Day 30 – July 8, 2016
Mileage – 80,005
Hiked – 8.5 miles
Day two in Yellowstone we target at exploring the geyser basin and getting in a good hike between Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons. Having been advised by many people that the geysers are beautiful and less crowded in the early morning we wake up at 6:30am and are on the road before 7am. The drive is beautiful as the sun kisses the tops of the mountains and steam from the hot springs, geysers and other thermal hangs low over the ground. Groups of elk hang out near the fresh water ponds grazing quietly. We are glad we got up.
Enticed by Norris Basin we pull in and expect to be there with few other people only to be surprised when a tour bus shows up on our heels. They depart to the right on the shorter trail so we veer left for the 1.6 mile trail. We discover that the Norris basin is the 40 mile wide basin of a volcano that erupted thousands of years ago forming a bowl of thermal activity full of springs, geysers and unusually warm streams. We wander along the boardwalks among the steaming and bubbling pools seeing our first geyser eruptions for the day. The steam in the cold air (35F) hangs low over the features and creates unique patterns as the sun shines through them. It hangs so low and thick it’s hard to see into the pools. Steamboat Geyser is here, which when it goes is the tallest geyser in the park. It can be seen from miles away at 300 feet high and though the water only lasts for a half-hour or so, the steam rises high for days. It is not a predictable geyser and major eruptions are infrequent and years apart. The last eruption was September 3, 2014.
We continue, at the end of the trail to the second trail (0.6 miles) now quiet and full of larger colorful hot springs in a sunnier spot giving a different perspective as the steam rises. Here at the crest of the trail you can see a full field with countless features and can imaging standing on the mouth of a sleeping volcano.
Concluding our hike at Norris basin we make a slight change of plan and head to the geyser basin before our hike to avoid the crowds. While exploring the science section of the visitor center and waiting for Kevin they announce that Beehive Geyser is giving the signals it might erupt. The ranger at the desk giving out directions is skeptical, Beehive has already gone off that morning, but directs us to the spot. The girls and Jenney walk quickly to view point hoping Kevin will eventually find them. They text him to let them know where they are going (one of the few places there is cell service in days) and when he responds they text back, “run”. He arrives in the knick of time to see Beehive go off. What a great geyser to see first, lasting more than eight minutes and blowing high and wide.
Following what looks like a crowd at Grand we run into one of the Geyser watchers who gives us a general overview of the Basin how the reliable geysers work. Essentially the Geyser Gazers have timed and plotted each of the geysers to get a sense of their patterns of eruption, for example Beehive typically goes off twice a day and has a side geyser that is a tell tale sign of when it is a bout to go off. Grand goes off every 7 hours or so plus or minus 2 hours. When Grand goes off three geysers go at the same time – Grand, Vent, and Turban. The full eruption either immediately precedes or follows one of the 15 minute eruptions of Turban when the Grand basin is full. We are getting there 9 hours following the last eruption at 1am in the morning. We wait through 3 cycles of Turban. The geyser watcher has to leave, but tells us it’s worth staying. She can’t promise anything, geysers are natural entities that don’t always follow a time clock. We move into the crowd and quickly identify that there are several other Geyser Gazers there. It is a really interesting culture, a fun group to watch, worth completing ethnography. We start to wonder today just isn’t Grand’s day, but then bubbles start to eminate in new places during Turban’s start. Suddently th whole basin is a live. Grant grows high and wide in front of Turban. A few minutes in Vent becomes a horse tail off to the side. It keeps going and going. As Grand starts to die down you can see Turban going higher than before. The full show lasts a long time and when it is done the who basin is dry as if the eruption sucked the life out of the entire area seeming almost permanently dry.
