Our “wow” day started out with 9 hours sleep for each of us--much needed! Joe did all the driving yesterday (and driving over those mountains is stressful!) and I have been up late blogging every night. So we both were happy to have an early evening. Anticipating a cold night (the temperature was down in the 30s), Joe had set up one of our small propane heaters, which he turned on sometime in the middle of the night. We were all (including Roxy) toasty warm when we woke up at 7am. We dressed warmly, made hot cereal for breakfast, and were on our way by about 8:30.
We made a short stop at the Visitor’s Interpretive Center at Canyon, which has a terrific exhibit on the geo-thermal aspects of the park. I grabbed a few hiking guides for the various sections of the park, and after giving ourselves a fast overview, we decided to enjoy the fresh morning air. As we left the parking lot, we saw this guy grazing by the side of the road.
Our first destination was the North Rim Drive of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River. The Upper Falls could be seen from the distance at our first stop along the drive, and it was beautiful.
We decided to follow a path, and suddenly found ourselves hiking 600 feet down to the brink of the Lower Falls. It was STEEP! We had almost as many switchbacks as we’d had in Mo the day before! But it was worth it when we stood right at the edge of the Lower Falls, listening to the roar and watching the waters rush past our feet and plunging 308 feet to the base of the canyon below.
So our first hour was strenuous and we felt very virtuous, plus wowed by the views of the waterfalls and the Grand Canyon. From there we proceeded along the North Rim, stopping at each scenic overview for another “wow” moment. We were happy that it was so early, and not very crowded. One highlight: we were able to see an osprey nest at one stop, with the almost-grown chicks in the nest with their mom.
By the time we finished that and started south on the park’s main loop road, it was almost noon. We were driving along the Yellowstone River which widened out into the Hayden Valley. The blue of the river against the bright green of the grass was just amazing, and we were looking for wildlife--supposedly the valley is known for animals. We decided to stop and have lunch in a pullout facing the river, although no animals were in sight. We never did see any wildlife other than a herd of bison resting down below the road level, but the valley itself was gorgeous. As soon as we started driving again, however, Joey sniffed and said, “Is there a geyser around here?” Sure enough, we were driving past the Sulfur Cauldron. We stopped there, and the Mud Volcano area was just across the road. We spent some time with the mud volcanoes, which are not very pretty but are very interesting. They bubble and grunt and boom, and smell a lot too.
There was a film crew near one of the most interesting mud pots, and Joey exchanged a few words with them as we passed them on the boardwalk. They asked us if we’d mind being filmed and answer a few questions about the mud volcanoes for a show called Modern Marvels which they were filming for the Discovery Channel. Joey said, “Sure!” and they made me do it too. They asked us about things like what did we think of the smell! So Joe says, “I really don’t mind it--it’s kind of like a good fart!” The guy holding the microphone was cracking up and the guy with the camera was grinning too. Since I didn’t really think it smelled too great, they asked me to make the kind of face that would reflect the smell--I did my best to grimace painfully
We were still giggling about that experience when we got down to Bridge Bay on Lake Yellowstone. The lake itself was simply breathtaking. We decided to take a boat ride onto the lake, which had been recommended in a blog that I read. So we went out onto the lake and got a different visual perspective on it all. We saw some of the oldest buildings in the park along the shore, saw a forest fire burning (the tour guide said it was a “small fire” and they are letting it burn, as they usually do), and learned all about the trout problem in Yellowstone Lake. The short story is: the only fish that was natural to the lake was the cutthroat trout. It lives at the surface of the lake and is a food source for dozens of species of animals and birds in the park. A few years ago, someone illegally introduced lake trout into the lake. These have proliferated in great numbers, and their prey is the much smaller cutthroat trout. The lake trout live in deeper water and therefore are less accessible to the animals and birds in the park (such as osprey) which depend on the fish to survive. The numbers of cutthroat trout have been noticeably diminished, and there has already been an impact on the other animal life in the park. The lake trout are being fished out with netting as much as possible, and fishermen are encouraged to come and catch as many as they can--there’s no limit. (Cutthroat trout have to be released after being caught.) It will be an ecological disaster if the cutthroat trout can’t be protected.
The boat ride lasted a very pleasant hour. It was 4pm when it ended, and we quickly set off down the lakeshore until we got to West Thumb Geyser Basin Trail. This part of Lake Yellowstone is an example of a small caldera, with mud pots, fumaroles, pools, springs, and geysers.
None of the latter are active, but there are examples of everything else. The pools and springs are simply gorgeous, and the mud pots and fumaroles decorate the area in random places happily bubbling or fuming away. We spent at least an hour there, and I was just in love with the views of the deep aqua pools backed by the darker blue lake and the bright white mineral deposits.
Adding to this was the multicolored algae at the edges of the pools and in the rivulets of water flowing out of the springs and down to the lake’s edge.
The lake bed includes geothermal activity also, and there are several cones and geysers surrounded by lake water or even underwater. The entire area is simply fascinating. I know we will see other examples of this kind of stuff tomorrow, but I fell in love with this small basin area at the side of the lake.
By then it was getting late, and we headed north toward Madison Campground, where we had a reservation for tonight. As we drove, however, Joey saw a sign that said "Kepler's Cascades”. He stopped there, and we discovered this fabulous place that I hadn’t even heard of before! It was probably one of my favorite sights of the day.
After that, we bypassed Old Faithful, the Midway Basin and all the tempting white clouds issuing from it, and all the other interesting looking stops along the way, in order to get to our campsite before dark. We never stopped looking for animals along the river as we drove, however, and just before reaching Madison, we finally saw an elk in the distance. She doesn’t have antlers, but at least I got a photo!
It was a VERY long day….. so full of amazing sights. The weather was perfect--it warmed up nicely and was sunny all day. This park is simply awesome. And tomorrow we have all the geysers to see. I am simply running out of superlatives! We could not have asked for anything better today.