Friday, August 6, 2010

Bison and Geysers and Bears, Oh My!

Yellowstone . . . what a place - the world's first National Park. We've been in this incredibly diverse park for about 5 days, and it's been a mixture of magic and madness for us. We are merely 3 of the one million people that are estimated to visit Yellowstone this August! We had been warned that the camping scene was predatory, and one of the rangers laughed at me when I asked about making camping reservations for the next few nights - evidently they were already reserved at the beginning of the season. So we figured we'd guerrilla camp as usual. The first night we popped-up in the back corner of a boat launch parking area. Not yet understanding the full extent of stealth that was required to camp outside of the campgrounds in Yellowstone, we carelessly had the interior light on as we read after dark. In short order we were evicted by a law abiding ranger - our first derailed attempt at guerrilla camping. Stressful as it was at first, we were not going to be intimidated into leaving the park every night to camp. So we went into full-stealth mode for the next 3 nights: parking behind the fancy lodges in the employee housing areas, not popping the top (thus having Adalaya sleep on the floor of the van), closing all the shades, and having all lights out by dark. Having figured out this system we were better able to explore the park as we wished, although it didn’t make for the best sleep. I don’t know if it was because we were more cramped, more paranoid about being told to move, or because we were camping within the caldera of the largest active supervolcano in the world, but we all had restless nights while we were in the park.

Rested or not, this volcanic basin makes for some amazing landscapes and thermal features. The first area we explored was the Upper Geyser Basin, home of Old Faithful and hundreds of other geysers and hot springs. We walked miles of boardwalks and trails, then biked to other geyser basins and saw many dramatic eruptions and colorful pools. Here are a few of our favorites….

Grand Geyser and Vent Geyser to it’s left. We waited here for about an hour to watch it erupt, and we were rewarded with a beautiful rainbow and a sulphur shower.

Here’s a cool one . . . Riverside Geyser.

Grotto Geyser. There’s George off to the right.

This was George’s favorite – Beehive Geyser. It only erupts every few days, but when it does it is immensely powerful.

Morning Glory Pool. The colors are created from different thermophiles (heat-loving microbes) and represent different temperature gradients. I don’t know if you can see it or not, but there’s a red dragonfly that was guarding this hot spring.

Here's Adalaya's favorite hot spring - Saphire Pool.

And I love the color contrast of it's drain-off stream.

Did you know that there are over 10,000 thermal features (geysers, hot springs, fumeroles, & mudpots) in Yellowstone – more than in the rest of the world combined. A very witchy landscape! Bubble, bubble, toil and trouble!

Once we were thoroughly geysered out, we headed to “The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone”. The yellow rock of this canyon is where Yellowstone gets its name.

It is amazingly beautiful with 2 big waterfalls, one of which is over 300 feet high – twice as tall as Niagra.

While we were hiking around the canyon area we got caught in a storm and crouched under the overhang of a nearby restroom. The rain turned to hail and we had a front row seat for the show, as well as the changing smells and temperatures. Soon after our hike, this black bear (who was also rain soaked) crossed our path.

We continued our journey north across a 10,000 foot pass. The scenery was grand and we were all very silent in awe. We also had a typical Yellowstone moment when we got stuck in a bison jam. At least we had front-row seats! (Yes, we carry our bikes on the front of the van.)

Our last morning in the park, we explored the Mammoth Hot Springs area. Mammoth indeed! These hot springs have formed a mountain from layer upon layer of mineral deposits. They are incredibly beautiful with their earthy colored tiers of pools.

We also saw elk everywhere around the village. Evidently they love manicured lawns!

Except for the tourist madness and restless sleeping conditions, I really enjoyed the park’s beauty and diversity. Adalaya agrees, but George described the experience as “horrid” and declared that he “is NOT a tourist!” So now we are heading west to the largest contiguous tract of wilderness area in the lower 48 states so George can decompress from the Disney-goes-Wilderness experience.

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