Idaho and Wyoming – National Parks Road Trip – Day 10 – Yellowstone to Jackson Hole

Another early start found us at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. As usual the early start allowed us to avoid the crowds for some excellent views, along with the other dedicated morning photographers. Why buy a postcard when you can take the picture yourself.

Since we missed it the day before we returned to the Norris Geyser Basin and began our hike along the boardwalk through the back basin. Steamboat Geyser fumed so high and huge that it could be seen from most of the back basin. This geyser erupted last year and it was evident of the violent destruction that was left for us to see. As we toured we found many other geysers vending significant steam. The hot water from the earth combined with the cold air of 35 degrees created a steamy low-lying atmosphere.

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The loud gurgling sounds of the geyser from Puff N Stuff was a visitor’s favorite as well as ours. It is caused by steaming vents in the earth among the dead trees in the white sulfuric basin gave an eerie feeling and a creepy setting. The tour continued on the other side of the basin where there were more geysers in the Porcelain Basin. This basin is more open and the area was crowded with tourists, along with a number of geologists and park rangers hiking back to where we had been carrying technical equipment for analysis.

Warning sign inform tourists not to toss debris into the geysers (morons of the world unite) as exemplified in the Minute Geyser located in Porcelain Basin, which was damaged by tourists and now no longer erupts as it once did nearly every minute. Over the years, tourists clogged the geyser with twigs and stones that they tossed into the geyser.

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The Artist Paint Pots turned out to be our last stop in Yellowstone. The loop surrounding the paint pots was disappointing due to the lack of variety of colors that decorate the pools, primarily due to the overcast day. You could however see a variety of pools, or paint pots, nestled in a hillside with mountains in the distance.

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Our plan was to go to Midway Geyser Basin while heading out the south exit toward Grand Teton’s, but instead we got stuck in a huge traffic jam. Sunday was much busier with tourists than the previous days. After an extended period of no movement I gave up, turned around and exited the West Entrance.

As we proceeded on the West Drive we came across a magnificent elk wading in the river. Everywhere in Yellowstone you see wildlife you see traffic jams, including our last as we were exiting, this one caused by a bison  walking in the middle of the road and refusing to move aside. As motorists inched around the bison, it came to be directly in front of us so we shot a photo from our windshield of the bison’s butt moving very slowly almost as if it meant to do this just to say he owns the place. Eventually the bison moved off the road allowing us to leave the park.

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We ended up in West Yellowstone, Montana at noon and stopped for lunch at McDonald’s. From here we drove south across the Continental Divide again and west into Idaho. The view of large mountains was spectacular and we passed many, potato fields which I had not seen before. We followed Idaho State Route 32, also known as the Grand Teton Scenic Highway.

We crossed Teton Pass back into Wyoming to reach our hotel in Jackson Hole. Since there was still plenty of daylight we drove into Elk Range outside of Jackson Hole to spot wildlife but were unlucky on that adventure so we went back to explore the town. The center of Jackson is Antler Park, named for the unusual arches made of elk antlers at the four entrances into the park.

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Surrounding the park are a number of art galleries. Life-size bronze sculptures of Ben Franklin, Mark Twain, George Washington, and elk stood outside a gallery and seemed to be a popular spot for tourists to pose with the statues. The town is well known as a resort for its outdoor adventures but our stop was to take in a short visit and overnight on our way to Salt Lake City.

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We chose to have dinner at the Gun Barrel Steak and Game House fitting for the western aura of Jackson Hole. The restaurant use to be a western museum and taxidermy shop and it shows from the many animals mounted on the walls. The restaurant also had a full-sized stuffed bison named Wyatt, and a 1800’s buffalo coat owned by Hank Williams, Jr. We were game to try the game on the menu so we had a sampler of elk steak, bison prime rib, and venison bratwurst, as well as elk medallions; I had mixed results with my dinner. Game meat is not fatty and needs to be eaten slightly rare so half of the medallions were overcooked and tough. The waitress brought two more medallions and only one of them was tender but I had enough to eat and it was a good experience to have eaten in a nice restaurant. The evening was cool, but the day had been long so we called it a night.

