Yellowstone – A Disaster & A Blessing

As we prepared to depart Swan Valley on Friday morning, we received a call from our dearest friend, Mel Morgan, with the sad news that the Delta flight bringing Yvonne & Mel to rendezvous with us in West Yellowstone the next day had been cancelled. While we talked about potential options (which Delta couldn’t offer), we finally agreed that there had been enough indicators (COVID, Yellowstone closed, flight cancelled) that we better listen and look forward to another opportunity to be together. And we have it – they will join us for Mountain Song Festival at home in September! Since we believe things come in 3’s – missing the Family Reunion, disaster at Yellowstone and a cancelled flight (not to mention COVID), we believe we are DONE with all this stuff!

We drove up the Idaho side of the Grand Tetons – and saw that iconic view of the majestic range.

The Grand Tetons from the Idaho Side

The drive along the Targhee National Forest was amazing. The roads in Idaho were wide, smooth and easy to handle. We arrived in West Yellowstone shortly after noon, having stopped at Howard Springs Rest Area for almost an hour so we didn’t arrive too soon!

The town of West Yellowstone is one of five entrances to Yellowstone National Park. The main warehousing of materials for Park administration and vendors is the north entrance at Gardiner MT – the site of the most damage with the main bridge being destroyed so will remain closed for the “forseeable future”. The northeast entrance, Silver Gate MT, is also closed. That leaves the East Entrance (53 miles from Cody WY), the South Entrance (57 miles from Jackson) and the West Yellowstone Entrance (1/10 mile from the park, also a major entry point). The expectations for this year were already stretching the capabilities of the Park and its contractors, as it is the 150th Anniversary of Yellowstone, the first United States National Park. The flooding and associated devastation has had a major impact on visitors and residents alike. A “normal” day in West Yellowstone would be 14K-15K people and while we were there, the number was ~2,500.

On Saturday, we enjoyed a day of caring for Contessa, including Mr. Wishy Washy cleaning the exterior. After we got our chores done, we jumped on our bicycles and toured West Yellowstone. Basically a 7 block square town of hotels/motels/cabins, restaurants, souvenir shops and a couple of interesting museums – including the Union Pacific Railway building.

We were determined to make the most of our Sunday adventure! With horror stories of up to 1 1/2 hour wait to get through the entrance gate, we were up early and thru the gate at 6:15a – with absolute ZERO traffic! It was a tranquil early morning with the sun up at 5:40a and 29 degrees. The 14 miles to the South Loop provided a peaceful beginning.

We had not been in the Park 30 minutes before we saw our first bison. Before the day was over, we had several encounters with this huge beasts, but the first few made our hearts stop.

Taken from the relative safety of our car!

We continued south on the Loop to Fountain Paint Pots – and over the course of the day would begin to understand the differences between springs, geysers, mudpots, fumaroles and paint pots.

We had targeted the Old Faithful Inn for a highly anticipated Sunday Buffet – and neither the Inn nor the breakfast disappointed! As a national historic landmark, Old Faithful Inn was built 1903-1904 with local logs and stone. It is considered to b the largest log structure in the world! The towering lobby rises five stories with a massive stone fireplace and a hand-crafted clock made of copper, wood and wrought iron.

We marveled that we could walk right in at 7:30a and have our choice of tables. Clearly the census was down at the Inn, as well. When people have limited or defined vacation times, the closing of the Park initially for an unspecified length of time drove many people to cancel vacations or head elsewhere for an adventure.

Our timing was perfect! We had a nice, leisurely breakfast and then walked out the front door, turned left and awaited the predicted Old Faithful eruption that occurred right on schedule at 8:40a!

As Old Faithful began to erupt, we could see the geyser. As it rose, the boiling water of the geyser against the cold morning air created a steam/mist shroud that totally enveloped the geyser itself. The column of steam rose hundreds of feet in the art, cooled dramatically and then rained on us!

From Old Faithful, there were numerous stops for geyser fields as we, once again, crested the Continental Divide (this time at 8,262 ft) and came upon the West Thumb of Yellowstone Lake. Geologists have determined that Yellow Stone Lake, named by William Clark and others, was formed following the “previous great eruption” some 640,000 years ago that formed a large caldera. Part of this caldera is the 136 square miles, 110 miles of shoreline and average depth of 394′ that is Yellowstone Lake.

The lake drains to the north from its only outlet, the Yellowstone River, at Fishing Bridge. The first elevation change is known as LeHardy Rapids and then plunges over the Upper Falls and then Lower Falls and races north through the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.

The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone

Along the eastern portion of the South Loop, we discovered the Black Dragon Mudpots and Cooking Hillside. The Black Dragon Mudpots were a “perfect” example of the organisms living in the hot geothermal environments that produce sulfuric acid, which destroys the rock, forming mud of varying consistency and color. Gases bubble and burst through the mud with a strange plopping sound, as well as a distinctive and unpleasant odor. (rotten eggs!)

In 1978, a forested hillside changed dramatically after a swarm of earthquakes struck the area. In spite of being jolted again and again, the trees remained standing, but met their demise soon afterward when ground temperatures soared to 2000F. Roots sizzled in the super-heated soil and trees toppled over one by one as steam rose eerily between the branches. No wonder the hill was dubbed “Cooking Hillside”.

As the day progressed, the traffic did build – and especially when wildlife chose to take over the roadways!

The Norris Geyser Basin, along the northern side of the Loop, included Steamboat Geyser and the Ledge Geyser. The Ledge is a continuous (and noisy) stream of steam from geyser below the ground surface, not to be confused with a fumarole, which is a steam vent only. Norris Basin is named for Philetus W. Norris, the second Superintendent of Yellowstone National Park from 1877-1882. He was responsible for documenting the Park’s hydrothermal features in detail. Under his leadership, some of the Park’s first roadways were constructed. Some of them remain as part of the Grand Loop Road (combination of North and South Loop) today.

We just couldn’t help ourselves! After a delightful conversation with a couple of Connecticut at Steamboat Geyser, we headed on around the Loop to return to Old Faithful! We had hoped to stop along the way at Fairy Falls to view the Prismatic Pool, but it was closed due to bear activity.

Right on time, Old Faithful “did her thing” and this time in the beautiful, warm afternoon, we could clearly see the geyser!

We were in the Park for 11 hours. We saw so much and learned so much – there is no way to include all the photos and feelings. As Bill’s Mom used to say – “There is so much beauty that it makes my eyeballs hurt!”

Author: Contessa & The Toad Get Hitched

After years traveling this beautiful country by boat, the Captain and the Admiral are bound for land adventures. Whenever Contessa (the motorcoach) and the Toad (Jeep Grand Cherokee) get hitched (towing the car) - we’ll post our adventures!

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