Just returned from a very brief trip to Yellowstone with a very specific purpose behind it. It has long been a goal of mine to spend an entire summer at my favorite park and we’re starting to see the possibility of making that happen in the next few years, so this was primarily a fact-finding mission based out of West Yellowstone. We have some rather specific needs in order to make this work (i.e. we have pets and my husband is tied to the Internet for his work) so we are pretty sure West is going to be our home base while I pursue seasonal employment during our stay.
We arrived on Thursday evening and checked into the Alpine Motel. Montana/Wyoming are on Mountain Daylight Saving Time while AZ is on Mountain Standard time, so we lost an hour on the clock, but enjoyed the later sunset. As soon as we were checked in and shown to our room by the very helpful and enthusiastic proprietor of the Alpine, Brian, we immediately set out to explore the town. I had brought my bicycle and my husband is a runner, so that was our means of getting around. We systematically explored almost every street in town, and did so quickly. West is a very small town! We took some pictures and made some notes using my husband’s smart phone while out, then grabbed a light dinner and called it a night fairly early, tired from a long day of travel.
Friday morning, we stopped in to see Brian in the office again and he recommended we cross the street to see a real estate agent about potential rental properties. We had also noticed the Chamber of Commerce when we were out and about the evening before, so stopping there was on our list. The real estate office was not helpful at all (to be fair, the agent was not in the office and we spoke to a person who was in the office, using their computer. He was some sort of manager using their computer, but seemed to know enough to tell us that the agent wouldn’t be much help to us.) Discouraged, we got our car and drove to the C of C, being that it’s situated very close to the West Gate to the park. The very helpful clerk at the information desk at the Chamber had a list of rental properties already compiled which she pulled out and shared with me. She, herself, is a seasonal resident and spends her winters in southern AZ, so we had a nice chat. Once I’d gathered all the information she had for me, we were on our way.
Our goal was to run/ride the Lone Star trail in hopes of catching an eruption. We originally intended to stop at the Old Faithful visitor center for a prediction, but realized that in doing so, we may miss our chance at seeing it and we were going to take that trail regardless, so we pressed on. In all of our previous visits, for whatever reason, we’d never stopped here before. The trail is an old road that was closed in the 70s to allow for more bicycle routes. It is a crumbling asphalt path, about wide enough for one car, but not in any shape to drive on anymore. Running and bike riding, though, were quite satisfying. Mindful of the bear alert posted at the trail head, I had my bear spray safely tucked into my water bottle holder. When we arrived, we learned we had missed the show by about 10 minutes. Oh well! We enjoyed it so much, we decided to try again the next day.
After our return to the car, we headed to Lake Lodge for lunch in the cafeteria. The dining area was completely dead and we got our choice of tables, right in front of the main picture window looking out onto the lake. A few more people trickled in as we ate, but it remained very peaceful. The staff, who were very nice, told us that they don’t get much attention in their position back so far from the main road, but buses do come by and dump large groups in all at once. We briefly spoke with one employee who was cleaning tables and offered to answer any questions for us. Of course, my questions had to do with what it was like to work in the park, and we chatted about his experience for a bit.
After our lunch, we headed for the northern part of the park with the intention of hiking the Hellroaring trail, which we’d attempted during our visit last summer but had to cut short due to a thunderstorm. We made only one stop along the way, to watch the bison herd in Hayden Valley. The males were making lots of noise and gathering up their females. It wasn’t as much a display as we’d seen in the latter part of August a couple of years ago, but it was interesting to view all the same. A ranger was on hand to make sure everyone stayed safe and answer questions. After a while watching, we moved on.
We embarked on our hike at Hellroaring with the goal of making it at least to the suspension bridge this time. We succeeded in that but decided not to go further due to the fact that the day was quite warm at this point. We took a few photos and returned. In all that time, we encountered very few other humans. We saw one couple hiking the opposite direction on our way to the bridge, caught up with them on our way back and met up with a group of about 5 young people hiking to a backcountry camp spot as we walked out. That was about it, during a 2 mile round trip hike. This is a perfect example of how crowds can be avoided during even the busiest times in the park (1st week of August in our case).
