Thursday, June 18, 2015

Yellowstone - The First Full Day

The first night sleep in Yellowstone was dreamy. We slept like bears.

Our campsite was at Madison. It's a full one, they pack ya in there. At first I wasn't sure how much I would dig that, but I must say in the end it was one of the things that made the week so special. We met the most incredible people! Our closest neighbors were a newly retired couple from Florida - Butch & Carol. Could't have asked for a better pair to be next to! The were friendly and funny and shared our enthusiasm for animal spotting. More on neighbors later...

Let's get to the adventure.

We woke up and dad hit the maps over coffee while P slept in a bit. We planned on a geyser day with Old Faithful in the middle of it. Once up and fed and dressed, we hit the road in search of thermals. We came across a waterfall on the side of the road. Being new to the park, we got excited and had to see it. It was a beautiful sight to be sure, but the sound was exhilarating. It is amazing how Yellowstone engages your full suite of senses. Not only are there plenty of feasts for the eyes, but your ears and nose and skin are afforded ample opportunities of satiation. The steam of geysers, the mist of falls, the calls of the countless birds, the bubbling hot pots - it's all engaging, all encompassing, all enveloping. The other amazing thing is the breadth of the sky. It truly is "Big Sky Country". The horizon is often so small compared to the immense blue hanging over it. Seas of azure with islands of fluffy white clouds. You can't help but feel a bit tiny in the midst, especially when sized up to a giant bison.

After a couple of impromptu stops along the way, we found ourself at our first official destination - The Fountain Paint Pots. There are plenty of signs and stories of poor Andrew Hecht and the Celestine Pool, so we maybe expressed a little too much concern to P about being safe. Lesson learned. It's good to express concern, but not to instill fear. I think it took a lot of the fun of the geysers and pools out of his sails. He held our hands tight, which was good, but he said his "adventurous spirit" was "on vacation in New Mexico". Other than that, the pools and geysers were spectacular to behold. We were insanely lucky to catch Fountain Geyser as it erupted. It's one of the most beautiful and doesn't have a predictable eruption pattern (every 4-15 hours). Clepsydra was also going at the same time. Actually, at one point we were seeing three geysers going all together! It was a once in a lifetime experience and made for an intensely sulfuric smell. It was like being in a pot of boiling eggs! We could barely see through the steam at one point. It was awesome!!!

After that experience, we were ready for Old Faithful himself. The grounds surrounding the ole bugger are a page right out of history and charming to walk about. There are a lot of "touristy" things, but it's part of the fun. We all know why Old Faithful got it's name. The rangers predict eruptions and post them around, but the sure fire way you know it's going to go off in a few is by looking for "eruption indicators" - otherwise known as people lining up to watch it. The more people, the closer it is to eruption time. (You will also find "animal indicators" along the roadside as you drive through the park. These are the folks who have spotted some wildlife and are stopping to watch and take pictures.) We got to the Lodge at a good time. Indicators were showing up, but it was't so crowded we couldn't get a good seat. To be honest, I think it's probably pretty easy to get a good seat just about any time. The place is huge. We found a spot and took up residence on the bench. P brought a couple of "pals" with him and we played while we waited. We even measured his friends with a new bookmark from the gift shop. Not too long after, the old man began to blow. It was a pretty groovy thing. Lots of  "ooos" and "aaahhs" were drifting around. It lasted just long enough to enjoy. Kind of perfect. Afterwards we meandered around the complex. We ate at the General Store and shopped just about everywhere. Of course we had to make dinner reservations for the Old Faithful Inn and had an enormous scoop of ice cream outside on the second floor viewing deck.

The Visitor Center is not only full of interesting stuff to look at and learn from, but really kind and helpful Park Rangers. I picked up the Junior Ranger booklet for P to complete and he fulfilled one of his requirements right then and there by participating in a Ranger led program all about Yellowstone Wildlife. After that, we absolutely had to get our Passport stamp.

Now that we had been relatively geyserfied, it was time to search for animals on the Serengetti of North America. There had been tale of wolves in Hayden valley, so that was our next stop. The sun was hanging low in the sky. It was appropriate timing. We headed out in search of "indicators".

We found a group and found our spot. It was a lovely lookout over a most exquisite valley. Elk and bison dotted the meadow and we learned of a little porcupine on the tiny island in the stream. This was gonna be great! With binoculars, toys and camera in hand, we settled in for some action. Then we settled in a little more. Then a little more... Dad and I were able to see the porcupine through the binoculars.. sort of. We're still not sure if P actually saw him. He was kind of a little ball of fuzzy browness in the grass that moved from time to time. It was exciting to be with all the people and looking through scopes and all that, but we were starting to get a little worried. Finally a pair of grizzly bears came lumbering down out of the forest. They walked about and one even scratched his back on a tree... waaaaaaaaaayyyy across the valley. You could sort of see the two brown dots with your own eyes. You could see the brown dots better through the binoculars. A beautiful rainbow even came along and landed right where the bears were. It was interesting, but a bit disappointing. You see, P is an enormous animal lover and we had built this whole trip up to be a magic place of animals living in the wild and roaming all over. I mean it is called the North American Savannah. Dad and I were suddenly worried we had made a mistake. We were concerned that all our encounters were going to be dots in the distance. So we packed up and headed back to the Rangers at Old Faithful. I had to get some good intel. It was my mission to have this kid see something, anything other than bison living free and in the wild. I'm glad we went back. Intel was gathered and a plan was in place.

To be continued...

 The grizzly bears

 The porcupine

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