Yellowstone takes the breath away. We drove into Yellowstone through the West Entrance from Twin Falls navigating a mixture of rain, sleet and snow. By the time we reached the Canyon Lodge about 4 pm the snow had begun to stick to the road and we were happy to be someplace for the night.
We only had one day in Yellowstone so we made the most of it, even though it was cold and snowy. Yellowstone is basically one big road trip, but most of the “must see” tourist sights lie along the highway between Canyon Lodge and Old Faithful. This 40 mile stretch of highway is not hard to drive, but beware of the traffic, wildlife and people wandering around with cameras raised. Even though cold and snowy we were surprised by the number of people at each sight along the way.
I suggest studying the Yellowstone Guide/Map and plan your stops ahead of time.
Our first stop was the Artist’s Paintpots just past Norris Conner going toward Madison. It was still early and the snow was still fresh, and very wet. The trail from the parking lot to the basin was well marked but wet, a mixture of water puddles and snow, which made for difficult going. The trail base was firm so were not walking in mud. The actual basin had a wooden walk around most of the steaming pools. Unfortunately there was not a lot of color involved probably due to the overcast gray sky. It was interesting, but I’m not sure it was worth our feet getting wet.
Next stop was Gibbon Falls. The parking lot was perfect, an asphalt base with plenty of room. The trail along the Gibbon River for about 1,200 feet was asphalt with cut outs leaning out to the river and great views of the falls up river and the plain stretching down river. I noted we were at 7,140feet above sea level, but a warm 34 degrees with the sun breaking through the overcast and no wind. At 84 feet, the falls is actually more of a glorified rapids than a steep, high falls. It is nonetheless well worth the stop and good for several pictures.
Monument Geyser Basin is like nothing else. We followed the walkway out across the scalded earth with steam rising from the pools and water flowing on either side of the boardwalk leaving multicolored sediments in its wake. Monument Geyser Basin was the first truly sprawling geyser basin we had walked through and I can see why early visitors to the area had dubbed it with the biblical vision of what Hell must look like.
I’m sure this comparison was reinforced by the bubbling mud of the Red Spouter, a smoldering steaming pool of red mud which boiled and gurgled and jumped at the edges of its cauldron.
Our next stop was Fountain Flat Drive for a look at the buffalo. There were two small herds. Both herds were on the other side of the Fairy Creek and too far away for a good picture but it was inspiring to stand in their presence. To think we came so close to exterminating these fascinating beasts 100 years ago. While they are making a come back, especially as a food source low in fat and high in flavor, it is nice to know there still a few roaming unfettered in the wild.
From Fountain Flat Drive we drove straight to the Old Faithful Inn. We had read it was the best restaurant in the park. The day before, one of the guests at Canyon Lodge had told us it was the best buffet around. We arrived about 11:30 and were seated at a table by the window where we could watch it snow. The buffet had a well stocked salad bar, the normal pasta, beans, potatoes and rice, with buffalo sausages, pulled bar-b-que pork, and the best roasted trout I have ever eaten.
I had the buffet to myself as I made a nice fresh salad. When I went back for my main course of pulled pork, one sausage, and two pieces of the trout there a half dozen people preparing their plates. Fifteen minutes later when I tried to sneak a couple more pieces of the trout, the counter was packed with people, so I slipped a desert dish from the end of the counter and reached between two people for the fish. When we left, the line stretched around the corner and into the dining hall with about 50 people waiting to reach the counter. The dining room had gone from empty when we arrived to 200 plus people seated at tables.
Old Faithful was not due for about 40 minutes, which gave us time to wander the gift shops at the Inn and the Visitor Center. We went out to the Old Faithful guardrail 10 minutes before the projected eruption time. By the projected eruption time there must have been a couple of thousand people standing at the railing encircling the geyser. Four minutes after the projected time, Old Faithful rose up into the air to the cheers of the visitors and the click of camera shutters.
A quick look through the gift shops of the two General Stores, some shopping through the deli section for tonight’s dinner, and a fill up a the Sinclair station. I have to say I was surprised, first by the price of the gasoline and second by the coonskin cap.
The gasoline was only $.10 more than what we had paid in Twin Falls and the coonskin cap, which actually fit, was only $10.
We had been talking about something to keep my ears warm and the cap was perfect. My Dad had bought me a coonskin cap when I was 10 years old and I wore it every Saturday morning as we watched Davy Crockett. Good Memories!
There was another ‘coonskin cap effect’. Every man of a certain age who walked past while I was wearing the cap smiled, gave me a fist bump or made a comment about Davy Crocket or Daniel Boone.
Since retirement, I’m enjoying returning to the things I enjoyed before I had to enter the world of adults and leave childish things behind. Second childhoods are great.
On our return to the Canyon Lodge, our first stop was a quick look at Biscuit Basin and it’s steaming pools. The wind was picking up and we were getting tired so after a quick look at the steaming pools we headed for Midway Geyser Basin.
I could say Midway was a disappointment but it is more complicated than that. We had seen the pictures of Midway, especially the spectacular Grand Prismatic Spring with it’s rich blue color and surrounding multicolored bacteria colonies. The spring was there with runoff water and we could see the bacteria colonies along the boardwalk, but the spring was hidden in a cloud of swirling mist.
The sight was impressive with the steam rising high into the air but was so thick we could only get a sense of the pool. The same could be said for the Excelsior Geyser, the Opal Pool and the Turquoise Pool. Waiting patiently, we were able to get a few pictures of the pools when the wind blew enough steam away to glimpse the water.
Next, was one of the high points of the day with a turn through Firehole Lake Drive. The bison were right beside the road. We made our way along the road through the parked cars, pickups and campers until we reached a spot where the edge of the herd was only an arms reach from the car. The bison strolled casually beside the asphalt, indifferent to our existence.
We finished the Firehole Lake Drive through the Lower Geyser Basin. (Upper Geyser Basin is to the east of the Old Faithful Inn/Old Faithful Geyser and as we walked from Old Faithful to the parking lot we saw a couple very impressive geysers spraying into the air.) Again the steam blanketed visibility of the boiling pools, but to see, whole valleys filled with boiling water is impressive.
Our last stop was actually three stops as we turned just before Canyon Village and drove the North Rim Drive. Within a quarter mile we stopped at the Brink of Lower Falls for an incredible view of the Yellowstone River plunging over the falls. (There is a trail which drops 600 feet down to the level of the river and falls.)
At Lookout Point we got a picture of the falls plunging to the canyon floor. This is the picture normally seen on the Yellowstone postcards and promotional materials.
Finally we stopped at the Grand View. Grand View exactly describes the vista. From this vantage point there are sweeping panoramas up and down the canyon. The view left me speechless. It is nearly impossible to describe the rock formations of red, gold, gray, yellow, blue, green and brown stone giving more of a texture than color to the canyon walls. At the bottom is the river, crashing against the canyon walls with white water energy, we saw a bright sparkling blue, with hints of green and purple swirling in the waters.
A mixture of humbleness, wonder, and excitement courses through me.
So ended our single day to see Yellowstone. This day of touring has given us just enough to whet the appetite.