Thermal Features of Yellowstone

The thermal features were the impetus of my desire to go to Yellowstone.  They seem to create scenes from a Sci-Fi movie.  It feels like being on another planet.Thermal Feature

Did you know half of the worlds geysers are found in Yellowstone? 

2013-09-22 Yellowstone

And Yellowstone sits atop a massive super volcano that fuels the hot springs, geysers, and fumaroles?  Magma is usually deep underground but scientist believe that in the caldera of Yellowstone the magma is a mere 3 miles beneath the Earth’s surface.

Old Faithful

Old Faithful is of course the most famous thermal feature.  It’s of impressive size, predictable, and close to the gift shop, lodge, and inn.   Standing around with lots of people and the temperature just above freezing in a light rain to watch it for the first time was sort of anti-climatic.  Watching from the lodge while drinking a cup of cocoa was an improvement.  Sitting outside under a full moon watching Old Faithful with my family was close to perfection.

Morning Glory

Although the ranger said Morning Glory isn’t as vibrant as it used to be, it is still well worth the walk.  The colors are caused by thermophilic bacteria.  You can actually tell the temperature of the water by the color.

Chromatic Pool

I thought Chromatic Pool was interesting.  Doesn’t it seem like a scene from Star Trek or something?

Mammoth 2


Stinky Mammoth


The terraced springs at Mammoth were unique and fascinating but stinky.


Firehole Drive 1


We were really glad we took the scenic Firehole Drive.  We saw 3 or 4 geysers erupting.  If I remember correctly this was toward the end of a day when the kids had already walked 10 miles so they were thankful to have so many geysers close to the road.

This was a really incredible trip!  I’m so thankful we finally made it a reality and I’m super thankful to Scott for taking so many pictures for me to share.

Check out the posts on Wildlife and The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone and The Grand Tetons.



A Day at Grand Teton National Park

Just realized I didn’t get this post published.  Hard to believe we’ve been back for 3 weeks already.


During our Yellowstone vacation we decided to take a day trip down to the Grand Tetons.  It turned out to be one of our favorite days.



We went for what was supposed to be an easy hike around Jenny Lake, however due to a trail closure for reconstruction we ended up on the much more difficult horse trail.  That turned out to be a great thing because it made for wonderful views and….


we saw a pika up in the high rocks!!!  If you’ve never heard of a pika, they are adorable little creatures who live in rocky places high up in mountains.  They spend their time gathering bits of grass and flowers to eat during the winter and they are incredibly speedy.


Jenny Lake

Scott and E took the challenge of hiking all the way up to Inspiration Point.  C and I were a little concerned about missing the boat and being forced to hike back, so we only made it half way up before heading to the dock.  Scott has a Fitbit pedometer that tracks flights of stairs as well as steps, by the end of the day he and Eli had climbed 100 flights of stairs!

It was a terrifically rewarding day.  Check out the wildlife post for pictures of the moose and coyote we saw on the way back to the hotel.  Grand Teton felt more active and accessible than Yellowstone.  The road travels through a valley and there are places for bicycles.  There were some tour buses, but it had less of a “drive by and take pictures” feel. The hotel was promoting horseback riding and rafting.   It is definitely worth adding some time to your itinerary if you are making the trip.

The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone

I love the opportunity to take a fall vacation and have it work into our studies!   I’m ever so thankful to my wonderful husband, who took most of the pictures while we were in Yellowstone.


Our second day in Yellowstone, we set out to explore the beautiful “Grand Canyon of Yellowstone”.

Bald Eagle - Upper Falls of Grand Canyon of Yellowstone



We started at “Brink of the Upper Falls” where we saw a bald eagle. We hiked a short way up the river before turning around.


Lower Falls - Grand Canyon of Yellowstone

We drove around to Uncle Tom’s Trail on the South Rim of the Canyon.  Uncle Tom’s Trail has a 500 ft. elevation change down into the canyon for a spectacular view of the Lower Falls.  It involves something like 300 metal grate stairs.

Grand Canyon of Yellowstone The views on the way down were exquisite!  When we got to the bottom platform we saw a beautiful rainbow.  The colors of the canyon were stunning!  I thought the platform was vibrating, but it was just my fear of heights causing my leg to involuntarily shake! (Metal grate stairs are my nemesis.)  The boys bounded up the stairs out of the canyon.  I slowly climbed the stairs as they asked, “Mom, are you okay?”.  I wish I’d had my heart rate monitor so I would have known how many calories I burned.


Once I finally got up to the top of the rim again, we headed off down the trail for Artist Point. The views along the trail were absolutely breath taking.


It was incredible.  Pictures in the mountains can never seem to capture the vastness.


After what seemed like an incredibly long hike (it felt like at least 3 miles) we met up with the bus loads of tourists at Artist’s Point.   A friendly ranger was taking family pictures!

We retraced our steps back to the car (minus the trip down into the canyon) and it was really only 1 mile!

