August 30, 2013 (Friday) – As I noted earlier, I am covering Yellowstone in its own post as it is deserving and we covered the park in two days. Today was the first, which entailed a very early start. We hopped in Dave’s rented SUV with some of his family in Big Sky and he drove about an hour to the town of West Yellowstone, MT. Dave organized and hosted a full-day tour, I believe the company was Buffalo Bus Touring Company. We did the lower loop tour which may have been modified from the traditional route as this was a private event.
We visited Upper Yellowstone Falls which is nice but not comparable to the spectacular Lower Yellowstone Falls which sit at the end of the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. Flip-flops sufficed for the walk down Uncle Tom’s trail despite the warnings of how treacherous it is. The up-close vantage point of the falls and nearly constant rainbow make this well worth a little effort.
After a pre-packed lunch on the bus we arrived at Old Faithful having just missed an eruption. The good news is that it is called Old Faithful for a reason so we were secure in our belief that the next eruption would come within 90 minutes. Moreover, the lodge there is spectacular and our two gargantuan scoops of huckleberry ice cream (for a very reasonable $3.60) helped pass the time. We walked much of the loop around various thermal features, some of which look like hot tubs with mesmerizing colors.
Old Faithful delighted and then we continued to Fountain Paint Pots where we were treated to a not-so-ordinary eruption of Fountain Geyser. Though diminutive compared to Old Faithful, it was awesome to see the boiling water slosh around violently when the steam dissipated. In the same area we observed a steam hole where the fissures emit a sound like a jet engine.
The day was wonderful, except for hitting my head inside the bus really hard, twice, and mildly breaking my sunglasses in the process. Our guide was Matt Henry and he was excellent. Very knowledgeable and informative while also lighthearted and funny. The town of West Yellowstone looked a little Western kitsch but kind of neat. There is the well-regarded Playmill Theatre, some BBQ joints and of course touristy shops and tour companies.
September 7, 2013 (Saturday) – Today we headed east from Bozeman to Livingston, MT then south on Route 89 through Gardner and entered Yellowstone through the Roosevelt Arch. The approach was lovely.
The Albright Visitor Center area is like a small town/campus with a justice building, post office, etc. Undine Falls was quite nice. We saw some pronghorn up close and lots more bison today.
At Tower Roosevelt service station I noticed the word Longmeadow on the Excel Dryer…small world, it seems that company is based in East Longmeadow, MA. From there we drove 20+ miles out the Lamar Valley as this is nicknamed America’s Serengeti and we had aspirations of sighting some serious wildlife. Alas, we did not. In luckier times, folks may see elk, bears or wolves.
We re-traced our path then drove south to Canyon Village and past the lake to exit out the south entrance. It was pretty in this area with a river gorge.
Some recollections on what I might have learned in Yellowstone: Ravens are super smart and they will steal things from your bag if you are not very careful. There are legends of ravens stealing cash and diamonds. Then again, they are from Baltimore. Bison can apparently jump up to 6 feet vertically and run 35 mph. They may look slow and laborious, but…Our guide told us of the Sheep Eater Indians, I think a band of Shoshone, who fashioned bows from the horns of bighorn sheep. Yellowstone Lake lies at over 7,000 feet and is the largest lake in North America at such an elevation. A wolf can eat 20 pounds of meat in a sitting…like me at Peter Luger.