Tag Archives: Wyoming

September 20: All the exploding water I could squeeze into one day

I need to quit showing up at Yellowstone for a couple of days at the end of trips, and devote a whole trip there again one of these days. With adequate advance planning so that where I’ll stay isn’t an issue. Because if I could have found a place to stay for less than $100 a night in West tonight I probably would have stayed there before camping some more, but oh, well. I was thinking about it on my way out of the park this afternoon, and the last time I spent more than three days here at a time by myself was in 2005. I’ve spent a whole week at a time here several times since then, but always with a friend. I want to spend more time wandering around geyser basins waiting for things to erupt.

Anyway. At least I got to do that today. I got up at the crack of dawn this morning (it wasn’t even good light when I pulled out of my campsite) and drove into the park. One advantage of doing that is that there is no line at the entrance station, very little traffic, and I get my choice of spots in the ginormous parking lot at Old Faithful. Yes, it’s still pretty crowded here, even in late September.

Early, early in the morning on my way to West Yellowstone.
Early, early in the morning on my way to West Yellowstone.
Steam! Lots and lots of steam! That's Fountain Paint Pots, and the brown dots are bison.
Steam! Lots and lots of steam! That’s Fountain Paint Pots, and the brown dots are bison.

I packed up my day pack with all the stuff I might need for the day – water, lunch, camera, Kindle (for the inevitable waits), etc., etc., etc. – doused myself in sunscreen, and went to the visitor center to check on predicted eruption times.

Two strokes of luck later – Riverside was due around 11:30 and Grand somewhere between 11:45 and 3:45 so not too late in the afternoon – I headed over to the lodge to get some hot tea, then watched an eruption of Old Faithful before I headed out. And an eruption of Lion, off in the distance. A good start to the morning.

Lion Geyser as seen while waiting for Old Faithful, taken with lots of zoom.
Lion Geyser as seen while waiting for Old Faithful, taken with lots of zoom.
The classic view of Old Faithful.
The classic view of Old Faithful.
Yes, this was taken with plenty of zoom. These two and about half a dozen of their friends were prowling the parking lot in front of the Lower Hamilton store.
Yes, this was taken with plenty of zoom. These two and about half a dozen of their friends were prowling the parking lot in front of the Lower Hamilton store.

I strolled slowly down to Morning Glory Pool (about a mile and a half), stopping to see several more geysers along the way. Castle wasn’t due till about suppertime, alas, so I didn’t get to see it erupt, but I saw Sawmill, which is one of my favorite little (as in about 25 feet high max) geysers, as well as Tardy, which is sort of Sawmill’s little brother.

Sawmill Geyser from across the river.
Sawmill Geyser from across the river, with Tardy Geyser off to its right.

On down a piece, I saw that Grotto, aka the phallic geyser (look at the photo and tell me I’m wrong) was erupting, as was its neighbor Grotto Fountain, the latter of which, to the best of my knowledge, I’d never seen erupt before. Any day is a great day when I see a geyser I’ve never seen before. Trust me.

Grotto Geyser.
Grotto Geyser.
Grotto Fountain geyser, which I'm pretty sure I hadn't ever seen before, so that was cool.
Grotto Fountain geyser.

Then it was on to Riverside Geyser, which is pretty much the most regular geyser in the park (yes, more regular than Old Faithful), and by far one of the most graceful. I took video of it – the first time I’ve ever taken video of a geyser (I didn’t know how to do video until last year, and I haven’t been to the park since year before last). By the time Riverside’s half hour eruption was over, it was time to head over to Grand.

Riverside Geyser.
Riverside Geyser.
Oblong Geyser, as seen from Grand Geyser while waiting for it.
Oblong Geyser, as seen from Grand Geyser while waiting.  And waiting.  And waiting.  ETA:  Oops.  That’s Daisy, thank you, Lynn Stephens, for the correction.

Oh, Grand. It has a four hour eruption window (that is, 90% of the eruptions happen within that window), and today was one of the 10% of times it was late. While I was waiting, out there in the sun (thank goodness it was only in the low 70s today and breezy), I read, and chatted with my fellow geyser gazers (yes, that’s what we’re called – go check out the Geyser Observation and Study Association – gosa.org – website, if you don’t believe me) and helped explain the Grand’s logic puzzle of a prediction cycle to the newbies (more in a bit), and ate my lunch, and was patient along with everybody else [g].

