Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, and Utahs
Hot Spot Yellowstone National Park
By Nick Anis
The worlds first national park, Yellowstone includes a large hot
spot that fuels the geysers and other geothermal phenomena that mesmerize more than
three million visitors each year. Geologists believe this hot spot area has caused three
catastrophic volcanic eruptions in and around Yellowstone
Eruptions blasted away mountains to smooth a broad flat area called the Snake River
Plain. The Snake River Plain is one the most beautiful areas in the lower 48. It is home
to the endangered bald eagle, buffalo, and trumpeter swan, and is part of the famed Oregon Trail the migration
path that lead the way to the settlement of the West.
During the past 16 million years the surface of Yellowstones
massive hot spot (28 miles by 47 miles) has moved along with the Continental Plate
about one-inch per year. This movement has left a progressive string of volcanic
fields and calderas from Southern Oregon through Southern Idaho and into Wyoming and
Montana at Yellowstone
National Park. While there are other hot spots in the world, the only other
significant one in the United States is on the Big Island of Hawaii.
Whats that? you say. Just what is a hot spot and a
Im glad you asked. A hot spot is the area above a stationary plume of material
heated by the Earths core. The super-heated plume melts the crust of rock above it,
causing powerful eruptions. Ash and lava are violently blown out into the air and onto the
land. The crust then shrinks to fill the void and creates a huge depression or volcanic
explosion crater, which is called a caldera.
The Hot Spot Exhibit
The National Geographic IMAX Theatre
is located in the town of West
Yellowstone adjacent to the west entrance to Yellowstone National Park. It has an
excellent interpretive exhibit produced in a public-private partnership with the USDA
Forest Service. This exhibit shows hot-spot events that have occurred hundreds of miles
apart over the millenium, and how they have shaped not only the areas landscape, but
also the lives of the people living there.
According to Leif Johnson, general manager of the theater, Part of our mission is to
be a first class interpretive center. Johnson is also the president of the West
Yellowstone Chamber of Commerce and an active member of the Yellowstone Hot Spot
Association. This 40-ish Renaissance Man of Yellowstone frequently hikes, rafts, and
kayaks the area, apparently to learn and study firsthand the secrets of hot spots and
calderas. He shares this knowledge and insight with infectious enthusiasm.
The spectacular 33-minute IMAX movie Yellowstone is shown on a six story high
screen. Admission to the film is $7.50 for adults, $4.50 for children (ages 3-11), and
children under 3 are free. Yellowstone is written and directed by three-time Emmy and
Oscar award winner Keith Merrill. The filming, which took almost two years, was done on
location at Yellowstone National Park. The movie is an abbreviated but highly realistic
dramatization of the discovery and establishment of Yellowstone. Starting with the
Tukudika tribe, the film chronicles the earliest known inhabitants, continuing with early
explorers including John
Colter, a member of the Lewis and Clark Party. Colter spent several years in the area
as a trapper and explorer. The film finishes with the miraculous wonders of Americas
oldest and most visited national park.
The IMAX film includes some of the most spectacular footage ever seen of Upper and Lower
falls, the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, Artist Point, Geysers and Vents, Old Faithful, and
Fountain Paint Pots. Wildlife shown in their native habitat includes grizzly bears, moose,
elk, mule deer, buffalo, and golden eagles. The grizzly bear, Bart and grizzly
bear cub in the film were the same ones who starred in the movie The Bear.
The theatre complex includes a Starbucks Cafe, gift shop with Native American crafts, Taco
Bell Express, and the hot spot exhibit. Actual props that were used in the making of the
film are on display in the theatre lobby and outside in the courtyard. The theatre is
nestled in the 85-acre Grizzly Park center that includes the Silvertip Restaurant,
Northern Bear Trading Company, Michones Candies, the Grizzly Gallery,
McDonalds, and the Grizzly Discovery Center. Another key point of interest, The
Museum of The Yellowstone, is just across the street.
