Yellowstone National Park is vast. It covers three thousand, four hundred and sixty eight square miles, larger than Rhode Island and Connecticut combined. For our British readers, that’s just a little larger than the combined areas of Greater Manchester, Cheshire, Lancashire and West Yorkshire.
Even the arrival of three million visitors a year doesn’t really make much of an impression except around the tourist hubs where there is a hive of activity: tour buses, cars and RVs jostle for parking, people mill about the boardwalks of the popular thermal attractions.
While we’ve both been here before, individually and together, we’ve somehow never brought the RV, a situation that clearly needed remedying. Our first stop is Tower Hill campground, nestled in a bowl a little way up the valley from Tower Fall itself. We’re finishing off some work and so only take a couple of hours off to walk down to the Yellowstone River. The swift waters meander through stretches of yellow and white gorge, fresh green vegetation colours the lower lying meadows on some of the inside bends, pines grow on any possible gradient and wafts of sulfur rise from the water. It’s a beautiful spot in the late afternoon sun and we watch a tree trunk carried in the central swift currents as it drifts towards the outer bank of a bend where it suddenly drops into a backwater and joins the numerous other logs caught in the same trap.
Further up the river the waters have cut an even more dramatic path creating the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. There are numerous viewpoints along both rims, strung out like beads connected by trails. The beads, accessible from the various parking areas are multicoloured hubs of people, the trail between them, the quieter part of the necklace. We park at Grand View and head west along the trail.
It’s difficult to do the canyon justice. Hydrothermal activity in the Rhyolite rock has left the reddish, yellow and white hues that characterise the steep, deeply eroded sides of the canyon. The slopes sweep down to the water over three hundred meters (1000 feet) below, the line broken by the jagged shapes left in sections of more resistant rock, pine trees cling wherever possible, the sound of the rushing river reaching us on the rim, even over the brisk wind.
The short steep Red Rock Trail drops one hundred and fifty meters (500 feet) in a little over half a kilometer (⅜ mile) to a viewing point with an uninterrupted view of the Lower Falls. The green oxygenated waters tumble over the rim into the white foaming spray curtain of the falls. The climb is worth the experience, as is the next trail down, this time to the brink of the Lower Falls. Here, the roar of the water is fierce, its speed and volume over the edge mesmerising. The partly translucent green waters roll over the rim, the escaping droplets sparkle white in the sun, a rainbow plays in the swirling mists below and the river continues on its way through a particularly stunning section of the canyon.