Earlier this month, we went on a mini vacation to visit Yellowstone National Park! Jonathon has been working a lot out of town, so when he was home for a week we decided to use the time wisely and have a fun little road trip.
We both enjoy parks, and Yellowstone has been on my list for a while. We did not realize just how close we were to it now that we live in Oregon. Exciting.
We decided to drive most of the way and make a stop for the night in Twin Falls, Idaho, and continue the trip to our lodge for Yellowstone the next day.
The drive to Twin Falls was about 8.5/9 hours. We booked a cheap hotel just because our Yellowstone lodge was so expensive....definitely regretted going with a cheap option and staying at the Shilo Inn ha. Dive into my twitter to see photographs of that. It was an adventure and we laughed about it for most of the trip.
We didn't want to stay in our room unless we had to, so we stopped to view the Perrine Bridge and the Snake River Canyon.
We got there just right as the sun started to set, so we got a beautiful golden hour view of the canyon.
We spotted a stray cat and I /quietly/ bolted back to the car to grab my telephoto lens so I could snap a few photos of him.
He was just lounging on the stone and there were little rodents everywhere! He seemed unbothered and so did they.
Sunset was quite beautiful. Idaho has lots of flying insects, unlike Oregon, so that was an unwelcome surprise. I do not miss mosquitoes and gnats at alll.
We hung out around the bridge for a while and then as dusk arrived, we headed to take a little peek of Shoshone Falls (mostly so we didn't have to go back to the hotel.)
We got there about 10 minutes to closing, so we took a peek at the falls that had dwindled to a trickle. I somehow saw a deer and her baby from very far away. So far away, you could barely see them with my telephoto lens.
We headed back to the hotel after this and went to bed.
The next morning we headed back to Shoshone Falls so we could see it in daylight. Apparently this is called the "Niagara of the West" as it is actually 14 m (45 feet) higher than Niagara. Irrigation and hydroelectric power stations built on the falls were major contributors to the early economic development of southern Idaho.
You can view the falls from two piers beside the carpark. The wind was heavy and the mist was strong. It was quite enjoyable.
We drove around to the back/top of the falls where you can drop your boats in the water and happened to spot some creatures. We saw a vulture, eagle, groundhog, marmots, and a pelican (who happened to catch and drop off a fish--you can see it in the photo below him.)
On our way to our Yellowstone lodge, we decided to visit the Shoshone Ice Caves and the Craters of the Moon State Park. A little bit out of the way for our destination, but super cool and worth it!
The Shoshone Ice caves were less than an hours drive from Twin Falls. We made it there right before a tour started, thankfully. The tours are about 45-60 minutes and you go down/up about 180 stairs.
Down below a massive sea of uneven and jagged lava rock is a huge (1,000ft in length) lava tube with ice up to 30 ft thick. Even if the summer heat has you melting to a puddle outside, the cave has below freezing temperatures year round. This ice cave is currently the largest volcanic cave open to the public.
If I recall correctly, our guide said that a volcanic eruption from a below ground volcano shot lava everywhere and eventually caused the entire lava tube to collapse and seal the area. A young boy found a small opening in the late 1800s when he was supposedly searching for a lost goat. The boy told his father and the father went back to investigate and found the cave full of ice. They began selling the ice since they did not have refrigerators at that time and used them as means to keep things cold. In the 1930's, to try to get more ice out, they used explosives to widen the entrance. This act ruined the airflow/seal and the ice started disappearing. The ice in the “ice caves” is caused by air currents flowing through the tubes, which causes subterranean water to freeze.
Thirty or so years later, a man decided to try to restore the cave back to its original state. It took him many years, but he built a wall and door around the opening and the ice started forming again. You get a freezing cave with an ice floor. They said they actually have to work on pumping out water so they can keep the cave in a state visitors can enter. If they didn't, the cave would completely fill up with ice in a couple of decades.
Oh, and there are kind of offensive Indian statues throughout the place...and a giant green dinosaur with a troglodyte riding it... incredible.
After we drove for what felt like hours in the treeless wasteland that is Idaho, we made it to the Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve. The protected area's features are volcanic and represent one of the best-preserved flood basalt areas in the continental United States. The monument covers 3 major lava fields and all three of these lava fields lie along the "Great Rift of Idaho." They are some of the best examples of open rift cracks in the world, including one that is 800 ft, the deepest known on earth.
The Park's entry is $20, but you can put that towards an annual card for all the National Parks, which I would recommend.
