Fact Number One…even though we set our alarm last night so we would be on time for our 9:15 boat ride this morning, we both were awake before the alarm sounded, saving us from the pain of waking up to an alarm.
Fact Number Two…when we woke this morning about 7:30, the temperature in Yellowstone National Park was 37 degrees.
Fact Number Three…we are both wearing long pants for the first time in months.
We were up and out this morning in plenty of time to be early for our Lake Yellowstone tour. By the time we got to the marina, it had turned into a beautiful sunny morning, and the temperature was in the 50s. There were 17 of us on the 9:15 cruise aboard the Lake Queen II, and we were lucky enough to have Ranger Laurie along with us to provide the play by play. One of the first things we learned is that Lake Yellowstone is a caldera of a volcano. We’ve been to Crater Lake in Oregon, but didn’t realize that this immense lake was the same thing. The lake is 131.7 square miles, and in the recent history of the park, they have discovered that there are geothermal features at the bottom of the lake, just like Old Faithful. One interesting thing Ranger Laurie told us was that when the park land was set aside, it was done because of the geothermal features on the land. The rest of what Yellowstone is famous for, the beautiful scenery, and the wildlife, was just a happy accident. She also told us about the disastrous introduction of Lake Trout into Yellowstone Lake by parties unknown. It seems that the Lake Trout are much bigger than the Yellowstone Trout and in fact eat the Yellowstone Trout. This is bad because for many of the park animals, the Yellowstone Trout are a source of protein. She also told of the extensive efforts the NPS is making to get the Lake Trout out of Yellowstone Lake. Every time we’ve listened to a Ranger talk at one of the several National Parks we’ve been at this week, we always come away knowing something we didn’t know before. As an added treat, just before the boat pulled into the marina, we were treated to a small herd of bison on the side of the water!
After the boat ride, we got back in the car and continued to explore the huge area that is Yellowstone. We headed towards the Canyon area and stopped at many of the pullouts along the way. Some to take pictures, and some to read about some noted feature of the park. The combination of the up, down and around roads, stopping at pullouts, and the speed limits on various sections of the roads, makes travel slow in Yellowstone. While Canyon Village is only about 17 miles from where we started, the trip took the better part of an hour. Along the way we were treated to incredible views of the Yellowstone River, saw the Hadley Rapids, and got to smell the Sulphur Caldron. Just before Canyon Village, we took the detour road and got to see the Canyon Falls (both upper and lower falls), and some of what is called Yellowstone’s Grand Canyon, thanks to the erosive action of the Yellowstone River.
At Canyon Falls Village we decided to have lunch. We’d hoped to have lunch in the Canyon Falls Lodge’s Dining Room, but due to staff shortages (probably kids going back to college), it was closed for lunch. Damn! So we instead went into the Cafeteria and both of us had Rice Bowls (think Chipotle). While not as elegant as I hoped our lunch would be, they were good and we left filled up to continue our exploration. Oh, and everywhere you see signs about the wildlife. Well, as we pulled the car out of our space, and proceeded around the parking lot, there was a deer standing on one of the lot medians munching away on a bush. I guess they too stop there for lunch!
Then we continued on with our travels towards the Roosevelt area of the park. During this part of the drive, you go over the Dunnraven Pass. The road is narrow, winding, and as you go around the curves, there are no guard rails to stop you should you make a mistake. Makes you wonder if there are vehicle accidents in the park, as it was a fairly sheer drop, and as we were on the outside most of the time, makes for a little but of a hairy ride! Of course, the folks who think you can drive 50 even when the speed limit is 25 exist even in Yellowstone, so our course of action was to pull into a pullout and let them pass, whenever we encountered one of them!
At Roosevelt we both decided that we’d had enough for today, and decided to head home. We have a two hour sunset tour in one of the famous Yellowstone historical Yellow Busses tonight at 5:45, and felt we need a little bit of down time before that, so we turned around and headed back to Lake Yellowstone and the Lake Hotel. On the way back, we very clearly saw evidence of the many fires in and around Yellowstone Park. The big one is of course in the northern part of the Grand Tetons, and as of now, is closing Yellowstone’s South Entrance (which we were planning on taking tomorrow), but that is by no means the only fire. We clearly saw the smoke from several other fires in an around Yellowstone, including now which started 3 days ago 9 miles from our hotel, and the smell of smoke was very evident in the air, as well as the hazy conditions when looking in the distance. The Park Service’s policy is to let the fires burn as a natural regeneration of the forest environment. All over the park you can see the evidence of past fires, and on many of the ones from longer ago, also the young growth of new trees that nature has provided. As that old TV commercial said, you can’t fight with Mother Nature!
As Susie was driving back, traffic stopped dead. We’ve been here long enough to know we were probably looking at the results of an animal crossing or walking on the road. Sure enough, there was a huge bison, just ambling up the road at his own pace. First he was on the right side of the road, then the left, seemingly oblivious to the cars and RVs around him. Eventually we were able to pull to the left side of the road, and get around him. Ranger Laurie told us this morning that the roads in Yellowstone by in large follow the earliest laid out paths through the park, and those early paths many times followed animal paths, so in reality we are on their turf, not the other way around! Always an adventure in Yellowstone!
We’re relaxing in the room with a drink, as Susie reads and I write today’s blog post. Even though you wont be seeing this till tomorrow, I am indeed writing it on day nine! Pretty soon it will be time to go to our sunset tour, on which we hope to see some additional wildlife and a great sunset over Yellowstone Park.
INTERMISSION – Talk among yourselves…
It is a little after 10, and we just came back from sitting in the the sun room, listening to wonderful piano music, having a couple of drinks, and a few nibbles for dinner. The Sunset Tour was phenomenal!! Our vehicle was a 1937 White Motor Car Tour Bus. The entire body is made of wood and the canvas top rolls back, exposing you to the sky. It seats 13 plus the driver. Originally there were 98 taking visitors all over Yellowstone, but in the 60s they seemed to fade from style, and Yellowstone got rid of them all. They had a colorful history after that, some even ending up in Alaska!! Well, in the late 90s, the 8 that were in Alaska were offered back to Yellowstone, and they bought them. In 2007, Xanteria, the main concessioner in the park, sent them out to be rebuilt. The wood body and the peal back top still are in place, but now they are powered by a Ford V/8 and shifted by an automatic transmission.
Our tour guide/driver Leslie was incredible. She knew so much about the park’s history, about wildlife habits, and about the science of so many of the geothermal features in the park that we not only enjoyed every minute of it, but learned a lot too! We had a delay again as a bison wandered along the road, saw deer, geese, swans, ravens, chipmunks, and even a baby bison! And then there was the sunset! From a point high over Yellowstone Lake, we watched the sun descend, turn the sky magic colors, and watched day become night over Yellowstone. Leslie told us stories up there about the various trees in the park and what fire does to them and how it helps continue the growth cycle. Then, as were about to leave, we actually got to roll the top back on the bus and close it up to the elements, as the temperatures were getting colder. On the way back to the hotel, Leslie continued to give us information about the park, and the wildlife. A wonderful way to spend almost close to 3 hours in Yellowstone!
It has been a wonderful day in Yellowstone, but tomorrow morning it’s time to end our 2 days in the park, and move on. Our plans were to head out the south entrance and head to the Grand Tetons, but the fire in the Tetons has changed that plan. Unless something happens tomorrow morning, we will be heading out the West Entrance of Yellowstone, into Idaho! Check back tomorrow and see how we did.