The Grand finally went off just before 4 pm, two lovely, fantastic, beautiful bursts, and it was, as always, worth every minute of the wait, and every bit of the, okay, the pool’s overflowing, are there waves yet? there goes Turban (Grand only goes off just before or after Turban starts), oh, ptui, there goes West Triplet again (if West Triplet goes off while Turban’s doing one of its every twenty minute eruptions, then Grand won’t go off until at least the next Turban cycle), etc., etc., etc.

It always reminds me of those kinds of puzzles where Mr. Smith lives in the blue house and Mr. Gray is the plumber, but the green house is next to Mr. Jones, so who lives in the yellow house sort of thing.

The Grand!!!
The Grand!!!

Oh, and I got video footage of Grand, which makes me very happy (my comments on the audio portion of the thing are kind of embarrassing, I was so excited, but that’s okay).

After that I needed to hit the road, because the only relatively reasonably priced place I could find to stay tonight (I needed a place with a shower) was 25 miles outside of West Yellowstone, which in turn is 30 miles from Old Faithful, through animal jams and so forth.

I’m in a cute little cabin (with no wifi and no TV, alas, but that’s okay) up by Hebgen Lake, which is rather nice, and it’s on my way home (I still can’t believe I’ll probably be home the day after tomorrow), so that’s worked out for the best. But I do need to plan a whole vacation around the park again soon. I will. Maybe next year.

Aspens in the early evening along Hebgen Lake.
Aspens in the early evening along Hebgen Lake.

September 19: Some seriously white knuckles, and back to my park

Back to Red Lodge’s information center this morning, where I was informed that the pass was open today! According to the lady at the desk, there wasn’t even any ice up there. So off I went.

Dear godlings. I will never drive over Beartooth Pass again. Ever. It wasn’t bad at first, and the scenery was lovely, but that didn’t last long. Oh, the scenery did, what I saw of it while I was hanging onto the steering wheel for dear life, but I am not fond of narrow roads climbing up the sides of 11,000 foot mountains with 1000+ feet straight up on one side and 2000+ feet straight down on the other, with a multitude of hairpin switchbacks and no guard rails! Well above tree line for miles, so there was nothing to stop the howling wind that caught Merlin like a sail, to the point where I was scared to pull over in the turnouts hanging over the edges of the cliffs to take photos for fear he’d get blown down the mountain. Or that I would if I opened the car door.

At least it wasn’t snowing since it was in the forties at the top (10,979 feet), not counting windchill. But criminy. That was terrifying. And I don’t scare easily when it comes to that sort of thing.

But that’s the main reason I don’t have a lot of photos. There was just no way.

Once I got down on the other side of the pass, back below the tree line, I did manage some good photos, but I’ll be honest. Yes, the Beartooth Highway is beautiful, but give me U.S. 12 between Bryce Canyon and Capitol Reef in Utah any day. It was much prettier, and a lot less scary.

At the beginning of the Beartooth Highway.
At the beginning of the Beartooth Highway.
The view from about 10,000 feet.
The view from about 10,000 feet.
You can see two layers of the road in this photo.  Yeah, there was a guard rail here, but that was an exception.
You can see two layers of the road in this photo. Yeah, there was a guard rail here, but that was an exception.
Coming down the southern side of Beartooth Pass.
Coming down the southern side of Beartooth Pass.
And another view.
And another view.
And another.  This was from a little gravel side road leading up to a closed-on-Mondays fire tower.  It would have been nice if they'd actually had that on the sign at the turnoff instead of making me drive a couple of miles to find out.
And another. This was from a little gravel side road leading up to a closed-on-Mondays fire tower. It would have been nice if they’d actually had that on the sign at the turnoff instead of making me drive a couple of miles to find out.
From the same road.
From the same road.  The gold is aspens.
Back down on the highway.  The aspens along the lower part of the road were absolutely dropdead gorgeous.  They reminded me of the time my parents and I drove up to see the aspens in the Colorado Rockies when we were living in Denver.
Back down on the highway. The aspens along the lower part of the road were absolutely dropdead gorgeous. They reminded me of the time my parents and I drove up to see the aspens in the Colorado Rockies when we were living in Denver.
I did know the name of this mountain, but it escapes me now.  That's one prime example of a glacial arete, though.
I did know the name of this mountain, but it escapes me now. That’s one prime example of a glacial  horn and arete, though.
A valley full of aspens.
A valley full of aspens.

