USA, WY: Unadulterated Wilderness - Yellowstone National ParkThe Madison River is a chalkstream-course that is largely the same today as it was nearly 200 years ago when mountain man and fur trapper John Colter first stumbled upon the bizarre natural geothermal wonders of this region. Today it’s better known as Yellowstone National Park.
AUTHOR & PHOTOGRAPHER: ©Shane Boocock 2013
My artifitial fly drifted downstream across a few riffles, a deep holes and the dark, mossy, glassy-surface of the bourbon-coloured river where lurking below browns, rainbow, cutthroat and whitefish were waiting for a feed. Earlier I’d slipped away from our campsite at Madison Campground and walked to the waters edge of the river. It was wide and swept silently around an ox-bow bend that created an undercut banking. On the far side a small meadow gave way to lodgepole pine trees that had been burned by a forest fire on a rocky hillside.
The Madison River is a chalkstream-course that is largely the same today as it was nearly 200 years ago when mountain man and fur trapper John Colter first stumbled upon the bizarre natural geothermal wonders of this region. Today it’s better known as Yellowstone National Park.
I ‘d picked out an Elk Hair caddis fly and attached it to my 4x leader. This was my first time fly fishing without a guide since I’d been travelling in the Rockies. On the fourth cast a fish rose and snatched the fly as I instinctively snapped the rod tautly when suddenly a cutthroat trout leapt clear of the river, a few rays of sunlight glistening from the spray and the dripping water as my line tightened and the tip of my rod arched over. For anyone who takes fly-fishing seriously the Madison River is one of the finest fisheries in the USA.
My travelling buddy Mark, a writer form Sydney and I had arrived just after mid-day in Yellowstone National Park from the Grand Teton National Park south entrance, a spectacular drive beginning in Jackson Hole with the alluring backdrop of the spectacular Grand Teton Mountains as a backdrop. We drove for about 130 miles (200 km) to our campsite at Madison near the west entrance at an altitude of 6,806ft (2,074 m). On checking in the park rangers advised us it would dip below freezing that night.
On March 1st 1872, the US Congress set aside nearly 2.2 million acres of what is now Yellowstone thus creating what became the world’s first national park – for good measure it was signed into law by no other than President Ulysses S. Grant. Well before the birth of the modern environmental movement, Americans had quickly recognized that the snow-capped, bear inhabited mountains, deep cold lakes, trout filled rivers, buffalo plains and geothermal volcanic plateaus of Yellowstone were more than a little unique, a place containing more than 10,000 geysers, hot springs, prismatic pools, steam jets, mud volcanoes, huge forests, steaming geysers, crystalline lakes, thundering waterfalls and panoramic vistas.
This is a spectacular wildlife sanctuary, a region where on any one day you might spot black bears and grizzlies as they roam freely as do wolves, bison, coyotes, big horn sheep, moose; where bald eagles circle above herds of elk as mule deer graze in lush pastures. It’s also a place where ospreys are as keen on trout fishing as the many fishermen who visit the park – well over 50,000 fishing permits a year are issued to anglers. For hiking enthusiasts there are over 1,000 miles (1600 km) of backcountry trails. Roads and facilities take up less than three percent of the park; the rest is pure unadulterated wilderness.
As we departed for a full day tour of the park it started snowing and this was the start of summer. Heading north we aimed our El Monte RV towards Mammoth Hot Springs where the mineral-laden boiling water from deep beneath the earths crust bubbles and spurts to the surface building tier upon tier of cascading terraces, much like New Zealand’s famous Pink Terraces in Rotorua before they were destroyed.
Yellowstone is worth spending at least four days in to fully appreciate the scenery and the wildlife. Driving around Yellowstone is easy except for the frequent road delays caused by animals crossing the road, bison in particular cause huge traffic jams daily. We even saw one motorcycylist almost get headbutted by a bison who turned on a dime and charged his bike when he got too close. People who don’t use common sense get injured every year as wild animals are just that, wild.
At the Park Ranger Museum near Norris Geyser Basin housed in a log cabin a lone bison grazed on the grassy plain about 100 yards away. On entering we were greeted by Joan Meyer a Park Ranger who had retired but now volunteered to meet stragglers like us on the Yellowstone’s figure of eight circuit. “Know how to tell a grizzly from a black bear?” she asked. “If you’re chased up a tree and the bear comes up after you, it’s not a grizzly.” This wonderful museum is well worth visiting to learn about the historical content associated with the National Park Service. It is housed in an old patrol station, known as Norris Soldier Station built in 1908. It was named after Philetus W. Norris, a colourful former frontiersman and one time superintendent of Yellowstone.
