Thursday, July 19, 2012

Yellowstone National Park - Day 1

Wednesday July 11th

I went to bed last night shortly after 9:00pm and woke up cold a couple of times during the night.  The first time, I put on warmer clothes and the second time, I broke out the "zero degree" sleeping bag and used it as a comforter.  I woke up for the day at 5:50am to 48F outside.

Since I had a shower to start the day Tuesday, I opted to by-pass using my shower pass at Grant Village in order to head out and get a early start on wildlife viewing and my planned drive around the lower loop of the Yellowstone Park Road.  

For those who are not familiar with Yellowstone, you can drive the entire park road in your personal vehicle.  There are limitations on RVs and vehicles that are towing trailers and/or boats but for the most part, visitors have full access to most of the most popular attraction areas within the park.  The road that covers the park is a figure eight, comprised of two loops with numerous spur roads that create the entrances and exits of the park.

The lower loop is the larger of the two, and includes much of the geyser area as well as the popular Hayden Valley known for its large bison herds, grizzly bears and the canyon wolf pack.  It also runs along the Yellowstone River and Yellowstone Lake. Grant Village and the campground I stayed at Tuesday night is at the southernmost end of this lower loop, so it provided for a great start to my first day in Yellowstone.

As I left the Grant Village area, there were elk everywhere; all females with young.  Further on down the road, there were three large bull elk with quite impressive racks.  I was fortunate to be able to stop and park while shooting photos of both groups of animals.

It was a lovely morning, complete with a wonderful sunrise over Yellowstone Lake.  The cold air temperatures provided enough of a differential to create a fog over many of the geothermal areas around West Thumb Geyser Basin and Mud Volcano.

I did stop at the Mud Volcano parking area to use the bathroom.  Imagine my surprise when I stepped out and saw a huge bison less than 10 or 15 feet away.  I waited for him to move on further behind the rails protecting the boardwalk, before exiting . . . and of course snapping his photo! 

It wasn't much further to Hayden Valley and my first official bison road jam.  There were mostly females and their young (known affectionately as "red doggies") on both sides of the road, as well as crossing or walking right down the middle of the road.

Their young are quite adorable looking, but messing with momma is not a wise choice.

It was interesting watching a couple of bulls joust, testing themselves as rut season is just around the corner.  They were in the middle of the road, locking horns and providing entertainment to those who stopped to give them right-of-way.

I moved on through the traffic jam continuing my drive north towards Canyon Village where I was hoping to be able to check in early for that evening's camp reservation.  Before arriving there, however, I did make a stop and got out to walk the short, easy trail to the lookout at the Yellowstone River Canyon at Artist's Point.  A bus had just been there, but was loading to head on, so there was no crowd.  Further on down the road, however, at the next walking trail, there were a lot of people but I didn't allow that to deter my hiking up to the overlook point which provided a greater view of the entire canyon area.  It was well worth the effort!

At Canyon Village, I was able to check into my campsite and obtain my shower card for the day so I went ahead and took a shower.  With the morning temps now up around 60F, it was warm enough for me to be out and about with wet hair.  The shower felt good and I was now refreshed to continue on about my day.

It was here that I first ran into a family from a city about 10 minutes from where we live.  Over the course of the next few days, I passed them or parked by them several times.  Their vehicle was especially notable as they had two handmade kayaks on their roof.  They would not be the only visitors I'd run into from the Milwaukee area on this trip.

My drive next took me across to Norris Geyser Basin.  This is a very nice area of geysers and hot springs.  Unfortunately with my asthma, I was unable to do much of the walking around the boardwalk areas leading up and around several of the geysers or out into the area known as the Porcelain Basin largely due to the high sulfuric content in much of the area.

I did walk out to the overlook of Porcelain Basin and sat upwind from one particularly stinky vent.  The view was lovely.  From there I walked back through the museum and hiked the quarter mile boardwalk up to the Steamboat Geyser.  While it is known for very large and unpredictable eruptions, all that I saw in my hour or so there were several spurting eruptions that only lasted 15 to 30 seconds, launching water upwards perhaps 10 to 15 feet in the air.  Still it was fun to watch it percolate and gurgle as it sputtered and steamed.

On the way up to Steamboat Geyser, the pathway takes you by the Emerald Spring, another rather smelly area.  At least with the gentle breezes, it was possible to find a place to stand out of the air current containing the sulfur smells.

