<< Day 55: Devil's Tower to Cody, Wyoming | Day 57: Yellowstone National Park (Yellowstone Lake) >>
Yellowstone National Park (Old Faithful)
This morning we would be driving about 120 miles to Yellowstone Park, with an overnight stay at the historic Old Faithful Inn. Yes, we would be leaving the comfort of our RV to stay in a hotel—one that was right next to the famous Old Faithful geyser. The nearest campground to Old Faithful was 16 miles away. As a special treat, we wanted to stay right in the midst of the geyser area.
Before we headed off this morning, the children had fun playing with the large chess set at the campground.
We also added the state of Wyoming to our traveling map.
On our way out of Cody, we passed by the Buffalo Bill Center. In addition to the Buffalo Bill Museum (which we had breezed through yesterday near closing time), the Center contains four other museums: the Cody Firearms Museum, the Whitney Gallery of Western Art, the Plains Indian Museum, and the Draper Museum of Natural History.
We stopped by the ice cream store for Genevieve to use the prize coupon that she had received from her new friend at the rodeo last night. She ordered a small treat that she shared with her brother.
Nearby was an outdoor sculpture garden.
We passed by a sign that read “Colter’s Hell Trail,” with some historical markers next to it.
The sign marks a short walking trail named after John Colter, who was a Lewis & Clark Expedition member. Colter returned to this area in 1807 and noticed some bubbling mudpots, shooting geysers, and steaming pools of water along the nearby Shoshone River. When he tried to describe what he had seen, people didn’t believe him and jokingly referred to this area as "Colter's Hell." Over the years, the geothermal activity in the area has diminished and is virtually nonexistent today.
“Stampede Park,” the stadium where we had watched the rodeo last night, looked deserted from a distance:
However, up close we could see a motorcycle training class in the parking lot, with riders navigating through a course outlined in cones. (Perhaps it was a Motorcycle Safety Foundation “MSF” class—the lessons are invaluable, and helped me learn how to ride years ago in San Francisco.)
Our road west snaked along the Shoshone River, through a narrow canyon.
After three tunnels in a row, with the last being the longest, . . .
. . . we emerged next to the Buffalo Bill dam and visitor’s center.
The Buffalo Bill reservoir spread out on our left:
We were now driving through Wapiti Valley, which stretched from Cody to the eastern entrance of Yellowstone National Park. President Theodore Roosevelt supposedly called this area “the most scenic 50 miles in America.”
On our left, we passed a scattering of houses and small farms/ranches against the backdrop of mountains.
We couldn’t figure out if this was a creatively designed home or an old mining structure. It looked like something that one might see in a spooky film.
We gawked at a humongous pile of skulls and antlers, wondering, "Is it . . . art?"
We hoped that the white horse below was merely stretched out enjoying the sun:
Erosion of the volcanic buttes had created some wonderful shapes.
This hill-top formation resembled a group of figures:
Here, a puzzle piece appeared to be missing:
The road then wandered through the Shoshone National Forest. There were many patches of dead trees, which appeared to be from some form of disease and not a fire.
Welcome to Yellowstone National Park!
Yellowstone was the world's first national park, established in 1872. It covers 2 million acres of diverse geological territory—forests, lakes, geysers, hot springs, waterfalls, canyons, and countless breathtaking vistas. The majority of park land sits inside of a gigantic caldera measuring more than 45 by 30 miles in size; this caldera was formed by the last of three enormous volcanic explosions that occurred 2 million to 640,000 years ago.
Different portions of the park have unique “personalities.” The park literature divides Yellowstone into five distinct zones or “countries”—Geyser Country (with Old Faithful and many other geyser basins), Lake Country (with the vast Yellowstone Lake), Canyon Country (with the “Grand Canyon” of Yellowstone, and beautiful waterfalls), Roosevelt Country (with wide stretches of grassland, which make for easier animal-viewing), and Mammoth Country (with an array of beautiful, cascading hot springs). During our 3 ½ days here, we would be sleeping in a different zone each night, as well as doing a lot of hiking and exploring in all five areas.
Our first stop would be in Geyser Country, located in the south-western portion of the park. To get there from the east entrance, we needed to drive through the tall Absaroka mountain range (in Canyon Country) and along the edges of Yellowstone Lake (in Lake Country).
Even in August, there was still snow on top of the some of the peaks.
Our road was carved into the mountainside.
The rock wall to our right had a few waterfalls rushing down the side.
The surrounding forests still showed evidence of the massive fires that burned 1.2 million acres in 1988.
Although we were visiting in peak season (Yellowstone receives over 3 million visitors each year), the traffic was light.
