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VIEWPOINT: Trip to Yellowstone proves spectacular

At historic Fort Yellowstone, Yuna Choi takes a selfie with an elk. (Submitted photo)1 / 6
Selfies with bison are not allowed. They tend to walk along the roads, much to photographers' delight, but you are more likely to be killed by a bison than a bear. (Submitted photo)2 / 6
Old Faithful, the famous geyser, erupts on schedule -- with 6 minutes to spare! (Submitted photo)3 / 6
Emerald Spring Pool is a many-colored feature of Yellowstone National Park. (Submitted photo)4 / 6
Mammoth Hot Springs beckoned Yuna Choi, like a hot tub, she says. (Submitted photo)5 / 6
Yuna Choi poses with her father Chankyung Choi and mother Sophia Kim at the south entrance to Yellowstone National Park. (Submitted photo)6 / 6

Here’s a quick question. Would you rather: a) binge-w­atch Netflix at home, eat tons of pizzas, and eventually get fatter and fatter while watching your favorite show, or b) go to one of the natural wonders of the world and watch geysers erupt, bison roll around in dirt, witness pronghorn antelopes graze, and maybe even encounter a bear?

Yellowstone National Park has all of the things listed in the second option, and more! My parents and I went there for a few days and thoroughly enjoyed it. There is not much else that can compare to seeing a bison cross the road, be dazzled by the blue-green colors of bacteria, or feeling Old Faithful’s water splash on my head.

Yellowstone National Park is also called the nation’s first park, established in 1872. It is in Wyoming. It is essentially on top of a volcano, which is why there are so many geysers.

Old Faithful, Norris Geyser Basin, Mammoth Hot Springs, Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, and West Thumb are the places that I visited last time and are definitely worth taking your time there.

In the park, there is a road that looks like an eight that goes all around the points of interests; we drove on that road. 

Old Faithful

Our first stop was Old Faithful. Old Faithful is one of the most famous geysers in the world. It’s famous for erupting on every hourly interval, hence the name Old Faithful. When we visited, the people at the visitor center calculated the next eruption of Old Faithful to be at 6:02 p.m., and the geyser erupted with 6 minutes to spare! Old Faithful is a little part of an area called the Upper Geyser Basin, which is full of geysers. So while you’re waiting for Old Faithful to erupt, walk a little or a long way around the geyser basin. Either way, you won’t miss anything cool! There are many geysers, big and small. 

Some geysers, like Castle Geyser, are very tall towers of rock, with water spouting out of them. Others, like the Morning Glory Pool, are pristine and silent. All of the geysers do smell like rotten eggs because of the hydrogen sulfide gas.

Nearby Old Faithful, the visitor center is great. They have an amphitheater where they show educational short films (think of it like the IMAX theater at the Science Museum in St. Paul). They have exhibits on how the geysers were formed, how they work, and more. 

And don’t forget to drop by the souvenir shop! 

Want to see Old Faithful erupt without the crowds nearby it? You can walk up to Observation Point, a place on a mountain where you can see the geyser erupt. 

The actual eruption is not to be missed. The jet of boiling-hot water is something wondrous. I stood in the right spot to even feel small drops of water, like rain, fall on my head!

The Norris Geyser Basin is actually two geyser basins in one big area. One is called the Back Basin and the other one called Porcelain Basin, named after its color. In the Back Basin, there is an easy walk to Steamboat Geyser, the tallest active geyser in the world. (Fun fact: Did you know that Yellowstone alone contains at least half of the world’s geysers?) It never seems to stop erupting; however, there weren’t any huge eruptions recently. 

And one other note: Steamboat Geyser emits a ton of steam. The trails in Porcelain Basin have less geysers. When we got to Porcelain Basin, it’s easy to see why it’s called that- the colors are beautiful, just like porcelain! The bacteria living in the hot water turns different colors depending on the temperature. It’s a rainbow of vibrant colors, such as tourmaline, emerald, baby blue, white, and more.  

Hot springs

Mammoth Hot Springs is popularly known for its hot spring terraces; Minerva Terrace being the most well-known, maybe even most photographed. 

At the Upper Terraces, there is a driving road around the hot springs. There was one part on the drive where you were incredibly close to one terrace; on a beautiful day, the water would shimmer as it went over the orangeish terrace. Driving down from the Upper Terraces, toward Mammoth Hot Springs Inn, you can see Liberty Cap, which used to be a geyser that piled so much rock onto itself, creating this huge cone. Liberty Cap is now dormant. 

