A week in Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks, page 3

Page 1: Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, Mud Volcano, and Yellowstone Lake.
Page 2: The north loop, Tower Falls, and Mammoth Hot Springs
Page 3: Geyser basins and Firehole Canyon
Page 4: Grand Teton

Tuesday, September 2

Distance: 7.0 miles
Riding time: 34 minutes
Average speed: 12.2 mph
Maximum speed: 37.1 mph

This morning Kathy and I packed up camp. Since we've spent 2 days looking at the north and east sides of the park, we decided to move southeast to the Madison campground, 26 miles away. On the way we visited the Norris geyser basin.

Norris is the most geothermally active area in the park. Because the area is prone to earthquakes, the geothermal features frequently change. Today the area was covered with hot, steamy, bubbling pools of water, many a deep blue or green color. In some places steam vents and small geysers blew continuously. We saw Steamboat Geyser, the world's largest geyser. It sometimes erupts 300 to 400 feet into the air, 3 times as tall as the Old Faithful Geyser. Today it just created lots of steam and threw water 5 to 15 feet high. Its last major eruption was back in April. Many of the trails in Norris are closed right now due to "increased thermal activity." In one area about an acre in size, the ground surface temperature is around 200 degrees Fahrenheit.

Norris Geyser Basin. Not much grows here because of the high ground temperature.

A small hot pool.

A boiling hot pool. The pools here do not create a bad smell like those at Mud Volcano.

After visiting Norris we set up camp at the Madison campground, which is right next to the Firehole River. This river is warmer than most other rivers in the area because many geysers pour hot water into it. We rode our bike up a road in the Firehole Canyon so that we could walk down into the river. At the spot that we entered, the water is about the same temperature as an unheated swimming pool in the summer. Colder than bath water, but much better than most icy cold mountain rivers at this time of year. Several people were swimming, but we just walked along the shallow areas. The river canyon itself was well worth seeing, and so was Firehole Falls, a waterfall that would seem large in most other places but is small compared to other waterfalls in Yellowstone.

Kathy wading in the (relatively) warm Firehole River.

Firehole Falls.

Wednesday, September 3

Distance: 37.4 miles
Riding time: 2 hours, 25 minutes
Average speed: 15.4 mph
Maximum speed: 40.2 mph

We rode our bike south along the Firehole River today and ate lunch near the Old Faithful Geyser before riding home again. Along the way we visited the Lower, Midway, and Upper Geyser Basins. The majority of the the world's active geysers are in these 3 basins.

Riding next to the river was very pretty, but we weren't the only ones that liked the area. Herds of bison like to graze the river valley and frequently cross the road. We came uncomfortably close (about 10 feet) to some bison, including a large bull. Bison seem much less dangerous from the safety of a car. Chief Joseph led the Nez Perce indians right through this area while fleeing the U.S. Army in the late 1800's. They eventually surrendered in Montana after fleeing more than 1800 miles.

Bison grazing near the Firehole River.

Bison grazing just north of the geyser basins.

In all three geyser basins we saw erupting geysers and beautiful colored hot pools. All the hot water flows into the Firehole River. At Midway Geyser Basin, Excelsior Geyser Crater pours more than 4000 gallons of boiling hot water into the river each minute. It used to be called Excelsior Geyser, but in 1888 it exploded and left a large crater. At the Upper Basin we were lucky - we saw Old Faithful erupt 3 times. The first eruption was about 10 minutes after we arrived. The park service can predict eruption times to within about 10 minutes, so we knew that an eruption was close. We spent about an hour visiting other geysers and pools along a short bike trail then happed to return just in time to watch another eruption. After that we took showers at the Old Faithful Lodge, ate some ice cream, then saw another eruption just before leaving. Old Faithful's eruptions are generally between 106 and 184 feet tall. They look great, and make lots of noise and steam. The development in this area is too much for our liking. The lodge is huge and is only a few hundred yards from the Old Faithful Geyser. There is also the Winter Lodge, the Old Faithful Inn, 2 general stores, a visitor's center and a giant parking lot. The access road feels like a highway since it has an overpass bridge and entry/exit ramps. After all the signs that we've read about the sensitive nature of geothermal areas, all the development seems hypocritical. Still, this is a great area to visit. In addition to Old Faithful we saw Castle Geyser and Grotto Geyser going through minor eruptions.

A hot pool at Lower Geyser Basin.

Fountain Geyser at Lower Geyser Basin.

Water from Excelsior Geyser Crater flowing into the Firehole River.

Excelsior Geyser Crater. It was a geyser before it exploded in 1888.

A colorful area near the crater.

Rainbow Pool at the Midway Geyser Basin.

Old Faithful Geyser during eruption.

A crowd on the boardwalk waits for Old Faithful to erupt on schedule.

Another eruption of Old Faithful.

MOVIE: Old Faithful erupting (1.4 MBytes)

The Old Faithful Lodge, one of several large buildings here.

A very fat chipmonk in the Old Faithful Lodge. Many visitors feed him despite the "Do Not Feed Animals" signs throughout the park.

Castle Geyser

Another view of Castle Geyser.

Grotto Geyser. The vertical stone in the middle of the geyser (difficult to see because of the steam) is believed to be a tree trunk now coated with geyserite.

MOVIE: Grotto Geyser (1.5 MBytes)

Morning Glory Pool. Although still beautiful, this pool has been damaged over the years by visitors who have thrown coins and trash into the pool. The trash (drink bottles, cigarettes, etc.) clogs the spring, reducing natural water flow.


Page 1: Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, Mud Volcano, and Yellowstone Lake.
Page 2: The north loop, Tower Falls, and Mammoth Hot Springs
Page 3: Geyser basins and Firehole Canyon
Page 4: Grand Teton