Although we saw Old Faithful erupt from Grand we are less than a half hour from the end of the 90-minute eruption window. We wander through the back pools hoping to show the girls the intricate and vivid colors of the hot springs. Smaller geysers with different characteristics go off along the trail. As we round the bend we come to Old Faithful, hundreds if not thousands of people line the benches around the old faithful viewing area. It’s amazing. Logan and Kevin take their chances and run to the bathroom emerging with hot pretzels and mustard, a life saver given the fact that all we have eaten is dry cereal before 7am on the way to Norris; for those of you who know this crew, that’s not a good thing, we blow higher than the geysers when hungry. The plan had been do egg sandwiches at 10am after watching Old Faithful when we arrived. It is now 12:15pm Needless to say hot pretzels = yum. It’s more than 10 minutes past Old Faithful’s predicted eruption time and outside the plus or minus window. Old Faithful puts out a few bits and spurts to the crowd’s oohhs and aahss, but just doesn’t seem to want to get started. The crowd is getting antsy. Finally she blows high – iconic but lasting only a little more than a minute. We have seen Old Faithful; time for lunch. Next stop a hike. There is a bit of discussion over which hike 5.8 miles seems too long as energy wanes; 4.8 only terminates at a geyser, which likely won’t be erupting on arrival. Exhausted Jenney can’t make the call. The Lonestar Geyser seems crowded so we pass it, then have quick second thoughts, Kevin takes charge and turns around; the crew at current state he predicts can only handle 4.8miles and it is to be Lonestar. Huffing and puffing out of the car we walk in tense silence down and old forest road. The gurgling of the stream, the soft breeze and simply putting one foot in front of the other dissipates any final stress. From the outpour of people coming the other direction about halfway up the trail, we know that the geyser has just gone off and we will not see it erupt. The trout in the stream and the perfect hiking temperature make up for a lack of an exciting terminus to the trail. Throughout the spring Teryn raised brook trout in her classroom to release near their school. She is a fountain of knowledge and enthusiasm. The trail ends at a cone geyser with a few milling spectators. One is a researcher from University of Montana administering a survey on the impact of human activity on wildlife and volunteering for the park to do education to visitors. He’s young, but we can’t determine whether he is a student or faculty (we are getting old). It’s obvious he is a fountain of knowledge about Yellowstone and the Tetons and cares deeply about the park. Rangers so far haven’t been helpful at Yellowstone, so we take the opportunity to pump him for information about the must sees in the Tetons. True to form sometimes you get the best information from the park volunteers who truly love what they are doing and where they are. He promises a grocery store and showers in Colter Bay. After hiking out and viewing the waterfall at the trailhead we turn our sites to the Tetons to the South.
Ok another WOW! Just as Jenney remembers the Teton’s are beautiful. You come around a bend to see tall jagged glacially carved peaks similar to Glacier National Park, but here they terminate in lakes and a wide-open valley to the east. They are accessible and beautiful at the same time. We take pictures at many of the view points going down the lake, not wanting to miss anything as it gets more and more beautiful as we go. With the promise of pastries at the grocery store there is no way around a stop at Colter Bay. First stop, the Ranger station, which proves quickly that the culture in the Tetons is much more laid back and seemingly peaceful compared to its neighbor to the south. The Rangers are friendly and knowledgeable and the vendor at the park store is a gift. It’s refreshing and Jenney begins to relax after the crowded 2 days in Yellowstone; it feels like a long deep breath out and an inhale in of fresh clean relaxed air; aaahhhh/ohm.
Only 30 minutes away from the evening Ranger program, which helps the girls, meet the Junior Ranger requirements we head to the grocery store. You would think we hadn’t seen civilization in months. The foods piles in with and abstract plan – cinnamon straddle for Kevin, cheesecake for Logan, and a myriad of other things begin to pile high. Happy and hungry we head out for a quick snack and the ranger program.
Expecting the usual informative ranger talk about some aspect of the park, we are surprised to find a university orchestral ensemble with music composed for the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service, each piece inspired by one of the parks. The pieces vary widely from more classical to modern pieces. One pieces includes an audio diary of nature sounds from the tour. Mother nature chimes in here with a loud thunderclap, which the audience thinks is from the recording, but from the players reaction they quickly realize was unplanned and live as dark clouds begin to roll in. The group keeps going through two more pieces until raindrops halt the performance one song before the end.
It’s now 8pm. Time to think seriously about where to stay. Jenney has a few options picked out. The storm, which never really materializes beyond thunder and a few drops, seems to have the wildlife on the move though. Elk and deer area quickly spotted. Shortly there after 3 large male elk bound across the road in front of the car, antlers longer than Kevin’s arms looking like huge tree branches sprouting from their heads. At this point after a scramble, the camera is ready, long lens in place. Next up, a bear jam, but this time causes by Park Service trucks and volunteers scrambling around. We become aware we just missed a grizzly and her cubs that they are hoping will move back into the forest safely away from people. A flood of people gathers over a river to view a herd of elk and their babies. Finally, at pullout just shy of our proposed camp, a herd of bison (hundred) moves across that plain framed by the sun setting and the high peaks. Dotted across the field in the foreground are pronghorn. We all climb up on top of the RV for the best vantage point. The Tetons have won us over.
The campsite is tricky to find, with the GPS sending us to a ranch. Kevin, under a hunch, turns around to go up a forest road a ¼ of a mile back instead. We twist and wind our way up to the crest of a hill overlooking the valley and the panoramic views of the Tetons open up. The area is already dotted with other campers. We found the spot, now we have to find a space that is unoccupied. We go further back on the forest road. Kevin’s getting a bit on edge at each bump, but a little down the road we find the hallmark fire-pit in an open area surrounded by forest, but still with a view of the Tetons. Rig leveled, food ingested and off the sleep we go.