Old Faithful gets the most press, and I have to admit that being on time every day for hundreds of years merits accolades. But for my money, Castle Geyser wins most impressive hot water fountain in Yellowstone National Park.
Castle erupts only twice a day; Old Faithful spurts about every 90 minutes, give or take a minute or so. But Castle comes boiling out of a platform of sediment it has built up over thousands of years and just keeps on spouting. I didn’t time it, but it seemed like 15 minutes or more that hot water shot high into the air and then splashed onto and over the platform, which does resemble a medieval fortress. Rainbows, or, more precisely, geyserbows, radiate from the geyser base.
It’s an ancient geyser, thousands of years old compared to Old Faithful at a youthful 700 or thereabout. I suspect it has learned patience over the years, saving its daily eruptions until it can make a long-lasting impression on the hundreds of visitors who wait, also patiently, to view this spectacular display of raw energy.
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I’m not certain that geysers are the most impressive natural wonders of this magnificent park—a testament to the foresight of U.S. presidents who saw a need to preserve natural wonders and wilderness for future generations.
The waterfalls defy description. I’ll make a feeble attempt. The 308-foot fall on the Yellowstone River crashes into the park’s “Grand Canyon,” a deep chasm that sends chills up the spine of anyone who leans over the retaining wall to view the river snaking through a narrow gorge hundreds of feet below.
A dense mist rises from the bottom of the falls, completely obscuring the water and canyon wall behind it. Ravens swoop through the canyon and reappear as dark spots against the mist of the falls. Wind howls down the canyon bringing a chill and a caution to hold onto your hat.
Firehole Canyon features a smaller but most impressive waterfall. It’s not included on the “must see” list of Yellowstone attractions but is worth the short drive down a sometimes harrowingly narrow road to get to it.
Rivers of cobalt blue wind through every valley, often warmed by geyser flow that steams into the cold, clear water.
Big animals provide excitement. Traffic is often backed up for miles as a pair of buffalo—American bison—take their time walking in the middle of the road from wherever they spent the night to whatever meadow they plan to munch their way through during the day. On the east side of the park, bison herds numbering in the hundreds roam the plains, reminding visitors of how this region must have looked 200 years ago.
Antelope frolic in meadows, and elk just wander around wherever whim directs them, next to the Post Office at the old Army Barracks, for instance—or bedding down on a small island in the middle of the Madison River.
I may have seen a bear scampering up a steep hill one afternoon. But it may have been a stump; I can’t say for certain. I was hoping to see a grizzly—from a distance.
Chipmunks, ground squirrels, raptors and the ubiquitous raven stare at visitors as if to say, “welcome to our park; mind your manners.”
A week is not enough time to see everything of interest in Yellowstone National Park, so I’ll have to go back sometime. I think winter would be interesting, with snow covering the mountains and the heat of the geysers competing with the bitter cold. Or maybe spring. Fall would be glorious I bet. When do the bears come out?