Norris Campground to Canyon Campground, Yellowstone National Park, WY
Friday, August 25, 2006 … 15 Camper Miles – Total 6,129
Chilly, 48 in morning, sunny but clouded late pm with showers
We broke camp early and drove to Canyon. Unlike the first-come, self-serve Tower and Norris campgrounds, the canyon area campground is huge and all sites are assigned by an agency at the campground entrance using an elaborate, computerized reservation system. In spite of our reservation, however, the site we’d reserved was occupied. So, it was back down to the entrance to get a different site assigned to us, set up camp and back down, again, to get much-needed showers.
Sandy wanted to go to the grand opening of new Canyon Visitor Education Center and Bill wanted to do anything but. So, we put some laundry in the washing machines and Bill sat and wrote while Sandy listened to the politicians hold forth. Actually, dignitaries such as Secretary of the Interior, Dirk Kempthorne, and US Senator, WY, Craig Thomas, actually gave some good speeches, according to Sandy. Sandy did manage to secure a couple of free bus tour reservations for a special, ranger-lead tour/talk of the caldera area via a prototype bus.
So, after finishing the laundry, we boarded our bus. It turned out that out ranger/guide, Michael Breis, was also the vocalist who sang the Star Spangled Banner at the grand opening. Michael gave a great introductory talk about the Yellowstone caldera. (A caldera is the collapsed cone area of a volcano. Most of Yellowstone is actually the world’s largest active volcano.)
Next on the agenda was the Yellowstone Canyon. Referred to as the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, certainly not of grand size, compared to the Grand canyon. However, it competes very well for beauty points. We toured the north rim of the canyon, hiking the trails to both the upper and lower falls. Though short, the two trails descend more than 500 and 600 ft, respectively, so the walks weren’t inconsequential. But the views were spectacular. And the colors of the canyon walls were among the prettiest we’ve seen.
We returned to the camper for a quick dinner of string beans with sliced tomatoes before returning to the new Visitor Education Center for a talk by Dr. Robert Smith, Univ. of Utah, re Caldera Theories. (Dr. Smith (Bob Smith, how common a name is that?) is one of the world’s foremost authorities on “hot spots”, the phenomenon that causes the Yellowstone volcano and has studied Yellowstone most of his life. The new auditorium was full to capacity and Smith’s talk was excellent. But, he used a lot of technical terminology and presented lots of data, so it left a few of his listeners behind.
We had a cold, rainy night, snug and warm in our tin tent.
Saturday, August 26, 2006 … 0 Camper Miles – Total 6,129
43 deg in morning, clear & sunny, mid 60s, pm overcast & light showers
We showed up early in the morning for a ranger-lead hike around Clear Lake Loop on the Canyon’s south rim. (It turned out that yesterday’s vocalist and tour guide, Michael, was our hike leader.) Again, he did a great job, giving us lots of good information with liberal doses of humor. We liked yesterday’s trail climbs so much on the north rim that we decided to duplicate the effort on the south rim! Actually, there is only one big descent, called Uncle Tom’s Trail, and it is mostly stairways. Oh, but what a stairway … not for folks suffering from vertigo! The open steel stairs cling to sheer rock faces on the canyon wall. The views, though, are fabulous … you gotta do it! (By the way, there were 380 steps!)
We continued down the south rim to Artist’s Point … they said we’d understand the reason for the name when we got there and, indeed, we did. Looking up the canyon, you get the best overall view of the falls you can find. Looking down the canyon, the marvelous Yellowstone River rushes down it’s steep canyon. And, looking across the canyon, you see the most intense and varied rock color canyon walls that we’ve seen on this trip; even more colorful than the best Cedar Breaks had to offer!
Later, we jumped back into the car and headed south towards Yellowstone Lake. We stopped and walked another geo-thermal area, Mud Volcano. We also saw mysterious dust rising in the distance. It was from bison dusting themselves in dust “wallows”. Michael had talked about them during our morning hike. It is rut season for the bison and the dominant males dust themselves as a show of dominance. Finally, there was a scene you’ll only ever find in Yellowstone, bison grazing along the river next to a large, steaming hot spring.
At the lake (huge, but it was too cold and windy so we declined to swim.) we visited the luxurious lodge and restaurant. Once again, we encountered Fabian and Jan from our evening at Tower Falls campground. They had abandoned their tent for the last two nights of their trip, luxuriating in a real bed in the lodge and enjoying fine dining in a real restaurant.
We had a restaurant meal, too, but ours was at the Lake Lodge Cafeteria. Actually, they did a great job, preparing a special version of their featured evening meal of peppercorn rib steak by custom grilling veggie side dishes to satisfy Sandy’s diet needs. Back at the campground we snuggled up for another rainy evening.
Canyon Campground to West Thumb Campground, Yellowstone National Park, WY
Sunday, August 27, 2006 … 72 Camper Miles – Total 6,201
39 deg this am, foggy, then mostly sunny all day, low 70s
Our camper’s heater felt good this cold, damp morning. We enjoyed another round of showers (Two showers in two days!) before departing for our last Yellowstone destination. This was to be a non-stop geo-thermal day, hitting all the rest of the big-name “hot-spots”. Our first stop was at Artist’s Paintbrush, followed by Firehole Canyon and Lake Drive.
Everywhere at thermal areas are signs warning not to step off the walkways because the ground can give way and immerse you in scalding water. It was across the road from Mud Volcano that we saw a complete bison skeleton near one of the hot springs, mute evidence that bison suffer when they don’t heed those signs! Along the way we walked all the walks at Fountain Flat Drive, Fountain Paint Pot, Grand Prismatic Geyser and Biscuit and Black Sand Basins.
We felt a bit “geysered out” by the time we’d done all that. So, we stopped at the majestic Old Faithful Inn and had a drink on the deck before the next scheduled eruption of the most famous of all geysers. The Inn, by the way, is quite a sight, inside. The huge lobby atrium towers about five stories. The whole structure is built of debarked logs and braced with natural knees. It is just too cool!
Just before the appointed hour, we headed out to find seats on the viewing platform for the eruption of that old girl, Old Faithful, herself. She started her act about ten minutes early, just within her current variability. In spite of stories we’ve heard, her performance was up to par and we very much enjoyed the show.
We decided to spend the night at Grant Village Campground in West Thumb, positioning us to head out the south entrance of the park the next morning. That required us to drive across Craig Pass (also the Continental Divide) along the way. At an overlook along the way up to the pass, we were warned that there was a heavy hail storm underway. Hoping that the storm would be over by the time we got there, we continued up the road. Well, the storm was over but the evidence remained. There was more than an inch of white hail stones covering the roads and turning the grass and wood snow white. We took pictures, of course, probably the heaviest accumulation of hail that either of us had ever seen!
Arriving at our destination, it was raining pretty hard. So, while Sandy supervised from the warm, dry car, Bill set up the tin tent in the rain. Not to worry, it went up fast and dry as a bone. As a reward for his heroic work, Sandy prepared the evening’s dinner … leftovers … humph!