Tag Archives: bison

Three weeks ago, Day 16

Waiting for things to erupt!

 Actually, three weeks ago yesterday.  Monday got away from me, alas.

Anyway, the weather did a 180 from Sunday night to Monday.  When I woke up the sun was shining and the birds — or were those chipmunks? — were chirping outside my cabin at Old Faithful, and it was positively balmy compared to the day before.

Happily I loaded my backpack with my Kindle, my cross-stitch, a bottle of water, and a notebook, slathered on sunscreen, slapped on my hat, and headed out.

First stop was the lodge, for one of their large, delicious muffins.  Second stop was at the visitor center, to check the eruption predictions and make notes.  Three geysers were predicted for late in the morning — Daisy and Riverside around 10:30, and Castle for just after eleven.  Grand’s prediction wasn’t till the afternoon, at 3:45 (which really meant any time between 1:45 and 5:45 — Grand’s window is always two hours on either side of the predicted time). 

I headed down the paved trail, which used to be the old road before the early 70s when they rerouted automobile traffic out of the geyser basin, only to have a ranger redirect me around a stretch past several bison cows and their calves, and the bull who was apparently keeping an eye on them.  As I made my little detour, I heard the ranger trying — apparently in vain — to keep someone from strolling right up to them who did not realize the danger of getting too close to something that weighs 2000 pounds, can run faster than you can, and has babies to protect.  Yellowstone is not a zoo, folks.  Those animals are wild.

I had been planning to watch Daisy and/or Riverside, but somehow I didn’t get any further than Castle at first.  Castle is great fun to watch, and to listen to.  I hadn’t seen a whole Castle eruption, from the first spout of water through to the steam, which makes a mighty roar, in a long time, so I decided to wait for it.  It was well worth it, as you can see in the photos.  I’m just sorry I can’t reproduce the sound for you. 

I struck up a conversation while I was waiting for it with a lady from Virginia whose first visit to Yellowstone this was.  She queried me about a lot of things, including wanting to know which was my favorite geyser, so I got to tell her about Grand a bit.  Turns out that was my good deed for the day, as I will explain later.

After Castle finished bellowing, she and I walked down to catch the last of Riverside Geyser, and to see Morning Glory Pool.  By that point it was getting to be lunch time, and she and I each went our own way.  I went back to the lunch counter at Lower Ham (one of the two general stores at Old Faithful — the other one being called Upper Ham, short for Hamilton), to grab a quick meal before heading out to stake my bench at Grand.

It really was a glorious day for geyser-gazing.  Other than a few white puffies, the sky was a never ending blue, it was warm without being hot, there was just enough of a breeze to keep things comfortable, and the boardwalks were bone dry.  The flowers were blooming, too — I saw gentians and shooting stars, among others.  And, of course there were red dogs (bison calves).  What more could you ask for?

Well…  I ran into Lisa from the geysers email list and we had a nice conversation.  I’d been at Grand for about an hour when Kristin, the lady from Virginia, showed up, with the comment that she wanted to see the geyser I’d gone on so about.  Less than an hour after that, Turban went and Grand overflowed, and then up, up, up it went. 

It was a terrific eruption.  I will never, ever, ever get tired of watching Grand erupt.  There’s something about geysers that makes them look like they are having way more fun than is good for them.  They’re just exuberant.  Playful.  Whatever.  I know better than to try to anthropomorphize them, but I can’t seem to help it.  And when it was over, people applauded, which always just tickles the heck out of me.

I glanced over at Kristin, who was sitting there with her fingers over her mouth and her eyes wide, and after it finished I said, was it worth the wait?  And she said, oh, yes.  Like I said, my good deed for the day.

What was left of the rest of the day after the stroll back to the cabin, which wasn’t much, was an early supper, then one last viewing of Old Faithful, with an eruption of Lion in the distance.  And early to bed.  Because, whether I wanted to or not, tomorrow I needed to head home.

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If you like my travel writing, you might enjoy my fiction set in Yellowstone:

Repeating History, “A GRAND yarn you can’t put down.” Janet Chapple, author of Yellowstone Treasures

Three weeks ago, Day 10

In which I almost blow completely off the face of the earth.

The wind was howling this morning.  Quite literally howling as it swept around the building loudly enough to wake me up.

But it was sunny and also well over 70 at eight in the morning, and I had the other half of a national park to visit, so I ate my breakfast bar and packed up my luggage, and headed west again.

