Thursday, August 09: Yellowstone
Our first bison jam
It is getting hard to keep up this journal. We’re sort of burning the candle at both ends. We want to get up and out in the morning, so there is no time then. We get back fairly late, so I don’t want to keep Mike up. And we are continuously busy all day, so there is no time then.
We got up at a decent time and headed straight out, intending to have breakfast at the Old Faithful Lodge food court. But when we got there, we found that they served lunch and dinner only. So we had to make due with a bagel and cream cheese at a “bakery” place. Old Faithful went off while we were eating, so we got a decent view of it through the windows.
The thing I really wanted to do was to see the tour of the Inn (built in 1903) at 9:30. We did this, and even got to see the inside of one of the original rooms. Interestingly enough, the chairs in the (huge) lobby we had been sitting in for the past few days were original, so we had been sitting on hundred year-old chairs!
I had wanted to view Old Faithful from the vantage point (on the hill behind the geyser) in the early morning light, but the timing didn’t work out. It went off near the end of the tour, and we didn’t want to wait for the next one.
We got some sandwiches then drove north to Canyon Village. Mike got hungry along the way, so we drove through the Virginia Cascade Loop and had lunch at that picnic area. The cascades are a long flat stretch of river at a steep angle. Unfortunately, there are no pull-outs near where you can see the cascades! Then the picnic area was near a field and not even in sight of the river.
Then we drove to Canyon Village, at the start of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. I was amazed to find that I had had the wrong mental image for years. I had always thought, for I don’t know what reason, that the river flowed into Yellowstone Lake (over the edge of the caldera), and that the Inn there was at the end of the canyon with the classic view up to the falls.
The reality (not surprisingly) is that the river there empties the lake, and you have to drive to the end of the canyon (to Artist’s Point) and look back to see the falls.
We first stopped by the Brink of Upper Falls. Looking at the quantity and speed of the water coming down the river and then dropping over the falls was amazing. It reminded me of Niagara Falls in terms of its power (not its flow rate).
Then we drove under overcast skies to the south rim drive. We looked around the first set of overlooks, then hiked down Uncle Tom’s trail. This is a set of steep ramps followed by about 325 steps that go about 3/4 of the way down into the canyon. From that vantage point, you can easily see the golden walls of the canyon that led to the name “Yellowstone”.
At this point we had passing clouds with some sun. On the way back up the steps (which took longer than going down), we happened to be at the right place at the right time. The sun came out from behind a cloud, and we saw a wonderful rainbow in the mist coming off the bottom of the falls.
When we got to the junction of the south rim trail, we decided that Mike and I would hike the one mile to Artist Point, while Amy would return to the car and drive there. We told Mike that it would be all level or descending, but it turns out that there are ups and downs, including one somewhat steep up.
As is typical out here, there were large drop-offs right next to the trail with no protection. None of them bothered me, however.
When we got to Artist Point, ironically I found that there was not enough sun. Normally, I am looking for cloudy lighting or lighting near sunset, so that I can use a long exposure to blur the water. However, in the case of this waterfall, I was really trying to take a picture of the valley, with a waterfall in it. For that, I wanted the valley in sun, so that the colors would pop. But most of the time, the sun was behind a cloud.
We tried to get Mike to listen to a ranger talk that happened to be just starting, but he soon got bored and wandered off. The sun came out, so I ran off to take pictures, but I found that the waterfall at the end of the valley was still in shade. I think you really need to photograph the valley in the early morning.
We went to the stores at Canyon Village, where Amy and I got ice cream, while Mike had a hot dog. Then we visited the visitor’s center. Mike was having too good of time there, so we left him there while Amy and I went over to the campground to try to shift our reservations. The only thing that was feasible was that we got a reservation for our last day here at Canyon, and then we would cancel that day at Grant.
We went back, got Mike, and had dinner at the Canyon cafe. Then we started home early for a change. We made a quick stop at the Brink of the Upper Falls again, but there was still too much light for water pictures.
Partway through the Hayden valley, we ran into a bison jam. There was a herd really close to a pull-out, which was jammed with cars, and with the cars in the road moving at a snail’s pace. I pulled off into an earlier pull-out, and Mike and I walked to the next pull-out, where we got some good (I hope) bison pictures. They were crossing the road (holding up the traffic). On the way back to the car, I had to cross to the other side of the road because there were some on my side of the road, and I would have had to have gotten too close to them to go back on my side.
As we drove home, we saw several more herds, but they were not as close to the road. We stopped at another pull-off where a lot of people were looking at something. Through a spotting scope you could apparently see wolves, but you couldn’t prove it by me. Even with my big lens, they would probably be only one or two pixels in size.
Then we continued home. Due to the wildlife stops, we got home at 9:30-ish again, not early as we had planned.