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phoebus - The Amazing Adventures of Sid - Week 8
Cody, Shoshone Canyon, Yellowstone NP, Helena, St. Mary
North on US-16
Driving north along US-16 through, I think, Basin.
North from US-16
Looking north from US-16 between Greybull and Cody.
I headed north out of Worland on US-16, which followed the eastern bank Big Horn River for quite some time, before crossing it at Manderson and continuing north along the west bank. At Greybull the 16 departed the river and headed west into a large area of relatively flat landscape with low shrubs and lots of sand and rock. While thinking that this closely
West towards Rockies from US-16
West along US-16 with the increasing cloud. Cody is a few miles the other side of the incline.
resembled some of the semi-arid regions further south, I passed a sign announcing that it was called the Painted Badlands - I suppose a sort of cross between South Dakota and southern Utah. The entire region, between the Big Horn Mountains and the Rockies, is known as Big Horn Country ("Big Horn" obviously being a favourite name here) and seems to be famous for containing fossilised dinosaur beds (and I didn't know that dinosaurs slept in beds). A while after Greybull, I passed through a town called Emblem, which probably had the smallest announced population of any town I'd ever seen: 10! Emblem even had its own post office, probably employing the entire town. Having sufficiently amused myself at the joke possibilities of the town, I continued along
Shoshone Canyon Sign in Cody
The information sign the other side of Cody at the beginning of the Shoshone Canyon. Easier than explaining it myself, and it's a nice sign anyway.
West through Shoshone Canyon
View west along the Shoshone Canyon from the sign - a journey for tomorrow.
the 16, towards Cody, a town in the foothills of the Rockies. The closer I got to the mountains, the more I could smell hydrogen sulphide (rotten eggs) and having looked at some of the names of places around and about (the county of Hot Springs, the town of Thermopolis) I began to wonder if it had anything to do with volcanic activity. The clouds began to get thicker and I could see some very large and heavy clouds over the mountains ahead. I passed through Cody, which was a town of average size composed mainly of the requisite fast food joints, car lots, motels and large hypermarkets, and began to feel somewhat unwell. Deciding that it might be unwise to drive into the mountains, where there wasn't another town for a good 80 miles, I went back into Cody and booked into a motel, using the time to do some laundry and typing.

Miles covered so far - 6625.
Shoshone Canyon
Buffalo Bill Reservoir in Shoshone Canyon.
Buffalo Bill Poster
A poster about Buffalo Bill next to the dam.
I was loading the car in the morning and a man I can only describe as a "hick" engaged me in conversation (of a sort). He wore one of the finest mullets I've seen in a long time - the sort with thin straggly hair - and had several teeth missing. Noticing that my car had Oklahoma plates he asked, "where 'bouts in Oklahoma you from?" I explained that it was a rental and I was actually from England. At this point a woman (one of the maids I think) wandered over and asked the same question, to which I replied with the same answer.
West along North Fork Shoshone River
Looking west along the North Fork Shoshone River with the unusual volcanic ash formations along the canyon wall.
Then began one of the more bizarre conversations of this trip. She asked whether I could drive over there, and I said that of course we can, there are plenty of roads (thinking that she was implying we live in the dark ages). She mentioned that she thought we might have to sail, because it was quite a long way, but perhaps there's a bridge or something. Realising that she was referring not to our transportation system, but to actually getting there, I said, "Oh no, you have to fly, it's a very long way, several thousand miles," at which point she admitted that she didn't actually know where it was anyway. A fine example of American insularism (although the two of them didn't seem like the brightest bulbs in the set, so perhaps they are not representative of the entire population).

Leaving Cody, I noticed several signs claiming the town as the "rodeo capital of the world" and passed by several rodeo parks (fields, stadia?) I drove out and past the place at which I had turned around the day before and onwards into Shoshone Canyon. I stopped off at the entrance to the Buffalo Bill Dam visitor centre, which was closed, and looked out
Canyon Wall next to Shoshone River
The canyon wall next to the North Fork Shoshone River.
East along North Fork Shoshone River
Looking east along the North Fork Shoshone River.
across Buffalo Bill Reservoir, a huge deep-blue lake created by the dam and flanked by the steep walls of the canyon. After a little while the terrain flattened out considerably so that I was travelling across a vast basin between mountains, which I discovered was a lava field and contained some extremely fertile land shown by the unusually dense vegetation. I left the lava field and entered another area of steep walls, this time with strange spires and other tall structures protruding from the walls. It turns out that during the last
River in Yellowstone
An arm of the North Fork Shoshone River just past the entrance to Yellowstone Park.
volcanic event, the eruptions combined molten rock with ash, which then solidified and is now being eroded into these strange shapes. As well as the interesting formations, there was an increasing number of signs warning of bear activity in the areas of Shoshone and Yellowstone, the latter into which I was now passing.

