Today’s planned walk has been postponed until tomorrow due to inclement weather. Although the sun was shining and we had blue skies here in Gardiner this morning the forecast for the area up around Canyon was not good and Greg, our host here at the Yellowstone Basin Inn, advised Mr L that tomorrow should be better weather and more suitable for this walk.
With plans changed we set out to drive up to Madison and then onto Old Faithful. Blue skies and sun rapidly changed to grey skies, wind and rain by the time we got up to Madison. At Madison you cross the boundary into the caldera which was formed after the third and most recent Yellowstone volcanic eruption 640,000 years ago. The caldera forms the central portion of the park and is an area 35 x 45 miles which forms a plateau with the Yellowstone hot spot underneath. From Madison we took a detour off the main mountain road onto Firehole Canyon Drive where there were spectacular views of the canyon and waterfall. The road from Madison up to Old Faithful is littered with geysers and hot springs at places called Lower Geyser Basin, Midway Geyser Basin and Upper Geyser Basin. Old Faithful herself is up at the Upper Geyser Basin. As an aside, how do you say geyser? Is it pronounced as ‘guyzer’ as the Americans say or is it ‘geezer’ as Mr L says it?
We arrived at Old Faithful with about 20 minutes to spare before the next eruption – Old Faithful does her thing approximately every 90 minutes – good and punctual to keep the many tourists who flock to the area happy! The Old Faithful Inn was impressive but was stuffed full of tourists as was the whole area around Old Faithful. We stood in the bitterly cold wind to watch the 1.01pm eruption.
Once she got going it was impressive but much of the water eruption was hidden in the steam produced by the temperature differential between very hot water and cold air temperature. Understandably, the eruption is more impressive in the summer months. It was good to see Old Faithful but there are many more impressive and spectacular sights in Yellowstone in our opinion. The Norris Geyser Basin where we were yesterday is much more varied and impressive.
With the weather closing in and visibility rapidly reducing we decided there was little point doing the 1 mile walk around the other geysers at Upper Geyser Basin so we headed off towards West Thumb as Mr L was keen to see Yellowstone Lake. Between Old Faithful and West Thumb we climbed to an altitude of 8,391 feet and crossed the continental divide twice. The drive across to West Thumb and then up the west side of Yellowstone Lake was grim! Grey skies, grey water and mountains obliterated by the falling snow meant we could see little, there was no point taking any photos as all they would be is grey! The temperature was dropping rapidly and by now was 34F/1C with snow settling on the roads, so it was time to head back down as rapidly as possible before we got stuck with even more horrid driving conditions. Mr L did brilliantly but found it hard work driving in such unpleasant conditions, and apparently having Mrs L sitting next to him in the car gripping on for grim death does not relax him either!! We did make a brief stop at the Sulphur Cauldron to take some quick photos and watch mud bubbling!.
Once we got back to Norris and were heading homewards towards Mammoth the weather improved considerably and by the time we got back to Gardiner the sun was shining, skies were blue and the temperature was back up to 48F – Yellowstone is an area of many microclimates.
Much of the scenery from Maddison round to West Thumb is lodgepole pine forest with the occasional splash of yellow from the bright yellow autumn colours of the aspen trees. The photo here does not really do the view justice.
The lodgepole pines are hugely tall straight trees that need forest wild fires to happen in order to maintain healthy tree populations of diverse ages. The cones from these pines need exposure to high temperatures e.g from forest fires to be able to open and release their seeds and thus start the next generation of trees. Seeing the tall burnt trunks of old trees with new little trees growing at their bases is an amazing sight and I hope to get a photo of that tomorrow.
Wildlife seen today consisted of: pronghorn, moose, mule deer, elk, bison, coyote (spotted by me on the way out of the park), and nearly another bear sighting! There had obviously been a sighting of a grizzly bear near where we saw her yesterday as there were loads of people with cameras with enormous lenses plus a park ranger with bear spray at the ready trying to control the people.
Dinner tonight was back at Cowboys with a very nice glass of their Purple Cowboy Merlot to go with it. News just in means we are not sure what will happen tomorrow as the US Government has now shut down all public services which includes the parks…………