Day 5 and it’s back into the park. As usual, traveling into the park from the East Gate and you are met with a minor morning traffic jam. Every day of our visit, the same bison bull seems to want to take a stroll down the highway. He causes quite the scene. This day is particularly cold, and the difference in air temperatures and the steam has created its own fog bank, especially around the lake. As we make our way to the Midway Geyser Basin, we keep an eye out for wildlife. We were lucky enough to spot an eagle perched in a dead pine tree. We watched the bird for a few minutes, until he flew away.
Morning Drive from the East Gate
Midway Geyser Basin, Home of the Grand Prismatic Spring
Grand Prismatic Springs is the third largest spring in the entire world. It is bigger than a football field at 370 fee in diameter, 360 feet long and 160 feet wide. The hot springs has a bright bands of orange, yellow, and green ring around the deep blue waters of the spring. The multicolored layers get their hues from different species of bacteria living in the progressively cooler water around the spring. It is the heat-loving microbes living in Yellowstone’s thermal pools that has given rise to research for extraterrestrial life on seemingly inhospitable planets. In 1968, Thomas Brock, a researcher, discovered a microbe living in one of the hot springs. This was a breakthrough in scientific advancements and the stuff that fuels the syfi-obsessed. While Midway Geyser Basin may be small, it packs one heck of a punch. A stroll across the Firehole River will bring visitors up close and personal to Excelsior Geyser, a huge geyser crater, and the beauty of Turquoise and Opal Pools. Midway Geyser Basin has been thrilling visitors to the park from very early. One thing to keep in mind, unless you enjoy crowds, its best to view this basin early in the morning or late in the day. Otherwise, tour buses decent upon the Basin as one of the most popular spots. That said, early morning means running the risk of steam so thick, visibility is almost non-existent. Frankly, I’m not sure its possible to get a clear view of Grand Prismatic without getting above the spring. Still, the strange landscape and micro organisms are fascinating.
This is the view most of us hope for –
This is the view on a clear day –
And this is the reality of an early morning visit –
Strolling Biscuit Basin
Biscuit-like sinter deposits once lined the edge of Sapphire’s crater, giving this basin its name. Sapphire Pool is one of the more sparkling crystal-clear pools. The 1959 earthquake caused Sapphire to violently erupt, dislodging the formations around its edge. Following the earthquake, Sapphire began to erupt in predictable cycles of every two hours. This behavior of spouting as much as 150 feet continued for several years following the quake. The crater of Sapphire Pool doubled in size and its biscuit-like formations were gone. By 1968 Sapphire ceased to behave like a true geyser. Its crystal-clear blue waters still violently boil, but the geyser no longer erupts as it once did. Biscuit Basin is actually part of the larger Upper Geyser Basin. (And, no upper does not indicate a northern direction but rather a higher elevation – the lower basin is further north, but at a lower elevation. Midway Basin is between the two, but I don’t know if that means direction or elevation). Much of Biscuit Basin are small gem-like encrusted pools. Unlike some of the geysers in the park, Jewel Geyser in Biscuit Basin does not appear to be connected to other formations underground although some believe Jewel is connected with Sapphire. Shell Geyser churns, setting off small, weak eruptions. Then its waters drain back into itself. Most visitors to Biscuit Basin are met with calm pools of beauty with a few bubbles and sputters of steam.
Upper Geyser Basin Beyond Old Faithful
Of the nine geyser basins in Yellowstone, the Upper Geyser Basin is the largest group of geysers, with a total of 410. While not all of the geysers are regularly active, visitors to this basin will not be disappointed in Mother Nature’s Show. The Upper Geyser Basin is most famous for the home of Old Faithful Geyser, but there is much more to this area than just this one famous geyser. The Upper Geyser Basin boasts the largest concentration of geysers in the world, including many of the largest geysers on the planet. Five of the largest predictable geysers are in the basin. Castle, Daisy, Grand, Old Faithful and Riverside are all predictable geysers, with times posted in the Old Faithful Visitors Center. If you can only see one, Grand is well worth the easy walk. The Upper Geyser Basin boasts fountain geysers, cone geysers, colorful pools and dazzling springs. My guys were fortunate – Grand Geyser put on a big, beautiful show. It’s amazing what you can capture on a cell-phone camera these days . . .
And the rest of the Old Faithful Area
Black Sand Basin
In 1878, Albert Charles Peale, a respected American geologist, mineralogist and paleontologist from Pennsylvania gazed upon the Black Sand Basin and promptly declared it to be the Emerald Group. Turn of the century tourists began calling this Emerald area Black Sand Basin because of the small fragments of black obsidian sand. The basin is located less than a mile north of Old Faithful Village on the Grand Loop Road. Frequent eruptions of Cliff Geyser, and the beauty of its pools are not to be missed. Opalescent Pool is a collection of runoff waters from Spouter Geyser. Green Springs was once an active geyser with minor eruptions over the years. Today it is mostly quiet. Emerald Pool, the pool that was originally intended to lend its name to the basin, is a large hot spring with striking rings of color. Rainbow Pool, not far from Emerald Pool, is aptly named for the multi-colored waters. Just don’t think about the algae and cyanobacteria that give this pool its beauty but rather marvel at the wonders of nature. While no longer an activity at the basin, Handkerchief Pool, located along the southern edge of Rainbow, was popular with early visitors. Tourists were allowed to drop a handkerchief into the pool at one end, watch the handkerchief pulled under. The missing handkerchief then reappeared in another vent, freshly laundered. The pool has not functioned since 1929, when people vandalized the pool, forever plugging it. Today Handkerchief Pool is inaccessible under a dense microbial mat.
Heading back to the Ranch
Heading back to the ranch, we came upon a traffic jam in an area that was not typically prone to bison meandering on the roadway. Sure enough, a bear was making its way through the dense forest. Only once did he reach a clearing long enough for a positive ID from the hopeful crowds running along the roadside in pursuit of a bear. Had there been a park ranger in the area, chasing a bear would not have been allowed. While many thought it was a grizzly, the absence of a hump clearly indicated that is was either a large black or brown bear.
A traffic jam caused by bison crossing from one side of the road to the other either in Hayden or Lamar Valleys can result in a stand-still of cars for as much as an hour, depending upon the size of the herd crossing and your place in line. First time visitor to Yellowstone go absolutely nuts when the herds cross. They will abandon their cars and go running in the direction of the massive animals. It’s no wonder first-time visitors are usually the ones to be gored. Interestingly enough, according to park officials the number of visitors impaled each year has risen. While one could suppose this is due to the increased number of visitors, what really seems to be a growing problem are selfies. People are actually posing near the bison, their backs turned, in the hopes of snapping a post-worthy selfie. Make no mistake about it, bison are WILD. Never, ever turn your back. Never, ever enter the herd. Never, ever pose with one. Got it? Oh, and one more tip – DO NOT try to rescue a calf, even if it does appear cold and shivering. While park officials will do their best to reunite the calf with its herd, chances are the poor thing will be put down.
Images of Stupidity . . .
The Valley Herds . . .
Thanks for coming along again today. I hope you enjoyed the drive.