Yellowstone National Park is very large, around 65 by 60 miles and was the first National Park, created in 1872. It is also, I later discovered, one of the largest collection of hydrothermal features in the world, and contains the world's tallest active geyser, Steamboat Geyser, which erupts to a height of more than 300 feet. To the south of the Yellowstone is Grand Teton National Park, another large park with spectacular views of the surrounding area and the Teton Range of mountains. Unfortunately I would not have time to visit Grand Teton, but it's definitely on my list of places to which I will return. Having gone through the entrance to Yellowstone, the road immediately started rising and the surrounding land
West across Yellowstone Lake
West across Yellowstone Lake.
Northwest from Yellowstone Lake Shore
Northwest from the shore of Yellowstone Lake. It seems strange to have waves on a lake.
became obscured by dense forest, much of which had been burned by a huge fire in 1988. The trees eventually opened out to give an excellent view across Yellowstone Lake and after turning off onto a short road to the top of the hill I could see the whole lake and miles beyond. From the viewpoint, called Lake Butte Overlook, I could see acres and acres of burned forest, most as a result of the 1988 fires, which burned 793,000 acres (about 36% of the park). Fortunately fire is a natural process in the evolution of wild areas, and
Bison in Yellowstone
A herd of bison kicking up dust and generally making a mess. They made us wait for 10 minutes while they all slowly crossed the road.
many of the trees are adapted to fire. For example, during a fire the pine cones of lodgepole pines close up to protect the seeds and open again afterwards to repopulate the forest. Scientists now know that letting naturally occurring fires burn themselves out is the most prudent approach, since occasional small fires get rid of dry ground cover, which would otherwise build up and cause a larger, more catastrophic fire. From the overlook I could also see the southern shores of the Yellowstone lake, which are apparently further from roads than anywhere else in the lower 48 states, a claim I'm sure I've seen applied to several other places. The lake itself is quite large, 20 miles from the north shore to the tips of the South and Southeast Arms, and 15 miles from the east shore to the western edge of West Thumb, another arm off the main lake. It is also quite high at an elevation of over 7,700 feet, shown by the fact that the tip of the South Arm is less than a mile from the Continental Divide. Completely surrounding the lake is dense forest (although a little black in places), which gives the appearance of a lush, green carpet stretching off into the distance. As the rain started to close in, and then began venting its anger on the ground, I
Bison in Yellowstone
The same herd, munching.
East across West Thumb
Looking east across West Thumb lake.
headed back to the main road and continued west along the north shore of the lake. As the smell of hydrogen sulphide got slowly stronger, although at the time I had no idea why, I passed through a herd of about 20 bison by the side of the road, kicking up dust and munching grass. A little further down the road I spotted yet another herd, this time numbering what looked like well over 100, about a quarter of a mile away. I'm rather glad they weren't too close as I later read a report on how many people have been gored and it was an uncomfortably high number. After a while there was a turning off the main road towards Lake Village, which I took in the hope of finding a place to stay, however the place was
Geyser in West Thumb Geyser Basin
My first geyser! This is the one in the car park at West Thumb.
eerily empty. I saw perhaps two cars, both driving out of the village, and lots and lots of totally deserted buildings and car parks. The main hotel was completely closed up and vaguely reminiscent of the hotel in The Shining, so I'm rather glad I didn't stay there. Having become sufficiently scared of the ghost village I left and continued along the main road towards the next town, Bridge Bay (yes, it's next to a bridge and a bay), which was also closed for the season. There is something very strange about a deserted town, perhaps because it's not something you expect to see.

I left Bridge Bay and continued on the main road around Yellowstone Lake, which then became the West Thumb arm of the lake. I was coming up to a junction and wondering whether to bother trying the next village or not when I saw a huge column of steam rising from the ground just by the side of the road. Realising that there might be some boiling mud or something of that nature at the bottom of it, I pulled off the road into the conveniently located car park right next to the steam (it didn't occur to me that they might have put
Geyser in West Thumb Geyser Basin
The geyser next to the road.
Lakeside Spring
Lakeside Spring in West Thumb Geyser Basin.
an entire car park there for something more than a single column of steam). Upon walking towards the steamy ground area, I noticed another, larger column inside the car park with barriers all around it. The steam was erupting from a depression in the ground about ten feet across, into which bits of tree had fallen and become coated in a sort of white powder. At the bottom of the depression was muddy, boiling water, spitting itself all over the place and creating a warm, smelly atmosphere in the near vicinity. "Aha," I thought, "this
Runoff into West Thumb
Runoff from the geyser basin into West Thumb lake. The green and brown are microbial mats. With around 3,100 gallons of hot acidic water pouring into the lake every day you'd think it would change it, but the water remains at around 7° C.
must be a hot spring. Lucky I saw it by the road or I'd have missed an exciting diversion." I noticed that the water in the other depression, the one right by the road, was actually erupting from a hole in the ground. As I was walking back to the car, feeling particularly pleased with my observational skills, I saw several people wandering around in what looked like a field, and so I wandered over to see what they were all looking at. As I approached, a vast area opened out before me, containing a huge array of holes spitting water, pools of brightly coloured steaming water and other, very hot-looking things. I picked up a leaflet (for 50c - an eight-page, full colour brochure of the area, which I discovered was called West Thumb Geyser Basin) near the beginning, which mapped out a series of raised boardwalks around the whole area, and the things to look at as you journey around them. I walked all around the geyser basin for a couple of hours, amazed at the incredible display of colours, from the muddiest, thickest mud to the purest, bluest water - all very hot, some quite acidic. Warning signs were placed periodically around the trails, warning of water at or near boiling point (which is around 93° C at this altitude) and acid that can melt through shoes, hence the raised boardwalks. In fact, you aren't allowed to walk directly on the ground anywhere where there are so-called thermal features because you cannot tell how thick is the crust of ground on which you are walking. There are stories and warnings in all the brochures telling of the many people who have been badly scalded, some even killed, simply to get a closer photograph.

