Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Road Trip Part 1, Yellowstone National Park: September 1-7, 2020


We left home September 1 and drove 80 mph on I-80 through Nevada with nothing much to see. I learned that when a rest stop is open to stop because the next several will probably be closed. Overnighted in Elko in a Best Western Hotel that while clean had seen better days. Eighty on I-80 continued into Utah before stopping at the Bonneville Salt Flats to give Dan's car a test drive on the salt flats. 

Our next overnight was in Layton, Utah, but before getting there we took a detour to Antelope Island State Park on the Great Salt Lake. Very hungry by now we first stopped at the Island Buffalo Grill (the only restaurant open) for a buffalo burger that even considering our hungry state wasn't so good. Then we saw lots of buffalo, walked along the beach, took photos, drove to our hotel. 

In Layton, the Thai restaurant next door to a very nice Best Western Hotel was open for indoor dining. We were looking forward to a better dining experience than we have had so far on our road trip but just before the food arrived, Dan discovered that his left hearing aid was missing. He left to search and retrace our steps, while I had everything boxed up to take to our room. After several more attempts to find it we suspended our search for the night. In the middle of the night I woke to thoughts of retracing all our steps during the day on Antelope Island.



The next morning, we drove back to Antelope Island where Dan left his card and we asked various locations we had visited about a found hearing aid. No luck there. We drove to the buffalo side of the island and saw not only buffalo but also 11 pronghorns (Antilocapra americana). Pronghorns are not true antelope just like our buffalo are actually bison. That was a nice bit of luck.

Pronghorns

Antelope Island in the Great Salt Lake

Back on the road, we headed toward Jackson Hole, Wyoming, for a short overnight before driving through Grand Teton National Park on our way to Yellowstone National Park where we finally got to nest for 3 nights in the Old Faithful Snow Lodge.

To get to Yellowstone, we drove through beautiful Grand Teton National Park where we hoped to have a nice lodge lunch. The Grand Teton lodges were closed, but we did find a fast food to-go meal at the open cafeteria. The scenery was beautiful.




Because of the Covid-19 pandemic, for six months we haven't done much socializing and have completely avoided large groups of people. So, it was a bit of a shock to arrive at Old Faithful geyser in the Upper Geyser Basin and find crowds of people many unmasked. The visitor population swells during the mid-day eruptions of Old Faithful and then they move on or go back to campgrounds. The hotel guest population was quite low.

Staying at Old Faithful Snow Lodge was perfect for us. Several restaurants were open in the village but no indoor dining was allowed. You could eat in your room or try to snag one of the outside tables. Plastic reigned!



The park service has a geyser eruption prediction website, and Old Faithful was going to erupt the next morning right around sunrise. As soon as we woke, we gathered our camera stuff and headed to a trail overlooking Old Faithful. Old Faithful erupted early and we never saw a great blast from the overlook trail, but it was quiet and we heard the bugling of a distant elk.

Moon setting over Old Faithful and the Old Faithful Inn

Back down we explored the Upper Geyser Basin taking photos of backlit steam in the early morning light.



Later in the day we hiked to Fairy Falls. To get there we walked along a trail west of the midway geyser basin from where we caught glimpses of steam rising from the Grand Prismatic Spring. From a distance it was truly unworldly, blue rising steam rising around distant crowds of people, but as there was not a trail to it on the west, we kept going toward Fairy Falls.

View from the west of Grand Prismatic Spring


The 200' Fairy Falls above and below colors and textures from Biscuit Basin hot springs.



In Yellowstone lightning started a fire on 8/22. Because it was in unburned forest, they let it burn. It was not a large fire, but it is about 3 miles from Old Faithful Village where we are staying. The winds have picked up every afternoon fanning the flames. Yesterday we drove to several areas north of Old Faithful Village. In the afternoon after finishing several hikes, a ranger in the Biscuit Basin parking lot told us that the southbound road south of Old Faithful had been closed due to fire. We immediately got on the road south to get back to our hotel, but traffic was stopped in both directions. A guy in a van ahead of us chatted briefly with the occupants of a vehicle stopped in the northbound lane. Suddenly, the guy in the van made a u-turn and as he passed by us said, "there's a forest fire ahead TURN AROUND." His panic and us being trapped on the road reminded me of what people trying to escape the Paradise fire must have felt. The park service radio wasn't broadcasting so we didn't know whether or not conditions had worsened, but based on the information provided by the ranger, it didn't seem like we should be panicking so we stayed in the southbound gridlock and finally, we made it back. It was 2-1/2 miles and it took us 2-1/2 hours because traffic was gridlocked. 


View from Biscuit Basin of the fire before we knew about the traffic gridlock ahead

Later at Old Faithful Village I overheard a guy say that they had two RVs at one of the south campgrounds and their 2 dogs were inside. They were stuck until the pass opened. With the afternoon winds and the heat (not by California standards), the acreage burned has doubled to around 3,300 acres. The pass reopened on 9/6, but we are so gun shy that we are walking everywhere so we don’t get stuck in traffic. 

We were rewarded with fantastic geyser eruptions throughout the Upper Geyser Basin.

Castle Geyser


Grotto Geyser and Old Faithful Geyser

Grand Geyser (the world's tallest predictable geyser) with its more than 10 minute show

I so enjoyed walking around the geyser basin early in the morning when the steam is at its peak and is backlit by the rising sun. This morning, there was added orange color much like the color of the sun and air we left behind in California because a layer of smoke has settled over the valley. At sunrise few people were about. We caught sight of a Rocky Mountain Bluebird and an Osprey surveying the basin.

Old Faithful Geyser

Castle Geyser (eruption of more than 10 minutes)


Early morning view of Firehole River

Starting at Old Faithful Village we walked to Misty Falls which added quite a lot more mileage to the hike. On the way we had to walk past a sleeping bison who on our return hours later was still sleeping next to the trail.


Misty Falls


Our last hike just before sunset was to Black Sand Basin. Along the way we passed by the very appropriately named Punch Bowl Spring. The shape is created by sinter deposits that build 1-2 inches every 100 years.

Punch Bowl Spring

Reflection at Black Sand Basin

Our last morning in Yellowstone we got on the road just before sunrise. We stopped around 16 miles north at the Grand Prismatic Spring in the Midway Geyser Basin and saw the sun rise there. This is the source of the blue mist that we saw on our Fairy Falls hike.

Grand Prismatic Spring


The blue mist of Grand Prismatic Spring is an other worldly sight. The orange, red, and brown iris shape surrounding the pool is a community of microorganisms living in a layered thick mat. 

We drove farther north for a stop at Mammoth Hot Springs, breakfasted in our car, and drove out of the park. Temperatures were about 40℉ and we were wearing shorts still. The terraces at Mammoth Hot Springs are created from travertine deposits. We departed Yellowstone just in time as the weather changed and it snowed that night.






More than 500 boring miles and a lunch at Sonic Drive-In (because that was the only thing open and we couldn't picnic in the rain) later we arrived in Theodore Roosevelt National Park in Medora, North Dakota. Traffic was light but after Mammoth Hot Springs we had rain most of the way to North Dakota. 

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