First off: You may want to peruse the Yellowstone photo album online at:
Having said that… let me now run through the visit:
We arrived about 10am MDT on Saturday, May 22. We found a 1/2 mile of cars in front of us. People were out of their cars, putzing around, and NO one had ANY idea why there was a line of cars. Oh, it was a LOVELY spot to wait for sure, but the fact that they made no effort at all to tell people WHY there was an issue is bad customer service. We ended up having to walk a half mile up the road to ask what was going on. It ends up, some numbskull decided to driving really fast over the mountains in the park and flipped his/her/its car, causing the entire east entrance to back up for X amount of time.
We were finally let into the park around 12pm MDT or thereabouts. We jhad 2 nights booked at the Old Faithful Snow Lodge… which ended up being totally appropriate to the trip, I’ll tell ya… Let the put it like this… it’s MAY… a week before Memorial Day. AND IT’S SNOWING EVERYWHERE?!??!
So we check into the hotel (nice place… rooms are very spartan, but the place seems very nice and cozy inside… ), drop out stuff off, suit up the best we can for the inclement weather conditions, and then walk over to Old Faithful, which was set to go off at 1:45 of thereabouts. We had just enough time to get there. Shortly after we set up a spot on the benches, Old Faithful blew up…. literally. That’s what it seems like: there’s some steam, some bubbling, and the PSHHHHHHHHHHHHH about 60+ feet high. It’s pretty cool to see.
After Old Faithful went off, we took to trekking the Upper Geyser Basin area (about 2 to 3 miles of walking). Let me paraphrase this: DO NOT WALK OFF THE TRAIL What looks like solid ground, is probably just Bacterial Mats, which are quite thin and will shatter and break under the weight of my (and your) posterior. You will then fall into the beyond boiling liquid and be parboiled. Remember kiddies: Yellowstone isn’t just a National Park – It’s an active volcano! (a point EXTREMELY well demonstrated at the Canyon Interpretative Center, which was AWESOME). We did not encounter any of the wildlife around the Upper Geyser (except the copiously large mounds of Buffalo crap), but we did encounter… the weather. It snowed. Heavily. The mountain winds whip down like chainsaw and slice through your skin, leaving you a meat Popsicle wishing you could get closer to the warm, boiling geysers to defrost your fingers, ears, and nipples. The air was so cold and windy at times, filled with steam and snow you could barely see the path in front of you. You were lucky at times to see your own feet. You had to rely on feel: the difference between plastic/wood and grass/gravel/bacterial mats. Then it would clear up… Yellowstone weather was acting like Michigan weather for us: wait 5 minutes, it’ll change… well… except the wind and cold never changed.
In any case, after a long walk left my hip screeching at me, we went over to the Old Faithful Inn. What a gorgeous building that is. It appears to be a huge, massive teepee in the middle of the basin. It has fascinating history (almost being destroy in 1988 by a massive fire that wiped out 367,000 some acres of Yellowstone… the signs of which are still very visible today). And inside it is absolutely awesome. It looks like a massive Lincoln log project multiplied by infinity. Stairs that go up and up, trestles and massive logs. A 70+ ft fireplace. We found a good set of chairs and set up base for people watching a bit. Most people walk around, head craned up, mouths hanging open… if we had peanuts, we could have played a 3 point shot game easily. We watched Old Faithful go off again from the second floor balcony (over the cacophony of a diesel engine bus below). We went downstairs and did some shopping (I bought stuff for my brother and nephew)
We also trekked down to look at the middle basin that day, which was equally awesome but the weather was really out in full glory this day. Some you can see, others are just fog and thunder. At this point, I’ll also point out: Looking through those pictures, there’s one thing we cannot relate through pictures of Yellowstone: THE SMELL.
Geysers smell… bad. Like rotten egg bad. Some smell exceptionally pungent, to the point you think this would be a good place for a stick-up labeled “Skunk Warfare”. And they make noises. Some roar. Some bubble. Loud enough even for me to hear. I realize walking through the middle basin that this is a perfect place to be a gassy person. You can walk along, set off a string of crackle farts (where you let out a small fart with every step) and no one would know. They can’t smell it and they can’t hear it because there’s no difference between the olfactory and auditory nature of the geyser basins and your farts.