Fishing Cone
Fishing Cone, so called because rumour has it that you could catch a trout in the lake, swing the pole around, dip it into the boiling pot and cook it without taking it off the line. The water in Fishing Cone averages just above boiling point.
Edge of Black Pool
The edge of Black Pool. At first glance this looks like the coastline to a strange island, but the image covers an area around three feet across. You can see the different types of bacteria tracing out the paths of runoff. Each type thrives in a different temperature. Generally, green and brown thermophiles (heat loving organisms) live in cooler water, orange and yellow in hotter water.
Having read through the brochure, I learned that there are four main types of thermal features - hot springs, geysers, mudpots and fumaroles. They are all created by water percolating down through fractures and faults in the Earth's crust, which is then superheated by a chamber of magma unusually close to the surface. The water will then rise and collect into larger channels and depending on the structure of the "plumbing" above, one of four things can happen:
Edge of Black Pool
One of the caverns of Black Pool. The water in Black Pool used to be black due to a lower water temperature allowing thick mats of green and brown thermophiles to grow. In 1991 an alteration in the plumbing caused the water temperature to rise, killing the organisms. The pool also erupted several times, although it is now quiet.
• If the plumbing channel contains a constriction, the superheated pressurised water builds up beneath the constriction until it flashes into steam, lifting the cooler water above it up and out. As the pressure is released, more of the water converts to steam and expands, forming a violent chain reaction that forces the water above to erupt from the ground, creating a geyser. Some geysers can be predicted (for example Old Faithful) due to the same chain of events happening over and over again.
• If there is no plumbing constriction, the hot water will cool slightly as it reaches the surface and be replaced by hotter water from deeper sources. This sets up a convecting pool of water, or hot spring. They tend to be brightly coloured in shades of yellow, red, blue and green by the elements brought up from below and the bacteria that thrive in the warm water.
• If there is a lack of water, it will convert instantly to steam and be ejected straight into the air, creating a fumarole. They tend to be very smelly and quite noisy, sounding almost like a stationary steam engine.
• When acid decomposes surrounding rock into clay and mixes with water, a mudpot is formed. Gasses bubble and pop amusingly through the thick mud, creating colourful, but incredibly smelly thermal vents.
Black Pool
The whole of Black Pool.
Abyss Pool
Abyss Pool. The cavern in Abyss is 53 feet deep. The pool is currently quiet but between 1987 and 1992 it erupted several times up to 100 feet high.
Minor tremors, of which there are many in Yellowstone, frequently cause the plumbing to be rearranged and alter the characteristics of the thermal features. Geysers stop erupting and turn into hot springs and vice versa. Sometimes they may go back to their past characteristics and sometimes they may never change again. Fortunately for the park Old Faithful
Geyser in West Thumb Geyser Basin
A smaller, unnamed geyser with a rather unpleasant-looking rim.
has altered little in the past.

Yellowstone Park encompasses a vast volcanic caldera, a crater formed by a series of massive volcanic explosions, about 2 million, then 1.3 million and again 640,000 years ago. The park's centre collapsed, creating the caldera, which is around 30 by 40 miles. West Thumb lake is a smaller caldera, blown out of the Yellowstone Caldera by an explosion 150,000 years ago. The result of the explosions, the craters and the chamber of magma just below ground, are found dotted all around the park in the various geyser basins.

Southeast across West Thumb Geyser Basin
Looking southeast across West Thumb Geyser Basin. In places the ground is heavily trodden from all the animals who come here during the winter to keep warm.
Rotated Kepler Cascades
Kepler Cascades near the source of the Firehole River. Almost all the growth you see is new after the 1988 fires.
I continued to walk around, marvelling at the array of different things to be found, and then decided to find a place to stay for the night. Reluctantly leaving the toasty-warm atmosphere (you get used to the smell) of West Thumb, I continued along the main road and into the town of Old Faithful, passing yet more steaming mounds of ground along the way.
Old Faithful Snow Lodge
The gallery over reception in the Old Faithful Snow Lodge.
I attempted to check in at the Old Faithful Inn but decided against it when I discovered that it was $300 a night, so instead I crossed the road and checked into the Snow Lodge where it was somewhat less. As it turned out it was very pleasant indeed, the entire structure of wooden beams creating a nice atmosphere, especially in the dining room, the Obsidian Restaurant where I had an excellent meal before retiring for the night.

Incidentally, I have a movie of the geyser I found by the side of the road. It's quite large, around 2.25Mb, so I haven't uploaded it, but can mail it to you upon request.
Old Faithful Geyser
Old Faithful Geyser from the boardwalk prior to eruption.
Old Faithful Geyser
Old Faithful erupting. It seemed quite far away from where we were standing...
Old Faithful Geyser here's a closer shot. It erupts approximately every 92 minutes.
I left the lodge and drove round to the car park near the Old Faithful geyser and walked down to the area surrounding it to watch it erupt. The entire town (what there is of it) is centred on the geyser and includes three large hotels, shops, gas station, visitor centre, ranger station, clinic, post office and car parks for approximately 78 million cars. Circling the geyser itself is a boardwalk (made of environmentally friendly recycled plastic) with a radius large enough to avoid people being sprayed with boiling water and on which everyone is supposed to stand to admire the eruptions, but needless to say people ignored the skull-and-crossbones signposts with warnings of impending doom should one stray from the allotted route and stood on the forbidden ground to take photos of each other. One woman was standing there while someone piped up from the crowd to mention that she probably shouldn't be flaunting the rules so,
Geyser Hill
Looking south across Geyser Hill towards Old Faithful. Quite a desolate landscape.
Hot Spring in Geyser Hill
An unnamed hot spring on Geyser Hill with the Lion Group of cone geysers in the background and the Firehole River in the top left.
Sawmill Geyser
Sawmill Geyser just north of Old Faithful in the Upper Geyser Basin. Judging by the patches of water surrounding it and the lack of water inside, it recently erupted.
to which she angrily replied that there were lots of footprints already there and she hadn't sunk yet, so it must be OK. Another anonymous voice shouted that that was an excellent reason for doing something - that others had done it and she hadn't died yet - to general sniggers from the crowd. The woman huffed and puffed and eventually got back on the boardwalk.

