Sometimes traveling at the last minute just doesn’t work out. But then sometimes it does.
So. I was supposed to switch from hostel bunk to single room two weeks ago this morning. I had been informed when I originally made the reservation that the rate of $95 would include an ensuite bathroom. I was informed this morning that it was one of the rooms in the old building that shared the same bathroom as the hostel.
You have to understand. I’ve stayed in one of those rooms before (about seven or eight years ago, when they cost what a hostel bunk costs now). It wasn’t worth what I paid for it then, for two reasons. One, the room had a horrible bedbug infestation (the bunks have always been clean), and two, that’s where I had a really frightening experience with what I’m pretty darned sure was — well, I’m not going into that here. Let’s just say that the only reason I was willing to pay $95 for a room was because I thought they were going to put me in the new part of the building. The new owner and I went round and round about it, and I ended up having him refund my credit card.
But now I didn’t have a place to stay tonight, nor did I want to waste the day looking for one. So I drove back into the park figuring I’d make the best of whatever time I had left, and I’d head on out this afternoon to find somewhere to stay farther from the park before heading home tomorrow a little earlier than planned.
Which all turned out to be a good thing. At least timing-wise this morning. I headed back out into the park, towards the geyser basins again, and decided my first stop on this cloudy-but-not-raining-yet morning would be at the Fountain Paint Pots.
The Fountain Paint Pots (and the long-gone Fountain Hotel, which was nearby) are named after Fountain Geyser, which is just off the boardwalk there. It was a geyser I’d always wanted to see, but it’s not officially-predicted, and I didn’t know then about the unofficial predictions, so I’d never seen it.
So what do you think happened? Yup. Just as I walked up, it boiled over and started erupting. And if I hadn’t ended up wasting the time arguing with the owner of the Madison Hotel this morning, I’d probably have missed it — again.
As for those unofficial predictions, just as Fountain was beginning to wind down from its glorious half-hour long eruption, a very nice lady named Maureen, who turned out to be on the Geyser Gazers Facebook group, strolled over and we struck up a conversation. And she told me about the unofficial predictions available if you have a smartphone. I really do need to get a smartphone…
The rest of the morning was still wonderful, if a bit anticlimactic. I mean, there’s nothing better than a new major geyser to add to one’s life list. But I stopped at all the usual suspects that I hadn’t wanted to get soaked over before — Midway, with the clouds of steam hanging over Excelsior and Grand Prismatic.
Biscuit Basin, with its glorious Sapphire Pool.
And Black Sand Basin, with Cliff Geyser, which is James’s geyser. The one where he finally found out where he really came from, in a brief timeslip one sunny October afternoon in 1959/1983 in Finding Home.
By then I was way overdue for a late lunch, so I waved farewell to my favorite place on the planet once more, already making plans for a hopefully longer visit next year, and stopped in West for KFC, where the manager was having her Chinese employee write something to do with the Fourth of July on the window in Chinese characters, for some reason.
I then headed northwest on U.S. 287 towards Earthquake Lake, which is, obviously, the site of the earthquake I mentioned yesterday that was part of Chuck’s time travel device in Repeating History. On August 17, 1959, a 7.3-7.8 (estimates vary) earthquake struck here and an entire mountainside fell, blocking the Madison River and burying a campground, killing twenty-eight people. The quake also did a lot of damage in Yellowstone, just a few miles east of the epicenter, and, incidentally, sent my hero Chuck eighty-two years back in time.
Today it looks very peaceful, although the slide is still strongly evident fifty-five years later, and there’s an interesting, recently redone visitor center, too.
By the time I got that far, it was midafternoon, and while I had a good idea of where I wanted to spend the night, I needed to get moving again. I drove down the Madison River valley and turned west on Montana 287 (as opposed to U.S. 287) at the town of Ennis.
I wanted to see Virginia City again. Virginia City, and the neighboring ghost town of Nevada City, are two of Montana’s earliest settlements, and I hadn’t been there since my Long Trip fifteen years ago. It’s a fun, touristy place with an interesting history as a mining camp (of course) where vigilantes dealt with the infamous Plummer Gang. Lots of false-front buildings and even a stagecoach offering rides, and plenty of historical markers. I spent a rather pleasurable hour or so there, before I climbed back in the car one last time for the day.
