Lewis, Clark, and Transamerica a/k/a "Mom's Fiftieth Birthday I-don't-want-to-grow-up Bicycle Ride Across America"

Yellowstone National Park
This is one segment chronicling my family's 2003 bicycle tour through the northwest, and Paula's continuation beyond Montana. If you came here via a Web search, you might want to back up to the index page to start with the overview.

Aug 8th - Yellowstone side trip
Summertime in Missoula is no time to rent a car! I talked to everyone except maybe Rent-a-Wreck on Thursday. Finally found one on Friday. Worked out well as we needed to run around town most of Thursday anyway. Yellowstone is some 300 miles away from Missoula and we go past Butte, past US 287, the road I took on my other trip, and turn south to Big Sky ski resort. Big Sky was developed by Everett Kircher, the owner of Boyne Mountain in Michigan, Paula knew him from her days as a waitress there. Big Sky is no Boyne mountain....

From there the road goes through the Gallatin National Forest and the western edge of Yellowstone where we see the first evidence of the 1988 fires that burned a huge amount of the forests in the park and elsewhere. We make it to West Yellowstone in the early evening.

West Yellowstone is a really weird town, at least I wasn't expecting anything like it when I was here before. However, most vacation spots have some honky-tonk area to go with them and this is Yellowstone's. We didn't have time to visit one of the museums or even the Imax theater that was showing films of the park, Lewis & Clark, and Shackleton's Antarctic trip. Instead, we get a room at the "Ho-Hum Motel" on the main drag, eat dinner at a 1950's style restaurant where we introduce Hannah to choclate malts, and wander through a few gift shops. Don't have time to go to the arcade, maybe next time!

Morning Glory pool

Spasmodic Geyser

Aug 9th
After breakfast, finally into the park. Based on my previous experiences, the Old Faithful area is really the best place to start looking at thermal features, so we skip the other basins along the way. We do stop to look at several elk grazing in the Madison River valley. Yellowstone is big, about three times the size of Rhode Island, and we get to Old Faithful in about an hour, just in time for an eruption. When I was a kid, it erupted every hour or so, but earthquakes in 1959 and 1983 along with other changes have stretched it out to 92 minutes on average. While Old Faithful is the most important geyser in the park, it's not my favorite feature. It's in the large Upper Geyser Basin and a boardwalk take people by dozens of other geysers and hot springs. Morning Glory Pool used to be one of my favorites, but despite efforts to clear the spring of some of the coins, bottles, and other debris that was reducing water flow, I think it's still a little cooler than in 1974 and not quite as pretty. Crested pool is neat, blobs of superheated water drift up and burst into steam near the surface. Sometimes in the center, sometimes at the edges, sometimes it's quiet. Hannah likes Spasmodic Geyser which is really a small group and always busy making splashes at random. We see Daisy Geyser erupt from a distance while on a ranger-led tour and Old Faithful erupts again.

Emerald Pool

Sapphire Pool

Grand Prismatic

Temperature vs. hot spring colors Temperature vs. hot spring colors

Fountain Paint Pots

When we arrived the parking lots were almost empty. We leave after watching another Old Faithful eruption and what a change - it feels like leaving some sporting event or concert, but we finally make it out. It's late enough that we decide work our way back instead of crossing the mountains to the Lake, and visit Black Sands Basin (very nice springs, especially Emerald and Sapphire - I had forgotten wonderful color of the latter, maybe it's improved with age), Midway, Grand Prismatic Spring, the Fountain Paint Pots and a couple others.

Back in West Yellowstone, Paula and Hannah look for ice cream for dinner and I wander around looking for, well, I don't know what I want until I see a barbeque sandwich place. Right size and right substance. I also find the "Rare Earth" store with some decent rock samples and sculptures and a (mostly) used book store with good past and recent Yellowstone material.