Spasmodic Geyser
Spasmodic Geyser. This is actually two linked geysers which affect each others eruptions.
Hot Spring in Upper Geyser Basin
Another unnamed hot spring with the boardwalk in the background.
Upper Geyser Basin
Another shot across Upper Geyser Basin with a large hot spring on the left.
At almost exactly the time predicted the geyser began to bubble and spit water, suddenly erupting vertically into the sky to about 200 feet - quite an amazing thing to watch. It lasted about five minutes before slowly going back to its dormant state at which point most of the crowd immediately went back to the car park. I continued walking around the geyser and turned onto another boardwalk that began a long journey through the Upper Geyser Basin, Old Faithful being at the southern tip. Upper Geyser Basin contains the largest concentration of geysers in the world and all long the route were various collections of the thermal features, ranging from relatively mundane small holes in the ground to vast rainbow-coloured pools and huge funnel structures containing active cone-geysers. The journey crossed the Firehole River, which looked very inviting and sparkly in the hot sun, but would probably have been
Chromatic Pool
Chromatic Pool. Earth-coloured thermophiles thrive in the cooler water giving it its darker colours.
Firehole River in Upper Geyser Basin
The Firehole River, surrounded by sinter-covered banks.
Grotto Geyser
Grotto Geyser post eruption. The strangely shaped cone is thought to have resulted from sinter covering trees that grew nearby.
extremely unpleasant to dip into since it contained all the runoff from the geysers and pools (although surprisingly there were many fish in there). Several of the trees along the riverbanks were dead and covered in a white power (called sinter), looking like skeletons and stemming my desire to jump in. After around one-and-a-half miles the boardwalk joined a path, which continued north all the way up to the road, another mile, so I decided to head south back towards the car park along the path, passing yet more pools and geysers.

Hot Spring in Upper Geyser Basin 3
Yet another unnamed hot spring in the Upper Geyser Basin. These smaller pools are dotted around all over the place.
Morning Glory Pool 1
The amazingly coloured Morning Glory Pool. Over time the temperature has dropped due to debris being thrown in and cementing itself into the vent. As a result the orange and yellow cooler water bacteria has spread towards the center.
Round Spring
Round Spring on the path back towards Old Faithful.
Where I turned onto the path at the top of the boardwalk is a beautiful spring called Morning Glory Pool. It is a sad fact that several of the pools in Yellowstone, Morning Glory being a prime example, have lost much of their deep-blueness due to irresponsible people throwing things into the water. The rubbish sinks and clogs up the vents at the bottom, reducing the hot water supply to the pool and without the extreme temperatures bacteria thrive in the water, discolouring it. Park rangers have cleared out tons of rubbish from the pools including rocks, coins, boots, bottles and general rubbish. But even dredging the pools is not always an option due to the very fragile nature of the mini-ecosystems that exist within. Yet again reckless individuals spoil it for the rest of us (sorry to go on, but this kind of thing really annoys me).

Crested Pool
Crested Pool, so named for the sinter crests surrounding it.
Castle Geyser
The several-thousand-year-old cone of Castle Geyser, which sits on even older platforms forming one of the largest sinter formations in the world.
Emerald Pool 2
Too big to take a single picture, this is one side of Emerald Pool in Black Sand Basin.
Having arrived back at the car, I drove north along the main road, stopping off at the various other geyser basins along the way, the first of which was Black Sand Basin, named for the obsidian gravel from which the sand is made. This area was much smaller than the Old Faithful area and contained two or three short boardwalks out to the four or five thermal features present there, one of the most beautiful of which was Emerald Pool, appropriately named for its amazing turquoise water and the coloured microbial mats surrounding it.
Cliff Geyser 1
Cliff Geyser erupting around 20 feet on the edge of Iron Spring Creek. The name "Cliff" conjures up a huge formation but this is only about a foot high.
Microbial Mat in Biscuit Basin 2
A microbial mat in Biscuit Basin.
Some of the pools were too big to take pictures of, and the quantity of steam rising from them made seeing the inside of the pool quite difficult. Black Sand Basin also contained
Shell Geyser
The bizarrely shaped Shell Geyser.
a continuously erupting geyser called Cliff Geyser, which was somewhat more interesting than Old Faithful due to the fact that one could get closer to it and it seemed to vary dramatically the direction and force of the ejecting water. As a coach-load of people arrived, I made my escape and continued along the road until reaching Biscuit Basin, so named because...I don't know, I'm sure there's a good reason.

Biscuit Basin is another small area of a few springs and geysers, as well as a long line of sinter-covered dead trees. It also had some brilliantly coloured microbial mats in the runoff from the springs. Staying one step ahead of the coach, I left the basin and headed north towards the next turnoff.

