you drive, such as smoking rivers and hot springs. By far the most abundant wildlife species that you will see are bison, they are particularly fond of walking along the roads, making for good photo opportunities from the safe distance of your car.

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We drove all the way to the Norris Geyser Basin, and the presence of the supervolcano is initially obvious due to the overwhelming smell of sulfur, which, by the way, if you didn’t know, smells like eggs… But the basin is a beautiful sight, like nothing you have seen before. It is the one of hottest and most changeable thermal areas of Yellowstone, and is home to geysers and colourful hot springs.

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After a jam-packed and eventful day, we eventually headed back to West Yellowstone via the West Entrance, and had a lovely meal out before heading to bed to prepare for the next day.

Arrival: Salt Lake City

After making our way to Heathrow airport at 4.30 in the morning and travelling for around 13 hours, we made it to Salt Lake City at 11 pm local time. We were staying in a budget motel, and it was very obviously budget, which was fine for two nights as, after travelling for so long we could have just crashed anywhere.

The next day we woke up relatively early due to the jet lag, and I dragged everyone to the nearest Denny’s Diner for breakfast, which was amazing. The pancakes were delicious! After which we just walked around the city, we found a few shops, and one shop that I was particularly keen to visit was Pacsun, one of my favourite shops ever! After shopping we decided to go and visit the famous temple in Temple Square which is in a beautiful setting.

 

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One thing that you will notice if you visit the US, is that it is SO different to the UK, the roads are really wide and most of the town’s and cities are set out in a very grid-like pattern. Everything seems very open and big, even the cars and trucks people drive are big.

Later on in the day we jumped in an uber to the University of Utah, where we had arranged a tour of their seismograph station. This is getting very geographical, so I apologise if it is not as interesting to you as it is to me. The seismograph stations are what they use to monitor earthquakes and signs geological activity around the area and they also monitor the Yellowstone supervolcano, this is because the University of Utah is part of the Yellowstone Volcanic Conservatory. If there are any signs of activity they must react accordingly by writing reports and issuing press releases. It seems, though, that lately Yellowstone has been pretty quiet with very few earthquakes. However, it still has as much of a chance of erupting tomorrow as it does in 100,000 years time.

After our tour we went to visit the university’s natural history museum which had everything from dinosoar bones to original native American garments.

In the evening we decided to go and eat at the very popular Mexican restaurant Red Iguana, after a recommendation from one of the locals. Throughout the day most of the local Salt Lake City residents seemed intrigued by our English accents, with almost everyone asking what we were doing there.

After another good sleep we woke up the next day, checked out of the motel and went to collect our hire care ready to start the drive up to West Yellowstone, Montana. Which I was completely terrified about doing, as I have never driven in another country before!

See how we got on in our next blog post.

 

First blog post: University funded trip to Salt Lake City, Yellowstone National Park

Hi my name is Sophie, I am 21 years old currently in my second year at Bournemouth University studying Geography. Three of my course mates and I decided a few months ago that we were going to apply for funding from the university’s Global Horizons scheme to travel to Yellowstone National Park for two weeks, this decision came after seeing a video of students from the year before who did the same thing in Iceland. The trip will count as our compulsory five week placement, which would have taken place over the summer. After a long process of filling out the forms and explaining why we wanted to go and what we were going to do, which would benefit our degree, we were granted £1000 each for our travels.

There are a series of tasks that we have to carry out as a group whilst we are in Yellowstone. We first have to visit the university of Utah in Salt Lake City when we land, as they are part of the Yellowstone Volcanic Observatory, and, being geography students, what could be more interesting than a volcano! As well as producing a series of reports, we have to create a video and photo diary, and we were told that creating a blog would be a good idea. So that is exactly what I have done. Welcome to My Passport Story, where you will learn about our travels to Salt Lake City and Yellowstone.

I hope you enjoy reading about what we get up to.

Sophie 🙂