Sunday, September 16, 2012

Day 12 - Thumbs Up For West Thumb

Day Twelve already and it is our last day at Yellowstone.  The time is passing by quickly and it certainly seems that we will need to return another time if we ever want to see even some of all that we missed.  I would certainly love to do that.   We decided to see the Grand Prismatic Spring and West Thumb Geyser Basin today.  Armed with our plan, we headed out in search of natural wonders. 
Wondering why Brett made a very quick maneuver into a parking lot in West Yellowstone, I was informed that he had seen a sign for a bakery and today was the day he would finally get a doughnut.  Doughnuts were procured and all was right with the world.   Our day got started with a laugh at the Main Gate.  Brett proudly produced his new lifetime pass and driver’s license.  The ranger looked it over and peered into the truck for a while (she was looking for an old person who belonged to the pass).  Then she said “Oh, it’s you!  You don’t look it.  You’re a newbie.”  Brett said thank you and we drove on.

It was fun to see this herd of horses each morning as we headed for the park.  They look very western.  I think that there are bison living in other areas of the country but this is the first place where I have seen them.  Our last bison jam came complete with a tale to tell.  There was a little green convertible right in front of us as the traffic stopped for critter viewing.  At some point they must have decided that better viewing would be had if they opened the roof.  This they did, but only half way which was enough to obstruct our view of any happenings immediately ahead of us.  Once the traffic cleared, the green car took off at 50mph with the roof still half open.  I took this picture out the front window as it barreled along.  It pulled into a turnout shortly after so I assume they realized that something needed adjusting. 
I thought that I was geysered out yesterday but I guess I wasn’t.  Today was cloudy, overcast and cool.  As we approached the Lower Geyser Basin this morning, the cool air was causing the geyser plumes to look really spectacular.  The photos can’t put you there but imagine looking across this big open space and seeing dozens of plumes of steam rising.  It would give you a “what the heck is that” moment if you weren’t aware of geysers in the area.  

The Grand Prismatic Pool was on Brett’s must see list.  We have seen many pictures of this pool taken from the air.  It shows a stunning blue center with various colors surrounding the edges of the pool and extending out into the basin.  It is a big pool.  Approaching the area you see first lots of cars and tourists.  This is a popular stop.  I’ll note that there seem to be a lot of Asians traveling in the park and a lot of people with cameras.  I exchanged a few words with a fellow Canon shooter although he spoke German and I did not.  We worked out that we liked our cameras and he’d taken the shots he wanted to get.   A bridge over the Firehole River leads to the first pool.  The river surely gets the name because of the streams of boiling water that come pouring into it from the pools.  On the approach, all you can see is this big mound with steam rising from it.  Cross the bridge and this morning the first pool was a big blob of steam.  We spent quite a bit of time here so I did get a few photos as the steam moved on the air currents.  

 The Grand Prismatic Pool is reached by walking on boardwalks that have been placed across the basin.  They go for quite some distance and have no railings so I needed to remember to do only one thing at a time; either walk or take photos.  Many people, excited to be here, were not single threading their activities and there were more than a few people pileups on the walk at the prime photo spots.  I must say that the pool looks the very best from the air (as seen in the picture on the display sign).  From eye level, I was able to capture the tendrils of brownish color along the edges and the lovely steam rising into the cool air.  A little disappointing but only insofar as I could not see the view I had imagined.  It was thrilling to be there nonetheless.


The next pool along the walkway (Opal Pool) is a smaller version of the Grand Pool and I got a good photo of it.  There was a bit of that sulfur smell in the air here but the worst smell in the park so far has to have been at the restroom here.  Ick.

We left the geyser basin and headed east toward West Thumb (which is named for the thumb-like projection of Yellowstone Lake upon which it sits).   The road crosses the Continental Divide twice and we had to stop for at least one picture.  We noticed a lot of areas with rock slides and traffic signs which said either Fallen Rocks or Falling Rocks.  Now, Falling Rocks seems rather active to me and I really want to be sure which sign I’ve seen before I continue too far along.  I couldn’t help but remember the exhibit we saw yesterday that showed how many earthquakes this area gets each day.  So each steep section found me whispering a silent plea for no quaking.  I also seems that they expect to get a lot of snow up here.  I had Lowell stand next to one of the “driveway markers” along the road.  He is 6’4” tall and there must be another 2 feet of marker past the tip of his head.  A ranger told us that they get 150,000 visitors in the park in the wintertime.  I suppose it’s good form to mark a road or two rather than having them slip into a ravine.  

The North Thumb Geyser basin starts with a warning about wildlife.  Interestingly, the sign is right next to a picnic area.  Is there one that advises the bears not to approach the picnickers?  There was a ranger led talk going on while we toured.  I love their uniforms.

This area is different than the others we looked at in that it is directly on the shore of an enormous lake.  The “thumb” of the lake is formed on another volcano.  Odd to see lake water bubbling around the edges.  There were numerous mud pots, pools and geysers.  It started to rain while we were walking and a brisk wind came up so it was rather cold.  The winter temperatures up here can get to -50F.  At the end of the season, the shelves are removed from the bookshop and it becomes a warming hut.  I went into the little book shop to get a cancellation stamp for my passport.  I adore the ranger in there.  He said hello to me and then said “Nice hat!”.  I’ll probably look like a fish out of water back in Maine with my cowboy hat (which I fully intend to wear) but will have the pleasure of knowing that somebody in Wyoming thought it was nice.
We saw so many wonderful sights at the park.  We returned to our campsite full of wonderful memories and are looking forward to heading west again in the morning.

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