Sinter-covered Trees in Biscuit Basin
The line of sinter covered trees in Biscuit Basin.
Midway Geyser Basin & Firehole River
A view of the Firehole River and Midway Geyser Basin from a viewpoint. You can see steam rising from the vast Grand Prismatic Spring on the left.
Middle Geyser Basin (also called Midway in some publications) is a few miles along the road from Biscuit Basin and the only area, much to my dismay, that doesn't have an
Runoff from Excelsior Geyser into FireHole River 1
Runoff from Excelsior Geyser into the Firehole River.
accompanying 50c brochure explaining the features held within. It contains some of the largest springs in the park, including Grand Prismatic Spring, which can only be photographed effectively from the air, and is the most featured spring in pictures due to its immense size and the array of colours in the water and microbial mats, making it look like a fiery sun. It is also the largest hot spring in North America with a width of 200 feet, and the deepest in Yellowstone at 111 feet. As you leave the car park, the boardwalk takes you across a bridge over the Firehole River and around a large crater, the Excelsior Geyser Crater, which was formed when Excelsior Geyser (now a hot spring in the base of the crater) exploded many years ago. The boardwalk
Excelsior Geyser Crater
Excelsior Geyser Crater.
Boardwalk over Runoff from Grand Prismatic Spring
The boardwalk over the runoff from Grand Prismatic Spring. The ground on the left and right is entirely covered in microbial mats...
continues deeper into the area, which is completely covered with run off from Grand Prismatic Spring, and thus coloured mats like fields in all directions. It is a slightly
Runoff from Grand Prismatic Spring 1 this.
strange sensation, and not a little unsteadying, to walk along the boards, which are no more than four feet wide and have no barriers. Thoughts of falling off and melting ran through my mind as I walked through steam that was so thick in places that I couldn't see my feet. I must also admit that having eggy steam blown over you is not the most pleasant of experiences but it does keep you warm, until, that is, it stops and then the cold wind cools down the water that condensed on your skin. I walked all the way around the basin, passing several huge and brightly coloured springs until arriving back at the car park and continuing along the road.

After a short journey I turned off the main road onto Firehole Lake Drive, a two-mile loop around more thermal features. The road went over some very dodgy but fun wooden
Runoff from Grand Prismatic Spring 2
This is a closeup of the mats. The mineral deposits create little terraces, more extreme examples of which are in Mammoth Hot Springs in the north of the park.
Microbial Mat next to Grand Prismatic Spring 1
Another mat next to Grand Prismatic Spring, this time in warmer water.
bridges before coming to a parking space just to the side of the road. I parked and walked over to a boardwalk that went along side Great Fountain Geyser, another of the parks six predictable geysers, and
Boardwalk & Steam from Grand Prismatic Spring
The boardwalk that runs along the side of Grand Prismatic Spring.
which I had fortuitously arrived just in time to see. Although smaller than Old Faithful, one could again get much closer and there were only four or five other people there, all with expensive cameras, making me feel as if I was part of some secret event. The eruption made it to around 100 feet in height before calming down again, at which point I continued on my journey. After some more bison halted the traffic (quite deliberately, I'm sure) I ended up at the apex of the loop next to which was a car park and Firehole Lake (which is a hot spring in itself). Another short boardwalk took me around the lake and past another, the ingeniously named Hot Lake, and through some more incredibly thick steam. A few geysers around the lakes spat water into the clearest blue water I've ever seen and as the sun began to get lower and cast shadows through the steam the ambience was
Great Fountain Geyser
Great Fountain Geyser on Firehole Lake Drive. Although it just looks like steam, it is erupting water.
Bison on Firehole Lake Drive
Bison munching on Firehole Lake Drive.
very serene (in fact I saw an excellent glory in the steam - a perfect rainbow circling the shadow of my head). I slowly walked back to the car and drove along the other side
Pink Cone Geyser
Pink Cone Geyser near the apex of Firehole Lake Drive. Another fortuitous encounter, its time between eruptions is six to 20 hours.
of the loop, pausing to allow a wolf to stare at me from the road before deigning to let me pass. As I passed another lake, the steam coming off its surface crossed the road and encased the car, instantly steaming up all of the windows to such an extent that I had to stop until the wind direction had changed and I could continue. As 6.30pm approached, I realised that I had only driven eight miles along the main road and decided I had better start to look for somewhere to stay, but upon exiting the Firehole Lake Drive I noticed another geyser area entrance on the other side of the road and pulled in to take a look.

The Fountain Paint Pot area is slightly larger than some of the other areas, the boardwalk being around half-a-mile long, but the thermal features are more spread out. The walk
Hot Lake
Hot Lake, and it does indeed look hot.
Boardwalk & Steam from Hot Lake
The boardwalk next to Hot Lake and the steam rising from it. This is where I saw the glory.
included some incredibly loud fumaroles, a large, boiling mudpot and several springs and geysers. The mudpot absolutely stank and there were signs all around it warning of mud occasionally being thrown over the guardrails and onto people. I passed a number of geysers, Twig Geyser, Jet Geyser and Fountain Geyser, that didn't seem to be doing too much,
Wolf on Firehole Lake Drive
The wolf(?) on Firehole Lake Drive. Not a great shot but he's fluffy so I put it in.
and came across Clepsydra Geyser (Greek for "water clock" due to its previously predictable nature) and Spasm Geyser, which were much more exciting, firing water high into the air. Noting that the sun was beginning to set and the temperature dropping (I was in shorts) I decided to head back to the car and make my way out of the park, since all the other towns in the park were closed for the season.

I drove north until coming to Madison Junction, where I turned west towards West Yellowstone, a town just inside Montana (the border of which is just inside the park boundary).
Fountain Paint Pot
Fountain Paint Pot. Not much rain during this season so the mud is quite thick and spits all over the place. The mud is clay and silica, broken down from the rhyolite rock by acid in the steam and water.
Clepsydra Geyser
Clepsydra Geyser, which erupts from several vents. This geyser used to erupt every three minutes (hence the name) but after the 1959 Hebgen Earthquake its plumbing was altered and it now erupts nearly constantly.
Along the way I was halted once again, this time by a female elk (for which I'm sure there is a proper name but I can't remember it) ambling along the road. She walked along the
Moon over Hills near Madison 2
The Moon over some hills near Madison.
side of the car and stopped to peer in through the window, which would have been a great picture except that the light was now so low that I would have captured a blur and nothing else. I continued along the Firehole Canyon Drive (they do have the best road names out here), while it became completely dark, and exited the park into West Yellowstone, a largish town of restaurants, hotels and shops, and booked into yet another Best Western for the night.

