Jul 7, 2007

blogging Yellowstone and beyond: part I

Update 7/9: At last, all the photos in this part are posted. If you're reading this on the main page, click the timestamp or the post title to see them all.

Here's the first batch of photos of our trip to Yellowstone. I'll add more when I get time. It's dinner time.

Monday, we drove from Olympia to Yellowstone in one day, stopping only for gas, lunch, gas, and dinner at the world's smallest Taco Time in Belgrade, Montana.

This is a rustic summer camp-style cabin at Wagonwheel RV Campground, where affable host and concierge Ken greets every visitor with a raft of recommendations and coupons. The guy knows every corner of West Yellowstone, especially the pancake houses. He is also extremely proud of the cleanliness of the bathrooms--and justifiably so, as they sparkle like Lake Yellowstone at sunset.

After a brief night's rest, it was up to face the promise and peril of America's greatest treasure and largest active volcano, Yellowstone National Park. Promise around every geothermic corner. Peril in the form of bears, mosquitoes, and, of course, active geysers.

Our first stop: the Norris Geyser Basin, where the perils are spelled out in five languages and one disturbing illustration. (Note the difference in parenting styles: Mom shows active concern, while Dad abandons Junior to the fates.)

According to the literature, the boiling turquoise pools are the warmest. Some extremophiles like it hot.

The Norris basin is colorful because of its resident bacteria and algae, living together in perfect harmony.

While no major eruptions graced our visit, the basin as a whole was a hotbed of burbling and bubbling, altogether worth the hour's diversion. Go early in the day; there's little shelter and a lot of tourists.

After a brief trip to the Artist Paint Pots (not pictured), we lunched in the shadow of Tuff Cliff.

The afternoon entertainment came in the form of Old Faithful, which recently has been blowing its stack roughly every 90 minutes. It performed on schedule for an audience of thousands, but not before the Beehive Geyser behind it put on its own show, which apparently occurs every other day. As for Old Faithful, it may be slow, but it's as steady as ever, and a perfect prelude to ice cream. Sweet tradition.

On the return drive we took a lucky detour on Firehole Lake Drive, lucky enough to see the Great Fountain Geyser erupt, as is its twice-daily habit. The show lasts sometimes for upwards of thirty minutes; we caught the last five.

From there, on to another batch of paint pots, the last geothermal activity of the day.

For the 4th, we celebrated our nation's birthday with a hike up to the lookout atop Mount Washburn.

Early on, wildflowers dazzle and wide-ranging vistas delight the eyes, including the omnipresent remains of 1988's year of conflagration. The trail climbs steadily but never too quickly, although it's best tackled early or late in the day, since all shade vanishes as the sun crosses the sky.

Three miles to the summit, where mountain goats Bighorn sheep guard access to the fire lookout, itself a respite from sun or storm.

The view is spectacular, especially on a clear day when even the faraway Tetons are visible.

Lunch in a bug-infested picnic area, and then a jaunt down to Yellowstone Canyon.

At Inspiration Point I was treated to this conversation:
Dad: See that cave across the canyon?
Kid: No. Oh, wait, yeah, there it is.
Dad: Buffalo used to live in there.
Kid: Really?
Random Tourist Eavesdropper: Yes. Back when they had wings. Buffalo wings.
Only in America.

A couple wildlife moments: a bison grazes near a rest area, and a confused elk crashes into the parking lot at the Canyon visitor center.

That's it for the trip so far. More later, promise.


Hawks said...

You've been tagged. Don't blame me. I'm just following orders.

Nice pics, btw

Mike Kretzler said...

Mountain goats? Probably Rocky Mountain or Dall's Sheep.

Jim Anderson said...

That's why I had to check out The Encyclopedia of Animals of America... so I could, in my own day of judgment, separate the sheep from the goats.

They're Bighorn sheep, I believe. Thanks for the heads-up.