We headed out of Bozeman on Monday, June 15th. “We” being Vince and Carla (Elizabeth’s parents), Elizabeth, Brodie, and me. The plan was to head to the West Yellowstone entrance so we would miss construction delays.
The route took us west of Bozeman through some really beautiful hills and valleys. It was unexpected since it is fairly flat around town, aside from all the mountains that surround town.
A quick note — Elizabeth was right in the middle of the wicked, Montana head/chest cold on the first day. Keep that in mind. That cold was compounded by terrible sleep, too. She felt way better on the second day.
We drove 2 cars and I was the lead driver. I saw a car with an orange flag flying outside its driver’s side window. I slowed down a little bit but not quite enough because they driver started waving the flag around vigorously. I slowed down more, then saw what was going on.
They were moving cattle! On the side of the road… Here, have a look:
They crew had a herding dog helping out. It may have been a mix with some short haired Border Collie.
The cattle weren’t the only surprise. We took a detour to stop by Idaho. It was the first time anyone in the caravan visited Idaho, and I have been to all 50 states now.
We didn’t stay in Idaho long but we made a purchase, thus contributing to the economy. In our book, that counts for visiting a state. (See what constitutes a “visit” here…) We saw 2 bald eagles flying around the lake we were at (Lake Henry).
Into Yellowstone…West Entrance
So, in sharp contrast to the first time that we went to Glacier N.P. back in May, Yellowstone was like approaching Disney World. That is to say there was a long line of cars leading up to the entrance gate. The line of cars was about a 0.5+ mile…Well, I haven’t been to Disney in a long time so my friend Corey can correct me.
I know it doesn’t seem like much of a wait compared to the typical Atlanta traffic…but we aren’t used to that anymore.
(We went to Glacier on a Tuesday afternoon during the first week in May. It was a ghost town and it felt like we had the whole park to ourselves.)
We made it in pretty quickly since we got into the express lane for National Park Pass holder.
Lunch was a sandwiches and we stopped by one of the picnic areas by the Gibbon River. The chipmunks throughout the park have NO FEAR. When you sit down, they come out of the wood work. Don’t feed any of the wild animals – that’s bad form. Even with Brodie sitting right in front of us, there were at least half a dozen chipmunks running around. The brush and small trees were so thick that Brodie couldn’t even make a run at them.
After lunch we headed north…
Norris Geyser Basin
We started to head north after after lunch, towards the Norris Geyser Basin. We passed a couple things along the way:
The Artists Paint Pots
This was another short stop along the way to Norris Junction. The hiking was easy, only about a mile with 125 feet of elevation gain. It was warm in the direct sun – it is intense at the 6,000+ foot elevation even at moderate temperatures of the mid 70s F.
I recorded a short video of the mud pots on the hike.
We made it to the Norris Geyser Basin where it took a few minutes to park since it was crowded. Brodie couldn’t join us on any hikes (and won’t be able to in any National Park) unless it is within a 100 feet from a parking lot, road, or picnic area. That means we needed to split up – Elizabeth and Brodie chilled out in the shade of some trees around the parking lot while the rest of us hiked around.
I went down to the Porcelain Basin loop within the Norris area. I was walking just about as fast I could to get back so Elizabeth and I could switch up.
Norris Geyser Basin is the hottest and most changeable thermal area in Yellowstone…world’s tallest active geyser, colorful hot springs, and microscopic life in one of the most extreme environments on earth.
Next up was the most famous features in the park…
You pass a lot of other thermal basins on the way to Old Faithful from Norris Junction. We didn’t stop at any of those because we had a tour booked for 3 out of the 5 in our group.
The tour was called Geyser Gazers and here is what they say about it:
The valley between Old Faithful and Madison, called the Fire Hole since the days of the beaver trappers, is the heart of the greatest geyser region on Planet Earth. On this 1½-hour tour, we’ll take you out in one of the Historic Yellow Busses to explore the features along Firehole Lake Drive and visit Midway Geyser Basin, home to Yellowstone’s largest hot spring and one of the greatest geysers of human history, Excelsior. If the wildlife are frequenting, we’ll of course stop for them too. For a fun and informative tour, come explore the Fire Hole with us!
