For a gal who always sees the first a.m. showing of movies in the theater to avoid people, going to Yellowstone National Park in August is a little counterintuitive. However, crowded in Yellowstone Country is far different than crowded in, say, the New York City subway. It’s 2.2 million acres. Plus, I arrived before dawn each day to get a head start on seeing as much as possible, which helps.
I left my quarters in Teton Village outside of Grand Teton National Park at 4:00 am. My goal was to see Old Faithful erupt around sunrise, followed seeing a whole lot of thermal features, all very popular attractions.
Old faithful is a geyser I’ve seen only in the cartoons from my youth. It was always forcefully delivering karma to some ol’ tom-fooler in a comedic fashion. As I joined the small crowd also up at the crack of dawn, bundled up and sniffling, that ol’ geyser was puffing away gently. White billows that got lost in the clouds.
The eruption began with a sputtering fountain of water at the based, and then water filled the sky upward, looking more like vapor than its liquid state. It was also a softer, more delicate eruption than I had expected.
What on Earth is going on in that Earth that these geysers spout 100+ feet into the air. “This world. This Earth. So amazing.” This is what was going through my mind most of my time at Yellowstone.
When Old Faithful’s load weakened the visitors spread about.
I was excited to explore the parts of Yellowstone I anticipated the most. Thee “hot” spots. I fell in love with Yellowstone’s geothermal features from pictures. Old Faithful is a thermal feature, but it was the colorful pools of boiling water I was drooling over. I was very excited to see them in person. I devoted most of my first day to their exploration; I was a bit obsessed with them, as you can tell by the quantity of pictures to follow–a very small portion of my grand total. I visited all the designated thermal basins in the park, excluding Black Sand Basin. All of the basins have designated walkways for safety… you don’t want to get boiled alive do you?
The Upper Geyser Basin: This basin is adjacent to Old Faithful. It is actually pretty striking to arrive at the parking lot to see the expanse of land simmering and smoking. Yellowstone sits atop a hotspot in the Earth’s mantle, pretty darn close to the crust. One of the rangers said that there are a few thousand earthquakes in the park every year. What is going on underneath the Earth’s crust is pretty spectacular–it is the reason why the land was set aside to be protected in 1872, the world’s first National Park.
I shot a lot geyser and spring videos as the sound and fury of the boiling and hissing features, along with their striking colors, was surreal. They also smelled. Egg fart central.
The beautiful, deep springs like this were my favorite. Looking at them, I can slightly understand how one might want to swim within them. But, no way. The first chapter of Death In Yellowstone, a must for anyone wanting to visit, tells the stories of the sad souls who died from partial or total submersion in the hot springs, accidental and intentional. Just this past June, a young man from Oregon died at the Norris Geyser Basin. If you’re going to visit, it’s important to understand the dangers. With many tourists sharing the narrow boardwalks… with children… photographic equipment… untied shoes. You need to follow the park rules and be very careful. I was kind of taken aback by what I saw from the other visitors. Hence, this misdirected lecture. Sorry.
Volcanic deposits a-plenty. Along with bubble and scrapes (Sebadoh!)
Aquamarine. Reminds me of my mom’s birthstone ring I used to be fascinated with when I was a kid.
Let’s Go Mets! (I hear the season is pretty much over.)
I’ll admit that a slither of the allure of the thermal feature areas was that I thought that the unstable, eruptive land in the basin areas were less likely to have bears roaming about. You see, I have never experienced the real wild before. Yellowstone is wild. Safety in the park is all about understanding and respecting this. Day one in the geothermal areas would help distinguish this land as wild, a place where nature reigns supreme, a place where the human animal is but a peon. But… I found myself hiking to Biscuit Basin which was quickly secluded and active with living things fleeing from my bear bell. Then I started looking at the tree trunks and skat, convinced there was evidence of bears. My bear spray was in the trunk and not attached to my backpack for ease of use. In the end, I saw no bears. I did see a bison eating near the Upper Geyser Basin. His picture is later.
The Biscuit Basin:
More of those deep blues. The colors are created from thermophiles, little single-celled organisms (bacteria) that are really into heat.
Idiot visitors have damaged pools by throwing crap into them–coins, and what not. The rangers vacuum out the crapola when they are clogged but some pools are forever changed. Like this one.
Yellowstone’s thermal area is the most active geothermal area on the planet. You can travel all around the world and you won’t find this kind of hot, bubbling, spewing and hissing display; won’t find a more beautiful display of shimmering color than right here in your country, The Unites States of America. Yellowstone has two-thirds of all the world’s geysers, too. Fumaroles, mud pots, hot springs, geysers are all the result of that volcanic activity in the giant hotspot.
Midway Geyser Basin: There was major back-up for this basin area. Because I hiked out to Biscuit Basin, I had to hike back. By then, everyone and their mother was up and at ’em.
