After nearly four months spent in the warmth of Central America and Utah desert we went finally north. Before that we had been checking frequently the weather forecasts for the north-western Wyoming delaying our departure from Utah. Like in Poland, the winter in our next two national parks, i.e. Grand Teton and Yellowstone, has been unusually long. Even a few days before our arrival it was snowking and sleeting here. The sunny forecasts for the following week encourage us to finally leave the warmth of the Dixieland.
June turns out to be a good month to be visiting both parks. The crowds are not too badd here yet and the views of the awaking nature are just stunning. The only drawback are the cold nights for campers (around 0 C).
Though Grand Teton and Yellowstone are separate parks they are very close to each other. Their common feature is the richness of wildlife and high elevation. In Yellowstone all our campgrounds have been above 2400 m. above sea level. This is almost like the highest peak of Poland, Mt. Rysy! Jogging and other physical activities in such a rarified air “taste” doubly good.
Contrary to the desert here the wildlife is dominated by big animals which are just ubiquitous here. Pitching our tent in a campground in Grand Teton we were visited by a beautiful elk. The following day an enormous black bear (it was actually brown) strolled among the tents in our campground. Our kids, upon noticing him, came to our tent rushing headlong.
Because of the frequent contact with wild animals special precautions needs to be measured while camping. One of those is storing your food and anything with a prominent scent in special steel boxes, which are bear proof. There have been cases of bears getting into tents in search of food remains.
Another precaution is keeping minimum distance from the animals. Sometimes it is not easy, especially when a huge bison is grazing calmly right on the road shoulder. This calmness may be very deceiving. This huge creature is capable of suddenly accelerating and ramming into a car or a person. It is hard to believe that a bison can run up to 45 km/h, faster than any human being.
Grand Teton reminded us a bit of Karkonosze Range in Poland, though the local peaks are higher, more inaccessible and very snowy.
Yellowstone, the oldest national park in the world (1872) is a quality in itself. A large portion of it is located in a vast caldera, i.e. a crater with over 60 km in diameter, which collapsed after a mega eruption 640,000 years ago. That ashes from that eruption covered most of the Uterritory. Since Yellowstone is located on high elevation, over 2000 m, the local winters can be extreme and long. Part of the local roads are closed for 6 months during a year. Last winter the snow cap had … 700 inches (ca 18 m) in some places!!
Entering the parks from the south near the end of June the landscape suddenly became very winterlike. In the thick forest we could see as many as 2-3 meters of snow. Speaking about the forest it is dominated by lodgepole pine, 80%. After a big fire in Yellowstone, when around 35% of woods were lost, new pines started their growth almost immediately. The pine cones, under high temperature, release new seeds starting the new growth.
Yellowstone is a very geologically active area. There are countless geyser, hot springs, mud pots or fumaroles (steam vents) here. The most spectacular of them, geyesers, release with differing regularity and strength boiling water and steam. The most famous of them, Old Faithful, has erupted with unique regularity every 93 min (+/- 10 min) for many years. This thermal activity reminds us, that we are walking on a so-called hot spot, where the earth is literally boiling all the time heated up by the underground magma.
Another peculiarity of the park is its constant changeability day by day, a not necessarily over thousands of years, like elsewhere. As one of the rangers I met said: “it is hard to be a tree or a geyser in Yellowstone. You are here today and gone tomorrow.” Only the Old Faithful lives up to its name by being so regular for so many years.
The wealth of wild animals is appaling here. Bumping into a bison, wold, bear, elk etc is very common.
We are so glad that the sunny forecasts came true and we could enjoy the immense beauty of both parks.