Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Travelblog episode 11: Yellowstone day 2

We woke up Monday morning raring to go and ready to see some geysers. The plan for the day was to take the south loop road out to Artist's Point to see the upper and lower falls of the Yellowstone (the north loop was closed), then continue down along Lake Yellowstone to the Grant Village visitor's center so we could see the movie about the big fire of 1988. We'd then continue on to Old Faithful, watch it go up, see the other geysers around there, then work our way to the Madison campground for the night.

The morning was bright and sunny, and the trip to the falls was great. When we were in Yellowstone back in 2006 I was fighting a stomach virus and didn't want to walk anywhere, so we skipped the "Uncle Tom's Trail" walk. This time, with five energetic kids in tow, we didn't. The hike down to the Uncle Tom viewpoint near the base of the falls was gorgeous. The hike back up? Strenuous. I didn't count the stairs, but there were many of them. And the fact that the falls are around 8,000 feet of altitude made the climb even harder. But the benefit of having to walk slowly was that it gave you time to take more pictures...

The upper and lower falls of the Yellowstone

A rainbow in the mist of the lower falls

A chipmunk (photo by Logan)

A small rivulette named "Kitty Falls" by Logan,
and Logan drinking from the Lower Falls

The gang with the Lower Falls

As we drove down the lake we started to see dark clouds in the distance. This didn't bode well for the rest of our day, since we were planning on being out of the cars for quite a bit. And sleeping in tents. The clouds continued to gather as we checked out the Grant Village visitor's center and, on this 20th anniversary of the big fires, watched the "Yellowstone: 10 Years After" movie (which we're hoping they update with footage from 2008). And by the time we got to Old Faithful it was clear that a storm was in the offing.

We timed our visit to Old Faithful completely wrong, arriving about 5 minutes after an eruption ended. So we killed some time by getting ice cream cones and heading over to the Old Faithful Inn to check out the insanely cool architecture (which I, for some reason, didn't photograph this trip). The wind was picking up, and there were a few drops falling from the sky, so I agreed to go back to the car to get coats for those who wanted them (Maya and Logan...Paige, Matt and I already had ours on, and Megan and Molly apparently didn't care). The rain continued to increase, but never more than a mild Seattle drizzle.

I headed for the Old Faithful lodge, mainly 'cause it was closer to the car, and there I met the family. They'd wandered over and were, mostly, dry. We still had 20 to 30 minutes to wait before the geyser was supposed to go off (or rather to the beginning of the window of expected eruption...). We hung out under the awning of the lodge, watching the wind blow the flags and the rain sputter, then decided to head down to the benches around the geyser. Which, of course, is when the storm decided to get more interesting. While there wasn't any lightning in the immediate area, we could see bolts on the hills and hear thunder. The wind also picked up, the temperature dropped, and the rain increased. All of which led to some cold folk standing around waiting for a geyser to blow.

And, eventually, blow it did. One thing to know about Old Faithful, should you chose to go, is that it's got a good 15-minute "juke" period where it bubbles up, looks like it's going to erupt, then settles down. I think it did it around 4 or 5 times before it finally blew. Of course, by then I was so cold and wet that I only snapped one shot, and not a good one.

Once the show was over we, and everyone else standing around, retreated to the lodge to dry out and warm up. And while we were there, we went in to sample the wonders of the caffeteria, figuring it was way easier to pay for a hot dinner we could eat at a dry table in a warm building than to go to our campsite and potentially eat cold food in the rain. Because really, what's the point of having a credit card if you don't use it to eat in a warm, dry room?

After dinner we hopped back in the cars and headed for Madison. Our plan was to set up camp, then either drive to the Artist's Paint Pots that night or in the morning on the way out. Well, as we were checking in to the Madison camp ground I saw a sign saying "Artists Paint Pots Closed". "Hey, why are the paint pots closed?" I asked the reservation lady. "I'm not sure, but I heard some thermals shifted and someone got burned." We later confirmed this from a Ranger. Ouch! So instead we set up camp, played some games, and hit the sack.

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