Friday, September 18, 2015

Yellowstone National Park: Geysers, Hot Springs and Huckleberry Margaritas

Yellowstone National Park – Day 2 - Geothermal Features Extravaganza Day – 7/23/15

Rained through the night on our cozy little tent.  Jim and I were up before 6:30 a.m., still on Eastern standard time.  Still raining.  We’d brought our backpacking stove and fuel for simple breakfasts, but here it was our first morning and we abandoned all intentions of roughing it, jumped in the little red fun wagon and headed out in search of coffee.  Would you believe it?  Too early.  So we made our own breakfast after all under the protection of the Visitor Center roof. 

We had roughed out plans for our week, but the daily itineraries were mostly interchangeable, so today became “get the lay of the land and visit all the geothermal features extravaganza day.”  BTW, we realized we couldn’t do everything in one week, so I spent untold hours scouring resources and narrowing down lists of “must-see-and-do” while Jim visited one website for 15 minutes looking for the top 10 things to do in Yellowstone.  His list pretty much confirmed my choices.  [The resources used for our trip are the NPS website, maps, and Hiking Yellowstone National Park by Bill Schneider and Fodor’s Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks by Brian Kevin.] 

Disclaimer:  If you are looking for descriptions of geology in Yellowstone NP, you will not find such a thing in this blog.  Google, friend.

We drove west toward Norris, stopping to look at Virginia Cascade (our first waterfall!) and the Museum of the National Park Ranger (still too early, but we visited it later in the week). 

The impulse to stop every five minutes was overwhelming.  The vastness of Yellowstone cannot be captured by a camera, although we tried over and over.  Bits and pieces, perhaps.  We learned quickly to take a few photos, sure, but walk through the grasses, by the water, in and out of the trees and just be there. 

Monkshood at Gibbon River

Artists Paintpots, a 1.2-mile loop to whet the appetite for hot pools, steam vents and bubbling mud pots.

Artists Paintpots

Still mildly drizzling, next we hiked to Monument Geyser Basin, a steep climb and a good leg stretcher after yesterday’s traveling.  The fumaroles and sinter cones were a little underwhelming...

… but there was a very nice view of Gibbon River.  Can we call this Ribbon River?  Like a piece of ribbon dropped on the ground, it winds through the valley.

  1. Continuing south along the lower loop road, we saw the crowded parking lot for Gibbon Falls and got sucked into the flow – of people. 

We drove past Madison, making note that the campground would be home for a couple of nights later in the week.  

At Firehole River picnic area we made a bathroom stop (those vault toilets are everywhere).  The river gurgles along a short distance beyond the parking lot.  Genius idea of the day:  let’s lay down by the river and take a nap!  After all, we had no clocks, no timetable, no one waiting on us. 

Refreshed and ready to rejoin the flow, next we visited the Fountain Paint Pots, a boardwalk nature stroll past hot springs, geysers, fumaroles and mud pots.  A great little online tour is here.  

Silex Spring looks like a plate of glass laid over a turquoise geode

Red Spouter acting fumarole-like (all steam, no water)

Spasm Geyser’s power was eclipsed by the drama developing overhead

By this time Jim and I were fully committed to the geothermal tour and tourists.  Next overflowing parking lot down the road:  Midway Geyser Basin, home of two of the largest hot springs in the world, Grand Prismatic Spring and Excelsior Geyser (now dormant and considered a hot spring).  Read a bit more about them here.  It's impossible to photograph either one from ground level, especially with thousands of people trying to take selfies without falling off the boardwalk.  Later in the week we found a higher vantage point.  

Orange bands around Grand Prismatic Spring.   Bacteria thrive at different high temperatures.

Mid-afternoon and the anticipation was at its peak.  What else can be next except the bucket list item we all know and love:  Old Faithful!  The Disney atmosphere of the Old Faithful complex would have been daunting if we hadn’t already been immersed in the sea of humanity and accepting of the fact that all these people were enjoying their own national park experience. 

Front row waiting for the promised 4:11 p.m. eruption of Old Faithful

Right on time

Although the sky looked lovely behind the geyser, to the left an apocalyptic storm was brewing.  Hoping that it would take a little while to arrive, we walked around the main Geyser Hill trail featuring  Doublet Pool
Beach Spring

Blue Star Spring

Old Faithful Inn

Overwhelming beauty – how to take it all in?  Well, you have to sit back and ponder the wonders of this world and express gratitude for the vision of influential people in preserving such places.  On the deck of the Old Faithful Inn, with beers and huckleberry margaritas in hand we toasted America’s Best Idea.

Another vantage point for watching Old Faithful do her job

After ordering a second round of libations and settling in on the deck, we met a couple from Philadelphia and a couple from Myrtle Beach, fun casual conversation comparing notes of time spent in the park.  We got the scoop on wildlife viewing in Lamar Valley and Hayden Valley.  Ultra relaxed, we were very reluctant to leave (the other two couples were staying in the Inn).  After grabbing a bite at the Geyser Grill (basic fast food) we began our long drive back to Canyon Campground.  As we passed the parking areas we had squeezed into throughout the day we saw that, although there were hours of daylight left, the crowds were gone.  Make a note. 

One last thrill for our first full day in Yellowstone:  a hot shower as part of our campsite fee!  In the women’s shower room I met a college age woman named Kelly who had come to the US from the Netherlands on a student visa and decided to stay as long as possible.  Kelly had spent several months traveling to national parks throughout the West.  She gushed about her experiences and seemed so happy living life.  Why didn’t I think of that when I was a young’un?

"To lie sometimes on the grass on a summer's day, listening to the murmur of the water, or watching the clouds float across the sky, is by no means a waste of time." ~John Lubbock

No comments: