Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Camping on top of a volcano in a blizzard

Despite all of our planning and research for this trip, Yellowstone was a big mystery to us until we arrived -- a major oversight we learned as we approached the park. Neither of us thought there would still be snow on the ground, frozen lakes, and blizzards...or that most of the park sits on a the world's largest caldera (a cauldron-like feature created by the collapse of land after a volcano). And of course, if you've read previous blog entries, you'll know that we thought the "hot springs" in Yellowstone were the kind in which you could go swimming! Ha ha. Turns out they would either instantly cook us (with temperatures up to 95.5 C) or melt us (some are incredibly acidic).

Yellowstone has more than 10,000 active geothermal areas, making it the largest collection of active volcanic features in the world. We were absolutely mesmerized by the strange beauty of the smelly pools and mud pots -- neither of us have taken so many photos in one day! Special boardwalks all throughout the thermal areas kept us and the delicate ecosystem protected, with lots of warning signs about the danger of going off the paths. Over the years in Yellowstone there have been many deaths of people venturing into dangerous areas and being burned or boiled alive. Park signage does not euphemise this potential threat!

Day One of our adventures in Yellowstone was ooing and aahing over the thermal areas. We saw Old Faithful erupt from 30 feet in front of us, and later, from the top of a mountain. It was neat, but really, it was just a giant, stinky water spout. What we found more interesting were the broad vistas of thermal areas that you could see because of the ginormous patches of snow-free land, with steam rising up in patches. The mud pots and deep thermal pools were like scenes from science fiction movies, and kept us fascinated enough to hang around and breath in the acrid fumes. Actually, we spent so much time looking into the sulfur pools that we both experienced skin irritation on our faces (the only exposed parts of our bodies). I just googled volcanoes and skin irritation, and sure enough, it happens!

Despite being cold for the entire Yellowstone adventure, it was amazing to be there with snow on the ground because it was a beautiful contrast to the thermal activity. Also, it meant there were very few visitors! Yay! All of the parking lots were only 5 to 10% full, and the roads seemed empty. We hiked through a bit of snow to get to a picnic area with no one else around, and felt like we had the place to ourselves -- very peaceful. And also handy for impromptu pee breaks. A video you will not see posted to our blog is Niilo catching me unaware...

Spending time hanging out in the campground was pleasant, but chilly. We both wore nearly all the layers we brought with us, but for me, it wasn't quite enough to keep the cold out. Getting into our freezing sleeping bags at night wasn't much fun, but with both of them zipped together, we were soon cozy and and sort of warm. When we woke up each morning, our sleeping bags had a thin coating of ice on them, and everything was damp. But that didn't deter us from cooking amazing meals or going on adventures!

I think my favourite meal was beans and tempeh burgers that I cooked in the cast iron frying pan over the fire. Oh, or maybe it was pancakes with maple syrup. Mmmmm, or maybe open-faced Mexican sandwiches we made while hiking around! Suffice to say, we did not go hungry. I love camping cooking.

And we certainly did not go without a good campfire every night, thanks to Niilo! The Yellowstone Firewood Inc. wood we bought wasn't quite up to his standards, so we went off into the woods behind our campsite and he chopped up a 30 foot dead tree into logs! That's my mountain man!

We set off for a short evening hike near our campground one evening, and sat beside a river with the mountains surrounding us, thermal steam rising in patches, and buffalo and elk a short distance away. As the stars came out and the sky darkened, cuddled close under a tree for warmth, marvelling at the sights around us, and expressing our gratitude for the chance to visit the wonders of Yellowstone.

(for all of our Day 3 photos and videos, go here: Road Trip 2010 - Day 03 - Geysers Galore)


  1. so beautiful nature!
    regards, dzmitry

  2. good food!!!
    why so cold?

  3. good food!
    why so cold?

  4. Hi Dzmitry,

    It was cold because most of Yellowstone Park is above 2275 metres in altitude. The park only re-opened for the season in the week before we entered it - before then it was too snowy!

    - Niilo