The Museum of the Yellowstone
The Museum of the Yellowstone has a later model of one of the last remaining yellow
touring buses (circa 1936) made by the White Company. Touring buses replaced the
stagecoaches that were being used to tour the park around 1915. Museum visitors can see
the raging fire that affected 70 percent of Yellowstone park; relive the terrifying 1959
earthquake that made a mountain fall and killed 28 people the largest quake in the
Rocky Mountain Region; and view indigenous wildlife. Also on display are firearms,
tomahawks, and clothing used by Indians, US Cavalry, trappers, and cowboys of the period.
Open May through October, admission for adults is $5.95, students and seniors (60 and
older) $4.95, and children (5 and under) are admitted free.
The Grizzly Discovery Center and Bear and Wolf Preserve
Another major attraction in West Yellowstone, also located in the Grizzly Park complex, is
The Grizzly Discovery Center, a grizzly bear and gray wolf preserve with naturalistic
habitats. Open year round, seven days a week, admission is $7.50 for adults, seniors (62
and older) $6.50, children (ages 5-15) $3.00, and free for children under 5.
Visitors will see six grizzly bears in a 1.8-acre natural setting. The center also has a
pack of ten mature gray wolves in their own natural habitat of nearly an acre. There is
one pair of alphas, or pack leaders, a large male gray wolf with distinctive dark marking
on his back, and a smaller female gray wolf with a lighter coat. These two and the rest of
their pack are all magnificent animals with beautiful coats that captivate visitors from
around the world. Indoors, visitors will find educational multimedia exhibits, a theater
with continuous videos on grizzly bears and other Montana wildlife, and a nice gift shop.
The Grizzly Park complex is decorated outdoors with some striking bronze statuary
sponsored by the centers developers and tenants including grizzly bears, wolves, and
bald eagles. According to Johnson the centers aim is to have the best display of
outdoor art in the West. (Judging from the three exhibits I saw, they are well on their
way to achieving this goal.)
Visiting Yellowstone National Park
Yellowstone, the worlds first national park, was established in March of 1872 by an
Act of Congress. The parks borders have changed over the years and it has gotten
larger; it now encompasses 3,400 square miles (2.2 million acres), 91% of which is in
Wyoming, 7.6% in Montana, and the remaining 1.4% in the state of Idaho. The park is 99%
undeveloped, providing a wide range of habitat types that support one of the continent's
largest and most varied large mammal populations. There are approximately 1,200 miles of
trails, 97 trailheads, and approximately 300 backcountry campsites. There are five park
entrances, and 370 miles of paved roads, which are undergoing a five-year repaving process
during the relatively short summer seasons.
One of the most famous attractions in Yellowstone is the Old Faithful geyser. West
Yellowstone is the closest town to this section of the park. It is a good place begin your
trek by car, snowmobile, tour bus, or snow coach around the Lower Loop or Upper Loop of
Yellowstone National Park. We were very pleased with the Buffalo Bus Lines bus tour we
took, as were the others on board.
If Old Faithful and the two-story Lodge Pine architectural wonder, the Old Faithful Inn is
on your itinerary, you should take the Lower Loop. During the summer be sure to get past
the road construction barricades before 10:00am or you will have to take a two-hour detour
via an alternate route that goes North to Norris and then around 139-square mile Lake
Yellowstone. The park is open year-round except for a brief period at the start of Winter
when visitors must wait for enough snowfall for the snowmobiles and snow coaches to get
around, and for a brief period in spring when visitors must wait for the park service to
clear the snow from the roads for use by cars and buses.
There is a lot to see in Yellowstone National Park. The Lower Loop (124 miles returning to
West Yellowstone) takes you past hundreds of geysers, vents, mud pots, rivers, spectacular
water falls, the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, and scenic canyons with multicolored
cliffsides. The Upper Loop (126 miles returning to West Yellowstone) is just as
captivating. In either section of the park you can see buffalo, elk, wolves, bald eagles,
and other indigenous wildlife.
