Yellowstone — the best place for fall colors

WEST YELLOWSTONE, Mont. — It was early morning before sunrise. We were all trembling in our white van, due to the 30-degree weather outside, while driving past the entrance to Yellowstone National Park. Then, just a few miles into the park, everyone froze at the moment when we saw something outside the van.

“We want to get out,” everyone shouted with excitement.

At the moment when the door was opened, we were all amazed by the beauty of the nature. It was not a hot spot in Yellowstone, but lowland along the Madison River. The area was fairly random and did not even have its own visitor guidebook, but that did not make the scene less attractive.

Low early morning fog encompasses the Madison River in Yellowstone National Park (Photo by Siyuan Tong).

That was true. You never know what you can encounter at Yellowstone. When I did my research, all the stunning colors I expecting were from those famous and popular tourist spots. However, when I actually got into Yellowstone, I found those were not the only things to look for.

As we got back in the van and moved toward our destination of Mammoth Hot Springs, the view on the way was stunning as well. At 7:53, when the sun started to rise, there was light at the peak of the mountains. It brought a bright orange shade to the brown rocks on the top of mountains. I could feel things in slow motion at that moment, and I was just lost in the wonderful view as the van moved along the Grand Loop Road.

At 8:03, the sun was finally up. Everything became bright as the sun pouring down. The color of the rocks on the side kept changing along the way. Some of them were brown, some were white and some had this unique reddish iron color. I could not stop and turn away from the window with all these beautiful things outside the car.

Click on the video to view an audio slideshow about the fall colors in Yellowstone National Park prepared by writer Siyuan Tong.

Finally, after a long but enjoyable drive, we arrived at Mammoth Hot Springs, a large complex of hot springs on a hill of travertine. Palette Spring in the Lower Terraces was the first thing caught my attention. I saw clear water with steams flowing down the terraces where colorful thermophiles created a changing palette dominated by hues of orange and brown.

As we walked along the trail, we saw large chunks of white cascades of travertine, on the side. With layers, varying depths and different shades of white, even the travertine looked interesting.

Other than its dominant colors orange, brown and white, with different kinds of thermophiles, the Mammoth Hot Springs offered surprises everywhere with tapestries of other colors as well. Lime-greens, rust reds and light yellows can be found along the trail as you go.

“I really like the colors and the different shapes of the rock,” said visitor Joseph Herdic from Ohio. “It was also a lot of fun to look for different colors along the way.”

Back on the road, as the terrain of the land changing outside, the colors vary as well. Sometimes it was mountains with large scale of green lodgepole pine trees, white rock and some grey sands at the far end; sometimes it was a large plain with grasses color vary from yellow-white, olive green to dark brown from front to the end. I felt like could stare at this for hours without getting bored.

Norris Geyser Basin, to the southwest of Mammoth Hot Springs, is another place with amazing colors. Milky blue and white are its main theme, with yellows, dark browns, rust reds, emerald-greens and dark greens scattered in chorus, I could almost hear a happy colorful song.

“As a photographer, I have to admit this is a place with beautiful colors,” said park visitor Donna Robinson from Tennessee. “Though I do not necessarily love this place, but I do love the color.”

The second day of our visit to Yellowstone was exciting and colorful as well. We passed by blue creeks hiding between the chartreuse grasses with steaming waters on top. Black rocks and brown branches scattered in the mist of the creeks. The morning sun gave the water a gold glisten. That was the magic of the nature, I guess.

Grand Prismatic Spring was our first stop. I saw rainbow colors when I was reading about the place, but when we actually got there, the whole place was still covered by white and gray fog and unwilling to reveal its beauty in the early morning light. Walking along the trail, I could barely see some obscure green and rust color behind the fog and, unfortunately, that was all. We did not get a chance to wait and see the place without the veil.

IMG_2826 Steam and fog cover the landscape near the Grand Prismatic Spring (Photo by Siyuan Tong).

However, as we were going back to the parking lot across the bridge, I saw something extraordinary. The fog was not completely gone at the moment, but it was enough to glimpse the scene behind. Dark blue water shining under the sun, brown green grasses were on the side, some bright green pine trees lightened the whole picture, and there was this wood-red bridge in the middle of the scene. It was like fantasy.

Though it was really a pity to leave without seeing the Grand Prismatic Spring uncovered, I was satisfied with what I saw.

Old Faithful, as the most famous place in Yellowstone, it did not let me done either. Though in terms of the verity of colors, it was not the most amazing one, it did offer an incredible geyser view.

The color in Old Faithful was not as beautiful as Norris. It had white as dominant color with some brown, red mixed in. Of course, there were some random grass on the ground and trees in the back added some shades of green to the picture, but still not exciting enough.

However, everything changed when the geyser started to erupt. It was a small eruption at the very beginning, but when I was about to give up and leave, it erupted to about 100 feet high. Though there was only white in the picture, because of its unique dynamic, even the white turned into something amazing.

Beautiful water view under Fishing Bridge (Photo by Siyuan Tong). Fishing Bridge

Different from the robust geyser in Old Faithful, the views around Fishing Bridge and the lake were more peaceful. The water there was clear and clam. There were only few fishermen on or in the water, so they did not stir too much of the scenery. Most part of the water was bright green, but when looked at a particular angle, some parts of the water had this rainbow color under the sun. That was stunning.

My two-day Yellowstone trip came to an end very quickly. However, all the stunning colors I collected through my mind and camera have formed into beautiful pictures that I would never forget.

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