I entered Yellowstone National Park at the northeast entrance, to discover that this was actually a really good thing because the road between Mammoth and Norris is closed early for the season for construction, so I would have had to go way out of my way to get to West Yellowstone. Which was really my only choice at this point. The first thing I saw after I entered the park was a sign listing all the campgrounds and their status for the day. Half of them are already closed for the season, and the rest were already full for the night.

Soda Butte, a very old, defunct thermal feature in the far northeastern section of Yellowstone National Park.
Soda Butte, a very old, defunct thermal feature in the far northeastern section of Yellowstone National Park.
Bighorn sheep!  Near Tower Falls.
Bighorn sheep! Near Tower Falls.
Tower Falls.  It's about an 80 foot drop.
Tower Falls. It’s about an 80 foot drop.

It’s always difficult to do Yellowstone as a last-minute thing, and I knew that going in. The lodging in the park gets reserved well over a year in advance (the reservations for each year open on May 1st of the previous year, and they’re usually all taken by June, although I have been lucky to get a cancellation with a couple of weeks’ notice in the past). I didn’t think the campgrounds would be such an issue, though – I’ve arrived in the park and gotten a campsite on the spot before. But not this time.

So it was on the 90 miles (Yellowstone is a big park – over 3000 square miles) to the town of West Yellowstone. I didn’t stop much along the way because I figured the earlier I got to West, as the locals call it, the more likely I was to find a place for the night. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to West until about three, and when I stopped at the tourist office, I was told it would be almost impossible to find a motel (also that the average room in West goes for $250 a night – eep! – that’s gone way up in the last few years). So I said what about campgrounds? And she said, there’s a nice forest service campground about three miles north of town, and they have some sites left. So I drove up, and here I am.

Harebells at Baker's Hole campground just north of West Yellowstone.
Harebells at Baker’s Hole campground just north of West Yellowstone.
The Madison River (famous from the movie A River Runs Through It) at Baker's Hole Campground.
The Madison River (famous from the movie A River Runs Through It) at Baker’s Hole Campground.

Tomorrow I will get up early and go wander around the geyser basins and hopefully catch an eruption of Grand Geyser, then drive on out of the park late in the afternoon. I have a reservation for tomorrow night for a cabin at Hebgen Lake, about 25 miles northwest of West, in the direction I’d have been heading, anyway. I wish I could spend more time here, but logistically it’s just not going to work. It’s time to head home. I’ve probably got two more nights on the road after this one, if all goes according to plan. The cabin at Hebgen Lake, and probably the campground about ten miles west of Missoula where I’ve stayed before. That’s a day’s drive from home.

I can’t believe the trip’s almost over. I’ve got some seriously ambivalent feelings about it. Part of me wants to keep on going, even though it’s getting late in the season and if I did I’d have to head south again, and part of me knows I really do need to settle back down again. At least for now.

Sigh. I guess there’s always next year…

Two weeks ago, Day 8

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.  This early in the year, they're kind of runny.
The Fountain Paint Pots. This early in the year, they’re kind of runny.

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.

Glorious, glorious Fountain Geyser, which is much taller than it looks in this photo.
Glorious, glorious Fountain Geyser, which is much taller than it looks in this photo.

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.

Runoff looking back towards Grand Prismatic Spring.
Runoff looking back towards Grand Prismatic Spring.

Biscuit Basin, with its glorious Sapphire Pool.

Biscuit Basin's Sapphire Pool.
Biscuit Basin’s Sapphire Pool, which erupted in 1959 after the earthquake.

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.

James's Cliff Geyser.
James’s Cliff Geyser and hot spring runoff into Iron Creek.

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.

Want some Chinese fried chicken for the Fourth of July?
Want some Chinese fried chicken for the Fourth of July?

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.

The landslide triggered by the Hebgen Lake Earthquake, which created a new lake, and, unfortunately, killed 28 people in the process.
The landslide triggered by the Hebgen Lake Earthquake, which created a new lake, and, unfortunately, killed 28 people in the process.

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.

The Madison River Valley south of Ennis.  You'll note that the weather improved drastically as soon as I left the Park .
The Madison River Valley south of Ennis. You’ll note that the weather improved drastically as soon as I left the Park .

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.

Boardwalks of another kind, at Virginia City, Montana.
Boardwalks of another kind, at Virginia City, Montana.
Charley hated detachable collars like the one in this Virginia City storefront.
Charley hated detachable collars like the one in this Virginia City storefront.
Want a stagecoach ride, little girl?
Want a stagecoach ride, little girl?

