Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Yellowstone National Park, Day 3 - June 9, 2012

A view from Observation Point looking out on the Upper Geyser Basin. While the park service says this is a strenuous hike I think that is a bit extreme even when you consider that most people probably never walk far from their vehicles. The footing is excellent and though you do climb a couple hundred feet in a half mile it is a gentle climb. Calling this a strenuous hike means that a trek to a place like Monument Geyser Basin (which you'll read about in an upcoming post) would have to be out of this world tough. Perhaps it isn't an easy hike as you do have the climbing but calling it moderate is not unreasonable.

It looked like the weather was going to get a bit iffy or at least we had been given to believe that it was going to be a somewht less than ideal hiking day the day before. We had tentatively decided to turn the day into the travel day to Yellowstone leaving a day early. We hadn't confirmed we would do this but it became a fete acompli when we found our hotel bills slipped under our doors in the morning (we had asked if their would be a cancellation fee). Had that not happened I think we would have stayed and done one last hike in Grand Teton Natinal Park area. Instead we packed up and began the ddrive to Yellowstone.

If you do visit Grand Teton National Park spending a bit of time in the new visitor center by Jackson Lake is worth it. This large open building welcomes you in with huge wooden beams, former trees cut into huge logs, and a very nice airy feel. Within you will find many very well put together displays that describe all sorts of things about the park. It was worth a bit of time to explore in there and we even managed to get a bit more information about Yellowstone in the process. When we left it was mid-morning and still chilly with the sky somewhat full of not terribly threatening clouds. It felt like an early spring day.

When we entered Yellowstone, it is an easy if not terribly fast, drive through Grand Teton National Park to the south entrance of Yellowstone we found a fair bit of snow. As we gazed down into chasms from around 7,700 feet above sea level we could see the Snake River below and clinging to the sides of the canyons was a good bit of snow. It was not on the road or really impeding much of anything but snow was clearly around as we approached the Continental Divide. It was still partly cloudy out and the temperature was still only in the mid-40s with a fair bit of wind. Chilly but not awful especially if you are hiking in the woods. We stopped once more at the park "village" for a bite to eat and quick look around before really starting to explore what I expect is pretty much every visitors premire destination: Upper Geyser Basin and Old Faithful.

Our timing had not been that good. Old Faithful erupts on average every 90 minutes and we had just missed it. We decided to do the hike that would take us up to Observation Point and around to Solitary Geyser. That's a little more than 2 miles with a couple hundred feet of elevation change that all happens when you leave the bsain and climb up to Observation Point within the first half mile. The trail, when not on boardwalk, is dirt and well maintained. The park service call it strenuous and I suppose for the vast majority of walkers who barely leave their cars it might be but I think that does a bit of dis-service to the word "strenuous" by expanding it too much - after all what do you really call a much more difficult hike. With the wind whipping about us we climbed toObservation Point and looked out on the steaming basin below. At the time not much was really happening but if you are lucky the eruptions must be quite soemthing when seen from above. I also think it is rather interesting seeing how quickly the land changes from immediately around geysers and hot pots to the rich forests once you are away from the sulfurous geological features.

We watched this lone geyser steam and bubble for several minutes. You can walk to this geyser from the geyser basin and bypass Observation Point shaving off some climbing but even doing that I think this geyser sees relatively few visitors.

When we reached Solitary Geyser it was steaming and the colors of yellow sulfur and blue from who knows what stood out under the rising steam. But either we did not wait long enough or that geyser just did not have much eupting to do. We saw some bubbling but certainly not the 6 foot bursts we were expecting. Still being there by ourselves was rather nice and we hung out there until another group of people showed up. Clearly most visitors do not make it beyond the boardwalks.

Mom pulled ahead of Dad and I and as we neared the geyser basin she called out to us to hurry. Old Faithful was bursting forth. It was our bad luck that when we caught up it was all but done. I never really did see the tall column of boiling water spewing out but Mom and (I think) Dad did. We continued our circuit of the geyser basin enjoying looking at the various hot pots, bulbbing pools, and steaming vents. The only real downside was that now we were out of the shelter of the forest and the wind was really whipping about us now. The clouds looked more threatening too and you definitely could feel the bite of cold in the air from wind chill. We finished our circuit by entering Old Faithful Inn.

One of the many hot pools in the geyser basins.

This building is remarkable. The lobby is not very bright with , it seems to me, most of the light coming from seemingly tiny windows high in the walls. The lights hanging from the massive wooden beams surely aren't adding much illumination. It is the numerous huge wooden beams that rise into the distance cris-crosing the very high rceiling that make this place special. Special at least to look at - I'm not sure how great it is to stay. The rooms almost certainly have a very rustic feel about them and many are just rooms without en suite bathrooms. Granted the bathrooms are very nice but if you need your creature comforts right at hand you are either going to pay a stagering sum or stay elsewhere. I am glad we visited the place but I am also rather doubtful I'd stay there even if it wasn't expensive - it sure seemed like that bulk of visitors were tromping on thorugh: very crowded.

YouTube Video

The drive to our hotel in West Yellowstone was interrupted several times by stops to view bison herds. Some times they were fairly far away (top photo and video where they are beyond a river) and sometimes they were right by the road we were driving down (bottom photo).

When we returned to our car, now mid-afternoon, to continue on our way to West Yellowstone though clouds had darkeened considerably. A grotto of blue sky was still hovering, more or less, over us, but it was definitely not as nice as before. We drove on pausing a couple times to admire herds of bison. One was far away across a small river and the other was right by the edge of the road and included nursing calves. A park ranger was making sure traffic did not come to a complete standstill chivvying people along giving us just enough time to snap quick photos. We did just that and in time arrived in West Yellowstone.
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