Picking up where we left off, after the Great Bison Jam of 2019, our bedraggled band of traveling misfits arrived after midnight at a cabin in a semi-remote area of Idaho (although to be fair, almost all of Idaho is remote). We had all been up for close to 24 hours, due to our early flight that morning, we were hungry, we were cranky, and we all fell asleep almost immediately after dragging our luggage into the cabin.
We awoke the next morning moderately refreshed and looking forward to Day Two in Yellowstone. Despite the four-hour bison traffic jam from the previous day, we were excited to continue exploring the park. On the jam-packed docket (no pun intended) were the Grand Prismatic Spring, Old Faithful, and West Thumb. We didn’t have a full day at the park because we were leaving while it was still light out to head through the Grand Tetons, Jackson Hole, and then on to Driggs, Idaho where we would be staying for the next two nights.
We headed into the park through the West Entrance and asked the ranger at the entrance booth about the four-hour delay the night before. She said she heard about it but didn’t know any details and the most likely culprit was wildlife.
We were not 10 minutes into the park when traffic started to slow again and we all groaned. However, as we crept around a bend, we saw a wide, open meadow with grazing bison! I careened off the road and into a safe spot to park. And by ‘careened’ I mean I pulled over as dramatically as one can who is driving about 10 miles per hour. I was NOT going to miss an opportunity for buffalo! I crossed the road and managed to get a few pictures from afar although in reviewing my photos I discovered you can’t really see them, but I swear they were there. This was no bison mirage! We hopped back in the car and continued on our way, only to be slowed down to a complete stop a few minutes later. Again, we started creeping along but luckily only after about another 10 minutes, we crept around another bend and within yards of the car were dozens of buffalo grazing in a meadow. The “don’t get near the wildlife” battle cry of the park rangers finally made complete sense now that we were close enough to see how gigantic these majestic animals are. They are huge, lumbering animals and I can confidently say I’d rather not be chased by one. Unfortunately since this was a surprise buffalo sighting and I was driving and there was nowhere to pull over, I didn’t get any pictures. Drat.
The rubbernecking (buffalonecking?) eased up quickly and we were back on our way to the Midway Geyser area, where the Grand Prismatic Spring and the Excelsior Geyser Crater are located. At another point along the way, I noticed a few bison standing in a field on the side of the road. I was now convinced they were strategically spreading themselves out along our route as an apology for the four-hour delay the night before.
As we approached the Midway Geyser area, I missed the turn for the visitor area and that turned out to be fortuitous since there was side-of-the-road parking available just slightly past the visitor lot. We easily found a spot and were able to walk into the area by walking down a river bank and up to the bridge to access the springs. No traffic, not many people, and super easy parking. I highly recommend parking at the roadside spot, but just know that you do need to walk down a bit of an incline to get to the path.
As with the areas we’d visited the previous day, there was a nice boardwalk to follow through the features and we arrived first at the Excelsior Geyser Crater, which is where my hair was treated to a style I like to call “geyser chic.” The wind whipped everyone’s hair (and apparently hats) around. Every so often you’d see a lone hat that had been blown off someone’s head and it would sit, unable to be retrieved, in the middle of the basin. They felt like a metaphor for the human condition. I’m not sure what that metaphor was trying to convey but there was something strangely poetic about them.
The Grand Prismatic Spring was a bit further down and was the feature I was most excited to see during our time in Yellowstone. I was most certainly not disappointed. It’s the largest hot spring in Yellowstone and its dramatic rings of color and constant rising steam are just spectacular.
Our next stop was to the Upper Geyser Basin area, which has tons of springs and geysers, but most notably, Old Faithful. From videos I’ve seen of it erupting, I wasn’t expecting anything overly impressive but since it’s the most popular attraction in the park, I figured it was worth a watch. I suppose much of the novelty of Old Faithful is that it’s, well, reliable. The Yellowstone app (which I recommend downloading for your visit) approximates its eruptions and upon checking when we parked, we were about 10 minutes away from the next expected show. So we hurried to the seating area, which is quite large with many benches encircling Old Faithful, and found our seats. After a few minutes, Old Faithful started to gurgle and spit a bit and people started chatting excitedly in anticipation… the moment had arrived! No it hadn’t. A group of children a ways down the benches starting chanting a countdown from 10 down to 1, followed by “blast off!” On the fourth or fifth countdown, Old Faithful finally started to erupt. The crowd ooh-ed and ahh-ed as the geyser spit out quite a large quantity of boiling water and then when it had had enough, it simmered back down and the crowd dispersed. Pretty much as I expected but still a cool thing to see. Be sure to check it out if you go.
We decided to press on to West Thumb without checking out the Upper Geyser Basin area, which I would have loved to do because there were lots of shops and the historic Old Faithful Inn, which is reportedly haunted, but alas, it was not meant to be this trip. We also passed a sign for “Biscuit Basin,” which in my mind surely must have been a geyser that erupts with streams of biscuits. A girl can dream. We arrived in the West Thumb area and went straight to the Grant Village General Store because we were starving and had struck out on restaurants in that area. Be sure to check restaurant hours and plan your meals accordingly as most restaurants seemed to be open for breakfast, closed for a few hours, open for lunch, closed for a few hours, and then open again for dinner. Luckily there was a restaurant in the general store that was reasonably priced, yummy, and had friendly service.
Now this general store is where I came to the realization that huckleberries are no joke out in Montana. I felt like I was Forrest Gump – there was huckleberry syrup, huckleberry jam, huckleberry beer, huckleberry vodka, huckleberry tea, huckleberry chocolate, huckleberry sachets, huckleberry candles, huckleberry truffles, huckleberry potholders, huckleberry aprons, huckleberry hard candies. You name it, they had it in huckleberry! As I learned, the huckleberry is the ‘kissing cousin’ of the blueberry and I can attest to the fact that they are delicious. Although I didn’t purchase any huckleberry merchandise at this particular stop, I did find a nice selection of bison-themed souvenirs for myself – a Christmas ornament with Santa standing all jolly-like next to a bison (I assume his sleigh was never involved in a bison jam), and a few cans of beer brewed specially for Yellowstone… a delightful pale ale emblazoned with a logo of a bison standing in the middle of the road and aptly named, “Road Block.”
After the general store, we headed to check out West Thumb’s geysers and springs. Once again, there was a nice boardwalk to follow to see the features and all of it was set against gorgeous Yellowstone Lake and the mountains in the distance. A number of hot springs and geysers were scattered around the area, ranging from very large and steamy to very small with an occasional poof of steam. The Bluebell Pool in particular caught my eye – it was the most gorgeous shade of aqua and was an unassuming little beauty in the middle of the otherworldly landscape.
After West Thumb, we began our drive toward the south entrance/exit which leads directly into the Grand Tetons National Park. We were going to spend the following day there, but had to drive through to get over to Driggs, Idaho where we were staying. The drive out was gorgeous and we came across a beautiful fast-flowing river as we crossed from one park to the other. The Grand Tetons will get their own post very soon – and if you can believe it, they were even more incredible than Yellowstone!