I have four movies of fumaroles and steam from hot springs if you are interested. They are all large, from 2.5 to just under 6Mb, which I can mail upon request.
West Yellowstone
Driving back to the park through West Yellowstone.
West Yellowstone
And again. Because it snows so much here in the winter, the larger main roads, like this one, are closed to traffic and opened to skidoos.
Addendum: It would seem that upon further inspection (and after Dick pointed it out) that the animal in the previous day's journal is in fact a coyote and not a wolf. Apparently wolves are bigger and have longer legs in proportion to their body.

Madison River
Looking east along the Madison River with the slope of Madison Valley on the left at the southern tip of the Gallatin Range.
I drove out of West Yellowstone and back through the west entrance to the park (the journey is literally five minutes). The road from the west entrance to Madison follows, for quite some time, the Madison River, a nice, wide, slow river with the steep slopes of Madison Valley on one side and broad meadows on the other. All around there was new growth after the 1988 fire, with some trees nearly ten feet in places, giving the area a nice bright green tint. After a while I got to Madison Junction, where I turned off yesterday,
Gibbon Falls
Gibbon Falls on Gibbon River. This was the first of a much larger set of falls...
Gibbon River you can see. The water had to make it all the way down there (84 feet, according to the map). This is actually the edge of the Yellowstone Caldera, hence the drop.
and turned north towards Norris Geyser Basin. Along the way I found another turnoff from the main road, this time into Artists' Paintpots, a geyser basin that not only doesn't have a nice, glossy little brochure, but isn't even on the map. The name is an allusion to the array of different coloured mud pots in the area, although I think it infers slightly
Hot Spring in Artists' Paintpots
One of the many little hot springs in Artists' Paintpots.
more pleasant surroundings than the noisy, stinking landscape with which I was presented. I followed the trail, which took me all around the area and up and around the side of a large hill to give a good view down and across the basin. All along the trail were spitting, bubbling, popping and wheezing mud pots, interspersed with smelly, gloopy hot springs and the occasional fumarole. The trail passed over several small streams clogged with thick, bacteria-infested mud, which served only to increase the unpleasantness of the whole place. All in all it was quite horrid, but at
Mud Pot in Artists' Paintpots
One of the mud pots in Artists' Paintpots. This one was popping and bubbling.
Mud Pot in Artists' Paintpots
The area next to the mud pot. This is about half way up the side of the hill.
the same time quite interesting and the array of colours in the mud alone was amazing. Having admired the features for as long as my nose could stand, I headed back to the main road and towards Norris.

Mud Pot in Artists' Paintpots
A mud pot next to the last one but a lot drier. This one was coughing and wheezing and sounded a lot less healthy than the last.
Along the way a herd of bison took the opportunity to halt the traffic again, standing and staring at the fronts of the cars, after which I shortly arrived at Norris Geyser Basin. Norris is split into two areas, Porcelain Basin (the park's hottest exposed area) and Back Basin, covering a large area (nearly two square miles) and containing several different examples of the four main thermal features. It sits atop the intersection of three major faults and so is subject to frequent earthquakes, which change the behaviour of the features and make Norris
Artists' Paintpots
The Artists' Paintpots area taken from next to the mud pots. Very colourful and astonishingly smelly.
Artists' Paintpots
More of the same area, this time from the base of the hill. It looks like a bomb site.
one of the most dynamic areas in the park. The last major earthquake, the Hebgen Lake Earthquake in 1959, caused widespread changes to many of the features, not just in Norris
View over Porcelain Basin
The view over Porcelain Basin from Back Basin in Norris Geyser Basin.
but across the whole park. Norris is also known for changing its own features due to its highly acidic nature; many of the springs dissolve rock, which then clogs up the plumbing and alters their behaviour. I began my walk around Back Basin, passing an overlook into Porcelain Basin, which is quite a lot deeper and contains more large-scale watery features. The ground there actually pulsates from the pressure of steam and boiling water beneath the surface and its features change more rapidly than anywhere else, although no one seems to know why. Both basins are quite spread out and so provide for nice quiet walks through new forest and large, open areas reminiscent of the semi-arid zones in Utah and Arizona.
Porkchop Geyser
Porkchop Geyser in Back Basin - the one that blew its biscuits.
Terraces in Back Basin
Some small terraces in Back Basin with a very turquoise hot spring at the top.
Part of the trail was closed due to the boardwalk collapsing into boiling water and so was cordoned off, but I did see (just beyond the cordon) Porkchop Geyser and its surrounding debris. Apparently, several years ago, Porkchop begin sealing its own
Echinus Geyser
Echinus Geyser. Although nice and colourful, it did little except steam at me.
vent with silica, causing pressure to built under the vent until, in 1989, it (and I quote) "blew its biscuits," throwing rocks over 200 feet in the process. Biscuits, I later discovered, are the slab-like formations that surround many springs and geysers. Still chuckling to myself, I arrived at Echinus (eh-KI-nus) Geyser, apparently named for the deposits that resemble the spines of echinoderms (sea urchins and star fish). Echinus is the largest acid-water geyser known and its water is almost as acidic as vinegar (pH 3.3-3.6). Several people were gathered along the multi-levelled platforms flanking the spring and having read that it erupts quite impressively every one to four hours, I
Steamboat Geyser
Steamboat Geyser - it doesn't look it, but it's the largest in the world.
Emerald Spring
Emerald Spring.
decided to sit down and wait. After half an hour and no action, I wandered off (one of the last to get bored waiting) and headed up several steep flights of steps to the upper levels of the basin. Along the stairway I passed Steamboat Geyser, the world's tallest active geyser, which was spouting water sporadically about 15 feet into the air. Steamboat
Roaring Mountain
Roaring Mountain. No longer roaring, but strange nonetheless.
can reach more than 300 feet during a major eruption, drenching everyone in the near vicinity, but is unfortunately entirely unpredictable. Since the nearby sign said that months or years can pass between eruptions, I decided against waiting and continued on my way. I passed Emerald Spring, a nice green colour due the combination of the yellow of sulphur and the reflected blue wavelength of sunlight. Its 27-foot deep trench is constantly
Sheepeater Cliff
Sheepeater Cliff, where, disappointingly, sheep are not eaten.
Mountain Pass to Mammoth
The beginning of the mountain pass, which I think might be called Golden Gate.
close to boiling so that only the hardiest of thermophiles can live there. Having finished my walk around the basin I went back to the car and continued north.

