health care, road trips, tech talk, occasional rant

Yellowstone

Twice in the last decade I’ve visited Yellowstone for a few hours — enter on one side, catch a few geysers and mud pits and maybe a canyon or two, then head out the other side.  But this time I plan to stay a few days and really enjoy the place.  Now I can tell you … Yellowstone is a stresspit!

In our last installment I was last seen hurrying straight to Mammoth Campground, so I can park then walk to Mammoth Lodge, and to Mammoth Hot Springs for a picture-perfect Yellowsone evening.   This is a big fat all-around FAIL – the campground is full, and it’s a pretty good distance from those places anyway.  So I hurry to the Visitors Center to get the 411 on campgrounds.   Next best chance is Indian Creek CG — 11 miles away.  I’m stressed, not enjoying the herd of Roosevelt elk on the lawn, or the WPA architecture, or the scenic overlooks, or anything.  All I want out of life is to know I have a place to sleep tonight.   Got to the CG, and got one of the last three spots.  Right next to the smelly portapotty.  Not too great, but I do have a place to sleep.  The bathroom traffic and the smell kinda put me in Walmart mode, where I do my thing and have my fun but try not to notice where I am.

As you may know, there was a huge forest fire that burned quite a large swath of Yellowstone in 1988, including the area outside this campground.  So hiking here is odd, the path is kind of barren, crowded by thickets of juvenile Lodgepole pines only about 2-3 times as tall as me – in other words, boring.  I did manage to find Indian Creek, which was not burned out and sort of pretty.

Tuesday

My campground is closing for the season as of this morning, so everyone has to be cleared out by 11AM.  I get up at 9-ish, and am surprised to see that pretty much everybody is already gone!   I went to bed surrounded by way too much humanity, and poof! they’ve all disappeared.  No doubt headed out to get the best campsites before me … which it turns out they did.

So 9:30-ish I mosey on down to Norris Campground, where I score another unsatisfactory spot.  Not very level and not at all private.   But I stake it out and head off on my sightseeing day.

Do the upper loop today, counterclockwise.   Extremely nondescript drive to the Canyon Visitors Center and coffee shop, where an enterprising raven stole my muffin right from under my nose (hate that!), then do the Yellowstone Canyon Rim Drive and a little walking around.  Someday I will do the drive on the other side of the canyon to Artists Point.

More driving … nondescript stops … the Teddy Roosevelt area, the upper right corner of the loop is already closed for the season … then finally to Mammoth.  I eat a burger at the Lodge restaurant, hang for a while (no Roosevelt Elk herd tonight).  I have been looking forward to Mammoth Hot Springs, but they were disappointing.  They are a shell of their former self – the hot springs mojo has moved. The frequent earthquakes do cause some areas to wax while others wane, and this one has lost stream, so to speak.

It was dark and rainy all afternoon, but suddenly after I started my hike it becomes sunny and warm again.  The turtleneck and beanie that had been so comfortable all afternoon were suddenly unbearably hot.

interlude

Again, note to myself  for the net time I attack Yellowstone:.

  • best part – s.w. part – Madison to West Thumb = Geyserland
  • good part – mid east part – Canyon to Fishing Bridge, along the lovely Yellowstone River
  • extremely boring parts:
    – mid link –  Norris to Canyon
    – along the lake – Fish Bridge to West Thumb is pretty boring
  • the whole upper loop is pretty worthless.  There was a place right north of Mt Washburn where you could look at eye level at the raptors, but I couldn’t find a parking place.  East side, west side, north side, south side, all boring boring boring.
  • the buildings of Mammoth are very stately and grand, and the elks are cool, but the thermal area has really declined.  Don’t forget the Upper Terrace parking, much better bang for the buck than walking from the bottom.
  • Best CG is Norris.  Loop A is really cool.  Loops B and C are commonplace. Loop A fills up early, so best is a two-day attack.  Take your crappy spot first night, nail down a Loop A spot for second night, and spend the day walking over to Norris Geyser Basin!
  • Even now, 2 weeks after Labor Day, Norris fills up by 2 and Mammoth by 3.  Grant does not fill up at all, but it is huge and inconveniently located.  Also, its check-in prodecure is hugely annoying and involves a 30 minute line that seems permanent all day.
  • passing thru east-west strategy:
    – camp outside West Yellowstone
    – execute to hit Norris by 1 to get a spot
  • north-south strategy:
    – camp at National Forest CG 15 miles north,
    – breakfast and wifi in Gardiner, then hit the park!
    – maybe grab a campsite at Mammoth.
  • Norris DOES have a trail to the geyser basin, so plan a third day of walking over there in the afternoon.

Wednesday

I start Day Two with a quick tour of Norris Basin.  The rest of the plan is to do the lower, much more interesting loop out of Norris, planning to end up at Grants Village for tonight’s campsite … since I will be leaving to the south tomorrow.  This will involve 20-ish miles of doubling back up the west side to see the big geyser basins, but that’s life on the Yellowstone loops.

Grants Village is huge!  You have to stand in line to personally register, where the functionary assigns you a spot.  I blow 35 minutes doing this, then do a drive-by to see what my site looks like.  The two RV couples next door are partying at their picnic table, having a pretty good time looks like.

I head up the west side of the lower loop to the biggest concentration of geysers, the Old Faithful area, Middle and Lower Basins.

I head straight for Firehole Drive, an excellent experience I remember fondly from other trips. My other favorite stop is Middle Basin, but that is a FAIL because the large parking lot is completely full.  I pulled over to think about how badly I wanted to see that particular set of gushing and bubbling hot water and decided I didn’t have the energy to fight it, so on to Old Faithful.

OF is another substantial geyser basin, with lots of hiking trails, a couple of biking trails., a nice river and usually a few bison wandering around.  I lucked out on OF itself, I don’t like sitting in that giant circle of benches waiting for it to happen, but it did happen anyway as I was walking the tour pretty close to it!

The main attraction of the day was the Giantess Geyser, which is sometimes dormant, and sometimes vary busy.  Today was a busy day.  It was more or less constantly sending water 30 feet in the air, and every 20 minutes or so would launch a 70′ plume into the sky.

My feet hurt.

I finish up my medium sized hike, the head back down the road to Grants Village. RV couples next door are still partying at the picnic table – a little louder than before :).  I head off for a little moonlight hike along our little corner of Lake Yellowstone.  It’s been spitting rain so I wear my heavy coat – good thing because it was pouring pretty hard by the time I got back.

Thursday

Still raining this morning, a good time to leave!  Breakie at the Grants Village snack shop. then down the road to Teton.  There is one more campground down this way, called Lewis Lake.  Looked very inviting for next time.

I never quite seem to budget the time for Tetons Park.  Same this time.  I do take the long way, the scenic drive along a couple of the lakes at the base of the very dramatic mountains.  The rain comes and goes, but the clouds make the whole scenery extra dramatic.  Right south of Jenny Lake a pretty nasty hailstorm blows through – I’d say chickpea-sized ice nuggets bouncing off the van.  very exciting.

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