Tag Archives: West Thumb

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 14

First real geysers of the trip

It was chilly but the clouds were not at all ominous when I left West Yellowstone this morning.  I stopped at one of the picnic areas along the Madison River to write, then stopped again at Madison Junction, to find the ranger station/bookstore that I hadn’t visited before.  It has a nice view down the Madison River valley, and some really nice fabric blocks printed with vintage postcard images and such.  If they hadn’t been so expensive, I’d have bought them in spite of the fact that I’d already overrun my fabric budget for the trip.  Well, there’s always next time.  Or the website.

My next destination was the Firehole Lake Drive.  I wanted to see if there was a prediction posted for Great Fountain Geyser.  Great Fountain is the only geyser with regular predictions outside of the Upper Geyser Basin, and it’s well worth the effort it takes to see it (you have to understand, I have a thing about, a fascination with, a passion for geysers, so I may be a bit biased here, but going to Yellowstone without spending time waiting for geysers to erupt is like going to New York City for the first time and not visiting the Statue of Liberty — as one of my favorite fictional characters often says in other contexts, that’s just wrong). 

Anyway.  Great Fountain did indeed have a prediction written on the plastic sign at the entrance to its boardwalk.  It was for later that afternoon.  So I got back in my car and decided to drive down to West Thumb, saving the rest of the geyser basins for Sunday and Monday.  Except that Cliff Geyser was going off as I drove by, and how was I supposed to keep going without stopping at least for a while to watch one of my two favorite small geysers? (the other is Sawmill, in the Upper Geyser Basin)

As I drove over the Continental Divide on my way to West Thumb, one of the most scenic spots in the park in my humble opinion, I noticed that there was still snow along the road at the highest elevations.  I wondered if the lake would still be frozen.  I have seen it frozen before, except for the spots where there are hot springs on the floor of the lake which keep those parts open all winter, even in below 0F temperatures.

As it turned out, the lake was thawed.  As it also turned out, the weather was beginning to turn, spitting cold rain and wind.  I searched under my car seat and lo and behold, discovered that the canvas sack I keep my knit cap and mittens in was still there!  There are some advantages to being too lazy to completely clear out the car before heading out on a long trip.  Between that and the coat I had had the sense to bring with me, I was just fine.  I spent the better part of several hours wandering happily along the boardwalks admiring the beautiful hot springs, the spectacular lake, and the gorgeous Absaroka Mountains on the other side of the lake, until it dawned on me that if I wanted to attempt to catch Great Fountain, I had better hit the road.

The drive back to Great Fountain was uneventful, except for the ice pellet shower I ducked through over the Continental Divide.  The pellets themselves were tiny, about the size of the head of a quilting pin, but plentiful enough that I had to use the windshield wipers.  By the time I got back to Great Fountain, they’d stopped, though.  Good timing.

Even better was Great Fountain’s.  The pool was already beginning to overflow, and I only had to wait about half an hour, watching the center begin to bubble and boil, until all of a sudden there it went!  It was a good, one-burst eruption.  I’m not into the scientific part of the whole geyser thing, all the if it does that now when it’s already doing this it’ll go off in the next event cycle (a process Grand Geyser watchers in particular elevate to a fine art); for me it’s more just a very strong aesthetic appreciation.  But oh, I do aesthetically appreciate a good geyser eruption.  It’s one of my favorite things on the planet.

After Great Fountain did its thing, I drove on around the Firehole Lake Drive.  I had stopped to walk another boardwalk when the ice pellets struck again.  When an ice pellet hits you in the face, I am here to tell you it can sting.  So that was the end of that.  By the time I got back to West, the sun was out.  But it had been a long day, so I found some supper and holed up at the hostel for the night. 

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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