In the afternoon we went to the visitor center at Canyon Lodge.  They had a wonderful topographic model of the entire park.   Upstairs was Thomas Moran’s painting of the Lower Falls.  The painting is in 3 panels and  7′ x 12′. It’s incredibly beautiful. The visitor center also had a display that represented the amount of ash put out by Mt. Saint Helen’s compared to the amount of ash that is believed to have been spread by the Yellowstone Volcano.   The boys got their Young Scientist papers and we made an afternoon visit along the Northern Rim to complete a couple of the activities in their packets.

It was truly a beautiful area.  Even though there is some thermal activity in the canyon, the area is vibrant and full of life compared to some of the geyser basins.

Check out the Wildlife of Yellowstone and Thanks to Mary for Hosting:












Yellowstone and Grand Teton – Wildlife

We wrapped up our Yellowstone unit study – WITH A TRIP TO YELLOWSTONE!!!   I have wanted to go to Yellowstone forever!  Last year I finally quit wishing and planned a trip for this fall.  It was AMAZING!  Mama Bear w/ Cubs

One of the best parts of the trip was seeing 6 Grizzly Bears in our first hour!  I had prepared the boys that we would be extremely lucky to see a bear so you can imagine our excitement when the ranger at the entrance gate said there was a bear family on a carcass about 18 miles into the park.  The picture is a bit blurry because they were really far away.  Our binoculars allowed us to see an incredible scene.  The mama and her three cubs were feeding on this carcass with ravens all around.

Lamar Valley - Male Grizzly Approaching

Then we spotted a male grizzly approaching.

Male Bear circling Mama Bear with cubs and carcass

He circled around and eventually challenged the mama bear.  We actually  heard them vocalize!Mama Bear nursing cubs

She decided to give up the tasty bit of carrion, led her cubs a short distance away and began nursing them.

Lamar Valley - Bears

One last picture of the beautiful Lamar Valley, so my mom knows we weren’t in any danger.  The bears were out beyond the trees.  Good thing we had binoculars!

Once we were about another mile down the road E spotted another grizzly headed in the general direction of the scene.  The boys were so excited.

Bald Eagle - Upper Falls of Grand Canyon of Yellowstone

The next morning we saw a bald eagle nesting in the canyon.  We watched it for several minutes before it flew right over our heads.

Osprey and Raven in Grand Canyon of Yellowstone

In the afternoon we spotted a young osprey defending its nest against a raven.


Another day we took a side trip to the Grand Tetons where we saw a  PIKA!!!  We had seen them in a documentary, so I was thrilled when I heard one peeping high up in a rocky area.  Just like in the documentary, it was busy bringing grass back to its burrow.  These little guys are amazingly fast and completely adorable.  It sort of reminded me of a chinchilla.


As we were leaving that evening we saw several cars pulled over to watch something which turned out to be a few moose.  Again it was a good thing we had binoculars but the kids were very excited.

Coyote Hunting Dinner

Further up the road we spotted a coyote hunting his dinner.  C really wanted to see a wolf, so he is holding on to the possibility it was a lone wolf.   Unfortunately we didn’t see a wolf pack.

In Mammoth Springs we saw lots of Elk and we even heard them bugle in the early morning.  Of course there were lots of bison, squirrels, chipmunks, deer, and pronghorns.  No marmots this trip, but the pika more than made up for it.

It was such a thrill to actually go to Yellowstone and Grand Teton and see so many of the animals we have been studying.  Seeing the animals free in their natural habitat is so much more exciting than viewing them in a zoo.  We really had to use our knowledge to help us stay alert for the animals we might see.

Stay tuned for posts on the thermal features and hiking the “Grand Canyon of Yellowstone”.

Thanks to Kris for hosting the Weekly Wrap-Up!




Yellowstone Unit Study Week 1

My boys really enjoy studying science.  Maybe because it has always been largely an interest led topic.  We do a lot of unit studies and most of them end up covering science and some history.  I’m not formal about creating a lesson plan because we tend to answer our questions as they come up.


This year we are starting the year with a unit study on Yellowstone National Park.  We will study the geological features, the wildlife, history and some botany and weather.

E in particular is always drawn to learning more about wildlife. Part of our unit study will be reading books about the wildlife in the park.  I easily picked up books about bears, elk, moose, wolves, and coyotes.  Oddly enough, the library didn’t have any books about marmots.

We are also using a guide book of Yellowstone as a resource and supplementing the information with internet searches. One big discovery, for the kids, was that the trees in a petrified forest have no limbs.  They had been picturing entire trees with intact limbs. I was glad I didn’t lead them on a long hike to Specimen Ridge only to discover the trees looked nothing like they expected.

The boys like to watch movies so we are working our way through some DVDs from the library.

I also found The Mystery at Yellowstone National Park by Carole Marsh.  It’s part of the America’s National Mystery Book Series.  It is always a challenge to find fiction the kids like to read but I’m hoping the combination of a mysteries and new places could make this series interesting.  I think the reading level on it was listed as 5.8, but most in the series were a little lower.


The boys did drawings of the types of thermal features found in the park. C’s are shown here.  E was still working on his.  We discussed all four types but they were free to draw whichever ones they wanted.

The school year is off to a great start. You can find the wrap-up of our entire week here.

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