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.

Two weeks ago, Day 7

Rain, rain go away, come again some other day.

 Preferably after I get home, but oh, well.

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.

The sign says Old Faithful.  The actual geyser in the distance is Lion.
The sign says Old Faithful. The actual geyser in the distance is Lion.

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.

The 85-foot-tall, 500-ton (according to Wikipedia, at least), four-sided fireplace in the Old Faithful Inn, with its hand-forged clock.
The 85-foot-tall, 500-ton (according to Wikipedia, at least), four-sided fireplace in the Old Faithful Inn, with its hand-forged clock.

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.

Castle Geyser, bellowing steam in the distance.
Castle Geyser, bellowing steam in the distance.

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.

Sawmill Geyser on the left, and what can only be Tardy Geyser on the right, unless I'm mistaken, which is possible.
Sawmill Geyser on the left, and what can only be Tardy Geyser on the right, unless I’m mistaken, which is altogether possible.

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.

A view of Geyser Hill from the old road.
A view of Geyser Hill from the old road.

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.

Beehive Geyser, 2008, from the viewpoint across the river.  Note the tiny people on the boardwalk next to it.
Beehive Geyser, 2008, from the viewpoint across the river. Note the tiny people on the boardwalk next to 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.

This isn’t my photo, but I wanted you to see what it looks like.

Homesick cover 300

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 History and “Homesick.”

My only eruption of Old Faithful on this trip, taken from the shelter of the Lodge porch.
My only eruption of Old Faithful on this trip, taken from the shelter of the Lodge porch.
A blue bird (not sure of exact species) which was hanging around Old Faithful just before the eruption.  The rain started again a few minutes before the geyser went off.
A blue bird (not sure of exact species — ETA, my birder friend Katrina says it’s a mountain bluebird) which was hanging around Old Faithful just before the eruption. The rain started again a few minutes before the geyser went off.

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.

This is my alltime favorite photo of the Grand, taken in 1999 during the eruption that inspired Repeating History.
This is my alltime favorite photo of the Grand, taken in 1999 during the eruption that inspired Repeating History.

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.

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.

Two weeks ago, Day 5

No sleep, and more mountains!

Well, that was the only night I camped on this trip. For some reason I could not get comfortable in my sleeping bag, and I finally gave up about four in the morning. So I pulled out my Kindle and read till it got light at about 5:30, packed up, and headed out.

Not very far at first — the Sunrise campground sits at the very top of the long, steep drop to Bear Lake, and a very nice viewpoint/visitor center, which was unlocked even at that gawdawful hour of the day (much to my pleasure, as the campground only had pit toilets and no running water), is practically next door to it. So I got cleaned up and then sat and watched the sun rise over Bear Lake. It was fairly spectacular.

Sunrise at Bear Lake, Utah.
Sunrise at Bear Lake, Utah.

I decided I deserved breakfast out after that, and after descending 2000 feet (7900 to 5900) to Bear Lake and the small town of Garden City, I started looking for somewhere that might feed me one.

Nothing, and I mean nothing, was open in Garden City at six a.m., though, so I went on, heading north along the shore of Bear Lake. Eventually I crossed the state line back into Idaho, and found the small town of Montpelier, which was just waking up for the day. The lady at the gas station where I filled the tank for the fourth time on the trip told me the truck stop just north of town was about the only place to go to get breakfast (I did mention that Montpelier is a small town, right?). So I went to find the truck stop.

It turned out to be a nice place, as such things go, and the waitress very helpfully warned me that I only wanted one pancake, not a short stack. Wow, was she right. That pancake was about twelve inches around and at least half an inch thick. It was good, though, especially with Bear Lake raspberry syrup (the berries are a local specialty). I ate a bit more than half of it before I gave up.

I headed north and east on U.S. 89, the same highway that I took all the way to Yellowstone. Up and over a pass and into Wyoming, where I noticed that I was not as alert at the wheel as I could be, so I stopped in a forest service campground, let my seat back all the way, grabbed my pillow and afghan, and crashed for a couple of hours.

Much refreshed, I arrived in the town of Afton an hour or so later, where I got stuck in a bathroom line with a bunch of French-speaking bus tourists, and saw what is purportedly the world’s largest antler arch across the main drag in town. I did not get a photo of it, but if you click here you can get a look at it.

