States: 1 (Wyoming)
Camp: Bridge Bay Campground, Yellowstone National Park
I had originally planned to leave early in the day and head for Badlands, but the size of Yellowstone had made it difficult to see everything I wanted to. Instead, I extended my camp reservation at Yellowstone for an extra day.
My first full day in the park, I purchased a fishing license. I had initially hoped to learn to fly fish while at the park, but the only guided fly fishing tour was upwards of $400 for one person. Looks like I’ll have to wait to learn. Rather than sulk over the expense of fly fishing, I drove out to Gull Point to fish from shore. The whole experience was rather nerve wracking, as I was out away from my car and a bit worried about running into a bear, but I tried to ignore that fear. Fishing was a total failure, without even a single bite. I wasn’t terribly disappointed, because that’s pretty much what I expected. Without knowing the area and without any sort of guide, I couldn’t expect much success in such a short time.
From Gull Point I continued around the south end of Grand Loop Road, crossing the Continental Divide twice. Shortly after, I stopped at Scaup Lake to take a few more photos. The water was very calm and there was a beautiful reflection of the trees on the water. It wasn’t quite as impressive as Sprague Lake at Rocky Mountain, but it was pretty nonetheless.
Just past Scaup Lake is Old Faithful, which was one of two main attractions I wanted to see that day. When I arrived, Old Faithful was about an hour and a half from erupting. I listened to a short presentation about the mechanics of the geyser, and took some time to walk through the rest of the nearby geyser basin. It’s truly stunning to see so many geothermal features in one area. It really brought to reality the fact that I was standing in the caldera of an active supervolcano. Beyond that, it also made me very grateful at the realization that half of the geothermal features and two-thirds of the geysers in the world are in Yellowstone for us to view and enjoy.
I managed to get a good seat to watch Old Faithful erupt. While it was very cool to see, and even cooler to see that they had predicted the eruption down to the minute, I wasn’t as impressed as I had hoped I would be. Maybe I’d just been spoiled by the rest of my trip, but I didn’t feel the sense of awe I was expecting to.
I took a break for lunch in the cafe at Old Faithful before heading out for what I was most excited to see - Grand Prismatic Spring. More than any of the other geothermal features, Grand Prismatic Spring captivated me. The tremendous size and the vivid colors are just breathtaking. I walked the boardwalk through the area and around the spring to get a good look.
Getting photos was difficult. First, it’s hard to capture such a large feature from ground-level. Second, every now and then a gust of wind would blow steam into my lens and cloud everything up.
As I was getting ready to leave the area, another photographer approached me and told me there was a trail that led to the hilltop just across the spring. According to him and another visitor who joined the conversation, it was a relatively easy hike and gave an unobstructed view of the entire feature. Though my knee was feeling pretty sore from a fall I took on the South Rim Trail the day before, I decided to go for it.
The trail was short, but relatively steep. Fortunately, though, the climb was aided by a number of logs and fallen trees on the way up the slope. Part-way up the climb, someone on their way down commented in passing, “It only gets better the further you go up.” So I climbed the entire way. What a view. Where on the ground you could see some of the color and steam, from the top of the hill you could see everything. All of the colors, the way the deposited minerals create brilliant orange tendrils reaching out from the main pool, the heated water bubbling up from below, all of it. So wonderful.
I spent at least an hour at the top of the hill before continuing on my way. On the road back to camp, a large bird swooped over top of my car, so I stopped to see if I could get some pictures. As the bird circled overhead, thermal soaring above the road, I managed to get a few good shots and feed my “bird nerd” side.
Closer to camp, I was once again stopped by a herd of bison on the road, then by a crowd gathered to watch for the wolves in Hayden Valley. Though we didn’t spot any wolves, I stayed for a couple of hours and talked with some other park visitors. We had a great time talking and watching the other wildlife in the valley.
After that I returned to camp for the night to get some sleep, as I was planning to leave early in the morning to start on the 24 hour drive back to Chicago.