Our ten-day trip around Wyoming culminated in visiting the state’s two iconic national parks: Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons. The day I’m writing about is our second day in Yellowstone, which was also the final day of the trip, making it bittersweet. We began the day by driving from our cabins in the Tetons up into the Southeast entrance of Yellowstone. We arrived at Grand Prismatic Spring, the largest and most famous hot spring in the park, due to its rings of bright oranges and blues.
This area was very busy and touristy, one of the things that I didn’t love about Yellowstone, but it quieted down once we got a few miles into our hike, which followed a dusty path through dense pine forest. Yellowstone has the most geothermal activity of any place in the world, and we were on our way to see a few other features, such as Spray Geyser, Imperial Geyser, some mud pits, and a boiling hot stream. We stopped at Fairy Falls along the way to eat a snack, which had a ton of adorable and very friendly ground squirrels running around. This helped boost my mood, since I was very tired and sore from our long hike in the Tetons the day before.
After admiring the geysers, we sat down in the shade and had a discussion about fire ecology. We had observed many swathes of blackened and barren trees in the park, which we learned resulted from a forest fire in 1988. 36% of Yellowstone had burned. Delicate, drier Western ecosystems take much longer to regenerate than forests back East, so the damage was still apparent 34 years later. It was sad to see how much destruction a careless human mistake or a lightning strike can cause. It made me wonder how these tragedies can be reduced, or how ecologists could potentially speed up regeneration processes.
In the afternoon, we watched Old Faithful, the park’s largest geyser, erupt for about 3 minutes straight. This was cool, but also a little bit stinky. Fun fact: All of these geothermal features smell like rotten eggs, thanks to the dissolved sulfur minerals in the water.
After eating dinner and returning to our cabins, we grabbed ice cream and shopped for souvenirs in the nearby General Store. Then, we all walked down to the pebbly beach of Jackson Lake to watch the sunset. I hadn’t even brought a swimsuit, but we all started getting into the water for a once-in-a-lifetime swim, with the towering peaks of the Tetons providing a stunning backdrop. It was so fun, and an evening I’ll never forget – the perfect way to end our trip.