Mountain Pass to Mammoth
More of the mountain pass. This was taken from where the white truck stood in the previous picture.
The road followed Obsidian Creek through some very varied landscape, ranging from large open meadows to deep canyons. I drove past Roaring Mountain, a huge mound covered in fumaroles, which gained its name during the days of stagecoaches when it was far more active. Then along side Obsidian Cliff, so called because of the long bands of glassy, black obsidian running through it, until coming to a small turnoff that ended in a car park in front of a strange cliff of what looked like broken Lego. The formation was called
Canary Spring
Canary Spring on the Main Terrace of Mammoth Hot Springs. It's a bit tricky to see through the steam, but there are many terraces behind it. In the late 1800s, Canary Spring was yellow from the filamentous bacteria that used to live here.
New Blue Spring
The top of New Blue Spring with part of the town in the background. In between are the Lower Terraces and network of boardwalks.
Sheepeater Cliff - a name that instantly conjures up thoughts of herds of sheep plummeting to their death, but in fact it is named for the local tribe of Indians who used Bighorn Sheep as part of their lifestyle and so gained the
New Blue Spring
New Blue Spring from another angle. Generally speaking, the whiter the travertine, the fewer the bacteria growing there and so the less water the area has recently received.
nickname Sheepeaters. The cliff itself was a long line of vertical shafts of basalt around 50 feet high, similar to the outside of Devils Tower, except on a much smaller scale and formed along a wall as opposed to in a cylinder. Apparently it cooled around 500,000 years ago, creating the shafts that, through weathering, fall off in chunks creating the talus about two thirds of the way down. After the cliff, the road went past Gardners Hole ("hole," for some reason, was the name used by early settlers to describe a large open
New Blue Spring
New Blue Spring terraces to the left of the active ones. When the sun shines on them, the whiteness of the terraces is amazing.
Minerva Terrace
Minerva Terrace, named for the Roman goddess of artists and sculptors. These terraces were formed in the 1990s until activity shifted in 2002 to another direction.
meadow at the base of hills or mountains) and then entered a deep canyon, about halfway up of which was the road, precariously balanced on stilts. Having exited the canyon, the road meandered a little more and then opened out over Mammoth Hot Springs, my next and final main stop.

New Blue Spring
The terraces of New Blue Spring again, this time from one of the lower boardwalks.
Mammoth is situated on the side of a hill, with the town at the bottom, most of the thermal features on the hill (the Main and Lower Terraces), and the Upper Terrace drive at the top, which is a loop from the main road around more thermal features. I parked at the top, just inside the beginning of the loop, and began exploring the multitude of connected boardwalks that weave in and out of the Main and Lower Terraces. Mammoth is almost exclusively hot springs, so it all seems very slow moving and serene, but in fact
Orange Spring Mound
Orange Spring Mound on the Upper Terrace Drive, coloured by thermophiles. A very bizarre object.
Rotated Area under Jupiter Terrace
Back on the Lower Terraces, these are the thousands of mini-terraces below Jupiter Terrace.
its features change daily. The pools here run on the same underground forces as elsewhere, except here the water makes its way through limestone instead of rhyolite, resulting
Jupiter Terrace
And this is Jupiter Terrace, dry since 1992 when it flowed over the boardwalk many times.
in delicate deposits of travertine. The deposition of minerals is so rapid that it changes the path that the water takes very frequently, sometimes overnight. In fact over two tons of travertine are deposited here by rising water every day. The constant downhill motion of the water creates the most amazing terraces of different colours, although mostly a pure crystalline white. I walked all around the boardwalks, admiring the various terrace structures, descriptions of which are probably best left to the pictures, and then drove around the Upper Terrace Drive, which was around two miles long and passed along side several brightly coloured mounds and terraces, mostly from dormant springs.
Palette Spring
The top of Pallete Spring, its water steaming over the edge and down the hill.
Palette Spring
Pallete Spring taken from the side.
Palette Spring
And from the front. The crisscrossing of colours is just amazing.
After the loop, I continued along the main road that took me around the side and along the base of the Lower Terraces, and then into Mammoth Hot Springs the town. Mammoth used to be a fort and so most of the buildings are old wooden and stone structures, giving it a colonial feel. There were also elk wandering around all over the town, completely unperturbed by the cars driving by. Mammoth looked like it was probably quite a nice place to stay, with a nice hotel and restaurants dotted around, but most of it was closed up for the season, so I continued north towards the park exit.