Just West of Yellowstone
When one considers Yellowstone National Parks huge size it is not surprising to
learn there are spectacular areas seldom seen by park visitors. Big Springs, for example,
is one of the 40 largest springs in the United States. As the headwaters of the
Henrys Fork of the Snake River, Big Springs maintains a year-round water temperature
of 52 degrees Fahrenheit. It runs continuously with enough pure water to supply a city of
one million people. Upper Mesa Falls on the Henrys Fork of the Snake River is also
quite a marvel, especially as seen from the special walkway built for viewing; dramatic
vibrant rainbows are often seen there. At Cave Falls, nestled in the remote Southwest
corner of Yellowstone National Park, you can view massive waterfalls from inside a large
cave. Traveling further south you will pass through Idahos Teton Valley where you
will see spectacular views of the famous Grand Tetons named by two unrequited French fur
West Yellowstone is Abundant with History
West Yellowstone has several fine hotels abounding with history, such as the West
Yellowstone Conference Hotel Holiday Inn Sunspree Resort. (That name is quite a mouthful.)
Beside the lobby of this 123-room hotel is a fully restored and remarkably preserved
Oregon Short Line Executive Car (circa 1903) that was used to transport Union Pacific
Railroad tycoons and other VIPs across the nation and into Yellowstone on the forlorn
Yellowstone Express. This remarkable piece of railroad and Yellowstone memorabilia is the
pride of joy of the hotels owner, Clyde Seely. Clyde, his wife Linda, and their four
children actually lived in the car in the summer of 1975 while they were building their
Although West Yellowstone population is sparse (only 990) the town is teeming with good
places to eat. For example, Rustlers Roost serves some of the best trout in the
country and has a great view of the Henry Lake Mountains. Canyon Street Grill has a nice
50s dinner motif and serves family style breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Probably the
most remarkable place to eat in the entire region is Nancy Ps, which is actually an
excellent full service bakery. Nancy Ps serves scrumptious continental breakfasts of
fresh bakery items, coffee, and juices, supplies several of the areas restaurants
with their baked goods, and makes world-class gourmet box lunches.
The Holiday Inns Oregon Short Line and the Stagecoach Inns
Coach Room are examples of local hotel-based fine restaurants offering good
quality regional cuisine including St. Louis style barbecued spareribs, prime rib of beef,
New York steak, fresh trout, salmon, walleye (pike), and so on.
The Stagecoach Inn is a full service 83-room hotel built by Mr. J.L. Gimment of Idaho
Falls in 1946 with a Western Swiss design that has become a landmark in the
area. The large knotty pine lobby has a great big flagstone fireplace, an interesting
Territorial brand piano made in Bozeman, Montana, and quite of bit of taxidermy, including
an alleged Jackolope, and one of the biggest moose heads I have ever seen.
In the 1950s Doc Bayless ran an illicit gambling operation in the
basement complete with wired doors to warn gamblers of trouble. Now that certain forms of
gambling are legal in Montana and the hotel is under new management, the casino is on the
ground floor along with a card room and poker and keno machines. The first floor also has
two lounges, seasonal entertainment, and the full service Coach Room restaurant.
The historic wing of the hotel is at it was 50 years ago with some added conveniences such
as a telephone, television, and so on. The newly remodeled rooms left of the moose head
no kidding thats how they direct you at the Stagecoach- are simple but
elegant. The moose patterned bedspreads match the moose patterned panels, and the antlered
lamps. The rooms are stylish contemporary Montanian, clean, neat, and quite comfortable.
There is only one telephone headset. There are no datajacks, no telephones in the
bathroom, and the TV doesnt have Nintendo technojocks like me should take a
silicon holiday and hop on a snowmobile, or head into the park in a car or tour bus for a
pleasant change of pace.
If you prefer even less technology and are partial to horses and fishing, try the historic
Parade Rest Guest Ranch just 10 miles from West Yellowstone and Yellowstone National Park.
It is ideally located for sightseeing but sufficiently secluded for those wishing to get
away from it all. The western-style dining hall serves three fresh hot meals a day.
Diehard fly fishermen who come after hours can let themselves into the kitchen, where
their meals will be waiting for them in the warmer or refrigerator.
The Parade Rest Guest Ranch cabins are roomy and comfortable, but they dont have any
phones, clocks, or televisions. Some of the cabins are heated by gas; others dating back a
hundred years or so are heated by wood stoves and fireplaces. Schedules and deadlines
generally arent that important at the ranch. The staff can pack a meal for guests to
take along on daily two-, four-, and six-hour horse back rides into stunning alpine
scenery, or when white water river rafting on the Gallatin, or when fly fishing at one of
several on-ranch and nearby, streams, lakes, and rivers.
