Sunday, August 28, 2016


Grand Canyon of Yellowstone
Our first night in Yellowstone we were mostly just excited to finally be there, and happy to have real toilets and sinks in bathrooms that were a convenient walk from our tent.  We stayed in the Bay Bridge campground toward the middle of the park near the lake.
It was really crowded and busy compared to the National Forest site we'd used in Wyoming--like a camping town.  It was really smokey, too, which surprised us since fire danger was listed as high everywhere we'd been, but the campsites all had lined, sunken fire pits, and I guess it was considered safe there.  Everyone seemed to have a fire going but us that night.

We set up our tent, got organized, and went to a ranger talk.  They had ranger talks every night in our campground--one at 6:30 and one at 9:30.  We caught all of the late night talks and one of the earlier ones.  They were all interesting, and I thought a really nice thing for the park to offer.  Some rangers made better speakers than others, but universally they were people who seemed happy in their jobs and glad to share what they knew.

I kept a messy journal of our trip, so I don't feel the need to do a detailed blow by blow of our four nights in Yellowstone, and I have way too many pictures, but I'd like to share some general highlights:

Bison:  We saw SO MANY BISON.  (We never saw bears, but we did see antelope and elk and deer and pikas.)  The first bison we saw was just standing alone near the mud volcano area.  It was behind a fence like a display (a ranger even put up cones on the walk to keep people from getting too near) and eventually he wandered off, but it was remarkable to see something that big and wild just walking about so close.

The last two days in the park we spent time in the Lamar Valley where apparently all the rest of the bison were hanging out.  The landscape was broad and gorgeous and we could see bison rolling in the dirt and running and grazing.  On our way out of the park we had to wait for a bison family in the road to move.  It was amazing.

Weird thermal things:  We saw so many geysers and hot springs and fumaroles that we lost count.  The first day we went to the mud volcano area and were impressed by the Dragon's Mouth Spring.  It's a spooky cave with water churning around in it and steam spewing out.  The sound of it is what is most impressive, because it thumps and growls and really does sound like there could be a dragon inside.
parking lot fumarole
All the thermal things are just so bizarre.  There are steaming pits of sulfur that bubble by the side of the road and hissing fumaroles that have even appeared in parking lots and had to be fenced off.  Some areas can only be viewed from afar because too many geologists fell through thin spots in the ground and got burned.

We spent a long time in the Norris Hot Springs area where there are bacterial mats and springs of unnatural looking colors.

Aden with steaming landscape

Probably our favorite geyser was named Vixen.  It was part of the Norris area, and we happened to come across it while a ranger was there, which was good because we were able to appreciate that what we were seeing was unusual.  He said it normally would go off maybe once a month in the summer, but while we were there it went off several times in rapid succession.  We watched it blow (very high) seven times in about twenty minutes!

We also found the Clepsydra geyser, which I saw with my friend Gabby when we were in Yellowstone 23 years ago.  We had to wait about an hour and a half for it to blow at the time, but it just happened to be going when I was there this time.


Me at clepsydra in 1993

Gabby and me.  One of the best trips of my life.
Bubbling mud, trees that couldn't handle it....

And of course we saw Old Faithful.  Twice!  The first time we went in the evening which was less crowded and ate ice cream and wrote postcards while we waited about half an hour.  Aden said it was better than she expected.  She was picturing a small roped off area, not a big arena-like setting.  And the geyser really is spectacularly high.

The second time we went we swung by for lunch at the hotel there, and got to see the peak crowd which was impressive.  We showed up about twenty minutes before the eruption, so the lunch lines were light (compared to afterward, so I'm glad we timed that the way we did), and we watched Old Faithful from the porch.

Old Faithful crowd
Ian at Old Faithful in his new hat!
We also visited the prismatic pools, which was the one place where parking was an issue but worth the hassle.  We arrived during a bit of rain, and steam coming off the pools made things weirder because we were hit by waves of hot and cold air as we walked the path.  The most unexpected thing was the number of hats that had apparently blown right off people's heads.  We counted more than 20 (plus an umbrella) that were now part of the hot spring scenery.

walking in the steam
The Prismatic Hot Spring site was really busy.  That day of swinging by Old Faithful for the second time and the hot springs was our only major experience with crowds, which was interesting because we went from there to the Firehole Drive which was almost deserted and just as beautiful.  The park is huge and I liked that there were many places to go where we could find relative quiet.  (Well, except for motorcycles.  More about that in the next post.)
Black Warrior Lake (with Quinn, Aden, and Ian behind steam)
Cone geyser
A highlight for us walking among all the thermal things was the warning signs.

We liked the expression on the kid's face and that his hat was flying off:

But mostly we liked the shocked woman who isn't helping, and the guy who is uninterested and walking away!  Important lessons from Yellowstone.

Grand Canyon of Yellowstone:  Beautiful.  And too big to really take in well.  It's an overwhelming place.  We enjoyed the views, then walked down to the river and put our feet in.



Animals:  Besides bison we saw antelope, elk, deer, trumpeter swans, and at Soda Butte we saw pikas and interesting nests on the rock walls but we're not sure what birds they were.

trumpeter swans in Hayden Valley

Soda Butte

We were hoping to spot wolves, and after a ranger talk about them we learned the best place to go is wherever the "Wolf Paparazzi" are.  There are people with powerful scopes and cameras who follow the wolves in the park closely and know them by number and name.  We got up very early on our last morning in the hopes of seeing wolves at dawn in the Hayden Valley, but the fog was too thick.  We heard them, but we couldn't see them.  We did spot a mole, though.
hopeful Aden
hopeful Adden running off into the fog
wolf paparazzi
Trees:  Many many trees, a lot of them burned.  It was fascinating to see the paths of fires from different times and the new forests growing.  And there is the one petrified tree.

Camping:  This was our kids' first time camping in a tent.  The girls had some experience with camping in cabins on school trips, and they were really adaptable and had a good time with all of it.  Aden likes making campfires and we let her start and tend both the fires we used for cooking a couple of nights.  We roasted hot dogs and made s'mores and (semi-successfully) made Jiffy-Pop.

Our most unusual meal was the night we used up Ian's collection of MREs.  Those are "Meals Ready to Eat" that get issued to you in the Army, and Ian had several saved up from past training events.  They're not bad, actually.  They come with heating elements that activate with water so we experimented with those.  We found a nice picnic spot by Yellowstone Lake and opened all the packets and shared and traded all the things.  The vegetarian lasagna has a lot of beans but tastes good.  Most of us liked the chili-mac, and the mini ravioli was pretty good, too.  My favorite thing in the MREs has always been the jalapeno cheese spread with crackers.

So Yellowstone was great.  Four nights there was a good amount of time for the type of sightseeing and camping we were doing.  We really couldn't have asked for better weather, and we saw shooting stars every night but the one that rained.

We left the park through the northeastern entrance and took a highway through the Beartooth Mountain Pass.  It was spectacular.  We stopped at an outlook that was over 10.000 feet up.  We saw a marmot.  (That was spectacular, too, but we are easily impressed.)

Next stop:  Jewel Cave and the Badlands!

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