My goal for the day was the ski resort of Jackson Hole (no, not Jackson’s Whole — that would be the wrong Nexus, thank goodness), where I was going to spend tonight, and Grand Teton National Park, where I would spend the rest of the day.

I’d spent about half an hour on my cell phone last night in the campground — I don’t know why I’m still astonished that I can talk on the phone in places that remote, but I am — making sure I had a place to sleep tonight at the hostel in Teton Village (at the base of the ski resort) and for the next two nights (they didn’t have space after that — last minute trip planning can be a bear) at the hostel in West Yellowstone.

I hadn’t spent any time to speak of in the Tetons since I was a kid. In 1999 on my Long Trip (see my book Cross-Country: Adventures Alone Across America and Back) I’d spent an evening on a dinner cruise on Jackson Lake with some friends, and in 2008 my friend Mary and I passed through, stopping for a few photos, on our way from Yellowstone to Denver for WorldCon, but that was pretty much the extent of it. In all the rest of my jaunts to Yellowstone, I hadn’t bothered to come south even that far. So I wanted to spend a little time here, at least.

The Teton Mountains, Grand Teton (13,776 feet -- almost as tall as Mt. Rainier) front and center.
The Teton Mountains, Grand Teton (13,776 feet — almost as tall as Mt. Rainier) front and center.

The Tetons are spectacular, I’ll give them that, but they strike me as a bit — aloof. It’s hard to get out in them without doing a lot more hiking than I’m capable of. I stopped along the roadside to take pictures and to look at wildflowers (which were everywhere), and then at the visitor center at Moose, which was fun. Then I drove out to Jenny Lake and decided on a whim to take a boat ride across the lake to a trailhead that led to a waterfall.

The Moose at Moose -- no real meece, alas, not on this trip.
The Moose at Moose — no real meece, alas, not on this trip.
Scarlet gilia, which I've always thought of as a California wildflower before.
Scarlet gilia, which I’ve always thought of as a California wildflower before.
Another view of the Tetons.
Another view of the Tetons.

The boat ride was fun. It was also a great way to cool off from the 80+ degree temperatures. And the hike to the waterfall, albeit with a boatload of my new close friends, was good, too. So that was worth it.

Jenny Lake.
Jenny Lake.
From the boat on Jenny Lake.
From the boat on Jenny Lake.
Hidden Falls, approximately 100 feet tall.
Hidden Falls, approximately 100 feet tall.
Waiting for the boat to go back across Jenny Lake.
Waiting for the boat to go back across Jenny Lake.

After the ride back, though, it was getting late, and I took what was supposed to be a short cut but turned out to be a goat trail back to Teton Village.

And I ended my day by scaring the bejeebies out of myself. There was this gondola, you see. It was free in the evenings. I thought it would be like the gondola at Crystal Mountain here in Washington state, which is a pleasant little ride. This was not a pleasant little ride. It turned out to be about three times as long and three times as steep, and by the time I got to the top, I was a gibbering idiot (I don’t do manmade heights, at least not ones like these). If you want to see what the view from the top looks like, click here. I left my camera in the car.

I almost couldn’t make myself ride it back down again, but a group with a baby(!) got in the gondola with me, and that happy little baby was a great distraction. Thank goodness. I’m not sure I’d have made it down sane without him!

And that was more than enough for one day.

more earthquakes in Yellowstone

This article from my local news station, located in Seattle, talks about recent swarms of earthquakes in Yellowstone.  Earthquake swarms aren’t all that unusual there, but what fascinated me was the last three paragraphs:

“Smith traced the three recent earthquake swarms to the Hebgen Lake quake [in 1959 — my time traveling hero’s earthquake].

‘These are a really related,’ he said.

‘We think that much of the seismicity is still aftershocks from that event in 1959. It can go on for hundreds of years.'”

 

Three weeks ago, Days 17 and 18

 And home again, home again, AKA bombing home on the Interstate.

It takes about a day and a half for me to get home from Yellowstone.  A very long day and a half, but still.  I left my cabin at Old Faithful early in the morning, feeling wistful as I always do, and comforting myself with the thought that I will be back.  At the rate things are going, I’m not sure when my next visit will be, but return visits will remain inevitable until I become too decrepit to travel.  A long time in the future, I hope.

