Yellowstone and Montana
Replies: 25 - Last Post: Oct 19, 2012 10:41 PM Last Post By: kowari
Oct 7, 2012 9:25 PM
15ian, I think I recall advising you against going to Yellowstone on the grounds that it was too far out of your way and didn't really justify the effort to get there.
You did, but it was part of an 8,000km loop from San Francisco to Las Vegas via Sandpoint Idaho, so it was on the way. And I think our route from San Francisco to Portland to Missoula to Las Vegas was fantastic, including Crater Lake, Mt Rainier, Grand Coulee Dam, Glacier, Yellowstone, Grant Teton, southern Utah, and the Grand Canyon.
At one point as I drove through Yellowstone, my car was surrounded by bison. I was a little nervous.
I should clarify - we saw hundreds of bison on many roads (in fact at Lake Lodge they strolled right past our cabin at sunset, nearly knocking the Chardonnay out of our hands), and we saw untold elk everywhere as well. I guess I meant the upper-level predators (and omnivorous bears) ... they're much harder to spot - at least in mid-September.
Oct 7, 2012 10:35 PM
16ian, you enjoyed your trip, and that's all that really counts. The geek side of me would point out that Yellowstone is about 125 miles east of Vegas, but it really doesn't matter. You had a lot of time in the West, and you did a lot of things. I'm glad you were able to see the Grand Coulee, which is to my knowledge the only major piece of pure, unreconstructed Stalinist design to be placed on American soil. There's a certain beauty in its utter brutality, wouldn't you agree? When I saw it, the first thing I wondered was how many thousands of skeletons were mixed in with the concrete.
I think my caution on Yellowstone is really aimed at people with more limited time to work with. The people I met a few weeks ago pretty much high-tailed it over there and back from Seattle. They didn't even go to the Tetons, let alone Glacier, Sandpoint, the Sawtooths in central Idaho, or Eastern Oregon. I asked very gently about some of those, but no, they had driven directly over to Yellowstone, seen it, and driven directly back.
I understood. After all, they were Germans. They were working off a list. Watching or listening to the average German's vacation story is one part amusing, one part sad, and one part what-the-deleted. Very nice people, intelligent and worldly, but well, it would appear that God ran out of spontaneity before reaching them. Oh well. It happens.
Oct 7, 2012 10:53 PM
17The geek side of me would point out that Yellowstone is about 125 miles east of Vegas, but it really doesn't matter.
Yes but Yellowstone isn't far from Glacier NP, and only a shade off due north of Bryce Canyon NP ... so I will still maintain my "on way way" meme. I agree however it's a long way to go as a single destination ... unless you are committing two weeks to the place (which the true addicts do, every year).
And at the Grand Coulee People's Republic Dam and Water Storage, we had the friendliest motel, and joined a BBQ in the sunset with a bunch of "real Americans" - contractors and such working in the region. Gosh they were friendly - we shared beer, steaks, and war stories. Great night.
Oct 7, 2012 11:08 PM
18I love the Grand Coulee. Everyone's got an inner communist. And yeah, once you decided to go to Bryce, I agree that Yellowstone was on your way. How much time did you spend on that whole trip?
Oct 8, 2012 3:21 AM
19We took 30 days to cover 5,000 miles - so 165mi per day average ... slow but nice.
And I certainly like concrete in huge volumes ... hence Grand Coulee was exceptional (as is Hoover Dam of course, especially with the new bridge, but everyone goes there). And we spent many wonderful hours driving through the remnants of the Missoula Floods - it must have been some rush of water.
Here is a typical snap we took.
And the frustrating thing about the Grand Coulee Dam is that it is so huge, and in a valley, that you literally can't get far enough back to take a photo to show just how flipping BIG the thing is!
Oct 9, 2012 9:51 AM
20If what you are seeking are scenic viewpoints, then I agree Yellowstone is not at the top of the list. To each their own.
To my mind, it is our finest national park, and one of the best in the world.
Outstanding scenery is not difficult to find in the American West. There are many national parks famous for their scenery, and there is scenery just as fantastic outside national parks.
But there is no other national park, anyhwere, with the geothermal features of Yellowstone. And there is no national park outside Alaska where you have a great chance of seeing grizzly bears, wolves, bison and other large wildlife.
This of course is based on my own interests. I travel to see wildlife, and have gone on trips around the world to do so. To my mind, Yellowstone ranks high in the list of the world's wildlife reserves. I also enjoy fly fishing and other outdoor activities, and again, Yellowstone is great for them.
I think it depends on someone's interest, and you shouldn't automatically steer people away from Yellowstone without knowing that info. Besides, I see an awful lot of happy people at Yellowstone.
Oct 9, 2012 1:11 PM
21I think both Willy and I have stated clearly that Yellowstone NP is wonderful (although you could probably get a debate from me on whether it is the best national park in the US - certainly in the world) ... our points were (a) whether YNP was so wonderful that it warrants dropping everything else and travelling long distances just to see it, and (b) that it has been shamelessly over-hyped for generations.