We wound our way down the mountain until we reached Yellowstone Lake.
We decided that this was a perfect spot for a picnic lunch.
This crow decided to come and chat with us during while we were eating (but he didn’t convince us to give him any food).
The children had fun exploring along the water's edge.
Sebastian, Chris, and Genevieve:
The colorful wildflowers were stunning:
In the parking lot, we met Laurie and Keena, two women on motorcycles who had ridden from Rapid City to escape the hordes of bikers there during the annual Sturgis rally.
Both had participated in the rally over the past 10 years and were now seeking a bit of scenic, crowd-free riding. They said that they would probably return for the last day or two of the rally (when the venders are ready and willing to bargain).
We ended up behind them on the road to Old Faithful.
This section of the road crosses the Continental Divide twice. Laurie and Keena stopped at the first Continental Divide marker, which identified our elevation as 8,391 feet.
We crossed the Continental Divide again at an elevation of 8,262 feet.
Nearby was a peaceful pond full of lily pads.
Approaching the Old Faithful Inn.
We parked in front of the Inn and immediately headed for the Old Faithful geyser. Yellowstone has approximately 500 geysers, and some of the eruptions are even more spectacular than Old Faithful. However, Old Faithful is the most famous, primarily due to its regularity and size—it blows about every 90 minutes (although the time span between eruptions can be 35 minutes to 2 hours).
Old Faithful was quiet when we arrived.
However, the few benches around the edges of the viewing area were almost full, so we figured that we would get to see an explosion soon. The woman next to us said that the eruption was predicted to start at any time from 5 to 20 minutes from now. The children were excited but very patient.
About 10 minutes later, we started to see some small spurting emissions that gradually grew in intensity. Wow!
I was thrilled!
After we had watched the last gush fly into the air, we walked over to the Old Faithful Inn and registered.
The woman behind the counter was a new worker, and the check-in process took a long time. She carefully printed out our reservations for the other two places in the park, and confirmed each of our scheduled activities (conferring several times with her coworkers). She had recently arrived from China. We later learned that the company that runs the hotels and restaurants at Yellowstone has an arrangement with an organization that authorizes Chinese workers (who pay a fee) to come over and do seasonal work in the United States.
Old Faithful Inn was gorgeous! It was built in 1904 has an abundance of charm. The lobby was open to the floors above, with beautiful wooden beams made from lodge pole pines. Our rooms were on the third floor.
Ben and I were sharing a small room with the children, and Chris had a separate room across the hall. The rooms were the same price, although they differed greatly in views. We were fortunate enough to have been given a room with an expansive view of the geyser basin in front of the hotel (we couldn’t see Old Faithful, which is on the side of the hotel, but that was fine). Chris had a view of the back parking lot (along with the noisy sound of machines whirring on the rooftop). Each room had a sink, and the common bathroom and showers were down the hall. Bathrobes were also provided.
After settling in, Ben and I relaxed a bit in our room with the kids.
Then Chris, Genevieve and I decided to go for a long walk through the geyser area near the hotel, while Ben and Sebastian rested. Dark clouds had invaded the sky, and we could feel the rain coming our way. Chris and Genevieve (and those ominous clouds):
As we were looking at the map at the trailhead for Upper Geyser Basin, we ran into Laurie and Keena again. Keena joked, “I think you’re following us!”
As we started down the trail, we could see the small mound that was “Beehive Geyser” across the stream.
The trail consists of a raised wooden walkway, and there are repeated warnings for all visitors to stay on the paths.
A number of visitors have wandered off the raised platforms in the past and have gotten seriously burned (and even died) from the pools of scalding water.
Hot molten rock is a mere 3 to 8 miles below the earth’s surface in this area. Rainwater gets absorbed into the porous volcanic rock and sinks down toward the molten rock, which heats the water to temperatures in excess of the boiling point. The water is under tremendous pressure and seeks an escape back upward through rock channels, forming boiling springs or geyser basins on the surface.
In “Chinese Spring,” you can see the bubbles (on the right), indicating a boiling temperature:
The minerals and microscopic organisms in the water cause streaks of rich color against the rocks.
“Blue Star Spring” was indeed a vivid blue, with clear water that revealed the rocks and divots in the interior cavity.
A nearby sign warned that it was illegal to throw coins or rocks into any of the springs or geysers. The thrown objects become coated with silica and can eventually plug and kill the springs or geysers. The area already contained a number of dry holes where an active geothermal feature used to exist.
We looked over to our right and noticed a stream of run-off flowing from a small hill. It took a few moments to realize that we were looking at the backside of Old Faithful!
