Friday, July 31, 2009

From Grand Teton to Grand Canyon - Day Two

Day Two - A trip without Tribal Art

We rose early in the morning to be off to Jackson Lake Lodge to join our second guided bus tour. Besides, you go to bed early here and you rise early in the morning. Could they be healthier, wealthier and wiser?

This tour, leaving at 8:30 was destined for the southern half of Yellowstone National Park. First we had our now customary bagel and coffee in the Jackson Lake Lodge lounge; then we boarded the bus. Our guide again was Warren.

The tour was to return at 4:30 PM to Jackson Lake Lodge. So this was going to be a long day on the bus, leaving us with a late start to drive our car north to our Yellowstone lodgings.

Are you confused yet? Do you see a discomforting flaw in this plan? You are right. We should have done the full day Yellowstone tour first and the half-day Grand Teton tour second. That way we would have more time to drive to Mammoth Hot Springs to check in for this night.

Two reasons we didn't do it. First, the tours were only offered on those days. Second, we had just arrived at Grand Teton when we signed up. Apparently we had left our brain cells in the airplane.

Back to the Yellowstone tour - which was brilliant other than our poor planning. First stop was West Thumb, a geyser basin area on the west end of Yellowstone Lake. West Thumb is populated with several small geysers, hot springs and mud

The scene was almost lunar and the colors mystical. The bubblers are called "paint pots" because, as the boiling water seeps up out of the ground, it deposits colors in the streams and rivulets where the water drains to the lake.

This results not from minerals in the water but from certain life forms, thermophiles, that thrive in the boiling water. They are fascinating pieces of "art" resembling a cross between a Jackson Pollack and a finger-painting by a child.

Walkways have been constructed over the ground surface where the fumaroles and geysers emerge from the cauldron below. Yellowstone sits over a huge crown of fiery magma, just below the surface. In fact, they say a volcanic eruption at Yellowstone is a matter of "when", not "if".

The subsurface activity is very close to the surface in some places. The earth over it is more like a crust than solid dirt. We were cautioned not to step off the walkway lest our weight be enough to crack through the crust and give us some nasty scalding, to say the least. We also were cautioned not to test the word of the guide by sticking a finger in the water. It is boiling water. It will burn.

One of the additional interesting stories told by old timers is about the Fishing Cone, a lake shore geyser that appears as the lake level subsides in the autumn.

They tell of anglers who caught trout from the lake and immediately cook them in the boiling water.

Yellowstone Lake covers 134 square miles and is very inviting as you stand on its shore. The steaming waters draining into the lake lead one think it is a comfortable temperature for swimming. Our guide tells us, however, that its average temperature of 50 degrees means you wouldn't be able to swim 50 yards to shore without being subject to hyperthermia.

From West Thumb, we proceeded to Madison, near the West Entrance to the park. There is a nice picnic ground there and we stopped to enjoy our packed lunch. It came with the tour. While seated at a picnic table, we got a fleeting glimpse of a coyote sauntering across the area.

But the real wildlife story was the heard of bison we encountered near Madison.

Scores of bulls, cows and calves were grazing and resting in nearby fields. These are truly impressive beasts. Normally even tempered, they are not to be trifled with if they feel they or their offspring are threatened.

Leaving Madison, we headed back south toward Old Faithful. Along the way, we stopped at Firehole, a geyser that feeds the Firehole River.

The river is one of the few streams that is warm enough for swimming, largely because of the hot water fed into it from the Firehole geyser.

We also stopped at the Grand Prismatic Spring.

This large pond of steaming water presents a beautiful, powder blue body of water, surrounded by fringes of variegated color deposited by the escaping thermophiles.

Arriving at Old Faithful, we discovered two interesting surprises of this phenomenon. One is the famous geyser that fires off every 90 minutes or so and shoots 30 to 40 feet straight up. Of course, while astonishing to see, it was not so surprising since it has been reported in media for decades.

The other true surprise for us was the lodge itself. It was built with native
pine. Some were ram-rod straight lodge pole pines and some with curving trunks harvested specifically for their look when built into rafter and railings.

Clearly, Old Faithful is the most famous part of the park and the lodge is impressive. The only problem is that it is so well known and so heavily visited by lodgers and day visitors that it resembles an anthill. It was hard at times to find six square feet to stand in.

There is a porch where you can sit and wait for the next Old Faithful eruption. We arrived just as one was finishing, so we had 90 minutes to sit and enjoy a drink while seeing other less spectacular, but equally amazing, geysers sprinkled around he area.

You also can walk down to a plaza where you can stand and watch the eruption close up. As you can imagine, it gets crowded. The porch was just fine for us. A clear view and a place to sit. From either vantage point, when Old Faithful blows it is truly astounding.

We did not, however, regret not booking our lodging at the Old Faithful Lodge.

After Old Faithful did its thing, the bus left for an area called Black Sand Basin. In many ways it was the most like a moon surface of any colony of hydrothermal pools that we had seen so far. Cascades of hot, tinted water ran over a rim along the edge a stream, creating a living canvas of rainbow colors.

It was time to head back to Jackson Lake Lodge. Along the way, there were a number of delays for road construction. The other delay we ran into was a number of cars stopped on either side of the two lane road.

We learned that when you see cars gathered along the roadside
it is almost certainly a sign that important wildlife has been sighted. It's especially true if a Park Ranger's vehicle is included in the crowd. In this case, it was a grizzly bear foraging along the road embankment.

Rangers are there to protect the bears the visitors. They do this my making sure the visitors give a wide berth to the animals. It was our first grizzly sighting and, while largely obscured by all the roadside cars, we got some views of it.

We arrived back at Jackson Lake Lodge at about 5 PM. We immediately jumped in the car and headed back north to Yellowstone and our lodgings reserved at Mammoth Hot Springs.

We had to exit Grand Teton National Park and enter Yellowstone National Park, two separate entities. By presenting our Annual Senior Pass and identification, we were waved through the gate with no delay and no further cost.

One thing we learned by our preliminary incursion into the park is that some segments of the northbound road were under heavy construction. We were able select a route that was equally scenic but less congested.

This route took us north from West Thumb, along the shore Yellowstone Lake.
We drove through Bay Bridge, Lake Village, and along the Yellowstone River to Canyon Village. We saw stunning vistas and the occasional elk, but we did not have the time to stop and seriously enjoy the areas. We had to press on to Mammoth Hot Springs in order to arrive with as little dusk time driving as possible before checking in at the Lodge.

Upon arrival there, after dark, we unloaded our luggage into a smallish cabin. Not as much space as we had at Colter Bay Village, but adequate with two double beds and a pleasant front porch.

After a brief reconnoiter of the area, we went up to the Dining Room. It already had closed. The lounge, however, was open for a few more minutes. We had a glass of wine as the last call approached.
Finally, we stopped at the general store for some snacks to get us through until morning. Good night all.

We realize we have not covered Tribal Art in this blog segment. You can learn more about that by clicking through to our web site.

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