Yellowstone had a rough start as our nation’s first National Park, created on March 1, 1872 by President Grant. In its early years, the park was exploited by visitors, developers, poachers, and its stewards. In 1886 after the park’s first presidential visit, the US military stepped in to help.
For 32 years the military enforced regulations, oversaw construction, and created many of the management principles that were adopted by the National Park Service when it took control in 1918.
The name Yellowstone actually comes from the yellow sandstones found along the banks of the Yellow River. But you can also see the yellow coloring caused by lava at the Yellowstone Grand Canyon.
We entered from the north entrance, and parked our camper at the Mammoth Campground, and stayed for 5 nights. Mammoth has the only campground in the park that remains open all year long. Just days before our arrival, many of the other campgrounds were closing up for winter.
Mammoth is also first-come-first-serve campground. Jason had been watching online the week before we arrived, to see how quickly the camp spots were filling up. It seemed Mammoth was still pretty busy at the start of October. The weekends were filling up early. But days before we arrived, not so much. We arrived just before noon, and had no problem getting a spot.
However, the original spot we were assigned did prove to be a bit challenging. It was anything but level, and after an hour of trying to get things level, with one of our support jacks giving out and Jason having to cut it off, we decided it just wasn’t going to work. We were able to move farther down to a better spot, and now Jason has a maintenance job to do some research on.
We found the campground of Mammoth to be a delight. It was relatively quiet, aside from all the campers moving out early in the morning for their day of adventures.
From what we could tell, there seemed to be two herds of elk who reside in the small town of Mammoth, too. Each day when we drove through, we saw them. One morning we even had a few of them visit us in the campground.
Each day we drove through the park to see what we could see, and really enjoyed the northern road that connects Mammoth to the north-eastern gate. The road was curvy and full of large valleys that were obviously excellent pastures for wildlife. We managed to see elk, mule deer, and buffalo every day we drove this northern road.
Our first few days there were some road closures, due to the three inches of snow we awoke to one morning. But once the weather warmed and the skies cleared, things opened back up and we were able to take a drive south to see Old Faithful.
Once we headed south, that’s when we started to see part of what Yellowstone is known for – the mud-pots and the geysers. I have to say, it was a little freaky to look out at the landscape and see all the steam rising up from the earth. And I don’t just mean a little steam, I mean a lot of steam. And we were driving right past it. Creepy. And yes, I really am standing next to boiling mud. More creepy.
The farther south we ventured, the bigger the trees and more forest areas we found. After Old Faithful, we continued to make the loop and headed east, where we got to see the massive Yellowstone Lake and part of Yellowstone Canyon.
We were unable to make the entire figure-8 loop, because the eastern portion that connects Canyon Village to Tower-Roosevelt was already closed for the season. So we took the center of the figure-8 and headed back to Mammoth on the western side.
Aside from some construction between Norris and Mammoth, the roads weren’t too bad. They were fairly narrow in spots and a bit curvy. Many of the pull-offs were fairly small, so I definitely wouldn’t recommend pulling your camper through the park while you tour around, especially during the regular season when there are loads more visitors.
While I was a bit disappointed we didn’t see any grizzlies or wolves, we did manage to see a black bear and a moose. All in addition to a few mule deer, the daily dose of elk, and about a thousand buffalo. By the way, if you enjoy wildlife pictures as much as I do, then check out our page of Critters which is a gallery of all the wildlife pictures from our journey!