Sunday, August 28, 2011

Yellowstone, Part B

On our third day in the park, we took the loop south-east from the hotel into an area characterized by the gorgeous Yellowstone falls as well as extensive bear area.  In fact, early in the day, a bear walked out of the forested hill to our right and, when we stopped, walked across the road directly in front of the van.  I believe I got a couple of good photos of that bear.  Along the drive, we saw sand-hill cranes, gray jays, ground squirrels, elk, bison, ravens, and, at a distance, a bear with two yearlings, difficult to see with binoculars, but clearly visible in the spotting scope.
We went up through snow-covered Dunraven Pass, in view of Mt. Washburn, then to Tower Falls, with a cliff overlook, where we saw an osprey nest.  Afterwards, we drove on to the famous lower and upper falls of the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, scenery made famous by Thomas Moran, one of the great Hudson River painters.  I believe this was the highlight of my tour around the park.  During the day, we ate a picnic lunch at a snow-encrusted picnic site along the way.  Again, we had dinner and spent the night at Mammoth Springs Hotel; the three-day stay there was a great feature of the trip.  It’s impossible to see much of the park in just one day; I think that my brother, Dick, and I spent only one day on my previous visit to Yellowstone. 
On the fourth day, we drove directly south into the geyser basins, on the way passing Golden Gate falls and Bunsen Peak (named after the same guy who invented the Bunsen burner).  On Swan lake Flats, we sighted bears, a coyote and elk.  After Obsidian Cliff and Roaring Mountain, we went into the Norris Geyser Basin, which has the hottest geysers on earth:  boiling pots, steam vents, and aquamarine pools.  I didn't go around the whole basin, but walked through part of it on my own.  Bison patties dotted the edges of hot pools; odd plants (and fungi?) sometimes grew in poop plots in the midst of mineral encrusted surroundings.
That afternoon, we arrived at Old Faithful just as it was about to erupt.  We lunched at the Old Faithful Inn.  Afterwards, Blake and I went to the Ranger Station and viewed a video on Yellowstone, then we walked up a half-mile walk to other geysers and pools.  He was very considerate, and sat down on a bench whenever he thought I would probably be tired.  Blake and I actually saw Old Faithful erupt three times that afternoon:  once before lunch, once after lunch, and once during a walk we took to Castle Geyser and the Crested Pool.    We came back to the inn just as the van was pulling up to pick us up.  That evening, we drove over Craig Pass, with a good view of Yellowstone Lake and Mt. Sheridan, to Grant Village, where we had dinner at the inn overlooking Yellowstone Lake and spent the night.  Snow was piled high next to our window, and Blake wanted to go out and play in the snow with Lyndon.  Both boys got soaking wet, and Lyndon’s grandmother was annoyed at that.
On the fifth day in Yellowstone, we went back to the geysers, particularly the Midway Geyser Basin where the huge Grand Prismatic Spring steams incessantly in its multicolored pool.  Several in the group climbed a hill where they could get an aerial view of the formation, but I didn’t.  Then we took the vans and drove to the other side of the basin where, besides the Grand Prismatic, several steaming pools – Excelsior Geyser Crater, Opal Pool and Turquoise pool – created warm, sulfurous mists over the boardwalks.  I took several photos of the brightly tinted pools, all the while breathing the acrid mist, but the smell didn’t seem to make my breathing worse.
We again had lunch at Old Faithful Inn and saw the signature geyser erupt once more.  After lunch, we went to the Lower Geyser Basin, saw the Fountain Paint Pots, and walked around the boardwalk past several geysers, including Clepsydra Geyser, which erupts constantly.  It offered continually new and interesting configurations, rather like the dancing fountains popular a few decades ago.  I found it hard to pull myself away from the mesmerizing sight of Clepsydra’s randomly spurting water and steam.
This was the last main stop in the park; from there we drove north to Madison, passing along the Firehole River and the Gibbon River, the latter reminding me of the Meander River in Greece – flat and constantly turning back on itself.  In West Yellowstone, the town just outside the west entrance of the park, we checked into the Gray Wolf Inn for our last night of the trip.  Blake and I went across the road to the bear and wolf sanctuary, wandered around the wolf pens, and he took photos of wolves.  I took a few photos also; by the time we got back to the hotel, it was time for dinner at Bullwinkle’s, a local bar/cafĂ©.
The next morning, the others got up early and headed back to Bozeman Airport, but Blake and I slept late, had a continental style breakfast in the hotel lobby, stored our bags with the lobby desk clerk, and went back across the street to the wolf sanctuary.  We saw another pen of wolves we hadn’t seen the day before.  Some of them came quite close to the visitors’ building, and, as we were watching a video of Yellowstone wolves, several wolves started howling.  It was quite an experience.  Dinah and Cledith came to the hotel at noon and picked us up; we had lunch in West Yellowstone and then went back to their cabin, stopping on the way at the Hebden earthquake center.  While we were there, it began to rain and then to snow; Cledith said that it wouldn’t be snowing when we got back to the cabin, but it was.  Blake had fun playing in the snow again.  Snow laid a white blanket on the cabin's roof and the surrounding field and powdered the sides of surrounding mountains.  It was all gone by the next morning, but this was another reminder that June in the Rockies is not necessarily a summer month.

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