And btw - I enjoyed the geothermal fields of New Zealand just as much ... and in some ways rather more. This is not to disparage Yellowstone, but just to put it in its place, and to get some perspective into the breathless praise too often heaped on the park - unjustifiably in some ways - and it's not necessary for it to be over-sold to the international traveller with limited time and a lot of competing options.
Oct 9, 2012 1:39 PM
22I try not to get wrapped up in the game of subjective ranking, at least insofar as it focuses on picking the "best" of something like, say, the national parks. Or restaurants. Or Scotches. Or countries, apart from the obvious truth about the United States, which is that We're #1. (For newcomers, I'm joking about "We're #1.") I might say something like, "Here are my six favorite Scotches," or "Here are four national parks that I think really stand out above the rest" or "Here are my three favorite foreign countries." But the one best? Nah.
Yellowstone is great. I wouldn't put it down, especially if someone has #21's priorities. But if I were to discuss the places I'd send someone, I'd point out that Yellowstone is a long drive from the cities that most foreigners use as their bases when visiting the United States, and therefore is an out-of-the-way destination. I'd say that, in scenic terms it's not particularly spectacular; that it tends to be fairly crowded during the peak visiting season; and that unless someone has a particular fascination with geysers and wildlife, they might want to think twice about insisting on going there.
At the same time, I'd also tell someone who, for example, was going to be anywhere near Denver or Salt Lake, that they should put Yellowstone on the list, depending on their interests and how much time is available. Now, most visitors don't have a lot of time, and one way to address that constraint is to subdivide the West into sub-regions: southwest, Pacific Coast, northern Rockies. Yellowstone would fall into the broad "northern Rockies" bucket, along with the Tetons, central and northern Idaho, and Glacier. The high desert of Eastern Oregon, which I consider one of the most spectacular, and certainly most overlooked, parts of the West, would be a side trip either from the Pacific Coast or from the northern Rockies.
In short, I wouldn't "automatically" steer anyone either toward or away from anything. What I would do, though, is urge visitors, and especially those from outside of the United States, not to get too wrapped up in the "brand names" that foreigners have come to know. Too many visitors, for quite understandable reasons, fall into the trap of compiling a must-see checklist, without being able to consider what they're really seeking from their trip here. That's a big reason for people like me to give advice: to get you to close the guidebook for a second and think about what a very experienced local traveler (who also happens to have visited Europe at least a dozen times, and Asia several times) might have to say about the various places you've read about, and a few you've never heard of.
Oct 9, 2012 4:22 PM
23Understood, #22 and #23. I think, for people with interests like I described previously, they SHOULD drop everything to find a way to Yellowstone. I know it's hard to understand, but for some of us, it's not over-hyped at all. If you're a naturalist, a wildlife photographer, a fly fisher or a geyser watcher, it lives up to the hype and then some.
I've been to a lot of national parks and wildlife reserves, all over the world, and I still consider Yellowstone one of the great ones.
I do agree that people can get caught up in names. If someone wants to see cities but feel they "can't miss" Yellowstone -- well, of course it's a mistake. I have done two small group trips to the Amazon Basin, and on both trips there were people who were there because they wanted to tick "Amazon rainforest" off their list of places for their travel bragging. They had miserable times. I loved it.
Then again, it's also a mistake just to miss something because it's a well-known name. The Taj Mahal really IS stunning.
So is Yellowstone, IF you have certain interests. In the circles I run, it consistently is a "favorite place" of peple with very long travel resumes. To each their own.
Oct 9, 2012 5:37 PM
24#24, if someone wrote that they really want to see either geysers, buffalo, or both, "Yellowstone" would leap off of my keyboard. As for fly fishing, I'll take it on faith that it's great in Yellowstone, but I am given to understand that there's some pretty damned good fly fishing elsewhere.
Oct 19, 2012 10:41 PM
25OK, here is my input into this discussion. Like MLM192, I am an avid wildlife watcher. So , yes, I did drop everything and travelled from Australia to Yellowstone to see the famous wildlife there (and the other features of the park and other places in the USA while we were there). We wen in September this year and saw a black bear, loads of bison and elk, a coyote, two wolves and three grizzly bears, among other critters. It was fantastic and I whole heartedly recommend it. I have been to wild places in Africa, Asia, Europe and my home country of Australia and Yellowstone is in my "top ten of National Parks", along with places such as Kakadu in Australia and Kruger in South Africa, Bako in Borneo and Fjordland in NZ.
Yes, Yellowstone was kinda out of the way, but was really only two short flights for us from Salt Lake City - via Denver to Billings - and then driving the Bear Tooth Highway into Yellowstone was wonderful (esp seeing Mountain goats on the mountain).
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