I spend another chilly night in Idaho, this time clearly below freezing as indicated by the chunks of ice in my water bottles. I am pleasantly surprised by the beautiful fall day – the sun is beaming down from a perfectly clear blue sky. Driving East is breathtaking, with endless mountains sticking up on all sides. I stop at a small town and have flat tyre number three repaired, caused by another rusty nail.
I briefly touch into Montana and enter the park at West Yellowstone – what a zoo that place is. It has one of every tourist trap possible and then some. I am strongly reminded of Niagara Falls on the Canadian side.
Upon entering the park, I learn that three major roads are closed; one for roadwork for the season, one because they can’t find a snow plow and one because there is a ton of smoke on the road from a nearby forest fire. This last one does open for very short periods a couple of times a day, so I’ll have to actually plan ahead if I want to make it to the North end of the park.
I start out driving South, through the geothermal region of the park. I knew about the geyser called Old Faithful, but I had no idea the amount of geothermal activity in the park. There are six or eight places to stop and walk along a boardwalk to see countless hot springs, geysers and geothermal activity in general.
Being such a hot spring nut I’m overjoyed with all of this and happily wander around taking everything in. It is so cold outside steam is everywhere, sometimes so thick it’s difficult to see the boardwalk I’m trying to stay on. It snows lightly on and off throughout the day.
Most of the geysers are steaming, sometimes bubbling a little and the occasional one is fully erupting, spitting boiling hot water and steam high into the air. Extremely inviting turquoise pools dot the landscape in every direction.
One of my favorite features are small holes in the ground, that are bubbling and steaming quite violently. The noise is close to a roar and some are so loud it’s impossible to carry a conversation with the person standing next to you.
There are literally thousands of people and cars getting around the park, including full tour buses complete with a mega-phone wielding guide who’s goal in life seemed to be irritation. To give you an idea of the sheer volume of people in the park, the ‘exit’ for Old Faithful is a full-blow freeway overpass, complete with on and off ramps.
Yep, all of that inside a National Park.
I arrive at Old Faithful in time to see the tail end of an eruption, water and steam being shot 10 meters (30 feet) into the air. I wander around and find myself on a hiking trail up behind Old Faithful to a lookout, that continues to more springs and geysers. There are no people here and it’s really nice to have some alone time for the first time in the park.
The walk is really beautiful and I find myself at Solitary Geyser – a fairly tame looking pool with the occasional bubble rising to the surface. The information sign says it erupts about every five to seven minutes, so I sit down on a log and wait for the show. The bubbles become more frequent, so I get my camera ready, not sure what to expect. Without any further warning the entire pool rises up as a huge ‘bubble’ in a single massive outburst. I’m sitting close enough that my boots get wet when the hot water comes back down and the pool is completely still again.
That was cool.
I set up camp and cook dinner in the pitch black while it’s snowing heavily.
‘OK’, I think
‘I’ve had enough of this winter camping’.
In the morning I intentionally sleep in till 9am, waiting for the sun to rise to warm everything up. The thermometer hanging in the Jeep says -12 ˚C (10 ˚F) and even my full 35 liter water container is almost frozen solid. Yep, I thought it was cold last night
The road closures mean it will take an entire day of driving to get to Mammoth Hot Springs at the north end of the park, a place that comes very highly recommended. A lot of snow fell last night, so I would not be surprised if more roads are now closed. I completely lose feeling in my hands while packing up camp, which helps me make the decision I was already leaning towards…
I’m driving South, right now.
I enjoyed what I saw of Yellowstone, but I can’t help thinking something is a little wrong with the place. Many thousands of people were driving around, shuffling out of their cars for a few minutes before driving around to the next place. I saw plenty of people that didn’t even get out, taking photos from inside their cars.
I’ve come to think of it as ‘drive-thru wilderness’ – that sounds crazy I know, but that’s exactly how it is.
I’m sure it would be a different story if I hit some of the back-country hiking trails.
What’s next? I don’t know, something South. I hope it warms up soon