More bison

Aug 10th
Today we first head out to the Hayden valley where the Yellowstone River flows after leaving the lake. We heard there were bison there from the ranger yesterday. Getting there could be done with a loop around Old Faithful, but we go the other way past the Norris Geyser Basin and then Canyon village and the big waterfalls of the Yellowstone River up to the broad valley between falls and lake. The reports were more than accurate - there were bison to the left, bison to the right, and bison standing on the road. It's bad enough that drivers stop in the middle of the road when some large mammal is nearby, but they usually move or you can drive around them. Bison are less predictable and have all the time in the world. However, grazing on the road is pretty poor so they don't have any reason to hang around all these weird machines and gawkers so they eventually move on.

Further up the road is another small herd. I also notice a couple Trimble GPS receivers. I suspect they may be to provide reference data for tracking radio collared animals with their own GPS receivers, but they could be looking for signs of volcanic activity too.

Parking lot thermal feature We're close to the Mud Volcano area where I intended to go yesterday after Old Faithful so we stop today. One big feature there, the Black Dragon Cauldron, emerged in 1948 and I wanted to see how it had changed. I'd already heard of other sizable changes, most amusing are a couple features that recently appeared on the edge of the parking area. They're reminiscent of the software engineers' pilgrimage site, the LaBrea tar pits at the Page Museum in Los Angeles where new tar pits have consumed some of the parking there.

The Cauldron moved 200' from where it first emerged to where I saw it in 1974. It doesn't appear to have moved much since then, and the water has much less mud than it used to. Still, it's an interesting area overall. And smelliest. In 1974 I lived in Pittsburgh PA when the steel mills were still active. The sulphurous smell reminded me of home.

Yellowstone Canyon and Upper Falls

Yellowstone Canyon downstream

The features most people associate with Yellowstone, Old Faithful Geyser and the waterfalls on the Yellowstone River, are not my favorites. You can't get close enough to Old Faithful to see the steam trails from single water droplets, and the easy views of the falls are from the top instead of from the bottom. The view from a distance is more interesting because you can see the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone and there is greater variety in canyons than there is in waterfalls.



From there back through the bison and to Norris Geyser Basin, which is even more changeable than the Mud Volcano area. In fact, more than half of the basin's trails are closed because the ground temperature over the area has soared to near boiling. A ranger taking temperature measurements even blistered his feet through his boots while making a reading. That and a bulge under part of Yellowstone Lake triggered a headline in the Bozeman paper a couple days ago "Is Yellowstone Ready to Blow?" That's a little premature, but it will happen someday.

I expected that Norris would be an interesting place, but I found it not so. The energy and heat of the basin is is obvious, even in the open area. However, things are so hot that the life that brings the color to the other basins is nearly nonexistant. The lack of life and things like these energetic steam plumes left me feeling distinctly uneasy. It was almost a relief to leave and head north to Mammoth Hot Springs.

Mammoth Hot Springs formation

Mammoth Hot Springs active pool

While Norris is the most acidic basin, Mammoth Hot Springs is the least acidic. The others generally work with dissolved silca and lay down a mineral called sinter or geyserite. Mammoth has carbonate rocks, and is sort of an inside-out limestone cave. It's big, but mostly dry. Only a couple areas have water flowing over the rocks, not quite what I expected, but interesting nonetheless.

Mammoth is also at the northwest corner of the park and also the lowest point, and that's where park headquarters are located. We leave that way, go through Gardiner and head north to I90. We make a brief stop in Bozeman, where I fail to find the computer museum I saw on a map. I find the map while we're eating a snack, but it's after 5 PM and I figure there's no chance that it's open. Then back through Butte and roll into Missoula after dark. The air is smoky - several fires were started by thunderstorms over the last few days and some are pretty big.

Aug 11th
Returned the car this AM (hey - there's some ash on the windshield!), bike along the riverfront parks back to the Internet cafe that seems to be the best place to update WWW pages. We'll stay in town overnight and head out tomorrow for Great Falls, a few days ride from here.

The chronicle continues with the Montana page.

Other links:

index page and overview

Paula's page

Ric's page

Hannah's page