From the gathering crowds that we could see on the other side, we knew that Old Faithful was due to blow soon. Sure enough! A wait of five minutes was rewarded with another magnificent show.
The dark clouds on the right contrasted sharply with the remnants of blue sky.
The run off from Old Faithful created a small waterfall.
As we continued on our walk, the cold wind started blowing—brrrrrrrr! Then the raindrops started. Genevieve tucked her arms into her short sleeved shirt to keep warm.
Occasionally, we would wind up in a spot where the strong wind would be blowing a geyser’s steam onto the path—ahhh, warmth! (You can see some steam blowing in the background of this photo.)
The only downside was that the steam reeked of sulphur (think of “rotting eggs”), so we had to either hold our breath or just breathe the minimal possible while basking in the heat.
From this photo of Chris, you can see the narrow plank path that cuts through the hot geysers and springs—one false step, and . . . .
The orange patterns were beautiful.
Many of the geyser/spring names were directly connected to their shapes or appearances.
Part of the “Doublet Pool.”
This was the Arum Geyser; “arum” is Latin for gold, and the geyser was named after the color of the iron oxide deposits that line the rim of the spout hole. The geyser erupts every 2.5 to 5 hours, with water reaching heights of up to 65 feet; however, it remained completely calm during our viewing.
The “Ear Spring”:
The “Heart Spring”:
“Beehive Geyser” has a four foot cone that resembles an old-fashioned beehive. It is considered one of the most impressive geysers in Yellowstone, as the cone acts as a nozzle that shoots steam and water 200 feet in the air. The time between eruptions can range from 10 hours to 5 days. (We would be fortunate enough to witness one of these powerful eruptions tomorrow.)
The “Anemone Geyser”:
We could see the “Castle Geyser” in the distance:
Here is the “Lion Geyser Group,” which consists of four separate geysers: Little Cub, Lioness, Big Cub, and Lion (which has largest cone). The name comes from the loud roaring sounds that are emitted prior to an eruption.
This large spring had crystal clear water that allowed us to see the underlying tunnel.
The rain had stopped by the end of our walk, and we were starting to warm up again.
The heat and sulphur obviously affected the shrubs and trees in the geyser area. This dried tree had beautiful little seed pods that looked like flowers.
This small chipmunk was hanging out beside the walkway. It was not shy of people and hopped right up to say hello.
After our walk, we sat in the comfortable chairs overlooking the lobby below.
We continued to ogle the magnificent woodwork found throughout the hotel.
When we booked our rooms, we had made dinner reservations for tonight at the Inn’s restaurant. The food was excellent, and so was the service. Here is Sebastian telling a story to Chris during dinner:
And here are Sebastian and Ben sharing a conversation at the table:
(We often hear the stereotype of how “boys are not as talkative as girls.” That has just not been our experience with Sebastian, who never ceases to amaze me with the creative ideas and stories that flow from his lips.)
After dinner, we walked out onto the Inn’s large upper porch, where Old Faithful was steaming in the background.
Our room window is in the far right corner of this photo (above the larger windows), taken from the hotel porch:
We went back to our rooms after dinner. Chris received quite a shock when she opened her door and found a man stretched out on her bed. I’m not talking “beefcake.” He was an ordinary guy in his 50’s, and his teenage son was sitting out in the hallway playing a handheld video game device. We headed downstairs to the front desk and discovered that the man actually held a reservation for the same room number at the "Old Faithful Lodge," which is a newer hotel that is separate from the historic "Old Faithful Inn." He had been checked into Chris’s room by the new worker from China, who had gotten confused with the different hotel codes. Although Chris ended up getting a free room for the night, she had to jump through quite a few hoops to get things resolved.
We decided to go for a walk outside while the housekeepers cleaned Chris’s room.
On the way out, we admired the brilliant color and style of the Inn’s front doors.
Genevieve brought her pencil and Jr. Ranger booklet on the walk so that she could write down important information.
The sun was setting.
We walked a short distance to “Castle Geyser,” which has the largest cone in the park.
Castle Geyser is estimated to be thousands of years old (compared to Old Faithful, which is only several hundred years old). We learned that it was currently scheduled to erupt any time within the next five hours. We sat on a bench across from the geyser and waited, watching the steam waft upwards and the moon rise over the cone.
We decided to walk around and view some other geysers and springs while there was still light.
Nearby was “Shield Spring”:
In the fading light, we could still see the small continual fountain from “Sawmill Geyser”:
Some other sights:
Castle Geyser was still gently steaming as we quietly headed back to our rooms.
<< Day 55: Devil's Tower to Cody, Wyoming | Day 57: Yellowstone National Park (Yellowstone Lake) >>
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