Sunday, 24 September 2006, Billings, MT
Yellowstone National Park has the reputation of producing prolific wildlife viewing opportunities and we were rewarded, soon after entering on Tuesday afternoon, with two bison close up. They both wandered through the Madison River, which flows next to the road, and continued grazing. Despite the fact that we have already seen a number of these on the roadside in Canada, they are truly impressive beasts! We camped at Madison campground where we caught sight of some female elk for the first time - we have seen a number of males along the way, resplendent with their large antlers, but the females had so far been elusive.
Driving south from Madison the initial view of geyser clouds from the Lower Geyser Basin was impressive. I don't think I expected to see evidence of so many in one place, even though Yellowstone has more geysers concentrated here than any other location in the world. The majority of Yellowstone NP is in the crater of a volcano and most of the things to see here are connected with the continued volcanic activity. The Lower Geyser Basin has an extensive boardwalk and one can get up close and personal with the geysers, fumaroles, hot springs and mudpots that the Park is renowned for. Once again we were seeing something new which we found particularly awesome. As this was our first stop and our first impression, we could have no idea of what lay ahead that would amaze us even more!
Our next stops were along the Firehole Lake Drive, which is a one-way loop passing the Great Fountain and Whitedome Geysers. The Great Fountain is currently blowing about once every 24 hours, so we weren't going to wait around for that, but the Whitedome started steaming and spouting very soon after we arrived. It was quite an impressive show.
We bypassed the Midway Geyser Basin because we decided we couldn't see everything and we wanted to time it right to see Old Faithful go off, without having to wait more than an hour. I think Old Faithful is the geyser that we all heard about as children when learning about these things in school. It sits in my memory with things like the Taj Mahal and the Grand Canyon as wonders one should see. We did stop on the way to photograph fishermen in the Firehole River who were close to an active area, producing a very steamy waterfall into the river - we wondered if it was the fish or the fisherman who liked this spot the best! The Black Sand Basin, just before Old Faithful, was in some ways more impressive than anything we had seen so far. The Emerald Pool is really emerald and the Cliff Geyser just kept spouting for so long that, after taking numerous photos, we left to get to Old Faithful on time.
We arrived at the Old Faithful site with about 20 minutes to spare. The viewing area was already filling up with expectant watchers. We ate lunch in the camper and then wandered over just as the steam seemed to be building up to a crescendo. And then he blew - well I think he did. There is all this hype about Old Faithful and people travel from all over the world to see him go off. An American next to me was heard to say "we waited 90 minutes for this" - it echoed my sentiments, even though we had timed it right. I guess sometimes the show could be more impressive, but we weren't waiting around another 90 minutes to find out! Although continued volcanic activity, including earthquakes, changes the rhythm of this geyser, currently it blows on average every 92 minutes, the eruptions last between 1½ and 5 minutes and reach an average height of 130 feet. I think the one we saw was short in time and height and I was underwhelmed! If you are interested in seeing what I'm talking about, have a look at the web cam.
Our next stop, West Thumb Lake, was definitely the most impressive. This lake was formed by a more recent eruption within the Yellowstone caldera. The geyser basin is right on the lake's edge and once again accessible on an extensive boardwalk. The pools of the hot springs were a really strong turquoise colour and they were so clear that you could look down into their depths - they seemed to go down forever! We wandered as long as the weather allowed, which started out sunny, but was raining slightly by the time we returned to the truck.
Continuation on > Page 2 > !