It was AWESOME to just sit down and have a beer…
Brodie and I didn’t go on the tour and chose to set up camp so we could watch Old Faithful. I packed a small cooler and brought a camp chair. We sat in the shade, watched the people go by, and relaxed. After hours and hours of driving and (semi) rushing around to see all this majestic “stuff”, it was AWESOME to just sit down and have a beer. We didn’t have to go anywhere and we literally couldn’t hike on the boardwalks so the only option was to sit and rest.
That was a full day and we were all ready to get out of the park to get some rest. The group was staying in West Yellowstone, the town outside the park.
Elizabeth, Brodie, and I stayed in a little “log cabin” community on the edge of town…It is a super small town so we weren’t far from anything. The town was really just a couple of streets with shops. It was so sparse that I picked up dinner from McDonalds!
It turns out the salads are not bad and the fancy Quarter Pounders they have now, well, they are good too. **Disclaimer: I was super hungry and ate about 3 hours after when I would normally eat dinner. If you want to enjoy McDonalds too, you might need to fast for a while to build up hunger and suppress your sense of taste.**
The place was nicer than we expected and was very comfortable. We rested up because we had big plans for the next day.
Hayden Valley – Cancelled!
The plan was to go to Hayden Valley early to see wildlife. We changed our minds for a couple reasons…
- We will be staying around Yellowstone Lake for the Fourth of July and it is close to Hayden Valley and the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone.
- We missed out on several of the cool thermal basins between Norris Junction & Old Faithful. Elizabeth and her parents saw more than me on the tour but there was so much more to see.
Note: Vince & Carla got up and headed to Hayden Valley, The Canyon area, and out the Beartooth Highway via the northeast entrance. They wanted to see more of the park and didn’t have more time to explore like us.
It was very foggy when we got to the park at about 7 AM. Here is that big herd of bison again. You could hear their teeth bite the grass and tear it out of the ground. It was eerily quiet.
The Great Fountain Geyser
We arrived just in time to see this erupt. It was pure luck! It was so foggy that we really had a hard time seeing how high the water and steam was going. We could see the water overflowing from the cascading pools of water…and even more of a sign was the noise. It was very loud as the steam and water rushed out of the ground.
Here are some more facts about the Great Fountain Geyser:
With water shooting between 75-220 feet (23-67 m) high and an eruption that lasts from one to two hours, Great Fountain is one of the great geysers of Yellowstone. Its intervals vary from 9 to 15 hours but the short term average is usually stable enough that eruption times can be predicted.
I don’t recall the name of this hot spring but it was one of the first ones on the Firehole Lake Drive loop…The blue flame is why the lake in called Firehole. A blue flicker appears deep underneath the water due to some optical illusion, probably some light refraction.
Midway Geyser Basin
The home of Grand Prismatic Spring, one of the most unique features of Yellowstone. It has an array of dramatic colors from the algae and its depth of 121 feet (deepest spring in the park) helps provide the indigo color. The pool is about 370 feet wide so that space and swampy area is big.
From the other Basins…
Old Faithful Basin
We went back over to the Old Faithful area because there are a couple miles boardwalks and a LOT of features throughout the basin. It was much earlier in the day, around late morning, so it was less crowded. Elizabeth headed out to check out the basin while Brodie and I sat out by Old Faithful.
Another storm rolled in and it was a wicked one. It came in fast – you could feel the cold wind. It was the kind of storm you could see the bolts of lightning hit the ground. Elizabeth cut her hike short and found Brodie and me back in the Old Faithful Inn patio, away from the rain.
It rained for a little while, very hard at times. We got some sandwiches and stuff at the Grille there at the Inn. It cleared up after a while, revealing bright blue skies. I took off on the boardwalks and I tried to hustle up most of the way. I even jogged for a while to speed things up when it was flat.
We are really glad we decide to spend more time in the Geyser Country area. On the first day, we skipped SO MUCH stuff and would have missed out. We even had enough time for me to hike the Fairy Falls Trail and then head up a nearby hill to take the picture of Grand Prismatic from above…that’s the picture at the very top of the post.