The story of a monumental trip.
The Paperclan Goes to Yellowstone: Part 4
In which the Paperclan actually steps foot in Yellowstone1!
Yellowstone National Park is the type of place that you could spend months in and still not see everything, but it is possible to see a good amount of sights in 3 days if you basically stick to the Grand Loop – even then, proper planning and routing helps, as the Grand Loop makes a rough figure 8, so it's possible to see the same section a few times, and miss out on some other section. Of course, if one is certain to2 visit again, this is less of a problem...
August 13: Yellowstone at last
It was quite nice to wake up and realize that we didn't need to break camp for a few days3, and could have an actual hot breakfast. Since we had gotten in and set up camp in twilight the night before, we hadn't had a chance to look over our map and decide where in the park we wanted to go first. We knew we'd be going through the West Entrance, as we were 24 miles from West Yellowstone, Montana, but we needed to decide which way we would turn once the entrance road intersected with the Grand Loop – right would lead towards Old Faithful and, eventually, to the South Entrance, which we would be using to leave Yellowstone in a few days, while a slight left would take us to more forks and decisions. After Tom chatted with B, the camp host, we decided we wanted to see Old Faithful on our first day – never mind that, as we realized later, this happened to be the busiest day of the week... Though, honestly, parking would've probably been interesting no matter when we went
Our first stop was the gas station/convenience store where I was to switch my glasses for contacts each morning, and Tom was to fill his travel mug with coffee. Nice clean bathroom, teeny tiny handwashing area – fortunately, the timing was always such that I was able to get both contacts in and everything put away before anyone else needed to wash their hands. 'Twas also where we'd gas up, if we needed to. B4 had said that gas prices in the park were ridiculous – while the prices were significantly higher in the park than outside5, they were noticeably lower than here at home6, so it wouldn't've felt too horrible to gas up there.
After that, 'twas time to head for Yellowstone's West Entrance. As it was our first day, we couldn't go through the express line – that line is for people who have either already paid7 and just need to show their receipt, or people who have bought passes to show. The line moved fairly quickly, and we were in, with a copy of the park's newspaper, and a map, both of which were quite handy while we were there. We also saw several signs, as well, reiterating the rules given in the newspaper8 and every single brochure we saw, both in text and in pictures: stay on trails and boardwalks, stay 100 yards from bears and wolves, stay 25 yards from other large animals, don't stop on the road when an animal is sighted but go to the nearest parking area (road shoulder does not count, if there even is a shoulder). I will say that I didn't see anyone off trails or boardwalks...
The main road through Yellowstone is The Grand Loop, which forms a (very) rough figure-eight. Each of the five entrances9 to the park has a road that leads to it, as you can see here. If we ever go back, I'd like to explore the entrance roads we didn't use this time, as there's plenty to see off of The Grand Loop.
Our first stop was the Lower Geyser Basin. The trail at the basin leads past a good variety of features: hot springs, mud pots, geysers, and fumaroles10. This was the first area that we were hit with what was to become a very familiar smell –; hydrogen sulfide. We also learned the hard way that standing in the vapor plume from a fumarole while taking pictures and/or short videos was not a good idea, for too much hydrogen sulfide inhalation is rough on the stomach. A much more pleasant first was seeing the absolutely gorgeous turquoise of hot springs, courtesy of the Celestine Pool11.
The next stop had a feature that was definitely on my need-to-see list (I'd thought that the first stop had, as well, but I'd misremembered the name of something, which I realized later. No regrets, though!), so we simply dealt with the insanely long line for parking. The Midway Geyser Basin is the location of the Grand Prismatic Spring. If you've seen aerial photos of a rainbow hued bull's-eye of a hot spring, that's the one. We didn't get any photos near as nice of the grand Prismatic, because it's simply too big to get from ground level, or even standing on a bench using a selfie stick to make the phone go as high as possible... Anyway, once we finally parked, we walked down and saw a hot waterfall going into a cold river.
We crossed the bridge, after I took a photo of Notepad taking a picture of me taking a picture of her – alas, her half of the photo exchange was lost to the Great Delete Disaster12. It took some maneuvering to keep Notepad and PaperKid each with at least one adult in the crowd, with the preferred arrangement being all four of us together. We managed, though, and saw the Excelsior Geyser Crater, which was huge. We also saw the first of many hats off the trail and unrecoverable, evidence of the unpredictable gusts that inevitably came whenever cameras were out. The Turquoise Pool was very aptly named, and the travertine made interesting patterns in every otherwise flat area. The main draw, however, was the Grand Prismatic Spring.
After we walked back to the parking lot, it was off to our destination for the day. Yes, it was off to Old Faithful! After navigating the parking lot, of course... I think it took longer to find a parking space than it did to drive the distance between the Midway Geyser Basin and the Upper Geyser Basin, the location of Old Faithful, especially since we decided to not make any more stops, saying that we could always see anything else when we went through again when it came time to leave13. Once we had parked and oriented ourselves, we learned that we had nearly an hour before the next predicted eruption, which we used to peruse the gift shop – something we would do whenever we had a chance. Ice cream was noticed and discussed, then I noticed the time – Old Faithful was due to blow in 20 minutes, +/- 3, and the benches were likely to fill up quickly. Amid protests that the line for the ice cream wasn't that long and that we had plenty of time, we found good seats in the front row and proceeded to squish together while we waited14. Old Faithful proved the wisdom of emphasizing that time estimates are just that – estimates – by going off a few minutes early15. As it was, we were close enough, and the wind was just right, that we were hit with some of the spray. Notepad was amazed that the water was cold by the time it reached us, though a little less impressed with the faint whiff of sulfur we carried around after that... While Old Faithful was erupting, another geyser started going in the background. Once the eruption was over, ice cream was had by all.
After ice cream, we went to the Old Faithful Visitor Center to get the book for Notepad to fill out to become a Junior Ranger. One of the requirements for becoming a Junior Range is to attend a talk by a real ranger, and there just so happened to be one due to start in a few minutes. This particular talk was an introduction to the fauna of the park – where to find the megafauna, diet, and how to tell an herbivore from an omnivore from a carnivore. PaperKid got to help with the talk by holding up a wolf pelt. After the presentation, Notepad got the required signature, and we were treated to another eruption by Old Faithful, from a bit farther away.
By this time, we were getting hungry and tired, so we decided to head back to camp, so we could cook something before it got annoyingly dark. On the way out of the park, we hit our first traffic jam. Turned out that there was a bison in the meadow next to the road... Our second traffic jam happened shortly after – for either an elk or a moose ('twas just dim enough out, and the animal was just far enough away, that I couldn't tell for certain). Now, here in very northern California, Roosevelt elk are far from a rare sight, but I've never seen a moose in the flesh. I took a photo just in case it was a moose Looking at it on a bigger screen, I still can't quite tell... So I'll give you the better pic of the bison, instead.
We managed to get back to camp, cook, and eat before dark, just barely, though it was a good thing that we didn't need to set camp up! After dinner and roasted marshmallows, the girls went to sleep. Tom and I joined them later.
I have a quandary. I would love to provide at least one photo of every major thing I saw during the trip, but I'm pretty certain no one wants this travelogue to be dragged out more than it already is16... So, since I don't want to have less than one day per installment, I'll have to ration the photos. More can be seen at my flickr collection. New albums will be made public as each installment comes out.