On my Long Trip (as documented in Cross-Country), I was desperate for a place to stay one night in this part of the world when I finally ran across the tiny town of Sheridan, Montana, and found a nice little place called the Moriah Motel. I was banking on it still being there, and it was. I think the same elderly lady was running it, too. It was reasonably priced and modern and that was all I needed.
So some things do work out okay. But if a friend and I do go back to Yellowstone as part of our WorldCon jaunt next year, we’re going to make our reservations in January.
Yes, I woke up to more rain two weeks ago today. I drove back into the park, anyway, of course (it’s about thirty miles from West Yellowstone to Old Faithful), and parked Kestrel (my car) near the lodge. Still feeling optimistic about the weather at this point, I packed up my daypack with all the necessities for a day out in the geyser basin, including, but not limited to, my Kindle, my journal, and my cross-stitch (some geysers must be waited for, sometimes for up to three or four hours).
Fortunately, my daypack is waterproof and I have a good raincoat. My first stop was in the visitor center, to check the eruption predictions. Old Faithful itself goes off often enough that one can often catch it in passing while headed somewhere else, but Riverside only goes off every six hours or so, Castle every nine to eleven hours, and the Grand, that pinnacle of predictible geysers, erupts about every seven to eight hours, so if I wanted to see them, I needed to know when to go sit and wait for them.
Eruption predictions are never on the minute. Grand, for instance, has a three-hour window, which means that it’s most likely to go off up to an hour and a half on either side of the prediction time. Riverside and Castle were predicted to have morning eruptions, and the Grand wasn’t due to go off till late afternoon.
Anyway. About the time I left the visitor center, the sky opened up. Not quite raining in sheets, but in the five minutes it took me to walk from the visitor center to the Old Faithful Inn, I was fairly drenched where my raincoat didn’t cover me, and the visor of my hood was dripping.
Still, as I peered through the murk over towards Old Faithful, I did see Lion Geyser erupting in the distance. But I really didn’t want to get any wetter, so I used the zoom on my camera to get this shot.
And instead of sitting out in the rain waiting for things to erupt, I went into the Inn and found myself a cozy spot and caught my journal up after several days of ignoring it. Not exactly what I’d had in mind, but there are much worse places to be stranded.
An hour or so later the rain let up and I finally went out into the geyser basin. I walked out as far as Castle Geyser, which had apparently gone off during the rainstorm but was still bellowing (and I mean bellowing — the sound is pretty impressive) steam.
I turned right and headed across the bridge towards Sawmill, which was churning away as usual. I know the “real” geyser gazers don’t think much of Sawmill because it robs energy and water from other, rarer geysers like Tardy and Penta, but I like Sawmill, for its chugging sound (hence the name) and simply because it looks like it’s thoroughly enjoying itself.
Most geysers do. I can’t help anthropomorphizing them that way. I just can’t. I’ve never met a more cheerful geologic phenomenon than a geyser, and that’s just the way it is.
I strolled around Geyser Hill, past Giantess (one of the biggest geysers in the world — and also one that I’ll probably never get to see because it erupts so seldom) and Beehive, which is not an officially-predicted geyser, but can be caught occasionally because it’s got what’s called an indicator, which is a small geyser off to its side that often starts erupting just before Beehive itself does. I’d missed it this morning, but here’s what it looks like from 2008, in much better weather, when I didn’t miss it.
Then it started raining again, and it was past lunchtime, so I went to what’s affectionately known as the Lower Ham (Hamilton, although it’s no longer owned by the family) store, and ate lunch at the counter there. That lunch counter/soda fountain has been there a long time, by local standards. The store itself was first built in 1897, and Charley, who was still Chuck at that point, ate his last meal in 1959 there before he inadvertently time-traveled back to 1877 in Repeating History. It’s also where James first went looking for his son just after Chuck disappeared and met Jo in Finding Home. An important place, the Lower Ham store.
Then again, so is the whole Upper Geyser Basin, so far as I’m concerned. My short story “Homesick” takes place here, too, and one geyser in particular is very significant in both Repeating Historyand “Homesick.”