Anyhow, on the way back to the car, we spotted Buffalo on the other side of the lake. Not the FIRST buffalo we’d seen in the park, mind you (those were along Yellowstone Lake when we entered), but these ones were fairly close. There’s some good pictures of this with the zoom it, but you can tell it was snowing something fierce. So I’m running across a field towards the river to snap pics of Buffalo on the other side of the river thinking… “they can’t get pissed and cross the river the gore me, can they?”. I erred to the side of caution and just snapped some the pics. We also some the biggest dang Ravens I’ve ever seen. Those are HUGE birds.
As it grew dark and snowier, we headed back to our now appropriate choice of the Snow Lodge to have dinner.
We both ordered Buffalo (appropriate), which was ridiculously expensive ($28/plate for 8 oz Buffalo tenderloin). It was okay. I was not blown away. The service was… very… umm… I’m not used to being asked “would you like more water” every 5 minutes. I mean, I just got the glass, okay? Back off! I was given the distinct impression that they were WAY over staffed and did not have much to do (or maybe I’m not used to being waited on with that kind of attention… I really don’t know which). I did like that the staff all had their state or country of origin listed on name tags. So I know our waitress was from Peru. She was very good at her job!
I had no issue falling asleep that night. No TV? No problem. Zzzzzz…..
The next day, we awoke very early. Our plan was to see as much as we could fit into the day. We woke up to about 12 inches of new snow on the ground (egads!). We were told there was 4 to 10 inches of snow on Saturday, then another 12 inches that evening… Someone missed the memo that this was my SUMMER VACATION!!!!
We had breakfast in the Snow Lodge. It was okay. I had an overpriced buffet. Nothing in it was very good at all, really. I mean, I make better scrambled eggs than that myself. Good bacon, but it dried out quickly. My dad had an omelet, which was also just okay… the food is very overpriced here for the quality…
First, we hit Firehole Canyon, which was just a lovely stretch of road. One way, very intimate. The mountain side on your left, and a gushing canyon to your right. We reached a spot where the Firehole Falls came down, and it’s really impressive. If this was in Michigan, it’d be a huge statewide attraction. In Yellowstone, this is barely known of. It’s gorgeous. There’s a swimming hole down the street from the falls… and I wished it weren’t so freaking cold cause it looked like a nice spot to swim. The water was likely 70 degrees plus. On the way out of the Firehole Canyon, we encounted a suspicious looking creature on the side of the road. I saw it and said “Hey, check it out: someone left their horse here.” but as we approached, it was obviously NOT a horse. (see: http://picasaweb.google.com/mcspoo/YellowstoneMay2010#5475895287421250898) It was either a small baby moose or a young elk. I could not tell which (feel free to advise me). It was HUGE and RIGHT NEXT TO ME. It almost stuck it’s head in the window. THRILLING! rather than accost the moose/elk any further, we drove off and watched a line of cars behind us get trapped because it was now slowly waltzing out in the road in lazy fashion and really did not give a dang if the cars were inconvenienced or thrilled to see it.
We started heading down the road to the Canyon area, stopping to note more buffalo, elk and other wildlife. I cannot express how awe-inspiring a herd of buffalo are in words. We saw herds that appeared to number 150+ in size. Just hundreds of them spread out over the plains and geysers. Amazing. We stopped to see the Paint Geysers… which required a walk back into the woods. I’m walking through thinking “what exactly happens if one of those buffalo ends up in the trail ahead of me?” so the entire time I’m walking, I have this vision of a Buffalo popping out, running at me, and then me leaping my ass into these tiny trees and the buffalo stops, and then falls down laughing. “Messin’ with Humanity” (ergo the Beef Jerky commercials “Messin’ with Sasquatch”) then plays. Alas… Paint Springs/geysers were very cool. Because of the freezing temps, steam would come off the pools and end up freezing on the pine trees. Very very pretty. My pictures don’t do justice to it.
