Our fourth day in the park was spent concentrating on the various thermal features of the Upper, Lower and Mid Basins of the park. Naturally, no visit to Yellowstone would be complete without a few hours at Old Faithful. There is the famous geyser to explore, and the awesome Inn that is unlike any other resort in the park.
Personally, I found the Inn more impressive than the geyser. But then, I’ve seen Old Faithful more times than I care to count. Naturally, you need to put up with the crowds and endure a long line to get a scoop of ice cream – a must in any true visit to Old Faithful. I think it might even be an unwritten law somewhere because everyone does it. While you have a wide selection of flavors, Huckleberry is the flavor of Wyoming. I kid you not, they sell everything from Huckleberry Chocolates to Honey to Vodkas. If that isn’t enough Huckleberry for you, then try some body lotions, soaps and candles. We ate the ice cream, and gave serious thought to the vodka. Maybe next trip.
Spotting our First Moose – Wow!
According to our host, Joel, the best place for spotting a moose was along the Shoshone River east of the park. It took time and patience, but usually produced a sighting.Sitting along the roadside outside the park wasn’t exactly how we wanted to spend one day of our precious vacation, and there were no guarantees of finding the elusive moose. The idea seemed fruitless. As we made our way west, a few miles above Sylvan Lake, Hubby spotted a single car pulled off the road. People were looking down over the embankment. Hubby asked what they had spotted (always ask – you might get a treat). It was a young moose. Our fellow park goers were disappointed, hoping for a bear. Really? We were thrilled! No surprise that Moose are the largest member of the deer family. Reports of moose in Yellowstone in 1872 when the park was first established were rare. Thanks to protection from hunters within the park, and the elimination of wolves saw the moose population increase. Unfortunately these gains have lost ground. Suppression of forest fire controls and the reintroduction of wolves have once again made moose sightings rare. Parasites, disease and global warming have also played roles in the reduction of the moose population. Moose do not adapt well to warmer weather – who knew. Today there are less than 800 moose within Yellowstone, the Grand Tetons and their surrounding forests. While female moose do not have antlers, when approached with their young, they are extremely dangerous.
Yellowstone Lake Butte Overlook
A visit to Lake Butte Overlook represents just the start of the adventure. The turnoff to the one-mile drive is clearly marked off the East Entrance Road. As you gaze out at the vast wilderness before you, your thoughts turn to the sign at the top of the butte that first greeted you. The interpretive sign is titled :Water Wilderness.” As with all interpretive signs, there is an image with various locations identified to allow you to get your bearings. What strikes you is the text “You are looking south across thirty miles of water into an area father from a road than any place in the lower 48 states. Except for Grant Village there is no significant development between here and Jackson, 100 miles south.” Can you imagine? Does the size and scope of this beautiful park even register? Breath in the air. Throw open your arms and embrace the wonder of it all! If you can, visit the Butte to catch the pale colors of a morning sun or linger at the end of the day to watch the sun set in a blaze of color.
Strolling along the Shores of Yellowstone Lake at West Thumb
Entering the park from the east, as you drive along the shoreline of Yellowstone Lake you’ll see huge plumes of steam rising into the air in the distance. This is West Thumb, a geyser basin that is along the shores of the lake. West Thumb had the distinction of being the first area within the park to be described in print. While many of the unique features of the park had been described by mountain men and other explorers, a first hand account of West Thumb appeared in print on September 27, 1827. The story seemed fantastic. and hard to believe. In 1869, the first scientific expedition visited West Thumb to see for themselves. Historically, early tourists to Yellowstone arrived to West Thumb by way of stagecoach. At West Thumb, they had a choice – continue on to the lavish Lake Hotel in the dusty, bumpy stagecoach or sail in smooth comfort abort the steamship, “Zilllah”. Most travels elected to pay the extra fare. Of all the features in the area, the most popular among visitors at the time was Fishing Cone, a hot spring just off shore in the lake itself. The most famous tale comes from the 1870 Washburn Expedition. As the story goes, a man fishing miscalculated his fling onto the shore, and his catch landed in the cone. The fish flopped around wildly before floating to the surface, conveniently cooked. The story spread, and earlier visitors to the park were treated to a demonstration of “cooking on the line” by tour guides. A national magazine reported in 1903 that no visit to the park was complete without this experience. A popular post was for tourists to dress in a cook’s hat and apron to be photographed at the cone. The practice of cooking fish is regarded today as unhealthy, and is now prohibited. Even if cooking in super heated volcanic water were okay, the danger exists of the geyser erupting. Early in the 20th century, the cone had eruptions as high as 40 feet. Today, the lake levels have risen, cooling the cone and it is no longer considered an active geyser but rather a hot spring. The last major eruption was in 1939.
West Thumb then . . .
West Thumb now . . .
