Leg #19... Chasing Apollo through Yellowstone

  • Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Yellowstone is much larger than Tetons National Park. After a full day of stopping and hiking each overlook and turnout on the bottom loop, we still didn’t finish. We toured each visitors’ center to learn about the geological background of this giant caldera with the hot, bubbling ground, hiked until our legs were exhausted and we were sucking for air again (we are at 7,800 feet at Fishing Bridge Campground), watched Old Faithful and its companions erupt, toured and ate at Old Faithful Inn which is as awesome architecturally as National Geographic says it is, and also toured the historic Yellowstone Lake Hotel (where we made reservations for a “dress-up” fine-dining experience).

Although we are surrounded by snow 2-3 feet deep with some of it in drifts over 10 feet, we saw plenty of herds of bison, having to wait until one cow finished her nap in the middle of the road and watching the first Yellowstone calf of 2014. We giggled at the elk and bison cozying up to the hot springs, mud and paint pots for warmth during this winter and the huge number of patties around the holes evidencing even greater numbers of game during the nights. I’m amazed they don’t break through or fall in. We had to wait during a road jam when a Grizzly was spotted just south of Mary’s Mountain with both tourists and rangers tracking the big guy. We were awed by the rushing of Firehole River and the amount of water going down it and the other falls on our excursion. However, we did miss the upper and lower falls because we were too tired to go to the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. We’ll save that for another day and probably break up exploration of the upper loop with a trip to the museums in Cody. We took a day to “stay home” in our little snail shell to clean and do laundry and just read. There has been so much to see and learn on this odyssey that we find a “day off” is necessary to recoup from “system overload.”

We visited the Norris Geyser basin on the Upper Loop and Mammoth Hot Springs. Roads in Yellowstone form a figure eight and maps give tourists the mileage and time to drive the park. However, I can’t imagine anyone driving through this magical place without stopping, so the times become irrelevant. Yellowstone National Park is huge, and taking time to hike the lake trails or the steaming geyser boardwalks is essential to experiencing it. Jim and I stayed four nights and five days and left only because we both felt a sensory overload which could only be evened out with several future trips. It is impossible to know Yellowstone in one trip because each hike explodes all five senses: we felt the heat of the steam and spray of Echinus Geyser; the odor of sulfur is ever-present, sometimes strong enough to be toxic, and can be tasted in the back of your throat even after leaving the site. The rainbow colors of the bacteria around the hot springs is delightful as is the amazing dance of geyser sprays; some of the vents only hiss softly while others make the ssh-ssh-sshing of a train engine, and others (whole mountainsides) make the guttural roarings of wild animals. The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone is thousands of acres of lodgepole and ponderosa pines and spruce covering mountains dipping into grass and sage brush valleys with cascading falls and rivers edged with willows and aspens. Every kind of ecosystem can be found in this park and it is all magnificent and indescribable.

But even this early in the season, busloads of tourists (mostly non-Americans) crowded the boardwalks and stopped in the middle of the roads in what we called “bear jams” or “bison jams” or “elk jams.” Bear sightings were the worst; tourists often blocked the roads for miles on either side even with rangers directing traffic. Cubs with momma were especially traffic-stopping. The campsites were so close, we were almost sleeping in each others’ beds. There were no picnic tables or fires because eating outside was discouraged due to bears, and history has proven human animals careless with fire in this park. In fact, the first thing you notice about Yellowstone is the vast damage done by fires, yet it still has to be one of the prettiest places in the world.

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