The most popular geysers and tourism hot spots are found around the loop roads that create a figure of eight in Yellowstone. Here are some of the highlights: the Midway and Lower Geyser Basin offer a good network of trails, the Norris Geyser Basin is always very popular as there are multiple loop trails to choose from. Mammoth Hot Springs is where you can drive a loop road on the Upper Terrace Drive, and Tower-Roosevelt is one of the few places in Yellowstone to go horseback riding. Nearly every visitor to the park will visit the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone where they can hike down to the Upper Falls or Lower Falls.
Then of course there’s the Old Faithful region. Old Faithful Geyser (it was the first one named in the park) blows about every 90 minutes and you can always tell when it’s getting close as all the available seating is usually taken early. It shoots out an estimated 32,000 litres of water to a height of between 32 m to 36 m. Nearby is Old Faithful Lodge, the largest log built hotel in the world an a popular tourist attraction in its own right. Access to geysers and thermal mud pools are usually by raised boardwalks so good walking shoes are a requirement as many trails loop out many kilometres into steaming, sulfuric smelling basins.
Our second campsite was at Bay Bridge looked out across Yellowstone Lake at 7,735ft (2,358 m). On this night the temps dropped to 24f or -4 degrees Celsius and our picnic table the next morning had a veneer of hoarfrost coating it, but our faithful RV heater kicked in at around 4am so we survived the coldest night so far out of the four below-freezing campsites we stayed at in Yellowstone National Park.
We had booked a four hour fishing trip on Yellowstone Lake. Our fishing guide Eric Lane introduced himself as we cruised out of the dock at 8-o’clock well-wrapped up in cold weather gear. Eric, originally from Michigan, is passionate about dry fly fishing, a man determined to find us a big one. He casually told us he had boated 437 trout for visitors in the 2012 season (late May to Nov 2nd) and the largest was 11 pounds (5 kg). Not bad statistics we thought.
In the depths of Yellowstone Lake lay some monster cutthroat trout and lake trout upward of 30 pound (13.5 kg). The most common form of fishing here is spinning big lures. At our first fishing spot Eric pointed out a bald eagle returning to it’s huge nest high in one of Stephenson Island’s many pine trees.
It took an hour before our first cutthroat was boated and even Eric admitted that the fishing so far was slow. During the morning we netted and released about six to eight fish. However on the last cast of the day I hooked a 22-inch (55 cm) cutthroat trout that tipped the scales at just over 4 pounds (1.8 kg) . . . after taking a few pictures we sent him home back into the depths of the lake. I returned back to our RV later that afternoon smiling as Canada geese flew overhead, one very happy camper.
Camping vs Lodging:
If camping is not to your liking then staying at some of the park’s hotels and lodges is another option.
Closest to North Entrance:
At the northern entrance you’ll find Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel and Cabins
Closest to West Entrance:
The closest lodging to the west entrance is the most famous hostelry in Yellowstone, Old Faithful Lodge, built of stone and huge logs in the early 1900s it of course has views of Old Faithful Geyser from the main lobby area. Nearby there is also Old Faithful Lodge Cabins with either private baths or budget style alternatives or Old Faithful Inn and for anyone planning on visiting out of season Old Faithful Snow Lodge and Cabins are open right through winter.
Closest to Northeast Entrance:
At Tower-Roosevelt there are the Roosevelt Lodge Cabins.
Closest to South Entrance:
Grant Village has a lodging complex comprising six two-story buildings each offering 50 rooms.
Closest to East Entrance:
If you prefer staying in the grandeur of the 1920s then the restored Lake Yellowstone Hotel that was built in 1891 near Fishing Bridge is a perfect spot. There is even a four-piece orchestra (three violinists and a cello player) in summer to go with the evening cocktails.
For more information on Yellowstone fisheries go to: www.nps.gov/yell/planyourvisit/fishing.htm
For more information on Yellowstone NP go to:
Assistance with outfitters, campgrounds, resorts and attractions was courtesy of Rocky Mountains International. Visit www.RMI-RealAmerica.com
Shane Boocock travelled to the United States courtesy of Fiji Airways ‘The Worlds Friendliest Airline’ who offer daily flights to Los Angeles via Nadi.
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