It took the rain a while to let back up again, alas, although I did catch what turned out to be my only view of Old Faithful from where I’d walked back to the Lodge (as opposed to the Inn), and by the time it did, it was getting close to four in the afternoon, Grand’s predicted time. Of course, given the window, it could have already gone off, but I didn’t have anything to lose except the time and a little shoe leather, so I headed back out one more time. Except for the rain, this was a pretty normal geyser basin day for me. Out and back and out and back, watch this geyser and that, have a thoroughly good time.
Anyway, when I got back out to the Grand, there were still a fair number of people sitting and waiting. My spirits rose. And, lo and behold, less than ten minutes after I sat down, guess what happened?! Grand’s pool, which had already been overflowing, started generating little waves, Turban (a kinda sorta indicator) went off, and away Grand went! I think that’s the shortest amount of time I’ve ever waited for the Grand.
And it was. Grand, that is. Just one burst, but it was a good long one, and that was enough to make my day. Make my trip, actually.
Especially since I always think of the Grand as Charley’s geyser. It was a crucial half (the other half being an earthquake I’ll tell you about tomorrow) of the phenomenon that sent Chuck back in time to become Charley in Repeating History, and it also caused Charley’s son Will and — okay, this may get confusing — Will’s five-year-old grandson Chuck (yes, that Chuck) to witness something in “Homesick” that changed their lives forever.
The rain didn’t start back up yet again until I was back in my car and headed back to West Yellowstone an hour or so later, either, and that was a good thing, too.
The temperature had dropped by about twenty degrees, which was lovely, but it was pouring rain, which was very much not.
I packed up from the very nice hostel at Teton Village and headed north, anyway. What else was I going to do? It did gradually clear up the farther north I went, and by the time I reached the part of the Tetons I’d been to before, the clouds were beginning to let those sharp, pointy mountains shred them a bit. (You do know what “tetons” means in French, right? — those fur trappers must have been out there a long time to make that particular association), and by the time I reached the southern entrance to Yellowstone, it had pretty much stopped raining, thankyouverymuch, although it was still nice and cool.
I’d never approached Yellowstone from the south before. Because of where I live, I usually come at it through either the north or the west entrance. I missed out on entering via the northeast entrance two years ago because the Beartooth Highway (which tops out at almost 11,000 feet) was still blocked by snow in June. Anyway, it was an interesting change, and one that required me to show my parks pass three times today — once entering Grand Teton NP via the same goat trail I’d taken the day before, once re-entering GTNP via the Moran entrance (U.S. 89 is not officially part of the park, apparently), and once to get into Yellowstone itself. Weird.
It takes a while to get from the southern entrance to anything interesting except for Lewis Falls, which is pretty. I didn’t stop there this time, but here’s a picture from August, 2008, when the weather was much better.
My first real stop was at the West Thumb Geyser Basin. I’d never been there when the lake was so high before. Not only was Fishing Cone completely covered, but the water was actually lapping up underneath the shore boardwalk, and out the other side.
I love West Thumb. It’s as if TPTB said, where’s the prettiest place in the park to put some hot springs? And then put them there. There aren’t any regularly-erupting geysers at West Thumb, but it really is fetching.
In hindsight it wasn’t the best decision I’d made on this trip because of the weather (not today’s, but tomorrow’s), but I decided I would drive the Grand Loop today and do the geyser basin thing tomorrow and Saturday, so I headed north along the lakeshore. I stopped and ate lunch at the Lake Lodge cafeteria (which is absolutely identical to the one at Old Faithful, except for the view), then stopped again at the picnic area just north of LeHardy Rapids to look at the river.
Historically, this is where the Nez Perce crossed the Yellowstone River on their flight to Canada, and so it’s where Charley and Eliza and Anna crossed the river in Repeating History, and Charley almost drowned. So it’s sorta special to me.
So’s the next place I stopped, the Mud Volcano. Sounds pretty exciting, doesn’t it? Well, it’s smelly, and it’s muddy, and it’s pretty violent. It’s also where James happened to be when he realized he was falling in love with Jo in spite of himself in Finding Home, so it’s another kinda special place for me.
And so I kept going north. I drove through Hayden Valley and saw some red dogs (the local name for baby bison), which are adorable.
I stopped at Canyon and admired the view from Artist’s Point.