Yellowstone – National Parks Road Trip – Day 9

As noted previously our hotel room was very new, having been open only two weeks. The hotel was committed to and designed for conservation. A free water bottle refill station was situated in the lobby of the hotel and the room key card was used to power electricity while in the room and shut off when you left the room to eliminate waste. The room also had a theme of teddy bears since Teddy Roosevelt was known as such a conservationist and so engaged in establishing the national park system. Even the bath soap was shaped into teddy bears. When we awoke the electricity was not working and had to take a shower in the dark. It was also cold enough to see frost on the car. The car temperature read 31 degrees.

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The agenda for this day was to take the South Loop. The cool morning allowed for some light fog to develop along the river, and in the valley’s, and with our early start it was peaceful and not crowded. After a couple of brief stops along the river, the lake and the Continental Divide, we arrived at the parking lot for Old Faith, being able to park in the first parking space next to the walkway to the geyser

The visitor center at Old Faithful has the expected eruption time for all of the geysers in the valley. It is highly recommended to pay a visit to them as you arrive, it greatly increases your chances for successful geyser eruption viewing. First up was for Old Faithful for 9 am but only saw a small baby eruption which happens occasionally. So we went off to have a breakfast of ham and cheese bagels at a coffee shop. Ugh, not the best breakfast but no other choice.

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The guide said next up was the Daisy Geyser, which showed us a a powerful eruption. This was most impressive, addition to the . It made me look forward to seeing Old Faithful later on. We walked the path behind the geyser where we met girls from Paris, France. Together we watched Old Faithful erupt from a distance but got a nice view of the full plume of water gushing upward.

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We hiked the upper geyser basin before returning to the lodge for lunch. For the afternoon we walked back toward the geysers to see the Grand Geyser but it did not erupt, so we made our way to the Riverside Geyser that erupted for twenty minutes. As the group of people sat on benches watching the eruption two Bikini top middle-aged women posed in front of the geyser saluting with open arms. I couldn’t resist taking a photo of these women. This photo became the photo of the day with the caption of “All hail the geyser gods“, which to this day is the most requested photo I have ever taken.

On our walk back to the main lodge we passed Castle Geyser which was erupting, which lasted for a very long time. Once we returned to the lodge we found seats on the porch and chatted with two Ohioans waiting for old Faithful to spew. This time Old Faithful erupted at full force. Having completed the tour of the geyser basin we headed out to complete the South Loop.

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Up next; Biscuit Basin. This thermal basin is particularly volatile and unpredictable. An earthquake occurred nearby decades ago and Sapphire Pool erupted violently blowing away the large rock biscuits around the crater. Biscuit Basin was named for those biscuit-shaped mineral formations. We crossed a creek so clear that you could see colorful pools of blue, orange, and red bacteria. The pools bubble and steam in orange bacterial mats. Thermal microorganisms thrive in the clear pools. Toxic gases exist sometimes with dangerous levels of hydrogen sulfide and carbon dioxide in some hydrothermal areas.  The park has a smell of rotten eggs and a burning sensation lingered in our throats at times. Just beyond Biscuit Basin was Midway Geyser Basin where we were able to photograph rivers coloring the banks of the geyser. The area was jammed with cars so we skipped seeing Midway Geyser.

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The last stops of the day were at Great Fountain Geyser to see the most predictable geyser in the lower basin. The Great Fountain Geyser usually peaks between 75 and over 200 feet high and erupts every 9 to 15 hours. The next eruption was expected much later in the day at 10:30 pm so we moved on not seeing activity here. Just beyond was a visit to the Lower Geyser Basin to see the Fountain Paint Pots and the Fountain Geyser that erupted with two smaller geysers called Clepsydra (Greek for water clock) and Spasm Geyser.

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The Fountain erupts every 14 hours and we were lucky to see it. It was the best geyser with the most explosive eruption spewing for 30 minutes. We also saw many steaming vents and thermal pools. As we watched the geyser’s activity and felt the spray, we talked with Grace and his wife, Elizabeth, from Basel, Switzerland. Grace has been to all the lower 48 states and his wife was visiting the USA for the first time. From here we drove to Firehole Canyon to see a narrow canyon with a nice waterfall. The canyon was so narrow it restricted vehicles to only cars on a one-way street. Steep cliffs lined the road and river.

Dinner was once again in the cafeteria, followed by more star gazing.

