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WYOMING guide: Devils Tower; Yellowstone & Grand Teton National Parks

Below are Tom Dempsey’s Wyoming images gathered from several trips. The Wind River Range and Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks are part of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, which overlaps corners of Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho. Devils Tower National Monument is especially attractive in fall colors, with fewer visitors.

Wyoming favorite photos

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Wyoming: Yellowstone National Park images

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  • Established in 1872, Yellowstone was the first national park in the world. UNESCO honored it as a World Heritage site in 1978.
  • The famous cone geyser of Old Faithful erupts up to 185 feet high, averaging 145 feet high, about every 90 minutes. Old Faithful is powered by boiling groundwater heated by a hotspot of light, hot, molten mantle rock near the surface. 640,000 years ago, a supereruption of the Yellowstone Supervolcano created the Yellowstone Caldera which measures 34 miles (55 km) by 45 miles (72 km). Any time in the next few hundred millennia, the active volcano of Yellowstone could cause vast destruction in North America and modify world climate.
  • Grand Prismatic is the largest hot spring in the United States, and the third largest in the world, next to those in New Zealand. Colorful microbial mats coat terraces of Grand Prismatic Spring in Midway Geyser Basin, Yellowstone National Park. The sterile blue water in the pool’s center is too hot to support life (87 degrees Centigrade or 188 F). Pure water selectively absorbs red wavelengths of visible light, making the center deep blue. But in cooler water along the edges, microbial mats of thermophilic (heat-loving) cyano-bacteria and algae thrive. Yellow, orange, and red pigments are produced by the bacteria as a natural sunscreen. As a result, the pool displays a spectrum of colors from the bright blue water of the center to the orange, red, and brown algal mats along the edges. Summer mats tend to be orange and red, whereas winter mats become dark green.
  • Morning Glory Pool is a colorful hot spring in Upper Geyser Basin. Microbial mats of cyano-bacteria and algae color the pool brown, yellow, and green. The pool’s center lacks the high temperature pure blue water seen in previous decades. Its glory has faded as objects tossed in by vandals have blocked hot water inlets.
  • Artists’ Paint Pots Trail is atmospheric early on a frosty morning.
  • Over thousands of years, Mammoth Hot Springs have built huge white travertine terraces including Terrace Mountain (and Minerva Terrace), the largest known carbonate-depositing spring in the world. The Mammoth Hotel and Fort Yellowstone are built upon the  old Hotel Terrace formation. Hot water from Norris Geyser Basin within the Yellowstone Caldera travels underground via a fault line through limestone and deposits calcium carbonate at Mammoth Hot Springs, outside of the active supervolcano’s caldera.
  • Commonly seen in the park, American bison (scientific name “Bison bison”) is also known as buffalo, despite being only distantly related to true buffalo. Members of the genus Bison are large, even-toed ungulates within the subfamily Bovinae.
  • The Yellowstone River (a major tributary of the Missouri River) flows through the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, located downstream from Yellowstone Falls.

Wyoming: Grand Teton National Park images

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Grand Teton National Park contains the major peaks of the 40-mile (64 km) Teton Range and part of the valley known as Jackson Hole, Wyoming. The Teton Range began their tectonic uplift 9 million years ago (during the Miocene Epoch), making them the youngest range in the Rocky Mountains. A parkway connects from Grand Teton National Park 10 miles north to Yellowstone National Park.

Seen best at sunrise, the Tetons reflect nicely in the Snake River at Schwabacher Landing (16 miles north of Jackson Hole on US26/89/191). Another good spot is where Mount Moran (12,605 feet) reflects in the Snake River at Oxbow Bend. The mountain is named for Thomas Moran, an American western frontier landscape artist. Mount Moran dominates the northern section of the Teton Range rising 6000 feet above Jackson Lake. Tom’s Teton trips include 2019, 2017, 2004.

Wyoming: Wind River Range

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The Wind River Range lies in the Rocky Mountains southwest of Grand Teton National Park. See our 2019 trip report. Mostly made of granite batholiths formed deep within the earth over 1 billion years ago, the Wind River Range is one of the oldest mountain ranges in North America. These granite monoliths were tectonically uplifted, exposed by erosion, then carved by glaciers 500,000 years ago to form cirques and U-shaped valleys. We enjoyed several hikes and a backpacking trip in Bridger-Teton National Forest on the west side of the Continental Divide (which follows the crest of the “Winds”):

Green River Lakes

Glaciers scoured the terminal moraine which naturally dams the Green River Lakes, which are the headwaters of the Green River (chief tributary to the Colorado River). Upper Lake offers the best reflection of Squaretop Mountain (11,695 feet elevation), an iconic granite monolith. To acclimatize, we hiked a loop of 7.2 miles with 700 feet cumulative gain entirely around Lower Green River Lake, including the short side trip to Upper Lake.

A tougher hike took us from Green River Lakes Trailhead, along just the west side of Lower Lake, to Slide Lake (13 miles round trip minimum, with 2100 feet gain). Those with more energy can add the Natural Bridge in Clear Creek Valley and loop back via the east side of Lower Lake.

Photographer’s Point

Above Pinedale, along the enjoyable day hike to Photographer’s Point (9.6 miles round trip with 1150 feet gain), view Wind River peaks rising above the popular Titcomb Basin backpacking area.

New Fork Lakes

From Narrows Campground, we hiked a pleasant trail along New Fork Lakes just past the end of the lake (4.4 miles round trip with 400 ft gain). (The kokanee salmon were not yet spawning on September 12, 2019.)

Backpacking to Big Sandy Lake: Cirque of the Towers; Clear Lake, Deep Lake, Temple Lake

Our spectacular two-night backpacking trip established a tenting home base at Big Sandy Lake Campground (11 miles round trip with 1000 feet gain going in, and 400 ft gain going out). On Day 2, we hiked with lightweight day packs from Big Sandy Lake to Clear Lake and Deep Lake below East Temple Peak, then looped back via the the Continental Divide Trail to Temple Lake, Miller Lake, and Rapid Lake (7.5 miles, 1060 ft gain). Every step of this day hike offers inspiring views, such as the sharp spire of East Temple Peak above Deep Lake, Cirque of the Towers in the distance, and more. On Day 3, two hours before sunrise, I departed from Big Sandy Lake to reach Jackass Pass viewpoint for Cirque of the Towers and Lonesome Lake (6.5 miles round trip, 1860 ft gain) on the Continental Divide Trail. Then I joined Carol hiking out to Big Sandy Trailhead (5.4 miles with 400 ft gain).

Wyoming: Black Hills: Devils Tower National Monument

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Devils Tower (aka Bear Lodge Butte) rises dramatically 1267 feet above the Belle Fourche River, standing 867 feet from base to summit, at 5112 feet above sea level. See our 2017 trip report. Devils Tower was the first United States National Monument, established on September 24, 1906 by President Theodore Roosevelt. This charismatic butte consists of intrusive igneous rock exposed by erosion in the Bear Lodge Mountains, part of the Black Hills, near Hulett and Sundance in Crook County, Wyoming. The 1893 wood stake ladder for the first ascent of Devils Tower (by Willard Ripley) was restored 1972. The last known use of the ladder was in 1927 by daredevil Babe “The Fly” White. In 1972, the Park Service removed what was left of the bottom section, and restored the top 140 feet of the ladder (see photo). In mid October, bright yellow cottonwood tree leaves framed Devils Tower in quiet Belle Fourche River Campground.

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