Canyons, Geysers, and Wolves

Yellowstone National Park is big. So huge, in fact, that unless I’d been taking notes, I’d have forgotten the exact when and where of many locations and sights. Even so, I overlooked the visit to the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone and want to give it a nod before moving forward to Old Faithful.

In a word, amazing. Online sources report that the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone is basically “24 miles of twisting, sheer rock cliffs carved 1200 feet deep.” After visiting the Grand Canyon in Arizona a few times, this one seemed smaller, more narrow and not as deep. I could see the Yellowstone River clearly, but the Colorado River rushing through the Grand Canyon in Arizona  was too far down to see or hear. No matter how times people asked, “See it? It’s like a ribbon,” my answer was always the same. No.

What really struck me about the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone was its V-shaped steepness and the colors. According to our tour guide, the canyon is still being eroded by the Yellowstone River. I could get technical and use scientific words like hydrothermal alteration and iron compounds in rhyolite to explain the amazing colors, but I think I’ll stick to the description of painter Thomas Moran who said, ‘Its beautiful tints were beyond the reach of human art.”

Reportedy, Moran felt so impressed with Yellowstone that he began signing his paintings “TYM” to stand for Thomas “Yellowstone” Moran. His work helped change public perception of the area to that of a wonderland and not a wild place blemished with hellish geysers.

After visiting the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone and Mammoth Hot Springs, we continued to the sight we’d all been awaiting: Old Faithful. There are several buildings, including Old Faithful Inn and a welcome center,  gift shop, and restaurant, and while they were rustic and welcoming, our attention was drawn toward Old Faithful’s location. It wasn’t hard to spot. There were hundreds of people of all ages, colors, shapes, and sizes sitting on benches, in parents’ laps, and in wheelchairs. Just as many were standing, all waiting expectantly for the next eruption, due to take place in about twenty minutes.

In twenty-two minutes, we heard a sputter and then saw a loud, gushing forth of hot steam. I can’t recall how many minutes Old Faithful performed for us, but I do recall that all in attendance were rapt. Afterwards, everyone dispersed, awed at the majestic spectacle they had witnessed.

We ate lunch and visited the Welcome Center before coming back for an encore ninety minutes later. Since its discovery in 1870, Old Faithful has been erupting every ninety minutes (give or take).  While there, I learned that the timing depends on several factors, including the length and strength of the previous one.

There are more geysers in Yellowstone than anywhere else in the world. In the world! While Old Faithful is not the largest, it’s the most popular geyser in the park and has a  steam temperature above 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Interestingly, although visitors were repeatedly told to stay on the boardwalks to avoid injury, there were people who ignored the warnings. Didn’t they understand that Yellowstone sits atop a volcano? Fortunately, there are plenty of park rangers who gently but firmly moved those folks from the fragile crust.

After viewing Old Faithful erupt twice, we still had thirty minutes to absorb the wonderland before the bus’ arrival. I’d been eying the boardwalks overlooking hot springs and fumaroles and decided to take a quick walk to get a more up-close look. There may have even been a paint pot there. I don’t know. I know only that the views were unlike anything I’d ever seen. My only regret is that our time at the Old Faithful site was so short.

Alas, we climbed aboard the Gate 1 Travel bus and headed back to the little town of West Yellowstone, Montana where we spent another night. There are several restaurants, gift shops, and tourist attractions there, and we enjoyed the ambience of the area.

That night we heard wolves howling from across the way.

 

 

Paint Pots and Travertine

“Round ’em up and move ‘em out.” Although he didn’t use those words, we got the message loud and clear from Timothy, our tour guide. We had much to see and experience, and we all needed to be on the bus and ready to leave for Yellowstone early that Thursday morning.

This is where I need to say that unless you’re a Yellowstone aficionado with tons of experience, going with a tour group is the best way to travel. Yellowstone is a huge park, nearly 3,500 square miles, that sits atop a volcano. Somehow I missed that important nugget of information when we were planning our trip and became a bit uneasy when I first glimpsed the hot springs, paint pots, and geysers. And when I saw the signs everywhere warning travelers of scalding mud, fragile ground, unstable ground, and bacteria mats, I added anxiety and respect to my perceptions of beauty and splendor.

In Billings the evening before our Yellowstone experiences, we had dinner with my college roommate, Shirley Dyk, and her husband, and she said, “I love the pots, and you will, too.”

“The pots?” I asked.

“Uh huh, paint pots. Some people call them mudpots, but I like paint pots better. And really, some of them look like pots of colored paint, especially blue.”

I stared at her like the ignoramus I was, and Shirley shared more information. The smell, she said, was sulphurous, and added that while many people found it offensive, she liked it. Although I found the odor a bit unpleasant, I respected the conditions by which the pots and their oozing, bubbling actions came about. What else could a person expect from volcanic heat, minerals, acid, and gases rising through the earth’s crust?

In addition to Old Faithful and its surroundings, two areas were especially incredible (to us), an area with travertine terraces and another with hot springs and calderas. Everything we saw, smelled, and heard was awe-inspiring.

We filed off the bus at the location of the travertine (a type of limestone deposited by springs, especially hot springs) terraces. At this stop, there were assorted buildings, including a lodge and a few gift shops, but I was drawn like a magnet (seriously) to the terraces and walked over with hordes of other tourists. I was astounded at the uniqueness of the colors, shapes, and formations of travertine formations; some looked like stair steps, others like cones. Not satisfied with that first glance from behind the fence, I began walking up the boardwalk with other dazed looking people and soon found my way to the top. Every twist and turn was magnificent, a feast for the eyes and spirit.

Curiosity satisfied, I hustled down the boardwalk and joined my husband at a picnic table for lunch. That morning we had visited Livingston, Wyoming and purchased a turkey sandwich and chips at a Conoco store. Nestled in a depression (valley?) and surrounded by low mountains, we slugged our bottled water and munched our chips, taking in the awesomeness around us. We’ve picnicked in numerous sites, but that one with the travertine terraces behind us and mountains around us wins the blue ribbon for best outside dining experience.

I’m not exaggerating when I say that the next stop in Yellowstone was almost worth the cost of the whole trip. Whodda thunk such surreal and magical places existed? As we ventured to and from the bus, I noticed areas that looked almost post-apocalyptic. I say “almost” since I’ve never actually seen a bona fide post-apocalyptic scene. Has anyone? We saw hot springs, pots (mud and paint), calderas, and geysers.

Like most of the people surrounding us, we went around gaping at the sights and took dozens of photographs. Every step we took and every direction we turned brought yet another amazing scene. These views were real, not just embellished photographs in a magazine.

New stop: Old Faithful.