After our return to our car, we drove on toward Mammoth. I am very fond of Mammoth. I love how the elk gather right on the lawn at the hotel, giving us an up-close look at them and, during the right time of year, their offspring or their mating rituals. Yeah, it’s sort of a couch potato’s version of wildlife viewing, but I love it. We went to the Terrace Grill where I ordered ice cream and hubby got coffee. I had fondly remembered really good ice cream from this location in the past and was sadly disappointed when I saw the buckets being changed out and caught the brand name “Blue Bunny” on the side of the containers. When did this change? I’m sure it used to be a local brand served here. Regardless, the portion was so large I didn’t eat it all. The price was also very reasonable given the quantity.
After Mammoth we moved along toward Madison where I wanted to stop at the Information station/Yellowstone Association bookstore before heading back to West. It was after 6 by the time we arrived and both the info station and the book store were closed, but we stayed for a few minutes and admired the scenery. I never get tired of that view. While there, we encountered a young lady who was trying to get to the info station and offered to help her out if we could. She was looking for a camp spot for her family. Every campground we’d passed along our route had said it was full, and we advised her as such. We suggested she head south to Old Faithful for a better chance at finding information and also talked briefly about bison sightings. Her parents were visiting from Taiwan and her father was intent on seeing a bison. So far they’d been unsuccessful and she badly wanted to ensure that he did see one. We headed back to West Yellowstone and set out on foot in search of a bite to eat before heading to bed.
Saturday morning, we had a plan. We were going to make it to Lone Star Geyser in advance of the eruption and stick around until it put on its show. We entered the park around 8:45 a.m. and arrived at the Keppler Cascades/Lone Star parking area about 9:45. Once again, we enjoyed the journey along the trail very much. Upon arrival, I noticed the appearance of the geyser was much different than it had been on Friday. It was gurgling and spilling over the cone, so I thought we’d actually done it right. A few other spectators arrived as we were waiting and we had the opportunity to chat with them as we waited. One couple was working in the park, and we struck up a conversation with them about their experiences, as well. Another couple was there, but we didn’t talk with them. Rounding out the crowd was a group of about five men who were on a fly fishing trip, followed by a man with five or so mules hauling their gear. The fishing group was first to leave. They had hung around for about 15 minutes, but the geyser was not their first priority. They had a lengthy hike to make (10 miles) and needed to keep moving. The mule leader passed through, then the couple we didn’t talk to much decided to depart. They “guaranteed” us, in jest, of course, that the geyser would erupt as soon as they left because that was how things worked for them. It was at that point that we began talking with the other couple and the geyser still did not erupt. We talked for a good 10 minutes or so, then they, too, left. Not 2 minutes after they walked off, the geyser set off and displayed a most beautiful show for us to enjoy all by ourselves (another fine example of enjoying the peace and solitude simply by getting off the beaten path a little ways). We were surprised the resident couple did not return. We thought they’d have heard the eruption and turned back, but apparently they were into the woods and by the babbling creek at that point. Lone Star erupts for about 20 minutes, first with a strong gush of water and then with a steam phase which is equally impressive. Finally another couple arrived during the steam phase and we told them what they’d missed but I think they still enjoyed what they saw. I recorded the eruption time in the logbook at the site, then we moved on towards Old Faithful area. My first priority upon arrival was to notify the rangers in the Educational Center of the eruption time since the geyser is not on their regular watch list. The rangers I talked to seemed very pleased to have a report and I hope it helped other travelers that day to predict what time they should arrive to catch an eruption later.
Upon entering the educational center, we could see that Old Faithful was predicted to erupt imminently so my husband walked on out while I spoke to the rangers and stamped the day’s cancellation in my National Parks Passport in the YA Bookstore. I walked out just in time for the commencement of the eruption and stood back from the crowd to enjoy it. We were about ready for lunch, but decided to delay a bit to avoid the rush into the cafeteria after the eruption. We walked the boardwalks around the geyser basin for a bit and arrived at the lodge at right around 12:45, avoiding the worst of the lines. For us, eating at the Old Faithful Lodge Cafeteria is practically a tradition. I don’t believe we’ve missed an opportunity to eat there at least once during each trip we’ve made over the last 21 years. Although the dining area was much less serene than the scene at Lake the day before, we were still able to grab a table perfectly situated to watch the crowd gather before Old Faithful in anticipation of the next eruption. Since they occur about every 90 minutes at this time, we didn’t catch an eruption during our meal, but following our lunch, we hiked up to the OF Overlook and caught it from that vantage. During our hike up, I was rather perturbed at the behavior of fellow visitors who were yelling to members of their group below to get their attention and wave. Is it just me, or is that really disrespectful to disrupt the peace and quiet of such a beautiful and peaceful spot for your own pleasure?
