Yellowstone Lake!When traveling through the Yellowstone National Park East Entrance, the drive uphill over the mountainous terrain is rewarded with great panoramic views of Yellowstone Lake. It is not until a little bit of research is done, that visitors realize that these are not ordinary mountains that shape the eastern edge of this big lake. The high ground that surrounds most of Yellowstone National Park actually is the rim of an ancient super volcano that last erupted about 600,000 years ago. Yellowstone Lake actually is located in the gigantic super volcano caldera, which still has active magma chambers that cause the land to rise and fall by a few inches as magma pressures fluctuate. The magma fluctuation actually changes the shape of this lake on a regular basis, so the exact size of Yellowstone Lake comes down to an educated guess. The close proximity of the magma pockets to the surface of the earth in this ancient caldera also creates many geophysical effects that are unique to Yellowstone National Park, especially on the land that surrounds Yellowstone Lake.
Yellowstone Lake covers over 130 square miles and it is over 7,000 feet above sea level, so this body of water is the largest high altitude lake in North America. Those who head north to high elevations to escape the extreme heat of summer in the Desert Southwest will find cooler temperatures in this National Park, but taking a swim in Yellowstone Lake is not advisable. The water temperature rarely rises above 40ºF, so a half hour swim will certainly result in hypothermia. This ice cold lake may not exactly be good for water sports, but it is an ideal environment for canoeing, kayaking and fishing.
Fishing is allowed by seasonal permits at Yellowstone Lake and this large volcanic lake is an anglers paradise. There is nothing that could be considered to be normal when looking at the weird geographical features of Yellowstone National Park and the fishing experience at Yellowstone Lake is a bit bizarre too. Yellowstone Lake has the largest population of Cutthroat Trout in North America, but this type of trout is usually only found in or near the Pacific Ocean. The explanation that scientists have found is that Yellowstone Lake was once connected to the Pacific Ocean by means of the Snake River. Apparently Cutthroat Trout swam all the way to Yellowstone Lake in ancient times.
Cutthroat Trout are supreme fighting fish that fly fishermen dream of catching. Unfortunately, the Cutthroat Trout in Yellowstone Lake are currently threatened by Lake Trout that were introduced to this body of water within the last hundred years. Lake Trout are not a native species in Yellowstone Lake, so the local fishing rules are designed to eliminate this threat to the Cutthroat Trout population. All Cutthroat Trout must be released alive after being caught and all Lake Trout must be killed after being hooked, no matter how big or small the Lake Trout may be. For those who like eating Lake Trout, doing some fishing at Yellowstone Lake is like a dream come true!
When exploring the terrain that surrounds Yellowstone Lake, staying on the well marked trails is highly recommended for safety's sake. Not only is the wildlife dangerous in this region, the weird geographical features of Yellowstone pose a threat to life too. Hot volcanic steam vents can be seen where the land rises from the lake and some of the surrounding meadows are actually geyser basins that can erupt without warning. Because of the extreme geothermal activity, the surface of the ground in this region can be thin crust that is only a few inches thick. Many people that have strayed off of the hiking trails and pathways have met their maker by falling through the thin earth crust into boiling hot geothermal springs. Dangerous gases and pools of acid created by the volcanic activity also must be reckoned with in this region. So by all means, it is best to get a good trail map from the visitors center before setting off for a hike into the wilderness that surrounds Yellowstone Lake.
The wildlife is exciting to see around Yellowstone Lake and there is plenty of it. Wading birds and migrating birds make the lakeside wetland areas a bird watchers paradise. Bears are fairly easy to spot during the short summer feeding season. Deer, elk and bison can be seen feeding in the grassy meadows and borders of the forests. Moose can be viewed in the marshes too. The land surrounding Yellowstone Lake is a vast feeding ground for local wildlife, so by all means, be sure to bring a good camera and a telephoto lens when visiting this part of Yellowstone National Park.
The wildlife may seem docile at Yellowstone Lake, but the reality is that the animals are far from tame. There are many horror stories about parents that place their children next to bison or people taking selfies next to an elk that end up being gored to death when these wild animals suddenly defend their ground without warning. As a precaution, it is best to keep 100 yards away from bears and wolves when viewing and the recommended distance for grazing animals is 25 yards. The exception to the 25 yard viewing distance rule is when deer, elk, bison or moose have foals or calfs nearby, because the mother will become extremely aggressive when protecting its young. Another rule to follow is when wildlife approaches, walk the other way or get inside the automobile. Creatures like bison may be interested in viewing visitors up close too, but all it takes is a loud noise to send a docile looking creature into a frenzy.
The best way to view Yellowstone wildlife safely without disturbing the creatures is to use high power binoculars or a telephoto camera. The closeup photos of the wild bison in the slideshow above were taken with a Nikon D90 SLR camera that has a 50x lens and a 300x telephoto lens. That is enough optical power to make animals over 200 yards away look like they are at arms length after the photos are processed.
Yellowstone Lake is a good place for visitors to get acclimated to the odd nature of Yellowstone National Park. This high altitude lake is an awesome site to behold and it is so large, that viewing a sunset at this place is like being at the seashore. Yellowstone Lake definitely is a destination of its own in Yellowstone National Park and this unique environment is like no other place on earth.