11 years ago, Day 8 — geysers and mudpots and history, oh, my

It’s hard for me to think about Yellowstone as anywhere but one of my favorite places on earth anymore, but on my first full day in the park on my Long Trip, it was just somewhere I’d always wanted to come back and spend more time after one visit I wasn’t old enough to remember, one day when I was nineteen, and two days with my ex who wouldn’t sit around and wait for anything to erupt.

That was the one thing I wanted to do more than anything.  Spend an entire day in the geyser basins waiting for things to erupt. 

It was cold that morning.  I had to scrape frost off Owl’s windshield — I never did explain Owl’s name, did I?  My first car was a 1966 Ford Falcon, painted the green equivalent of navy blue.  I inherited it from my father when it was fourteen years old.  I’d owned three vehicles between that one and the 1998 Chevy Cavalier I drove eleven years ago, but the Chevy was the first green (my favorite color) car since the Falcon.  I toyed with the idea of calling it Falcon II (doesn’t everyone name their cars?) but that was a bit pretentious.  So, I thought, what other birds of prey are out there?  And that’s how Owl got his name.

So.  Where was I?  Oh, yes.  Scraping frost in my heavy coat.  In early September.  Anyway, I headed into the park and promptly saw a pair of sandhill cranes along the Madison River, who flew away before I had a chance to take their picture, then headed north towards Norris and Mammoth Hot Springs.  On the way, I stopped to walk the trail to Artist Paintpots, which I remembered from the “ex” visit as being these beautiful pools plopping in the trees, but which had been hit by the 1988 fires, and now were in an open meadow with dead snags scattered about.  The paintpots themselves were still beautiful, though.

My goal for the day was Mammoth Hot Springs, and Fort Yellowstone:

Old and new terraces at Mammoth
The red-roofed buildings are old Fort Yellowstone, and the others to their left are the Mammoth village.  This is taken from the road that goes up above the springs.
Fort Yellowstone has an interesting history.  Yellowstone, as everyone knows, was the first national park in the world.  But when Congress set the land aside back in 1871, it didn’t provide any money to take care of it, or even to protect it from poachers and vandals.  The first civilian superintendents were alternately severely hampered in their work or incredibly incompetent, and by the 1880s, things were in such a mess that the Army had to be called in to take up the slack, temporarily, or so they thought at the time.  Fort Yellowstone’s beautiful stone buildings:
Elk grazing on the lawn at Fort Yellowstone
Are the legacy of the Army’s thirty-year tenure in the park, which ended with the creation of the National Park Service in 1917.
After lunch at the hot springs village, I headed back south, stopping to drive the little byway that goes above the springs, and to see
Cthulhu, otherwise known as Orange Mound Spring [g]
My last stop for the day was the Norris Geyser Basin, named after Philetus Norris, the second civilian superintendent of the park who during his tenure back in the late 1870s, had a penchant for naming everything he saw after himself, and was otherwise quite the character. 
I was there, as I said before, to watch for something to erupt, and I was lucky enough to see Echinus Geyser
It’s a lot more impressive in person — the boardwalk viewing area is actually on the hillside above the geyser, and the water you’re seeing there is about 40 feet tall.
When the ex and I had been here in 1985, Echinus was erupting regularly enough to be predicted.  This was no longer the case in 1999, so I was extremely fortunate to see it again.  But not fortunate enough to witness the most memorable part of what we saw in 85, which was just after the eruption, when the water drained, sounding just like a bathtub emptying.  It was still pretty darned cool, though, and a great way to end my first full day in Yellowstone.