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Journeys : June July 2009
Destinations C reated in 1872, Yellowstone is the world’s oldest national park. It is also the largest national park in the United States of America (Alaskan parks excepted) and has more geysers and hot springs than anywhere else in the world. And there’s another area where Yellowstone is unquestionably at the forefront – it is a remarkably car-friendly place. Despite the park’s size of almost 900,000 hectares and despite the fact that it sits on the Continental Divide, it has an excellent road system, which from May to November provides easy access to the wonders that Yellowstone has to offer. All entrance roads from north, south, east and west connect to the Grand Loop, a two hundred and thirty kilometre circuit within the park that allows uncomplicated and undemanding viewing of the worldfamous geysers, geothermal pools, waterfalls, lakes and of course the abundant wildlife. The Grand Loop is divided into an Upper and Lower Loop. The Lower Loop is slightly longer and accessible from Grand Teton National Park or from the town of West Yellowstone, where there is a variety of accommodation. West Yellowstone is only 49 kilometres from the park’s most famous attraction, Old Faithful Geyser. Erupting every forty to 125 minutes, Old Faithful is easily explored as the car-parking is extensive, the walk to the geyser is leisurely and the viewing is relaxingly satisfying. North from Old Faithful are a number of geyser basins, each possessing unique attractions of its own. Short detours en route to the basins provide access to Great Fountain Geyser and to Firehole Falls. The Norris Geyser Basin a little further north is the site of Steamboat Geyser, which once set a world record, jetting its water to a height of one hundred and twenty metres. Unfortunately this geyser is irregular in its display, varying from days to years, so that luck plays a part in witnessing its activity. Yellowstone’s headquarters are on the Upper Loop and are only eight kilometres from the northern park entrance at Gardiner. The headquarters are in an area called Mammoth Hot Springs. Here, slow moving waters have helped calcium carbonate form spectacular coloured terraces. However it is at a junction of the Upper and Lower Loops that one of Yellowstone’s principal attractions lies – the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. This canyon, thirty kilometres long and six hundred metres deep in places, is home to two spectacular, yet easy to access, waterfalls. These Upper Falls and Lower Falls are the centre- Hot springs in Yellowstone National Park point of the area of Canyon Village. The Lower Falls plunge nearly one hundred metres, about twice the height of Niagara. The motorist is again looked after at this attraction, because short excursions from the visitor centre here take the driver to Artists Point, Lookout Point or Inspiration Point, where there are wonderful views of the canyon or the falls. Finally, one of the major reasons visitors journey to Yellowstone is the wildlife. Again motorist accessibility is the key, as the Loop Roads give fabulous viewing points to catch sight of many of Yellowstone’s wildlife inhabitants at close quarters. These include bison, elk, bears, moose and big-horned sheep, while pelicans and eagles can be sighted around the park’s lakes and rivers. It was the combination of geothermal activity, hot springs, geysers and mud pools in Yellowstone that once led Rudyard Kipling to describe the whole area as ‘the uplands of hell’. However drivers of cars, who at their ease can view all the variety that Yellowstone has to offer, might well describe the area as ‘a motorist’s heaven’. June / July 09 17
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