Having caught the eruption of OF from the Overlook, we decided to continue along the path toward Solitary Geyser (the site of a recent incident which seriously injured a visitor – had to wonder how he managed to fall in since the edge is clearly avoidable!) then continued on down the hill to the boardwalks. After a stroll around the boardwalks we decided it was time for an ice cream break and this time I was not risking anything. I remembered mention that Lower Yellowstone General Store had Wilcoxins, so that was where I had to get my fix. Got a single scoop of Mountain Berry and sat on the “knotty porch” in a rocking chair to rest my legs and people watch for a bit. The Mountain Berry IC is far more tasty than the Huckleberry IC at Terrace Grill, BTW, and an equally good value. After our relaxing visit to the porch, we walked over to the Inn. We entered via the wing door and made our way to the lobby from there. I stopped in the gift shop and noted the photo frames made from the original 1904 wood floor (tempting) but didn’t stop to think why they would have so much wood to spare until I got out to the lobby and noticed the new floor. Sorry, but I’m not a fan of the Pergo in this historic building! Especially the light color they used. What were they thinking?! I noted with pleasure, though, the general upkeep work they are doing and that they’d removed the long-broken clock and plan to return it to it’s rightful place above the fireplace in working order.
Having recharged our batteries a bit, hubby agreed to walk towards Daisy Geyser with me. He’s a good sport when it comes to my geyser obsession. When we arrived at the turn-off from the paved bike/walking trail, we noted that we were within the prediction time frame to see Daisy erupt, so we started in on the loop and were lucky enough to catch it with just a short wait in the shade a short distance from the benches. Once again, very few people in attendance – a couple on the benches and a family across the way. As we exited the Daisy loop, we decided to cut across the main path and take the boardwalks back, passing Giant along the way. Although a crowd was gathered at Giant, the time frame for predicted eruption was so wide, we decided to keep moving. At this point, my feet were starting to ache a bit and every bench was calling my name. We stopped at the benches near Castle geyser and watched it bubble and burp for awhile when I looked to my left and noticed that Riverside was erupting. I walked with purpose in that direction to watch it up close while hubby stayed on the bench enjoying the view from afar. When I returned, I sat for just a couple of minutes with the intention of moving back toward the Inn but then noticed that Giant was erupting! Once again, I was on my way to get a good look at the show. Giant is so big and so forceful that a lady walking away from the immediate viewing area was laughing about getting soaked by the spray from the geyser! I, myself, caught a bit of mist and enjoyed seeing the rainbow formed by the sun shining through the veil of moisture thrown from the eruption. Hubby had decided he’d rather go sit in the Snow Lodge than follow me to another geyser, so we agreed to meet there. I caught up with him in the grill at the Snow Lodge, we shared a drink and eventually decided it was time to call our visit done. At least as far as the walking portion. He agreed to take the Firehole Lake Drive, Fountain Flats Drive and Riverside Drive along the West entrance road before leaving the park. Although we didn’t see any momentous geothermal events or amazing wildlife during these drives, I never tire of the scenery. We exited the park at about 7:30 p.m. Another very long day in Yellowstone and we had only really spent any time at Old Faithful!
I see the question of where to stay come up quite often on this forum and I think that our Saturday is a good example of how there is so much to see and do just around Old Faithful that staying in that area is essential to anyone interested in the geysers. I could easily stay 3-4 nights in that area and not run out of things to do! We have always tried to stay IN the park, vs. staying in the gateway towns and the difference to me was striking. The amount of physical activity one experiences while in the park, assuming you do anything more than simply stroll to the OF viewing area and back to the restaurants warrants a place to relax in the middle of the day. I would have loved to have a place to take a short nap, store my sweatshirt when it warmed up, etc. and wake up to the bison right outside or the view of geysers from the Inn window is priceless to me. Although it won’t be feasible for us to spend an entire summer IN the park, I will always be aware of the distinguishing differences between West Yellowstone (an hour’s drive from OF) and being right in the heart of the park.
Sunday morning saw us checking out of the Alpine Motel early and heading back home. It was a short, but sweet, visit and I can’t wait to go back!