Tag Archives: Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone

Two weeks ago, Day 6

So much for hot weather

This is what I woke up to the next morning:

Rain, rain, go away.  There *are* mountains there, honest.
Rain, rain, go away. There *are* mountains there, honest.

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.

See, mountains!  Shredding clouds, too.
See, mountains! Shredding clouds, too.

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.

Lewis Falls, in 2008.
Lewis Falls, in 2008.

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.

A submerged Fishing Cone.
A submerged Fishing Cone.  Don’t throw anything out there, please.
See the water lapping up to the *left* of the boardwalk???
See the water lapping up to the *left* of the boardwalk???

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.

West Thumb Geyser Basin and Lake Yellowstone.
West Thumb Geyser Basin and Lake Yellowstone.

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.

Nez Perce Ford, where Charley almost drowned.
Nez Perce Ford, where Charley almost drowned.

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.

RH 300 cover

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.

FH 300 cover

Mud Volcano (aka one of the hundreds of photos I have of Authentic Yellowstone steam ), aka where James fell in love with Jo.
Mud Volcano (aka one of the hundreds of photos I have of Authentic Yellowstone steam ), aka where James fell in love with Jo.

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.

Red dogs!  And their mamas.
Red dogs! And their mamas.

I stopped at Canyon and admired the view from Artist’s Point.

The classic view of the Lower Falls of the Yellowstone, from Artist's Point.
The classic view of the Lower Falls of the Yellowstone, 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):

Purple (much more like red-violet than in the photo) phacelia -- a new flower for me.
Purple (much more like red-violet than in the photo) phacelia — a new flower for me.

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.

Orange Mound Spring, aka orange Cthulu, at Mammoth Hot Springs, which used to be a lot more orange than he is now.
Orange Mound Spring, aka orange Cthulu, at Mammoth Hot Springs, which used to be a lot more orange than he is now.

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.

Iris!  In Yellowstone!  A bit overexposed, alas.  They were darker blue than this.
Iris! In Yellowstone! A bit overexposed, alas. They were darker blue than this.

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.

Constant Geyser -- at least I *think* I got the name right -- first geyser I've ever seen erupt in Porcelain Basin, anyway.
Constant Geyser — at least I *think* I got the name right — first geyser I’ve ever seen erupt in Porcelain Basin, anyway.

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.

One of the larger "spitters" in Porcelain Basin.
One of the larger “spitters” in Porcelain Basin.

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.

Three weeks ago, Day 13

 Morning to research and afternoon to explore.

The elk were gone from the campground in the morning, apparently having moved to the Gardiner school’s athletic field.  And the pronghorns were grazing on the hillside, too.  I drove back down to Gardiner, bought milk and ice — the Gardiner supermarket is sensible enough to carry block ice, thank you very much — and went back to the Heritage Center to finish this trip’s round of research.  They let me leave bookmarks behind in their rack, too, which was nice of them.

After that, I headed back into the park, and down towards the Norris Geyser Basin.  Norris has two basins, actually, the Porcelain Basin and the Back Basin (geysers always occur in low spots, which is why they’re called basins).  I wanted to walk the Porcelain Basin, called that because the sinter looks rather like it from a distance.  All smooth and pale and with very little in the way of plants in the basin proper.  The main thing I like about Porcelain Basin is the little spring/spouters that make this really nifty spitting/sizzling sound.  I grin every time I walk by them.

After that, I decided to drive over to the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, to see all that high water I’d been seeing in the Yellowstone River for the last couple of days go over those spectacular falls.  The falls were about as full as I’d ever seen them, which is saying a fair amount.  And I discovered a new-to-me place, which is not something I can say very often anymore about my park.  Somehow, in all of my visits, I had missed a little sign along the road between Canyon Village and the Chittenden Bridge saying temptingly “brink of upper falls.”  This time I didn’t.  I turned off down the short road and came to a parking area and a path, which ended in a staircase.  At the bottom of the staircase, it was almost like standing at the railing at Niagara.  Not anywhere near as enormous, obviously, but every bit as loud and misty.  Complete with a rainbow.  Just lovely.  And I saw some veronica along the way.

After that it was back to Norris (it’s only twelve miles one way between Canyon and Norris, across the center of the figure eight that is the Grand Loop Road), which is named after the second superintendent of the park, back in the 1870s, Philetus W. Norris, who had a penchant for naming things after himself.  He has a bit part in Repeating History, and was an interesting fellow.

This time I wanted to walk the Back Basin trail, a mile and a half through the woods and along the boardwalks past geysers and springs and fumaroles.  This trail goes past Steamboat Geyser, the world’s largest but also one of its most erratic geysers (its recorded intervals between eruptions range from two days to over fifty years).  I would give my eyeteeth to see Steamboat erupt someday, but the chances are slim to none.  Still, this is one of the best walks in the park, and there’s lots of interesting things to see.  Including, today, a flower I’ve never seen before, bog laurel or Kalmia microphylla.  It’s the same genus as back-east mountain laurel, which is one of my favorite plants.

By the time I made it back to my car, it was late enough in the afternoon that I needed to head to West Yellowstone (known locally as just plain West), where I had a reservation for a bed in the hostel at the Madison Hotel, the oldest hotel in town, which is, as I know from personal experience, haunted [g].

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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
http://mmjustus.com/fictionrepeatinghistory.html