Midway Geyser Basin has the big star of the Yellowstone thermal area: The Grand Prismatic Spring. This is probably the most beautiful feature in the park, in my humble opinion. This is where there was a lot of bustle on the boardwalk.
Though you can check out aerials on the interweb, there is no way to see it from above. I asked a ranger and he pretty much went on a tirade about how some guides misinform folks that you can take the now closed bike trail to Fairy Falls to see it from above. Turns out that is not the case. Others have climbed off trail to see it… but it is not safe. That entire area is currently closed for construction as the park attempts to create a safe walkway for viewing, fed up with all the visitors who take it upon themselves to make one.
Even if I wasn’t above it, it was extraordinarily beautiful.
My hiking boots match the thermal bacteria.
Lower Geyser Basin:
Norris Geyser Basin: This was actually my favorite basin. I liked the milky colors in the Porcelain Basin. Though, like all of the basins, it was so stinky. The smell of sulfur and other gases permeate, some very strong but all ever-present.
Other worldly, but all ours.
Mammoth Hot Springs: Mammoth Hot Springs are up north in the park and boast the most dynamic of the thermal features. With beautiful, snow-white limestone deposits, orange mounds and unique terraces, the area was like an above-ground cave.
West Thumb Geyser Basin: By this time, the boardwalks were a mob scene. And I had walked about 10 miles and was hungry and cranky. But this basin was unique as it was next to Yellowstone Lake… and there were lake geysers sputtering out there!
Mud Volcanoes: On my second day, I pulled in to see this group, which I had initially dismissed. These were so stinky, but super active and wonderful to witness. The pools of mud were bubbling like mad.
The Animals: Lamar Valley, near Northeast Entrance Road, and Hayden Valley, between Canyon Village and Lake Village, are great places to spy on wildlife. Did you know that the animal that has caused the most human injuries in Yellowstone is not the bear, but the Bison? Wait, scratch that. The animal that has caused the most human injuries in Yellowstone is… the human being. Yellowstone is not Disneyland. The animals within the park are truly wild. The natural order of the wild is the law in Yellowstone, which means sometimes visitors get injured or die… when they act stupidly and disobey the very important rules of the park, which include keeping a safe distance from the wildlife. This is to protect the wildlife too. Such a sad case about a baby bison that had to be euthanized after being rejected by the herd after being “rescued” by some clueless visitors.
I didn’t see a variety of animals, mainly bison, but I also was not around these areas when animals are most active. I did see this antelope pretty close.
And a lot of bison, my favorite.
Here is the bison that an old couple and I nearly walked right into at the Upper Geyser Basin. We were on that boardwalk trail approaching from the right when a guy from the left alerted us not to pass that tree stump. We eventually all walked from the boardwalk to pass him safely. The old timer insisted he take my picture with the bison. I obliged, because I love the old timers.
This was the closest encounter I had: this guy was walking right along my car. These kinds of incidents cause happy traffic, the kind where everyone is excited and happy and smiling at each other in awe. Then they go try the bison sausage at the restaurant in the evening with no connection.
The Grand Canyon Of The Yellowstone: There’s a Grand Canyon in Yellowstone called The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. It was pretty spectacular to hike down the south rim to see the waterfalls and a double-rainbow. But it was a doozy to hike back up! I walked 133 flights that day.
This is the Artist’s Point view. For the tour groups who can’t hack the hike.
The Terrain: Yellowstone is like its own country with different topography and weather systems within, different feels and textures. Here are just a small sampling of the land.
The Vegan Food in Yellowstone Park: It’s so kooky to have vegan options at Yellowstone! Here is what I ate and where.
Breakfast at the Old Faithful Inn: This lodge is gorgeous and worth a stop in just to refill your water bottle. But they have a vegan option in the early am (630-10).
Vegan Breakfast Bowl consisting of Greenwheat Freekeh topped with tofu scrambler, salsa fresca, and diced Anaheim chiles (no cilantro), with a side of home fries I mixed in. It was lacking a bit of flavor but was definitely better than it looked, though chiles tasted tin can-y. Hey, I’m just happy to see the word “vegan.”
I had dinner at Old Faithful Snow Lodge Obsidian Dining Room: the vegan Polenta Fritter, a grilled portobello mushroom, red onion, zucchini, yellow squash, roasted red pepper, balsamic glaze, along with some carrots. Pretty yummy!
Grant Village Lakehouse Restaurant offers a make-your-own bowl casual dinner option.
Here’s my Coconut Tofu Bowl. Again, pretty tasty. I’m eating vegan food at Yellowstone!
Other options I didn’t get to try:
Canyon Lodge Cafeteria has a sandwich station that offers a Gardein option.
Yellowstone Lake Hotel Dining Room has a vegan lunch option: a Red Lentil Burger made with organic lentils from Timeless (Conrad, Montana) on a cornmeal bun, cracked black pepper roasted garlic aioli, sliced tomato, fresh leaf lettuce, onion with a side salad.
Goodbye for now, Yellowstone! I hope to see you again.