Yellowstone – National Parks Road Trip – Day 8

Breakfast at the Best Western was eggs with a smell of rotten eggs (from the hot springs not the kitchen). We left Thermopolis before sunrise passing more smelly hot springs.

Our destination today was one that has been long awaited – Yellowstone. It was about a 3 hour drive to Yellowstone, passing through Cody on the way. Cody is full of cowboy motif, much of it for Buffalo Bill, culminating with a large rodeo grounds on the west side of town.

Just west of Cody we passed a strange structure known locally as the Smith Mansion, built by local resident Lee Smith.  He had no plans, he just built what he felt was correct for the wilderness around him, ending up with a 75′ high structure that looks like a tornado already hit it. He lived in it while building it, with no running water or electricity. Unfortunately he was killed when he fell 12′ off the mansion while working on it. Also of note is the giant pile of antlers that make an entrance.

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As you continue west from Cody you pass through a number of tunnels before running along the Buffalo Bill Lake. The drive is said to take two hours, although we made it in significantly less time, arriving at the East entrance to no lines.

We arrived at Yellowstone National Park at 9 am, and with no line we were quickly rising up to Sylvan Pass (8300 feet elevation), which had significant evidence of forest fires in recent years. Continuing further we came up on Yellowstone Lake. Parking along the lakeshore was a treat – the lake itself is beautiful, but it also gave us our first view of thermal vents, and a herd of bison.

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Just ahead was the services area known as ‘Lake Village‘, where we stopped at the visitor center to purchase our park membership. Checking out the collection of items offered, the rangers suggested that we buy bear spray if we plan to hike the trails. This made us a bit nervous but we passed on the bear spray anyway, buying a t-shirt instead. Style ranks over safety.

Our route took us north of Lake Village along the Yellowstone River, where we saw more bison, before arriving at the Mud Volcanoes. A boardwalk provided up close access to see the churning cauldrons and Dragons Mouth Spring. Dragon’s Mouth was a cave-like area that spewed steam and a low roar. Just across the road was Sulfur Cauldron, another fascinating thermal feature.

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I had made reservations at the recently completed lodge in Canyon Village, where we arrived around noontime. We were able to register for our room, but unable to drop the bags, that would wait for later. After a quick lunch at the Canyon Diner we headed back out to continue our tour.

Our afternoon was spent driving the North Loop of the park through Dunraven Pass to see Tower Falls, Calcite Springs and a canyon with high cliffs and even a bit of lava flow.

Arriving at the north end of the park we found Fort Yellowstone. This town served as an army post with many original and restored buildings. A family of elk grazed on the lawn at the Old Yellowstone Post Office. Kentucky Bluegrass was planted long ago and a favorite of the elk.

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Just above the town is Mammoth Hot Springs, a large complex of hot springs on a hill of travertine, which resembles blocks of ice stacked in tiers sloped on the hill. Spurts of water and steam erupted from the crevices of the springs. The white calcium carbonate created from the water travelling over limestone beneath the earth gave an eerie alien look, with the algae living in the warm pools tinting the travertine shades of brown, orange, red and green. We spent most of the afternoon hiking up and down the terraces and along the boardwalk viewing the amazing odd landscape.

Continuing south on the loop road we arrived at the Golden Gate, with the impressive bridge around the waterfalls. The bridge was the most difficult engineering project in the park built up to that date. Further along we saw the billowing smoke from a forest fire. The park rangers allow the fires to burn out and the smoke and fire continued for days, closing some roads.

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Before our return to Canyon Village we went to the north rim of the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone and walked the six hundred foot drop to the viewpoints in the canyon of the falls, before returning back up the hill again. A second viewpoint at Inspiration Point in the same area provided a more comprehensive look at the Lower Falls, without 1000 steps round trip. They did however, have numerous ‘no drones’ signs.

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One challenge in the National Parks are the lack of dining, resulting in overcrowded restaurants. The one in Canyon Village had a 1.5 hour wait for a table, so we opted for a casual dinner at the cafeteria since the restaurant at our end of the park had an 1 1/2 hour wait to be seated. Afterwards, we drove out at night to look at stars. We met a couple from Philadelphia at the spot we chose to take in the stars. We sat until about 9:30 chatting with them and saw thousands of bright stars in the dark sky.