Once the edge of the frontier, the Yellowstone Region is now a place where travelers come from around the world to to get a glimpse at what Earth was millions of years ago.
The area itself is a dormant volcano, with a caldera spanning 35+ miles in diameter. Yellowstone National Park sits on top of four overlapping calderas in the region, all of which are interconnected through the ancient channels forged by lava. Yellowstone is one of the most researched geothermal areas in the world - heavily studied in the Chinese school systems.
I was lucky enough to spend two summers in the Yellowstone region and have been able to visit the park multiple times. I worked and stayed at Three Rivers Ranch, just off Route 47, nestled into the confluence of three rivers, the Henry's Fork, Warm River, and Robinson Creek, is the old log-cabin style lodge that was previously a railroad stop. The homestead was an inn with a dance hall and cabins for travelers on their way to Yellowstone National Park. Now, it serves as a premier fly fishing outfitter in the West and can boast being one of the first Orvis endorsed fly fishing lodge in the world.
Getting into Yellowstone is easier these days, but the sights within the park limits and the surrounding area are just as awe inspiring.
The Old Faithful Geyser Basin is epicenter of the hydrothermal activity. The land is largely barren, very little vegetation can survive with the unique soil composition and elevated ground temperatures. Pools of water litter the landscape displaying vibrant colors of thermophilic bacteria, ranging from yellows to blues. Gazing into the pools, you can see caverns and fissures constructed from the ancient lava flows that formed the region. Trees grow along the outskirts of the basin on slightly elevated ground, above the sultry mineral laden water discharged from the geysers near by. Silica and calcium carbonate leave frosty, calcified mounds around the geyser cavity.
Old Faithful Geyser
Yellowstone makes up for its lack of vegetation in the geyser basins by supporting a vast array of wildlife year-round. Bison, moose, elk, wolves, bears, and eagles make the list of notable wildlife that tourists travel to the region to see. River otters, trout, fox, and deer are also in the area. The ecosystem ranges from lakes to valleys to mountains to rivers, all within a few miles.
Elk just off the main road in Yellowstone
Outside of Yellowstone National Park, the effects of the lava crafted landscape are seen in different ways. The Teton Range, "Trois Tétons", is one of those ranges that gets engraved in your mind the second you see them. Chiseled granite peaks, dusted with snow, rise from the farmland just south of Yellowstone National Park. Jackson Hole and Grand Targhee take advantage of the range by hosting some of the best in-bounds skiing in the country. The high alpine snow turns "watermelon snow" in the summer due to a cryophilic bacteria, Chlamydomonas nivalis, a strange, but common, phenomena in high alpine regions similar to the Tetons. However tempting it may be, locals will tell you to the same thing they say about yellow snow, don't eat the pink snow.
The Teton Range from the east, Curtis Canyon Campground outside Jackson, WY
The Teton range from the west, Teton Valley, ID
The Teton Range from the peak of Table Mountain, Alta, WY
Traveling west and south from the Teton Range is some of the best fly fishing in the world. The Snake River and the Henry's Fork are home to rainbow, brook, and brown trout, all ready to eat dry flies. Winding through canyons and over waterfalls, the rivers are accessed heavily by drift boat by local guides, their knowledge of the water is unmatched. The fish eat dry flies frequently, with the most activity in the early season during the salmon fly hatch. "B-52's" is what the guides I worked with called these bugs as they would smack down on the water, depositing eggs for future generations. The rivers themselves have hydraulics from the old lava caverns that carved their way through the earth. Water interacts with basalt walls in odd ways, slowly etching and smoothing the magmatic rock, flowing through the underwater tunnels and pushing upward into the river, creating boils that shift your drift boat as you float over. It's an unsettling feeling in an awe inspiring place, forcing you to respect the water and it's power over earth and life.
Kelly Canyon on the South Fork of the Snake River, ID
Driving to the rivers is almost as fun as fishing on them. The sights and sounds of the farmland and alpine passes surround every moment you're on the road. Columbines dictate traffic throughout the region, spanning the entirety of the straight two lane roads they occupy. Fields of mustard wave in the breeze, reflecting bright yellow petals. Billions of pounds of classic Idaho potatoes are harvested each year, supplying starch for millions of people; all of the water for irrigation coming from the snowy peaks of the Tetons melting into the tributaries and rivers, providing supreme growing conditions for the root vegetable with a use for every occasion.
Swan Valley Pass, ID
The Yellowstone Region has it all. Mountains, valleys, rivers, and wildlife. The region is still a place where you can go completely off-the-grid and experience nature in it's raw form - a rarity in today's connected, digital era.
What are you waiting for? Plan your trip, go visit. You won't regret it.