And I went up over Dunraven Pass, where I saw a flower new to me at the top of the pass (and, yes, the yellow ones are dandelions, just ignore them):
And around Tower Falls, and west across to Mammoth Hot Springs and drove the loop up and around. By then it was sunny and gorgeous. Go figure. There were no elk at Mammoth. There are always elk at Mammoth. I did not see a single elk on this trip. Go figure that, too.
Then, because it was getting on in the afternoon, I headed south again, only to be brought to a dead stop because there were iris blooming in a small clear spot between the aspens just south of Mammoth. I’d never seen iris in Yellowstone before. My favorite flower in my favorite national park. It was just too cool to be true.
It took me a bit to get going again after that. I stopped at Norris and walked around Porcelain Basin, where I saw a geyser I’d never seen before (it takes a fair amount for that to happen these days). It’s called Constant Geyser, but it does not live up to its name, so I was pretty lucky on that score.
I also got to listen to the tiny springs that sound just like butter sizzling in a frying pan, which amuse me vastly every time. They’re not very photogenic, but this is probably the best picture of one I’ve ever gotten in any number of tries over the years.
After that, it was time and past time to go check in at the hostel in West Yellowstone, which, as it turns out, was sold to a new owner last spring. This was not an improvement, alas, but it was a place to put my head for two nights, and possibly for three if I didn’t mind paying for a single room instead of a bunk that third night. I signed up for all three nights, but, well… That’s a story for a couple of days from now.
I couldn’t wait to go back into the park tomorrow and wander around waiting for things to erupt.
I am told it is read an Ebook week, and in celebration I am giving away copies of one of my Time in Yellowstone novels, Finding Home. It is available on Smashwords, here, using this coupon code: CX37N. Smashwords does about a dozen different formats, including for the Kindle.
To celebrate our arrival in 2014, I am giving away five ebook copies of your choice of my books. My only request is that if you’re one of the five winners, you post a review on Amazon when you’re done reading.
To enter, leave a comment talking about the best book you read in 2013. Make sure I have a way to contact you. I’ll draw five winners at random in a week or so.
Winners will receive a coupon for the free book through Smashwords, which provides plenty of formats, including for the Kindle. And since there’s no shipping costs, that means there are no geographic restrictions on who can enter.
Please spread the word, and start out the new year with a new book to read!
Sorry, I can’t help myself. The proofs of the last three Time in Yellowstone books arrived today, and they’re beautiful. I need to tweak a couple of things (two of the covers have spines that are slightly off), then they’ll be approved for sale!
Wednesday my friend L and I did something we’d been wanting to do for a long time. We went up to Crystal Mountain Ski Area, and we rode the gondola, which is open to sightseers in the off-season. It cost twenty bucks, but it was worth every penny. I really had no idea how far we’d be able to see from up there. I’d been to Crystal to ski several times, but that was fifteen years ago, and even then I’d never gotten that high on the mountain (the easiest trail down from the top of the gondola is intermediate, and I never got much beyond high beginner trails the entire decade or so that I skied regularly).
Anyway, the day was about as clear and dry as it gets in the Pacific Northwest (and hot — 90+F in the lowlands, which broke records for this time of year, and in the upper 70sF even at almost 7000 feet at the top of the gondola), and the views ranged from Mt. Adams, clear down by the Columbia River, all the way to Mt. Baker, all the way up by the Canadian border. And Mt. Rainier looked as if a person could reach out and touch it.
The only view even slightly obscured was down towards Puget Sound, where haze hovered over the water, blocking our view of the Olympics and of the cities down there (I bet the nighttime view in clear weather of those cities must be absolutely amazing).
There’s a fancy restaurant up at the top of the gondola, but it was beyond our price range, so we’d packed a picnic (actually, we’d bought our picnic at a Subway on the way), and we had plenty of chipmunk company while we ate.
All in all, it was a seriously spectacular trip. If you happen to be in this part of the world on a clear day, don’t miss it.
Just a reminder, the Time in Yellowstone series: Repeating History, True Gold, and Finding Home, and the story “Homesick” (including chapters from all three novels, and only 99 cents for the e-version), are now available as ebooks on Amazon and Smashwords, and Repeating History is now available as a paper book from Amazon and CreateSpace, with the other books coming in paper editions very soon.