Written in August 2019. It was day 11 (or 12 depending on which way you looked at it) of ‘The Great American Crossing’ with ATI and we were going to Yellowstone National Park. It was right in the thick of the tour. We had been on the bus for well over a week. By day 11 we were totally comfortable. We felt familiar and at ease with Maiko, our guide, and our driver Gary. The other people on the tour were quite nice and we had a gentle, pleasantry level of interaction. Whilst it was a bit disappointing on the social front – we had had much better social times on our previous American tour – it did mean we were free to get on with it uninterrupted.
The previous night we had stayed in Cody. I just loved it there. It felt so very American – whatever that might mean (unpack as desired). I don’t know, there was a relaxed, warm and familial attitude from the people of the town. According to Cody’s official website, it is a “full Wild West experience”, and was recently ranked as Wyoming’s most beautiful small town by MSN loveEXPLORING.With it’s big main road surrounded by mountains, it reminded me of my vision of how America might be before I’d ever embarked on the journey ‘across the pond’. Anyway, we stayed in Cody and I was really in the mood for a full on sensory experience when visiting Yellowstone the following day.
It did not disappoint. On the way to the park we were given a safety poster to read ( see picture).
It was rather exciting to even contemplate the idea of seeing a bear. Of course we didn’t. In fact we saw relatively little in the way of animal life. There was a coyote on the edge of the park and we saw a few bison at a distance. We may have seen a mule deer here too, I can’t remember if it was at Yellowstone. It didn’t matter as there was just so much natural wonder to look and marvel at.
To an American, what I’m about to say will be obvious, but to a European there is something that, should you decide to visit, will astound you. The park is huge. Everything is just super sized here and Yellowstone is no different. At nearly 9,000 square kilometres, it’s big. We were only there for one day and so we only visited the ‘southern loop’. The roads around the park are so well maintained and it’s very accessible with walkways, basic restrooms and at least one car park around all the main attractions within the park.
The speed limit is 45pmh along the single carriageway road around the park. With limited places to stop at the edge of the road, we encountered a couple of jams where people had obstructed the road in order to get out and traipse across varying terrains to try and get closer to distant bison. Our guide, apparently an old hand at navigating the park, shook his head and muttered about how the tourists didn’t realise how far away the bison were.
As we entered the park, our guide collected enough maps for all of us. This way, we were able to see exactly where we were going. You can collect one of these maps on payment and entrance to each national park. They really are informative and a great momento for remembering and thinking about the experience on the return home.
We visited several of the most famous parts of the park and a few that I didn’t even know existed until the visit. The Yellowstone falls are just incredible and the viewing points are awe inspiring since you feel so very high up. The geysers and various hot springs were interesting and beautiful. The colours were so rich but the smell of sulphur was enough to make you wretch. I have a pretty strong stomach but a sensitive sense of smell. I’ve got to say that it got to me after a while!
It was a funny experience at Yellowstone. In a way it’s one of the most wild and stunningly vast natural experiences of my life but in another way, it was so over-humanised. With roads, signs, road signs, walkways and car parks it seemed like somehow the landscape had been invaded. I was glad to be there and see it and yet sad for the land and her natural beauty. It was as if it was being controlled, dressed up and forced to perform like some sort of horrible circus act. I suppose I was a willing voyeur.
I loved the vast lake and the eerie Bobby Sock trees. The sheer amount of beauty is quite incredible and we only saw a tiny bit of it. This is one of the reasons I loved being on the tour. Whilst the map was incredible, had I been driving myself around the park, a lot of my attention would have been taken up with thinking about where I was and where I was trying to get to. There was none of that on the tour. Maiko, our guide, made sure we saw a lot of the highlights and gave us just the right amount of time to see each feature. He gave us instructions on where to go what to look out for. We couldn’t go wrong.
Lunch time was spent at a visitor centre where there were several options of things to eat and buy. Again, unlike in a European tourist site I was used to, the visitor centre was huge. The food was not over priced and pretty good quality. As always, there were a lot of good bathroom facilities at the centres and they were very clean. Our afternoon coffee stop was at ‘Old Faithful’ – incorporating a rest stop, coffee break and a chance to see the notorious and predictable eruption of the geyser. Again, with places to sit and view the eruption and a centre for purchasing souvenirs and refreshments, the whole place was organised perfectly. It was contrived in a way but so convenient in another. I loved it and felt strange about it at the same time.
Overall, I could not recommend a visit to Yellowstone National Park enough. It is one of the best and most spectacular places I have ever seen. It has such variety and it’s incredible to see what nature can do. With so much information and so many amenities, it’s an easy and tourist friendly place to spend several days. Whilst I think you can see many of the main attractions in one day, I wish I’d had longer there to really appreciate this stunning park.