First real geysers of the trip
It was chilly but the clouds were not at all ominous when I left West Yellowstone this morning. I stopped at one of the picnic areas along the Madison River to write, then stopped again at Madison Junction, to find the ranger station/bookstore that I hadn’t visited before. It has a nice view down the Madison River valley, and some really nice fabric blocks printed with vintage postcard images and such. If they hadn’t been so expensive, I’d have bought them in spite of the fact that I’d already overrun my fabric budget for the trip. Well, there’s always next time. Or the website.
My next destination was the Firehole Lake Drive. I wanted to see if there was a prediction posted for Great Fountain Geyser. Great Fountain is the only geyser with regular predictions outside of the Upper Geyser Basin, and it’s well worth the effort it takes to see it (you have to understand, I have a thing about, a fascination with, a passion for geysers, so I may be a bit biased here, but going to Yellowstone without spending time waiting for geysers to erupt is like going to New York City for the first time and not visiting the Statue of Liberty — as one of my favorite fictional characters often says in other contexts, that’s just wrong).
Anyway. Great Fountain did indeed have a prediction written on the plastic sign at the entrance to its boardwalk. It was for later that afternoon. So I got back in my car and decided to drive down to West Thumb, saving the rest of the geyser basins for Sunday and Monday. Except that Cliff Geyser was going off as I drove by, and how was I supposed to keep going without stopping at least for a while to watch one of my two favorite small geysers? (the other is Sawmill, in the Upper Geyser Basin)
As I drove over the Continental Divide on my way to West Thumb, one of the most scenic spots in the park in my humble opinion, I noticed that there was still snow along the road at the highest elevations. I wondered if the lake would still be frozen. I have seen it frozen before, except for the spots where there are hot springs on the floor of the lake which keep those parts open all winter, even in below 0F temperatures.
As it turned out, the lake was thawed. As it also turned out, the weather was beginning to turn, spitting cold rain and wind. I searched under my car seat and lo and behold, discovered that the canvas sack I keep my knit cap and mittens in was still there! There are some advantages to being too lazy to completely clear out the car before heading out on a long trip. Between that and the coat I had had the sense to bring with me, I was just fine. I spent the better part of several hours wandering happily along the boardwalks admiring the beautiful hot springs, the spectacular lake, and the gorgeous Absaroka Mountains on the other side of the lake, until it dawned on me that if I wanted to attempt to catch Great Fountain, I had better hit the road.
The drive back to Great Fountain was uneventful, except for the ice pellet shower I ducked through over the Continental Divide. The pellets themselves were tiny, about the size of the head of a quilting pin, but plentiful enough that I had to use the windshield wipers. By the time I got back to Great Fountain, they’d stopped, though. Good timing.
Even better was Great Fountain’s. The pool was already beginning to overflow, and I only had to wait about half an hour, watching the center begin to bubble and boil, until all of a sudden there it went! It was a good, one-burst eruption. I’m not into the scientific part of the whole geyser thing, all the if it does that now when it’s already doing this it’ll go off in the next event cycle (a process Grand Geyser watchers in particular elevate to a fine art); for me it’s more just a very strong aesthetic appreciation. But oh, I do aesthetically appreciate a good geyser eruption. It’s one of my favorite things on the planet.
After Great Fountain did its thing, I drove on around the Firehole Lake Drive. I had stopped to walk another boardwalk when the ice pellets struck again. When an ice pellet hits you in the face, I am here to tell you it can sting. So that was the end of that. By the time I got back to West, the sun was out. But it had been a long day, so I found some supper and holed up at the hostel for the night.
If you like my travel writing, you might enjoy my fiction set in Yellowstone:
Repeating History, “A GRAND yarn you can’t put down.” Janet Chapple, author of Yellowstone Treasures