Belfield is only about a dozen miles east of  Theodore Roosevelt National Park’s South Unit, which abuts the freeway for about a dozen miles on its southern edge.  Coming from the east, the first stop in the park is actually a combination rest area/visitor center/viewpoint at a place called Painted Canyon.  The name fits, I must say.  And I was grateful for the big plate glass windows in the visitor center that overlooked it, allowing me to enjoy it without getting blown off the edge of the canyon and hurled to the bottom of it.  I asked the young man staffing the desk what the weather forecast was for the rest of the day, and he said, oh, it’s supposed to get windier later.  Might even get up to 60 mph sustained.  And the temp’s supposed to go up over 90.  He smiled.  I did not.

But it was my one day to go enjoy what the South Unit had to show me, so I got back on the freeway and drove the few miles to the town of Medora, and the main entrance to the park.

Medora, North Dakota, is to TRNP’s south unit what Gatlinburg, Tennessee, is to the Great Smokies.  Not just an adjunct to the park, but sort of a theme park in its own right.  I would check it out later, though, and I headed immediately to TRNP’s main entrance, which is rather oddly situated right in town.  I showed my parks pass, acquired my brochures, and drove up and over the interstate, which actually passes through the southern edge of the park for a few miles, into the park proper.  I don’t know if the highway came first or the park did, but TR is the only national park I know of with part of a freeway running through it.  It’s much less intrusive than I’d have thought such a thing to be, though, perhaps because this southwestern corner of North Dakota is such an isolated place to begin with.

The park’s main access is via a thirty-odd mile loop road, winding up and down and around from the edge of the bluffs to down in the bottom of the valley and back several times in its course.  I drove slowly, enjoying the badlands views.  I stopped at a prairie dog town and watched the noisy antics of the whack-a-dog game they seemed to be playing with invisible hammers.  I had forgotten what a racket prairie dogs can make.  You know how some people put their fingers in their mouths to create a piercing whistle?  That’s about how loud prairie dogs are. 

I saw more beautiful views than you can shake a stick at, and walked a couple of nature trails, one of them to the top of a hill with a magnificent vista.  The only problem was trying to take photos of it while the wind was blowing hard enough that I could not hold the camera still.  I literally had my feet planted at least two feet apart and was leaning forward at about 10 degrees off plumb just to stay upright.  But it was worth it, and down in the canyon the wind wasn’t bad at all.

And it wasn’t 90 degrees quite yet.

I was about halfway around the loop before I saw my first bison, a lone male lying under an overhanging ledge out of the wind.  Smart critter.  I passed another one soon after, but I was beginning to wonder if I was going to see the main herd at all.  At last I came around a corner to see a number of mama bison and their babies, grazing peacefully while the wind whipped around them. 

They were sharing their meadow with more prairie dogs, too.  That was nifty.

I had been planning to spend the night at TRNP, in what would have been a nice campground in better weather, but I changed my mind and drove back down to Medora, first stopping at the visitor center on my way out.  My main reason was to see Theodore Roosevelt’s first ranch cabin when he came out to North Dakota as a young man (in his mid-20s, actually) after the horrible experience of losing both his mother and his young wife on the same day back in 1884.  The cabin has been moved around the U.S. several times over the years, but has come back and it now sits directly behind the visitor center.  A ranger took several of us on a tour of the three-room cabin and talked mostly about the differences between it and more typical cabins of the place and era (for starters, most cabins then and there were one-room affairs, and did not have bookcases in them). 

It was by then well past lunchtime, and I ended up in Old West Medora looking for somewhere to eat.  Medora may be a tourist town, but on this hot, windy June Tuesday, the tourists had pretty much forsaken it.  I did finally find a hamburger stand, and then poked through a few of the shops before deciding to head on west.

I drove, fighting the wind which kept trying to yank the steering wheel out of my hands every foot of the way, across eastern Montana, where the only real amusements were some of the exit signs.  I got as far as Miles City, Montana, where it was 99 degrees according to a bank sign and the local news said there’d been 70+ mph wind gusts.  I holed up in a second-story room in the air conditioning in a Motel 6 and spent most of the night waiting for the power to go out or the roof to get blown off.

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Repeating History, “A GRAND yarn you can’t put down.” Janet Chapple, author of Yellowstone Treasures