Exhilarating day trips in the area include visits to the north shore of Hebegen Lake, the
Madison River Canyon, and Earthquake Lake, which was formed during the devastating 1959
earthquake that killed 28 people.
The ranchs rates average about $100 per person per day for the full American plan,
including three meals a day, and unlimited horseback riding and fishing. (State and
Yellowstone National Park fishing licenses may also be required.)
In Montana nearby means less than one days drive, but really truly
nearby (about 35 miles away from West Yellowstone) in the Beaverhead National Forest area
on Highway 287 North is the Grizzly Bar and Grill. You can fish 13 of Montanas
finest streams and 13 lakes within 30 miles of this restaurant, which explains why many of
their patrons are fly fishermen.
The owner, Eric Smith, has many talents including cooking, athletics, and woodworking. The
interior of the restaurant is a spectacular display of cedar and Douglas fur carpentry. A
large indoor hooded grill explains how the 125-seat restaurant got its name. There is also
a hand crafted Douglas fur bar, counter, and a large outdoor patio overlooking the
beautiful Madison River Valley.
|The Grizzly has quite an extensive menu including steaks, chops, kabobs, ribs,
chicken, seafood, big burgers, soups and salads.
Everything is homemade, except the
hamburger buns. I found the home baked bread to be extraordinary as evidenced by the three
mini loves I ate while I was there.
I tried blaming the rapid disappearance of our bread on our guide, John, but to no
avail I was caught by the crumbs on my lap and a grin on my face.
||The ambiance, presentation, and preparation were all excellent. Everyone loved the
Eric, the accomplished cabinetmaker/owner is also quite a cook, although he was
quick to give all the credit to his chef, Nick. When we were there (toward the end of the
season) there were four people working and the place was about half-full. During peak
season the restaurant, which is popular with locals and tourists, has twice as much staff
and is teeming with activity.
|We got to talking about grizzly bears and the upcoming Olympics and
Eric mentioned he was skier and friends with Stein Ericson, the famous 1954
Olympic Gold Metal ski champion and low and behold, Ericson, who is the Ski
Director the Deer Valley Resort Ski Resort these days, walked in the door and pulled up a
chair to chat with us.
When youre in a great place to eat in the Madison River Valley, you never know
who you are going run into, a foraging grizzly or a foraging Olympic Gold Medallist and
National Geographic Theater
101 South Canyon Street
P.O. Box 504
West Yellowstone, MT 59758
The Museum of The Yellowstone
P.O. Box 411
124 Yellowstone Avenue
West Yellowstone, MT 59758
Phone: 800-500-6923 or 406-646-7814
The Grizzly Discover Center
P.O. Box 996
201 South Canyon
West Yellowstone, MT 59758
Phone: 800-257-2570 or 406-646-7001
Parade Rest Guest Ranch
7979 Grayling Creek Road
West Yellowstone, MT 59758
Grizzly Bar and Grill
1409 Highway 287 North
Camberon, MT 59729
Stage Coach Inn
P.O. Box 169
209 Madison Avenue
West Yellowstone, MY 59758
Phone: 406-646-7381 or 800-842-2882
West Yellowstone Conference Hotel Holiday Inn Sunspree Resort
315 Yellowstone Avenue
West Yellowstone, MT 59758
Phone: 406-646-7365, 800-646-7365
West Yellowstone Chamber of Commerce
P.O. Box 458
30 Yellowstone Avenue
West Yellowstone, MT 59758
# # #
Nick Anis is a computer and
technology writer and the author of 24 books who also writes about travel, food &
wine, entertainment, skiing and family recreation. He writes for Ziff-Davis,
The Inland Valley Daily Bulletin, Travel Watch, TravelGram, and Restaurant-Row. He is
responsible for the Restaurant Row Ethnic Dining Guide, co-published by the Long Beach
Press Telegram. Nick is a member of the Computer Press Association, The International Food
Wine, and Travel Writers Association (IFW&TWA), and the North American Ski Journalists
Nick can be reached at NickAnis@travel-watch.com,
Phone: 909-860-6914, Fax: 909-396-0014.