I did not make any more stops in the park, as I hoped to get as far as Spokane that day, which is less than ten miles shy of 500 miles.  I did make two stops in West Yellowstone, one for just enough gas to get me to the Interstate, where it’s about thirty cents a gallon cheaper than in West, and the other at the hostel to pick up the wristwatch I had inadvertently left there two days before.  Fortunately, the cleaning staff had found it and set it aside for me.  And, I discovered later, sent me an email to let me know they had it.

After that, well, Kestrel and I could probably drive this route in our sleep.  North out of West to Hwy. 287, which runs along Hebgen Lake to Earthquake Lake, the site of the landslide caused by the earthquake I’ve been nattering on about for the last two weeks.  Up and over the natural dam, and downstream along the Madison River, past the Gallatin Mountains and through the little town of Ennis, which makes a great deal of its living from the fly fishermen who flock to the Madison every year. 

And on north.  It takes about three hours to get from Old Faithful to I-90, headed westbound.  From Old Faithful to Livingston is only about two hours, give or take an animal jam in the park, but that puts you an hour and half east from where 287 eventually debouches, so it’s not a time-saver that way.

Once past Ennis, the land opens up and the mountains draw back, but after I landed back on I-90 it wasn’t all that far to my last crossing of the Continental Divide on this trip, at Homestake Pass, then Butte, where my great long lasso of a trip reached its knot and I was back on highway I’d already traveled this trip.  I stopped in Butte for lunch and gas, then let Kestrel really start eating up the miles. 

It was about the middle of the afternoon, somewhere along about Missoula, I think, that I started thinking, why don’t I just keep going?  Theoretically, if I drove straight through (something I have never done in all my Yellowstone trips), I could make it home before midnight. 

I debated the idea for miles.  All the way through the last 100 miles of Montana and the 60 or so miles across Idaho as far as Coeur d’Alene, where, in spite of the fact that I still had over a quarter of a tank of gas, I stopped to get more because I knew the price would jump forty cents a gallon as soon as I crossed the state line into Washington.  However, the moment I climbed out of the car, I knew I wasn’t going to do it.  One of the odd things about spending the entire day making miles is that I tend to not realize how tired I am until I actually stop.  So I resigned myself to that one last night on the road.

I crashed and burned in a little mom and pop motel out by Spokane International Airport, and got up and out at the crack of dawn the next morning.  I was pretty much sick of breakfast bars by that point, so I decided I would see what the little town of Ritzville, which is the next wide spot in the road after Spokane, had in the way of a diner.  My mouth was set for pancakes.  I did find some, or, rather one enormous one after the waitress told me two would be overload, bless her, but only after giving myself the grand tour of the entire town.  It was worth it, though. 

Back on the highway, I stopped at a rest area to clean up, then took a glance to the west and did a doubletake.  Was that Mt. Rainier?  Surely not, I was still too far east.  I fetched my binoculars and stared again.  Lo and behold.  Home.

You see, I have this theory.  My theory is that there are place-oriented people and there are people-oriented people (kind of like the way there are introverts and extroverts). I am a very strongly place-oriented person, which is a good thing because a) I’m really bad at marriage, having tried twice and failed both times, and b) my blood relations are scattered all to hell and gone in places I wouldn’t live in on a bet.  I was born in New Orleans and grew up in LA, Denver, and San Franscisco (my father was an engineer, which is the next thing to being military for getting transferred regularly), so it’s not like I have a hometown, either.

But home is the Pacific Northwest, and in particular, my corner of western Washington, where I’ve lived for the last almost twenty years. I moved to Oregon in my mid-twenties and loved it, but then I made the mistake of falling in love with a Midwesterner who hoodwinked me into moving to Ohio.  He claimed that we’d only be there long enough for him to finish grad school before we moved back to Oregon. Then he got within two hours’ drive of his seven brothers and sisters and I never did pry him loose.

I finally managed to finish grad school myself, leave him, and find a job in Tacoma, Washington. I remember driving over Snoqualmie Pass in tears because, dammit, I was home. Never mind that I’d never lived here before. It was just like the John Denver song, only a different part of the country. 

Anyway, I still had about two hundred miles to go, but I was home.  Much as I love traveling, and as you can see I really truly do, I love coming home almost as much.  Especially since this is where I get to come home to.

I hope you enjoyed my travelogue, and that you will stick around for more adventures. For one thing, I am in the process of adopting a pair of kittens, which ought to be good entertainment value.  And there are always new places to discover, even in the old familiar stomping grounds.  And beyond.

 

There. On the horizon just to the left of the yellow sign, that’s not a cloud, that’s Mt. Rainier.

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

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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