We drove around the park and stopped at the North Crater trail first. We might have gone off trail a couple of feet for a moment to take some photos and then pretended we didn't see the sign. Whoops. I didn't damage anything, I swear!
It' such a crazy view, definitely better in person. Almost no trees anywhere. Lots of sagebrush and rocks everywhere. The loose rocks weigh almost nothing, they feel like movie props or styrofoam and have a beautiful, oil slick look about them. The lava here has a purplish-blue tint that tiny pieces of obsidian on the surface exhibit (you can see it in my close up photo.)
We drove around some more and stopped at the Inferno Con. The trail to the top is super steep, but only half a mile round trip. The summit is 6,181 feet and allows you to view a panoramic view of the surrounding volcanic landscape.
A cinder cone is formed when gas-rich volcanic froth erupts high into the air and then piles into a mound. There is not crater at the top as it was buried by the wind-swept cinders. The wind up here was insane! It nearly blew me away and I almost lost my sunglasses. There is a single juniper tree that has been blown into growing in a diagonal position.
We drove around some more and finally exited the area. We had a 4 hour drive to our lodge from the park. We stopped for lunch in a small town and then finally made it to our lodge. After dropping off our stuff, we decided to stop at a little drive in for a root beer float and then headed to Upper Mesa Falls.
This place was absolutely gorgeous. The temperature was cool, the sun was starting to set, and the sounds of the water flowing were incredible relaxing.
Upper Mesa Falls is probably one of my favourite views that I have seen so far in the US.
Theres a long platform that allows you to get a good view of the falls from a distance and another that lets you get a few feet away. The falls is a thunderous curtain of water at 114 feet high and 200 feet wide. The falls pour over what is left of an ancient super volcanic eruption that spewed ash over much of the US.
Exhausted after a long journey, we made our way back to our hotel for the next two evenings, Angler's Lodge. It is located on the banks of scenic Henry's Fork of the Snake River in a town that doesn't have that much to offer. This place is supposed to have a massive supply of fish in the river, so it's famous for its fly fishing.
The lodge definitely looked like a southern grandfather's hunting cabin. Interesting and quaint, albeit a little tacky. The cool thing about this place is that the owner built it entirely with his bare hands. He felled the timber and everything.
We chose this place because it happened to be the cheapest, nicer location close to Yellowstone...and I use the term "cheap" loosely. It was incredibly expensive. Especially for what was around it and what it had to offer. It was a really cool place, don't get me wrong. I really enjoyed having a back door to our room open to the river. But, the price of two nights hurt my feelings haha.
After a quick google, we found out that Gordon Ramsay had visited this place for Hotel Hell. We tried to watch it, but the internet service was abysmal, so we saved it for another day. Our room wasn't hellish by any means, but the dinner at the restaurant was sub par. (as in it took two hours to get previously frozen food)
The next morning, we left super early and made it to a small diner in Wyoming for breakfast. We filled up on carbs and made our way to the West Entrance of Yellowstone.
We got to the entrance and paid $30 to enter. We had saved our Craters of the Moon receipt and ended up using it toward the Annual Pass, which is $70 dollars (after the other two passes, it technically only cost us $20.) We plan on visiting at least Yosemite within a year, so the annual pass was worth the extra dollars since it allows you to enter most national parks in the US with no extra fees.
We got through the gates super fast, but it took us a very long time to actually make it to the first location. Probably an hour? It fell like even longer! We saw Bison along the way. One was right at the side of the road, so many people stopped and a few low IQ individuals got very close to try to selfie with it.
Our first stop was the Lower Geyser Basin/Paint Pots. This location features regularly-erupting geysers, hot springs, and a fascinating mud pool that bubbled like a witches cauldron.
The next stop on our journey was to visit the Grand Prismatic in the Midway Geyser Basin. The Midway Geyser Basin contains a small collection of mammoth-sized springs.
The first stop on the small, tourist filled path to Grand Prismatic is Excelsior. Excelsior used to be the largest geyser in the world, but after some eruptions, it is now a productive thermal spring, presently discharging 4050 gallons per minute. Numerous vents boil and churn the water within the crater, covering it in a dense layer of steam.
We pushed through the tourists and made our way to an upclose view of the Grand Prismatic. Grand Prismatic is the largest hot spring in Yellowstone, and is considered to be the third largest in the world. It discharges 560 gallons per minute and is coated with steam that reflects the beautiful colours. We did not get a birds eye view, unfortunately. It was hot, the hike was long, and I was a little irritated from the tourists and traffic haha. It was still an absolutely gorgeous view and I should probably do a makeup look inspired by it.
