More Yellowstone: past Old Faithful to West Yellowstone

Tuesday July 14, 2009, 56 miles (90 km) – Total so far: 3,119 miles (5,020 km)

We got to breakfast this morning to find at least two tour buses worth of people also in a hurry to eat and get going.  It was an all you can eat buffet.  I must be getting old, I only could eat one plate, plus a bowl of fruit.  It was still good!  The lake was bright and blue, but there’s only a few hundred feet of hills around the lake, so it’s not as scenic as the Tetons.

Chilly this morning, but we went down to West Thumb to see some geothermal activity.  I think the best one was a mud pit with steam coming up, but there was a whole series of pools and fumaroles.

West Thumb pools

Back on the road again, we were on the Grand Loop Road.  Still clumps of traffic coming up from the south entrance road as the road construction let them through.  Finally, we had fairly regular pull-outs and occasionally shoulders we could ride on.  Not that that was enough to satisfy some idiots, but we try to ignore the jerks behind wheels.  One of the flagmen yesterday commented the most dangerous animal in the park was the driver of the rental RV, who wasn’t used to the size of the thing.  Most of them have been pretty good — they’re probably as scared of the monster they’re driving as we are!

We had a pretty good pull up to the Continental Divide (#7), passing back into Shoshone Lake drainage (which flows down to Lewis Lake and thence to the Snake).  Finally we got to see some forests that weren’t obviously burned 21 years ago. And the view from near the top was superb.

Shoshone Lake overlook

You’d think that from a divide, you’d have a nice downhill.  Well, eventually we did, but there was a fair bit of climbing first.  Then came the downhill, then another steep uphill to get to Continental Divide (#8).  This one was peculiar, in that there’s a creek draining down into a pool called Ida Lake right at the divide.  This pool has two drains, one into the Snake side, and one into the Firehole/Madison/Missouri/Mississippi side.  So I guess the lake is the divide itself.

Continental Divide, again; this time with other tourists!

The downhill from here was pretty gradual, but then we came upon the Firehole River and the Kepler Cascades.  Spectacular! Too tall, and too narrow, for our wide-angle zoom lenses to capture.

Kepler Cascades on the Firehole River

We came down to Old Faithful.  Obviously they’ve been talking to Disney, because you drive a mile down past it to turn around a drive a mile back up to the parking lot.  In the meantime it erupted.  Well, it was almost time for lunch, so we had (way too expensive) pizzas and shivered for a while in our sweaty bike clothes.  It was overcast, and breezy, and about 53 degrees.  Then we went to look at the Old Faithful Inn, which has an enormous window so you can sit inside and wait for the eruption in comfort!  For some reason (probably boredom) we went outside to wait, and finally, after several false starts, it blew!  It is spectacular to watch, even though the top of the plume was visibly lost in the clouds.

Waiting for Old Faithful

It finally erupted!

We went on down the river, as the Firehole flowed into the Madison.  It finally struck me what seemed odd.  You have these steep, rockslide-strewn mountains on either side of the river, but the river valley was broad, and the river itself wasn’t that steep.  It was flowing briskly, but no dramatic cataracts or waterfalls (with just a couple exceptions, one on the Firehole and one on the Madison, which we didn’t climb back uphill to see).

Madison River valley

You’d think that with about 20 miles of fishable river, fishermen would spread out a bit.  You’d think wrong. It looked like the stocking truck had just come through, as they clumped up 30 feet apart at just a handful of the pullouts, and left the rest of the river empty.

We passed the Madison campground, and it looked like we were going to get out of Yellowstone without seeing any black bears, grizzly bears, wolves, coyotes, moose, or elk.  Then there were a half dozen elk cows in the river valley, and 200 yards further down, one more right beside the pullout.

Elk right by the road

Kept going downhill, although the grade was so moderate we had to pedal.  More fire damage, this time with signs, “This area naturally reseeded by fire in 1988.”  Some of the new lodgepole pines are 20 feet tall, some are only six feet, scrawny looking Christmas trees.  Finally hit the Montana state line (state #8!) with little fanfare.

New growth after 1988 fires

Montana state line inside Yellowstone NP

A couple miles further, and we left the park and came into town.  Montana and West Yellowstone have their priorities.  First you find out where the major attractions are, then, by the way, you get welcomed.  OK, then!

Welcome to West Yellowstone, Montana! (?)

I take back most of what I wrote yesterday about no scenery.  I still think Yellowstone Lake is a wonder to biologists more than to a casual tourist.  But the rivers on the west side or the park are fantastic, especially with all the geothermal basins.  It’s unfortunate that our route took us through so many fire-scarred areas (North Fork on the west, Snake River fire on the south), when the east side, which seems so hard to get to, skipped the carnage.  But I guess, in this sparsely populated area, that’s the way the cookie crumbles!

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