Post #50: Yellowstone

July 5, 2020

We woke up ready to leave. Ready in that everything was packed up so we could head out early. The Tetons are among the most majestic mountains we’d seen yet and we loved roving around the park. But it was time for the next adventure and the entrance to Yellowstone National Park was only an hour north. By 7:30 am we were on the road. 

Our intention (we try not to have plans) in Yellowstone was to see as much of the geothermal features as we could, and then spend time in the Yellowstone River canyon area. 

Our first stop was the West Thumb Overlook Loop Trail at Yellowstone Lake, where we followed a boardwalk-style path alongside enormous and colorful geothermal features. We were nearly the only visitors on the trail, perhaps because of our early arrival.

As we started down the boardwalk, we were immediately greeted by views of the thermal pools with Yellowstone Lake behind them.
Some of the thermal pools were very deep and crystal clear

The colors in the pools we learned come from cyanobacteria (the same thing that causes algae blooms in harbors and lakes) that can survive up to 167°F. The super clear/blue water we saw was actually at boiling temperature and apparently nothing can survive it – including people. At least 22 people have died over the years when they ignored the warnings to stay clear of Yellowstone’s thermal pools.

A steaming volcano on the shores of the lake
And an underwater one that changed the color of the water from vibrant green to a rich blue hue

We watched with amazement at what essentially was a volcano bubbling up on the lake’s shoreline, as well as a fully submerged one. 

Next, we headed to the area of the park where Old Faithful is, though we agreed we’d skip seeing the famous geyser itself and instead traverse the nearby Geyser Loop Trail. It had been many years, but we’d both seen it before and we definitely didn’t want to be around the likely crowds during Covid. We had timed our visit so we were in Yellowstone after the 4th of July and we arrived very early in the day, but we figured there would nonetheless be more tourists than we’d be comfortable around.

When we pulled into the enormous parking lot near Old Faithful, we were totally surprised to see plenty of parking available. Covid-19 apparently was keeping out the vast majority of the usual summer tourists, plus the lodge was closed and the park had prohibited the tour buses that normally arrive by the hundreds every day. 

As we strolled over to trailhead for the Geyser Loop Trail that started near the famous geyser, another thing that struck us was the near absence of foreign languages in the park because there were no international tourists at all. 

There may never be another summer when the trails and benches near Old Faithful are empty like this

Just as we were approaching the trailhead, we saw a sign indicating that Old Faithful was due to erupt in a few minutes. We thought we might as well watch it in action, especially since there were light crowds. 

Bison have been walking around Old Faithful for centuries

Right on time Old Faithful went off, just as a bison was slowly and nonchalantly walking in front of it. There’s not much that perturbs bison (though they attack more people in Yellowstone than bears do, nearly always because people get too close to them for a great photo).

As we began our way around the three-mile Geyser Loop Trail, once again our timing was perfect. The Grand Geyser is the tallest and often considered to be the most spectacular of the predicted geysers—far surpassing the size of Old Faithful. Typically, visitors don’t see it because the eruptions occur during a four-hour window—meaning waiting to see it could take half the day, but it erupted just as we walked by it. The Grand Geyser was a triple geyser with three going off at once all in different directions and was even more impressive than its famous cousin.

Steam percolated from a river along the trail
Grazing bison near the geysers

We continued our way around the loop, seeing the clear pools of boiling water (water boils at 199°F at 8,000 feet, where most of the geysers are), steaming pools with multicolored water, and at least a dozen more geysers.

It was a fascinating walk along the raised boardwalk and there was evidence everywhere of bison hanging around the pools, which they—unlike humans—are allowed to do.

The Castle geyser looked like an enormous steaming sandcastle
The Morning Glory pool's colors had the intensity of Day Glo Markers

One of the geysers looked like a castle but erupted irregularly and we didn’t see it go off. The Morning Glory pool was round and multicolored like its namesake flower. 

After the Geyser Loop Trail, we had a picnic lunch and then meandered north through the massive park, stopping whenever we saw something of interest along the way. 

Without the usual Yellowstone crowds, there were no delays on the roads, even when a few cars stopped from time to time to view wildlife.

Fields of grazing bison could be found throughout the park
Field of Artists Paintpots as seen from the trail above
Milky blue "paintpots"

We stopped at a pull-off that brought us to a one-mile trail up a hillside leading to a view of Artists Paintpots with its many colored hydrothermal pools and rivulets. Near the end of the trail there were bubbling plaster-colored mud pots, which were oddly satisfying to watch as they slowly oozed and burped.

We made our way to the Canyon Campground where we had a reservation, which was a good thing because it was otherwise full. 

We had a sunny and relatively private campsite surrounded by lodgepole pines.


Inspiration Point
View looking east along the canyon from the north rim

 After settling in, we drove a short way to a paved trail leading to Inspiration Point on the north rim of the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, which was ridiculously beautiful. 

We planned a long hike for the next day along the south rim of the canyon as well as a hike down to the rushing Yellowstone River hundreds of feet below. We decided an early hike the next day would be wise so we would have as much solitude as possible on the trail. The forecast was for low 40’s by morning and we prepped the campsite so we could leave as soon as we woke.

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