Overall, the ground water temperature within West Thumb basin has cooled and many of the features have all but gone silent. Like everything in the park, the basin goes in unpredictable cycles of silence and activity. Areas that were once active are calm, while new features pop up elsewhere. Twin Geysers, the Abyss Pool, the Black Pool, and Lake Shore Geyser are all easily accessible along the quarter-mile boardwalk loop. Even in the summer, a cool breeze from Yellowstone Lake is a refreshing escape from the puffs of steam. What makes West Thumb unique is that thermal features are not only found along the lake shore, but extend under the surface of the lake as well. During the winter, these underwater hydro-thermal features are visible as steaming wholes in the ice surface of the lake. Away from the underwater features, and the ice on the lake can be as much as three-feet thick. During the winter months, West Thumb is a popular destination for snowmobilers.
The Beauty of Old Faithful Inn
While today we take the Old Faithful Inn for granted as though, like the park itself, it has always stood proudly watching over the geyser bearing its name. As popular as Old Faithful is to visitors, the Inn was not part of the early days of Yellowstone. In 1872 Congress signed into law the preservation of Yellowstone with its thermal features and wildlife. The law was signed by President Ulysses Grant. It did not take long for railroad giants to seize upon the opportunity of transforming the first National Park into a destination for those who could afford it. Within ten years, rail lines reached the north gate.
For about $45.00 a person, the early twentieth-century tourist could purchase a five-day tour of the park. This fee included food and lodging. Visitors arrived by rail to Gardiner, Montana, then were taken by horse-drawn stagecoach to Mammoth Hot Springs some five miles away. Their they spend the night at the National Hotel.
The next day the stage took travelers to the Fountain Hotel, which stood near the present Fountain Paint Pots. After the first night at the Fountain, guests were taken to the Upper Geyser Basin, home to Old Faithful, Beehive, Castle and Grand Geysers.
At the end of the day, guests returned to the Fountain Hotel for a second night of lodging. Many of these upscale travelers expressed a desire to spend more time in the Upper Geyser Basil, insisting that overnight lodging be built. In 1885, a large, rambling, hotel dubbed the “Shack” was built by the railroads. This was not the luxurious accommodations travelers had come to expect. Tour companies shunned the Shack for better accommodations at the Fountain. Finally, in the spring of 1903 construction of the Old Faithful Inn began. The original “Old House” portion of Old Faithful took over a year to complete, as construction halted during the harsh winters. In 1913 the east wing was added, in 1920 the rear portion, and in 1928 the west wing. In 1987 The Old Faithful In was designated a National Historic Landmark. From the beginning, the Old Faithful Inn was a popular favorite. The first view guests would see from their carriage was a direct view of the famous geyser. Thick red doors opened onto a lobby several stories tall. While modern conveniences have been added to the Inn, it appears unchanged. Once upon a time, only those who could afford lodging passed through the doors of the Inn. Less affluence traveled were allowed a night’s lodging at the Inn’s cabins nearby. Only guests of the Inn were afforded a seat in the dining room or a place to view Old Faithful Geyser from the comfort of the second story balcony. Today all are welcome.
Class separation within the National Parks at the turn of the century.
There She Blows – Old Faithful Geyser
No visit to Yellowstone is truly complete without a visit to the most famous geyser in all of America, Old Faithful. There are about 1,000 known geysers in the world, and nearly half of those are in Yellowstone, a whopping 500 within the park. Old Faithful was so named in 1870 by the Washburn-Langford-Doane Expedition. During their stay in the area, they noticed that of all the geysers, this one erupted at regular intervals. That does not mean every eruption is the same. Old Faithful can gush from heights of 100 to 180 feet, with eruptions lasting anywhere from 90 seconds to 5 minutes. Seventy years ago, Old Faithful erupted about every 67 minutes. That time has increased to about 92 minutes today. Experts believe that earthquakes over the years have affected the underground water levels. While Old Faithful is the most famous geyser, nearby Grand Geyser is the tallest semi-regular geyser and even then it’s still not the tallest. Often when Grand Geyser blows, it is visible to the delights of Old Faithful’s crowds. If you want a seat for the show, you’ll need to get there about 30 minutes before the next predicted eruption. The horseshoe seating fills up fast. Witnesses to the old gal blowing her top then feel the hot water as it drains under the boardwalk. On a warm day, everyone heads on over to the Inn for a big scoop of Huckleberry Ice Cream. Those are Old Faithful tradition.
Firehole Drive – The Final Loop of the Day
Firehole Lake Road is a 3-mile, one-way road off the Grand Loop between Old Faithful and Madison Junction. Geysers and hot springs are visible from the road and boardwalks. It is a less crowded thermal area even in the height of the tourist season. In the summer of 2014, the drive was closed due to road damage and needed to be repaired. The asphalt had actually eroded due to extreme heat. Some of the more prominent features are White Dome Geyser and Firehole Lake. The day we visited the drive, a late afternoon thunderstorm ripped through the area, dumping so much rain at once that walking the trail was nearly impossible. This same storm dropped hail throughout Hayden Valley, making it looked like a winter scene.
Thanks for stopping by. Hope you enjoyed today’s adventures.