Selfies with elk

Nearby Fort Yellowstone is a historical neighborhood. Tons of elk frequent around that area, which makes it great to take pictures and selfies with the elk! I took quite a few selfies with elk; they turned out really well. We even spotted baby elk! How adorable!

Bison sighting guarantee

If you drive pass Tower-Roosevelt (at the northeast part of the park), you’ll find yourself in a place called Lamar Valley. Lamar Valley does not have geysers or any other things you would see in other areas; this is where I can guarantee that you will get pictures of bison, the park’s most iconic animal! 

Bison go nearby roads, even crossing them sometimes, so you will definitely have a chance of seeing these animals. We saw one crossing the road (well, more like walking along it for a while, holding up a lot of traffic, then going across to poop), and more than once, bison showed up nearby the road. 

They might look lethargic, yet can run up to 30 mph! That’s about as fast as Usain Bolt!

They have killed more people than bears have in one year! The park has recently put a ban on selfies with bison (up close), thanks to people becoming injured. 

Lamar Valley also hosts other animals that are harder to see, like the North American pronghorn antelope. Pronghorn can run as fast as 53 mph! We saw a couple of them in Lamar Valley. Unfortunately, they seemed more interested in eating than running.

Unparalleled views

If you go downward from Tower-Roosevelt, you will eventually come to a place called the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. I could see why it’s called that — it’s quite grand! 

It’s steep, but the views from the different points are unparalleled to almost anything. If you would rather drive, there is the North Rim Drive and the South Rim Drive, with pullouts to places like Inspiration Point and Artist Point. 

We even spotted an osprey nest! 

The views of the waterfalls are also spectacular! 

Looking down from the lookout points, it’s very scary. It reaches down so far, and it’s incredibly steep; I was scared. However, it feels so amazing to be such a small part in an incredibly big canyon. The Grand Canyon also has a ton of earthquakes that shape the canyon, so in a few years, the canyon would probably look different.      

On the road downward from the canyon, there is a place called the Mud Volcano. It has Dragon’s Mouth Spring, Mud Volcano, and Black Dragon’s Cauldron. Dragon’s Mouth Spring was named because the cave which the water came from looked like a dragon’s mouth and the water constantly spouting out from it looked like its tongue flickering in and out.

When I saw it, it was easy to imagine it as a water-breathing dragon. 

The Mud Volcano is a pit of mud bubbling eagerly. If you boiled mud, it would sound and look the same as the Mud Volcano.  

What to do with a geyser

Head further down from there and you’ll encounter West Thumb. It was named because Yellowstone Lake looks like a hand, and West Thumb would be the “thumb” part of it. West Thumb also has a lot of geysers. 

One of them is Fishing Cone, where people joked that if you stood on the geyser, reeled in a trout, and dipped the trout into the geyser, the trout would be cooked without you ever taking it off the line. Due to damage on the geyser, fishing is no longer allowed. Abyss Pool is another geyser that reaches 53 feet down! Some of the geysers looked so serene and peaceful; they looked like warm, cozy, hot tubs. 

I wanted to lie down in one.  

Mountain range

There’s not much left of Yellowstone after West Thumb, but if you head down, toward the south entrance, you’ll go straight to Grand Teton National Park, the next-door neighbor to Yellowstone. On the road, there is a great view of the massive Teton Mountain range. 

If you drop by the park, taking a boat tour on Jenny Lake is highly recommended. 

They have views of the massive Teton mountains — and the Grand Teton itself — and lots of chances to see wildlife. We saw osprey nests, eagles, and we heard that even a grizzly bear lived there!

Why you should go there

Yellowstone is an incredible place to be. It’s so beautiful there. Seeing the vibrant colors in the geysers, watching bison roll around in dirt, and listening to the calm sound of water running over the terraces was quite the experience. It’s unparalleled to anything else. 

Zoos may have their bison, but those are boring and depressed. At Yellowstone, they run wild and free! 

Geysers are also very rare. 

Why take a trip across the world when you can just take a trip across the U.S.? Yellowstone was epic. I would much rather go there than spend my summer cooped up inside. Overall, taking a trip to Yellowstone is an experience I will never forget. It is definitely one of the places you need to mark on your bucket list. It’s also very educational, I learned things like how geysers erupt (it takes heat, a plumbing system, and water) and why bison roll around in dirt (to get rid of the flies on their back). 

Going there for summer vacation was a very good choice; there are so many things there that you would not see in your suburban town. And there probably will never be another Old Faithful. 

Now go there and explore the wonder that is Yellowstone! 

Yuna Choi is a Woodbury resident and seventh grader at the Math and Science Academy.