Sunday, August 5, 2012

Just another walk in the park

About half the time I go to Yellowstone nowadays, it's to take visitors there for their first visit.

Artist Paint Pots.
It's interesting to watch their reactions. Some -- most, perhaps -- seem just a little disappointed. The hype has been too great (often at least partially my fault for the pre-visit buildup). To me, hot water spewing spontaneously from the ground, multi-colored hot springs and mud pots, herds of bison and elk, the occasional bear or two, one of the North America's most spectacular river canyons and the stunning architecture of Old Faithful Inn never lose their attraction. I will make a half-dozen trips to YNP this season, three on my own.

Bacterial mats at Grand Prismatic Spring.
Saturday, the first-timers were Kathleen's brother, Stever Haner; his wife, Darla; Kathleen's cousin, Joan Wilder-Siersma; and her husband, Andy. It's always difficult to decide where to go on a one-day visit with first-timers. You just can't see all the highlights in one day. Even skipping the upper loop (with Mammoth Hot Springs and Tower Fall), we left the house at 8 a.m. and returned at 11:40 p.m. And, WE MIS-TIMED Old Faithful and MISSED IT.

Beehive Geyser.
We fared better at other stops: Gibbon Falls, Artist Paint Pots, Canyon, and most of the geyser basins along the Firehole River.The Mud Volcano area, as always, was a highlight. We pulled into the Upper Geyser Basin just as Beehive was erupting. The angle of the sun created a gorgeous rainbow, so I think it was a fair trade, missing Old Faithful. As the sun set, Fountain Geyser was erupting at the Fountain Paint Pot Nature Trail, resulting in some spectacular shots of water, steam and setting sun.

Earlier, we ate a leisurely lunch of sandwiches and white wine along the Gibbon River and dinner was in the lounge of the Old Faithful Inn. We did get a good close-up view of a bison or two and watched some elk cows in their usual spot along the Madison River. I will refrain from passing along some of the family secrets exposed during the hours in the car between stops and on the way to and from the park (but, hoo boy!).

The canyon was spectacular and Grand Prismatic Spring had a unique look in the low light of evening. We forgave Joan, our driver, for idling in a West Yellowstone convenience store parking lot at the end of the day while we sat with her in the car, each of us wondering separately why she hadn't pulled out minutes before. Turns out, of course, that she was waiting for one of us to return from the store, while the rest of us were too polite to say, "HEY, JOAN, whatchya waitin' for?"
At one point, Joan became so engrossed in a scandalous conversation that our car ultimately came to a slow stop in the middle of a potato field. (Not really, of course, but Joan did nearly bring the car to a stop in downtown Iona during a particularly fascinating exchange of family data.)

An early harvest moon accompanied us to the east on our way back home, and we fell into bed, happily exhausted, around midnight. Today, it's brunch at the South Fork Lodge, the Tetons (a quick Jenny Lake loop), and people-watching in Jackson. It's not Yellowstone, but, oh, well.

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