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Yellowstone Park Grand Teton National Park

13th June 2010

Yellowstone Park: Artists Paintpots, Fountain Paintpot, Midway Geyser Basin and Old Faithful

    Another freezing night, and what I thought was condensation on the windows was ice. But, it was a beautiful sunny morning, a tad chilly, but it was dry. I made a hasty breakfast of porridge and coffee, and I was on the road before 8am. The plan was to visit all the sights worth seeing on the road between Madison Junction and West Thumb.

Artists Paintpots

    Before reaching Madison Junction I called in at the Artists Paintpots. Walking up to the main boardwalks, I passed some hot springs gushing steam which looked like a Tolkien scene as the clear, early morning light caught the rising vapours. The short trail exhibited colourful hot springs and mud volcanoes, hence the name attributed to these sights.
Tolkien Steam Scene
Boiling Mud
Eggs Are Done
Fisherman in Firehole River
Hydrothermal Chemicals Pouring into the River
    After Madison, I followed the course of the Firehole River, and took a break to watch the fly fishermen chance their luck. Upstream there were steam vents and hot springs feeding chemical concoctions into this river for the next 18 miles or so, and I'm not sure how that affected the fish, but it certainly can't have killed them off. Indeed on this stretch south of Madison, there were steam vents by the side of the road every 100m or so, and there were also steam vents all along the river banks.

Fountain Paint Pot

    Fountain Paint Pot contained yet another batch of colourful hot springs, mud volcanoes, geysers and fumaroles, all either hissing, spitting, boiling, simmering, and with throaty underground noises to add to the Yellowstone orchestra. I was starting to lose track of all these marvels by now; Yellowstone mental blockage was setting in.
Fountain Geyser
Fountain Paint Pot

Midway Geyser Basin

Grand Prismatic Spring Hidden by Steam
    A short distance further down from the Fountain Paint Pot lay the Midway Geyser Basin with a small collection of hot springs and fumaroles. The star of the show here was the Grand Prismatic Spring, the largest hot spring in the park. It deserved the name because of its amazing spectrum of rich colours, from royal blue through to fiery red. At ground level, the blues and reds were reflected in the constantly rising steam from its surface. However, to really appreciate this spring, my research had indicated it was best to drive further down the valley to the turn off to Fairy Falls, and walk a trail from there back up the valley on the other side of the river. The hike wasn't very arduous, and just before the spring was reached, a path led up a hill on which an excellent vantage point was situated. The view onto the spring was superb, well worth the steep climb over fallen trees. I met a couple of Australian guys on the hill who were taking shots with very expensive looking cameras. They were cramming a tour of the Rockies into three weeks. They would be doing some pretty intensive driving to achieve that and see the sights. I wished them good luck as I headed down the hill. They wished me luck descending the hill.

Old Faithful

Old Faithful
    My final stopping off place in the park was Old Faithful. As soon as I arrived I realised this must be the number one destination for most people visiting the park, judging by the number and size of the car parks. I parked up and asked a guy what time the next eruption of Old Faithful was due; 10 mins was the answer. I duly headed across to the 100m diameter ring of seats surrounding the focus of everyone's attention.
    The crowd was building up and the rangers were walking around the crowd reeling off numerous facts and recounting amusing anecdotes. The anticipation building up in the crowd was tangible.
    The allotted time came and went; still there was no action. The tension was building. 5 mins. went by, 10 mins. To lighten up the occasion a large bird obligingly flew right over the geyser, and folk watched with a mixture of humour and horror in case an eruption occurred just as it was overhead.
    The crowd was even larger now. 5 mins and still no action, then more than 20 mins. late we had lift off. I saw a tall, stout cloud of steam and occasionally a shower of water would appear out of the side of it. It lasted about 2 mins, gushing 3,700-8,400 gallons of scalding water. However, I and many more like me were disappointed that the huge steam plume cloaked the jet of water. There was no large cheer, or ooohs or ahs that I expected. The performance was not so much a bang, more a whimper.
    Folk slouched off in all directions. I took a trail to visit a few more hydrothermal extravaganzas. After a quarter of an hour I sat by a geyser that was meant to erupt every 15 mins. or so. I was joined by a young couple, Bill and Susan, and their two early teen's sons. The boys were soon dipping their hands into the water running down from a hot spring. I thought the water would be scorching, but they coped alright. They pacified their parents by saying, "Look mom, our hands haven't dissolved yet". Mom was still concerned. She was even more concerned when they collected some of the water in a bottle and were threatening to drink it.
    I joked with the parents about spa water back in the UK, and also recounted the story I had heard in Bellevue Mine, Alberta. They found that amusing. The couple had visited the UK and had tried the spa water at Bath, "Disgusting, we spat it out!", was the comment. We laughed together. They knew enough to detect I originated from the north of England; again I was impressed with their knowledge. I didn't think I could identify any American accent. They questioned me about my trip, and Susan asked which was my favourite part so far. I answered, and also told her about Butte being a little odd. She smiled and agreed, she had been there too.
    The couple had once worked in Brussels, and had toured Europe extensively. One of the sons then told me about the England v. USA World Cup match a day or so earlier. They had done so in a bar, all Americans plus two English women, who were rather vocal. The lad said the goal England gave away was appalling. Dad then went on to talk about "Calamity James" as he was known over in America, and how he had been replaced by another goalkeeper, who had failed. I couldn't comment since I had not seen the match.
    The eruption, when it came, was more of a damp squib, and we decided to move our separate ways. We shook hands and wished each other a good trip. They told me they had just left the Tetons because of the incessant rain. That was where I was heading later that day.
    I left Yellowstone with fond memories, and it was a very memorable place too. Never before had I felt as close to raw primeval, natural forces as I have in those hydrothermal areas. I really felt and knew I was standing on top of a dormant volcano, and should it go off, virtually the whole of North America would be covered in ash. The amount and variety of wildlife also astounded me, and I grew fond of the ubiquitous lodgepine, the hardy conifer that always seemed the first to regrow over hydrothermal areas.
    I headed south towards the Grand Tetons. The weather closed in as I drove, and it was soon pelting down. Once in the Grand Teton National Park I checked the availability of campsites, and found one at Cotter Bay on Jackson Lake. The facilities at the site were exceptional, so I booked in for three nights. It had a restaurant, and I treated myself to a meal and a beer.
    It was here that I met Jeff and Melinda who came from a small town in Iowa. They were staying in a cabin with their four sons, and were taking a breather from parental duties. Jeff was a self employed accountant and could afford the luxury of taking two weeks vacation; most people in America only have one week per year. We talked about my trip, and how much I enjoyed learning about the history. Jeff was keen on the history too, and told me about the Crazy Horse Memorial in South Dakota. This gigantic statue of the Sioux warrior was started in 1942, and although the famous sculptor is now dead, some of his sons are carrying on the enormous undertaking. A lot of the sculpting is done with dynamite. At the moment, only the nine-story face has been completed, but such is the size that the creators can actually drive across trails on the face. They were interested in the route I had been taking, and the historical aspects, since they hoped to be driving across to Vancouver to see Jeff's sister at some point. The couple would like to travel to Europe, a place they had still to visit, but such are the pressures of getting their sons through college and sorting out pensions that it would be a long time before their dreams could be fulfilled. I felt guilty that I've been lucky to get myself on a good footing on that score. We shared drinks together till the bar was closed, and went our separate ways.
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Yellowstone Park Grand Teton National Park

Uploaded from Jackson Lake Lodge, Grand Tetons, WY on 14/06/10 at 20:45

Last updated 15.6.2010