One last miserable meal inside Yellowstone. We’d been scraping the bottom of the rainy barrel for a couple of days. Many of the meals that Elizabeth and I had meticulously planned out, especially the ones where we’d planned on picnicking sandwiches and snacks, had not turned out that way. Instead, with Pam offering to pay for meals, it so often just seemed easier to go to West Yellowstone and find a diner. Unfortunately, there isn’t just a diner out in the east part of Yellowstone near Avalanche Peak. So, to scavenge a last miserable meal, we would have to go back to Fishing Bridge, where we’d found a miserable lunch a few days ago.
Along the way, I was surprised to see that there’s quite a few features along the northern shore of Yellowstone Lake. I guess the western shore, with the West Thumb basin and the Bridge Bay marina, and even the Fishing Bridge location, get a lot of the attention and the crowds. But the lonely scenes along the northern shore weren’t to be despised. The view from the burn scar below Lake Butte:
Beyond that were some picturesque meadows with a creek winding through it and some small thermal features. I’m not really a major “Avoid the crowds” guy like a lot of national parks enthusiasts seem to be. I didn’t mind waiting in line at Norris the day before, nor did I mind the massive Jenny Lake crowds. That’s just baked into the experience for me. But seeing some of these wild, lonely scenes, I can understand why some people like being on their own in the wilderness.
Back at Fishing Bridge, I found myself hoping against hope that the meager food options had somehow upgraded themselves in the last few days. No, the restaurant inside the visitor’s center had not magically opened since Monday. Damn. There was a small general store with provisions, such as they were. With a sigh, I realized I was going with a semi-frozen ham-and-cheese sandwich. At least there was a cup of ramen for Elizabeth. We chatted with the person operating the cash register. She was so impressed that we’d been hiking Av Peak that she gave us a discount on our purchase. I didn’t have the heart to tell her we turned around before the top. Nor did I have the heart to tell the people at the ice creamery at Fishing Bridge when we went there for dessert. If they wanted to pile my single scoop a little higher because they thought we’d done a full 2,000 vertical feet, who was I to stop them?
That was some of the clutchest ice cream of my entire 2021, honestly. The ham and cheese sandwich just wasn’t doing it for me.
From the Fishing Bridge area we had to retrace our first day steps even further down the Grand Loop road and go around the southern end of the Figure 8. After all, here we were in Day 4 of Yellowstone, and we’d seen so many of the main attractions of the park, but you’ve probably noticed we were still missing a famous one. It was time to go see maybe America’s most famous natural feature over in the Upper Geyser Basin. The drive on the bottom left part of the figure 8 was hilly and heavily forested – briefly, we passed a fold in the continental divide and back into the Snake River watershed before popping back into the Atlantic side closer to Old Faithful. I will admit I had a little trepidation for the crowd size at Old Faithful, particularly when the road leading in literally has an interstate-style exit.
Either by luck or design, I directed Elizabeth into the little loop parking area by the Old Faithful Inn instead of directing her further onward to the visitor’s center or lodge where I would imagine most tourists would go. Not to be conceited or anything, but it worked out. We found parking basically right at the edge of the lot facing Old Faithful. Now it was just a question of finding out when it would erupt. Signs posted around the giant circular boardwalk surrounding the geyser showed that Old Faithful had just gone. We were going to be waiting an hour or so for the next eruption. I’m never one to waste a good hour in a national park, so I suggested that maybe we could take a walk around the Upper Basin and get in the view of a few more geysers. The idea carried by acclaim, and Pam, Elizabeth and I took off for the bridge across the Firehole.
By now, on blog post number 32 of this series, it should be clear that I’m a sucker for a bridge over a nice, scenic stream. This bridge over the Firehole was a solid B. Probably would have been cooler downstream.
Along the way, I felt a twinge in my stomach. Apparently all that dairy in the ice cream wasn’t sitting so well in my tummy. No big deal – we didn’t have time to see the entirety of the Upper Basin anyway before Old Faithful erupted, so we were just going to walk out a way and then loop back. The trail split at Geyser Hill, and we decided to go left for reasons I’ve since forgotten. It wasn’t a bad choice. One more time, there was a group of little pools, geysers, and springs to admire. I must have been worn down mentally by then, because I did a poor job of photographing them. That probably wasn’t helped by the dead camera battery, which I was trying to save enough juice right when I turned the camera on for one or two shots of Old Faithful.
The coolest part of the chilly hike through the Upper Basin occurred as we were rounding the corner from the Beehive Geyser. In the distance, water squirted straight in the air. A geyser eruption! An actual eruption!
I tried to toe the line between walking politely down the boardwalk toward it without losing Elizabeth and Pam, and booking it straight to the gushy water. Elizabeth saw my dilemma and told me to make a run for it. So I did, pounding the boardwalk until I arrived right under it. The geyser was still erupting, loudly throwing water onto the nearby ground with intermittent splashes. I was close enough that the steam and water thrown in the air were actually getting me wet. It was epic.
Later I learned that this fuming geyser is the main geyser in the Lion Geyser Group. There are several relatively predictable geysers at the Upper Basin, but since we got there in the mid-afternoon, we weren’t able to stake out a wait for any of them except Old Faithful. So in a way, this irregular eruption felt special to me. Not everyone gets to see Lion Geyser go, but we did.
Now I really needed to go through the bathroom. But you never turn around and loop back through what you already saw; besides, I wanted to see the relatively famous Castle Geyser a little further down the river. So we pressed westward down the north bank and passed a number of cute little thermal features.
Then there was another bridge, this time taking us to the south side of the river and looping back towards the developed part of Old Faithful. Here I think we saw some of the coolest geysers of the entire national park, although my ice-cream-addled stomach made it a little hard to appreciate at the time.
And one of the most famous thermal features in the world, Castle Geyser, fuming in the late-afternoon mist:
One final tidbit of information that I discovered while writing this post: that well-maintained trail in the foreground was actually the Continental Divide Trail. I got to walk a portion of it!
We met up with Terri and Garrett at the big semicircle of benches surrounding Old Faithful. With eruption just minutes away, crowds were gathering in front of the big mass of rock, poised in the center like it was on a stage. One last incredible memory in Grand Teton and Yellowstone beckoned – if my stomach would allow.