Heading out of the Norris Junction area I found a small picnic area along the Gibbon River where I fixed a sandwich and enjoyed my lunch.  There were children playing in the water and a fly fisherman upstream who looked to only be in ankle deep.  Several minutes later, a large bull elk was seen grazing.

Mobs of people stopped and went river-side to photograph the beautiful animal.  As with the other elk I had seen in the park, he appeared to be healthy.

Back on the loop still heading counterclockwise, my next diversion was the Firehole Lake Drive, home to what is touted as one of the most spectacular geysers in the park - The Great Fountain Geyser.  Unfortunately for me, while the posted eruption schedule had it down as a 10:30am to 2:50pm prediction, I arrived at around 1:00pm and waited with many others (some who had been there since noon) . . . only to learn when the ranger came through at 3:00pm that it had already gone off around 11:30 that morning.  Being on an approximate 12 hour cycle, it would not be expected until sometime around midnight, give or take two hours.

While in the area, however, I did get to see (and photograph) the White Cone Geyser which seemed to be a regular twice an hour sort of event, with its brief (under three minute) eruptions that blasted around 20 or 30 feet in the air.  This photo was my view looking across the Great Fountain Geyser over to the erupting White Cone Geyser.

This is a photo of the Firehole Spring which could be seen bubbling continuously.  A note about the Firehole Lake Drive, RVs and vehicles towing are not permitted as the road is narrow and one-way, with lots of congestion especially around the Great Fountain Geyser and the Firehole Lake.
There is another one-way side road trip in this area worth mentioning - the Firehole Canyon Drive.  The short (less than 30 minute) ride meanders along the river with a nice lookout below the Firehole Falls.  Again, no RVs or towed vehicles.

My last stop along this major stretch of geyser locations, was the world famous Old Faithful area.  Having been more than 15 years since I was last here, I was surprised at the amount of development and traffic.  The visitor center and adjacent parking lots all appeared to be built since my last visit back in 1996.  My timing was such that I did get to take a bench seat and wait for Old Faithful's scheduled 4:19pm blast.  Pretty much right on schedule, she blew and blew and blew.  The children sitting in front of me kept encouraging it to go higher and faster.

After the eruption of Old Faithful, many left the area heading for their cars.  I took the time to call home since this was a known area of decent cell phone reception.  Even with my crummy SPRINT service, I was able to have a nice phone conversation with David.  The traffic jam out of the area was reminiscent of leaving Disney World at closing time.  It was miserable!

Heading back towards Canyon Village, it still seemed too early to go into my campground so I continued up towards the Tower area which had been a known black bear sighting area.  I once again got caught in a bison jam in Hayden Valley; spent some time watching one large bull cross the river.  The water was so deep, at one point all I could see was the top of his head and two horns.  Once on shore, he shook the water off, much like a dog would after a swim.

Before reaching Tower, I did come to a small bear jam of cars with people out trying to get a glimpse of the momma bear and her cub.  The cub could be seen high up in a tree, but the sow was up on the hillside really out of sight for most of the time.  One car stopped and the driver asked what we were looking at.  He proceeded to get out of the car and climb up the small hillside to get a look for himself.  He scrambled down quickly, reporting that "she was right there!"  Dumb @$$!

Because it was nearing dusk and the forest was dense, the lighting was not conducive to taking photos . . . not that they were really close or visible enough to get a clear, in focus photo.  Here is one of the cubs up in the tree, however.  Not the best, but you get the idea.

After the excitement of seeing my first bears, I figured it was about time to head back to camp.  When I got to Canyon Village, I realized I had not eaten since around noontime and I was pretty hungry.  With darkness coming, I didn't much feel like fumbling around to make a sandwich so I stopped in at the Canyon Soda Fountain for a burger.

I have to say, it was not bad.  Actually it was very good and reasonably priced ($8.05 for a burger & fries).  Where they would get you, however, was on the $4.95 (16oz) milk shake.  I kept it cheap with just the burger.  I was lucky that I arrived right at 8:30pm, their last seating time at the counter.

Feeling full, I headed on over to my campsite as it started to rain.  I spent the next 30 minutes off-loading photos from my three cameras and taking a glimpse at what I had captured from my day.  With a quick run to the restrooms, I was ready for bed by 10:15pm.

Total driving for the day was 204 miles.

No comments:

Post a Comment