The multicolored layers get their hues from different species of thermophile bacteria living in the progressively cooler water around the spring. The deep blue in the center is because water scatters the blue wavelengths of light more than others, reflecting blues back to our eyes.
Ah, Old Faithful. It's Old and it's...Faithful. I remember reading about this as a kid, so it was pretty cool to see in person. In 1870, Old Faithful got its name for its nearly regular schedule of eruptions. It has frequent and predictable eruptions that happen every 45-90 minutes. It erupts at a height of 110-185 feet and the eruptions last 1-5 minutes.
We had arrived about an hour before the next eruption which was just enough time to refill our water bottles and grab a salad and some snacks from the convenience store.
After the eruption, we got back int he car and followed the road to Kepler Cascades. The cascades drop about 150 feet over multiple drops. There weren't many people over here, so it was a wonderful break from crowds and noisy tourists.
We saw lot of wildlife while we drove. There were Bison everywhere. There was a small mud volcano and sulfur cauldron area where a few were hanging out. The sulfur smell was pretty intense and permeated the surrounding air.
Continuing down the road, we drove to The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone and made our way to Artist Point/Lower Falls. One of the areas to Upper falls was closed, so we just went to the lower, which has the best view, anyways.
"After the Yellowstone Caldera eruption, the area was covered by a series of lava flows. The area was also faulted by the doming action of the caldera before the eruption. The site of the present canyon, as well as any previous canyons, was probably the result of this faulting, which allowed erosion to proceed at an accelerated rate." The Yellowstone River is what created the canyon and the falls. It is also the longest undammed river in the continental United States.
The beautiful colours in the canyon are a result of hydrothermal alterations. Being exposed to oxygen and the elements give the canyon its colour. The canyon is basically rusting.
Artist's point gives you a stunning view of the canyon and the falls.
Lots more driving. We went all the way up and down a mountain as we headed to our next destination. Bison were roaming the roads and we saw some beautiful landscapes.
Our next location was Lamar Valley. Yellowstone has huge, wide valleys that make excellent habitat for wildlife. It's said your best chance of spotting bears, wolves, bison, pronghorn, and many more species is in Lamar valley.
Like clockwork, we take a corner and see 50+ people crowding around the road and some (idiots) had actually walked about 75 feet off the road into the valley! We tried to see what it was, but it was pretty far away. I took out my telephoto and it was a little black bear munching on a deer(?) carcass.
I snapped a few photos of it safely from the road and we got in the car to drive a little bit more through the valley before turning around to view the last bit of the park we wanted to see.
By the time we got back, angry park rangers were scolding the people for getting so close to a bear. Serves them right.
Last on my list was the Mammoth Hot Springs. About 10 minutes after we had left Lamar Valley, Jonathon pulls the car over to the side and says, "Look!" It was a deer just hanging out in the grass near the road. I grab my camera and slowly walk up to her. She seemed unbothered. I got even closer and asked if I could snap some pics. She just watched me ad let me hang out with her for a bit.
I hear Jonathon yell from the car, so I look around and there's a coyote running up toward the deer. She turns her head towards him and he stops for a second to stare at her. She stands up and he bolts across the road with her following him. Bizarre experience.
We continued our drive and made it to the little area where the Hot spring was. We saw some pronghorn (basically an antelope) running by, so I rushed to take a photo from the window.
We also saw a young bull elk walking on the side of the road with a little bird friend.
We made it to Mammoth Hot Springs right at the end of the day.
The area was created over thousands of years as hot water from the spring cooled and deposited calcium carbonate (over two tons flow into Mammoth each day)
It looked like icy stepping stones climbing up a mountain.
Utterly exhausted, we took the long journey back to our cabin to crash for the evening. It took another 45 minutes or so just to exit the park and then we had a 45 minute drive to the lodging.
We'd been in the park 10 hours or so and while it was a great trip, we were ready to leave and sleep!
The next morning, we left super early and there really wasn't any food or coffee near by. We stopped in Idaho Falls for breakfast at a place called Abracadabra's which was shockingly amazing (and cheap!) They had quite a few delicious vegetarian options.
We ate, grabbed a coffee, and made our way back. Since we weren't going through Craters of the moon, the drive back to Twin Falls was incredibly short. And when we'd reached our halfway mark, it was only 2pm, so we decided to just drive the entire way home, about a 13ish hour drive.
I hope you enjoyed the images! We plan on going to Alaska later in the year and we also want to go to Yosemite within the next 12 months! So I'm sure there will be a blog/gallery on that.