Jackson to Yellowstone

Mesa Falls, Idaho
Upper Mesa Falls, Idaho

A large berry fire had closed the North Entrance of Grand Teton and the South Entrance of Yellowstone, our obvious route. A detour into Idaho was required to reach Yellowstone’s West Entrance, thus adding an unexpected new state to my tally. The drive wasn’t a huge amount longer, but we had no idea about sights along its route, whereas the road north through Grand Teton had many obvious stopping places. Here, social media came into its own. I’d been keeping an eye on both parks’ Facebook pages for news, and one helpful user commented that anyone taking the western detour should consider visiting Mesa Falls. That was our plan made for us!

Along the Mesa Falls Scenic Byway we stopped first at the overlook for Lower Mesa Falls – we’d be able to hike down to them later in the morning.

A short distance along the road was Upper Mesa Falls where the Big Falls Inn (built around 1915) now serves as a visitor centre. There is also a network of board walks taking you to the Upper Falls and their attendant rainbow.

From the parking lot, the one-mile Mesa Nature Trail takes you to the Lower Falls which we had looked down on earlier. Thank you Facebook commenter, we loved Mesa Falls!

After a lunch stop at the Angler’s Lodge in Island Park, where I had possibly my favourite veggie burger ever, we crossed back into Wyoming and continued on to Yellowstone. Before long, a line of cars stopped at the roadside signalled our first wildlife sighting – elk and a very lazy looking bison.

Our final stop of the day was Norris Geyser Basin. Our eyes popped out on stalks and remained there the entire week we spent in Yellowstone, which is basically the caldera of a giant volcano. We watched the earth’s surface literally boiling at our feet, through geysers, springs, mudpots and fumaroles, and had a constant smell of sulphur in our nostrils. We have so many pictures, I’m not sure how I’m going to whittle them down for the next few posts. In the meantime, here are some highlights from Norris – first, Porcelain Basin. The colours are caused by the different minerals and algae present in the water.

Back Basin is home to Steamboat Geyser, the world’s tallest active geyser. Major eruptions (300 feet) are rare, the last one being two years ago, but we certainly saw it ejecting water for 10-20 feet. We thought this was awesome till we went to Old Faithful a few days later!

After a long day, we arrived at our accommodation, Canyon Lodge, to be brought down to earth with a bump. It had one huge advantage – location: the main road in Yellowstone forms a figure of eight loop and Canyon Lodge is very central. It’s also the largest lodge in the park and the only place we could get in for a full week, but my advice would be “don’t stay there”. Built in the 60s, it has massively expanded since then in terms of accommodation and the services haven’t kept up. Our room was 15 minutes walk from the dining room up a pot-holed unlit road and, although superficially attractive, wasn’t terribly comfortable either (one hard chair). I could go on and on, but John has written a very scathing review on Trip Advisor so if you’re thinking of going to Yellowstone, read that!

If I were doing it again I would stay a few days in the south of the park at Old Faithful and a few days in the north at Mammoth Springs – if we could get in. However, we didn’t let the lodge dampen our enthusiasm for the park and packed as much as we could into the next few days.

Next up – Yellowstone Canyon itself.