Ever since I moved to London, my travels back to the USA have focused on cities. From San Francisco to New York, Miami to Seattle, I have explored America’s urban highlights at the expense of its rural ones. But one of the highlights of my country is its natural beauty, and one of the best places to experience it is Yellowstone National Park.
Why did I choose Yellowstone on this trip? A good friend from childhood moved there a few years ago and has always encouraged me to visit. Coincidentally, there are also direct flights from Minneapolis, where I was for my cousin’s wedding, to Bozeman, Montana, the closest airport to where she lives.
I cashed in some frequent flier miles, packed my telephoto lens, and got ready to experience the world’s first national park.
Lucky for me, my friend and her husband are experts in the area’s nature and wildlife. On my first day in Montana, they took me on a full-day tour of Yellowstone, complete with nature and wildlife sightings.
As soon as we passed through the park’s west entrance, we came across a herd of bison. It was complete with little ones that frolicked in the meadows on their newfound legs.
As we watched, my friend explained that spring is one of the best times to visit Yellowstone, as the crowds are low and the wildlife sightings replete with cute baby animals. I love me some cute baby animals.
This includes the little black bear foraging in the woods with its mother. Not far from it was a herd of elk, and near there we watched a lone coyote hunting in the open grass.
Driving through the Lamar Valley and the Hayden Valley, we spotted a giant Trumpeter Swan, a leggy Sandhill Crane, a Great Blue Heron, a grizzly bear, and plenty of antelope-like pronghorn.
There were also grazing moose, hunting eagles, a nesting Osprey, and American white pelicans to round out the mix.
One of our most unique wildlife sightings in Yellowstone was a herd of bighorn sheep, which my friend explained was exceedingly rare. And my favorite animal of the day was a giant elk curled up in a field and slumbering away as tourists took photos of its impressive antlers.
Away from the wildlife, we spent time exploring Yellowstone’s natural highlights. Chief among these was the famous Upper Yellowstone Falls.
The waterfall itself was spectacular, cascading down the canyon in deep white swirls, but the walls of the ravine were even more awe-inspiring. Their deep yellow color glowed in the late afternoon sun, showing us how Yellowstone got its name.
Not far from Upper Yellowstone Falls was Lake Yellowstone, a beautiful body of water surrounded by snow capped mountains.
We drove along the edge of it and past the Lake Yellowstone Hotel, where I remembered staying as a teenager when my family took a road trip through Wyoming and Montana.
At the end of the lake we made our way to the best known part of Yellowstone: Old Faithful.
The geyser is one of the most popular places to visit in Yellowstone, not least because its reliable eruptions take place every 90 minutes or so.
We arrived just after one such burst of water, so we spent an hour walking around the colorful sulfur pools and boiling steam vents until Old Faithful erupted again. It was worth the wait.
On our way back to Montana, we stopped by the Fountain Paint Pots, boiling mud puddles in vast stretches of dry baked land full of petrified trees. We then crossed over the steaming Firehole River and meandering Gallatin River, and ended up in West Yellowstone, Montana.
Our tour ended with a feast at the Beartooth Barbeque restaurant on the historic main street. Afterwards we headed home to Big Sky, where feats of nature and wildlife beyond those in Yellowstone National Park awaited. To be continued…