Let me also note this: Yellowstone is REALLY FREAKING HUGE. It is a MASSIVE park. The drive from Old Faithful to Canyon is NOT a short drive. It’s a LONG drive, through some incredibly lovely terrain. Mountains. Prairie. Moonscape. Forests. It is a surreal drive for someone used to the monotony of Michigan out doors. Extremely enjoyable.
Once we reached Canyon, we spent some time in the Interpretative center, which as addressed is VERY cool. There is a MASSIVE (think 30′ x 30′) 3-d model of the park laid out, LEDs in the model to demonstrate different geographical and geological structures at work in the park, like the outline of the volcano caldera (which would swallow the entire Detroit metro area whole). I loved this experience, and I’m not usually the one to be excited by centers of this sort, but this was the best constructed, thought out and laid out thing I’ve ever seen.
After getting geeked up, and finding maps for places to visit around Canyon, we started up the Upper Rim trail…. Pulled in the first roadside area, walked down… the snow started to subside and the sun was out. Temps were up around 45… and… OMFG. There’s no way to use words of any language, no poetry powerful enough to express the awesome view of the Yellowstone Canyon and the Lower Yellowstone Falls. It was just so absolutely unbelievable. You’re next to a canyon that’s 800 to 1200 feet deep. The lower falls drop 309 feet and appear to be maybe 3 inches high. Holy buffalo! We spent time going from road side stop to road side stop… and they all give you different views of the canyon. This is the closest thing to the Grand Canyon that I may ever experience. There’s a section of the Lower Rim trail that gives a view that is so incredible, mostly because of where you end up: on a granite overlook, 900 feet in the air… looking out over the entire lower Yellowstone Falls basin. OMFG x 2 (For pic of my Dad and I there, see: http://picasaweb.google.com/mcspoo/YellowstoneMay2010#5475895977567832258) I had no idea. I did not research the park: I went on what my dad said from his previous visit: this place is awesome. And yes Dad, this place IS awesome. I sat on a chair carved into granite and just took the scene in. This is the type of vista you hold in your memory, and call up whenever you’re feeling stressed out or worried or anything not good. Because the grandeur and scale here is so different, so beautiful, so awe-inspiring that it can’t help but fill you with peace (or if you suffer fear of heights, absolute terror).
By this point, the way was almost over. We drove back down through to Old Faithful to see the Lower Geyser basin, which yielded several interesting moments: 1, I nearly puked. Black Dragon Geyser or something smelled so bad, the stench wafted at me as I was drawing a breath and I gagged. I just about puked. and 2. The snow and wind came back while we were a mile away from the car on the trails, and we really could not see anything at all whatsoever. The snow and steam were so heavy, I could not see my feet. We just sort of staggered around waiting for a break in the clouds… there’s a few pictures of this. I managed to snap some decent shots when the clouds subside, but the weather was once again turning on us in a very bad way.
After much touristy viewing, we ended up back at the hotel. We went to see Old Faithful again (about 6:15 on Sunday. 5/23) and it went off late (closer to 6:30, which is outside the promised +/- 10 minutes). It’s equally impressive on third viewing. Then went back to the restaurant, where I ordered a burger, fries and a corn chowder… which I immediately regretted. As a lactose intolerant human, I should have asked if they used heavy cream… and they did. Oh, my stomach. I felt HORRIBLE and fell asleep in bed before 8pm.
We awoke by 5:30am on Monday, 5/24 to even MORE snow. That’s right, another 10 to 14 inches of snow had come down over night. And it was STILL SNOWING HARD. I wondered if we’d get out of the place… We packed up, took stuff down to the car (and cleaned the trusty Envoy off with just a single, small ice scrapper and newspaper), had breakfast (Hiker’s Breakfast… very good, but again: OVERPRICED!), and hit the road. It is here I managed to snap what I think is the best picture of the entire trip. I’ll end this travelogue with this awesome picture of a buffalo in a snow storm on the side of the road leaving Yellowstone….
Isn’t this just awesome????????