Rotated Liberty Cap
The 37-foot-high Liberty Cap, deposited over hundreds of years by a stationary hot spring. It is estimated to be over 2500 years old. Apparently it resembles the peaked knit caps worn during the French Revolution, hence the name.
On the way I passed through the 45th parallel - the line equidistant between the equator and the north pole (and also the border between Wyoming and Montana) - which seemed strange as it felt like I was further north than that, but I suppose that just demonstrates my excellent geographical knowledge. As, a little while later, I passed through the northwest gate it was beginning to get dark, so I headed into Gardiner, right next to the gate, to find a place to stay. Gardiner is another small town which seems to exist for the purpose of serving those travelling through the park, but it seemed pleasant so I booked into the Absaroka Lodge, with an excellent view of the mountains in the park and the Yellowstone River running through a deep gorge at the end of the property. Yellowstone River, incidentally, is the longest undammed river in the US, running from its source in Yellowstone Park for 670 miles until it empties into the Missouri River (which starts where the Madison and Gallatin Rivers empty, both of which have their source in the park) just inside North Dakota.
View from Absaroka Lodge
The view from my room in the Absaroka Lodge. The bridge over Yellowstone River goes into "downtown" Gardiner and then on to the park.
Mammoth Hot Springs
Mammoth Hot Springs from the northern tip of the one-way system around the town. In the distance you can see the steam from the springs and in the foreground is a very dangerous tree, caged to protect the public.
I woke at around 8 and opened the blinds to discover that my view of the park was encased in snow! It had snowed very heavily overnight and so my plan to head north further into
Elk in Mammoth Hot Springs
Elk taking it easy in the middle of the Mammoth one-way system.
Montana was instantly modified as I could not pass up the chance to drive through the park in thick snow. I checked with the person at one of the local gas stations as to the state of the roads in the park and whether it would be safe for me to drive there in a normal car. They reckoned that since it was front wheel drive it would be fine and as they only tend to close the roads in really thick snow that the snow ploughs can't get through, anything that was open would be ploughed, so off I went.

Elk in Mammoth Hot Springs
An elk cow posing for the camera.
Elk in Mammoth Hot Springs
A stag munching grass.
The temperature at the entrance to the park was 3° Celsius, prior to climbing 1000 feet to Mammoth Hot Springs. Snow was settling up to a couple of inches thick in Mammoth
Mammoth Hot Springs
Looking west from the visitor centre in Mammoth at one of the closed restaurants. Rising steam is on the left.
Hot Springs, at an elevation of 6200 feet, and the temperature was 0°. The roads were a little slushy with the recent and still falling snow, so driving was done carefully. Incidentally, West Yellowstone, where I stayed the night before last, is around 400 feet higher, and looking approximately 400 feet up the hills it looked pretty thick, so that would have been fun.

Mount Everts
A snowy mountain east of Mammoth, I'm pretty sure this is Mount Everts.
Snowy Valley south of Mammoth
A snowy valley south of Mammoth just north of the mountain pass.
I stopped off at the visitor centre in Mammoth Hot Springs where I learned that the pronghorn deer in the park are the fastest land mammals in the western hemisphere, cruising at 30 mph for up to 20 minutes and bursting at 70 mph for up to four minutes - they also have some pretty nasty pronged horns (as you may have guessed from the name), so I'm
Sheepeater Cliff
Sheepeater Cliff again.
quite glad I didn't get too close when photographing them. In the visitor centre they had a table with horns and antlers from various animals in the park (I hope they didn't mind) that you could pick up and look at. I was stunned at how heavy, and in some cases sharp they were. The horns from the Big Horn Sheep were, as you may suspect, big. They must have weighed five or six kilos each - not something I'd want to carry around on my head.

After the visitor centre I headed up towards the hot springs, which in the cold weather were totally enshrouded in steam, so much so that in some cases you couldn't see a single
North along Gardner River
Looking northeast (downstream) along the Gardner River beside Sheepeater Cliff, which you can see stretching off into the distance. I don't know why the river and meadow are spelled Gardner and the town Gardiner.
Snowy Trees next to Sheepeater Cliff
Some nice snowy trees next to Sheepeater Cliff.
thing all around them. Lucky I took photos yesterday. I continued past the springs and about 10 miles further into the park (where the temperature dropped to -3° C) before turning back aware that I had to make it back out and onto my next destination. The park takes on a completely different look during weather like this - meadows are vast white
Willow Park
I'm pretty sure this is Willow Park, south of Sheepeater Cliff.
sheets, ending in white hills disappearing into the clouds. As one drives around the park, the four-wheel-drive vehicles pull over to allow cars to pass when the roads narrow, knowing that they can get into and out of snowdrifts and cars can't. I grabbed some food and ate it outside the visitor centre in Mammoth Hot Springs while the car became engulfed in snow as it picked up and started almost blizzarding.

After warming the car back up I drove out of the park again and north on US-89 through Livingston. Along the way I discovered that the wilderness area to the east of US-89 (Gallatin National Forest) is the largest area entirely above 10,000 feet in the US, it being in the Absaroka Range. It is completely uninhabited and was, rather ungenerously I thought, given over to a tribe called the Absaroka (apparently pronounced ab-SOAR-key). As the US-89 met up with I-90, on which I went west, the cloud was pretty much
Snowy Pass south of Mammoth
Golden Gate mountain pass.
Elk Horn Mountains west of US-287
The Elk Horn mountains west of US-287 with a centre-pivot irrigation system in the foreground.
gone and sun was out, but it was still cold - around 10° C. I left I-90 onto US-287 and up into Helena (pronounced HE-len-a), Montana's capital (yes, another one) where I drove around town for a little
Centre Pivot Irrigation System west of US-287
And another one. Not a very interesting photo come to think of it.
while and then back out again to check into a motel (a Holiday Inn Express with free broadband Internet - at last!). On US-287 I saw more of the Centre Pivot Irrigation Systems that are in fields all over the states but mainly in the prairies and other large areas of farming. They are long assemblies of pipes and sprays suspended on a gantry which is pivoted at one end and has wheels all the way along to allow it to trace an arc or circle around a field, irrigating as it goes. This creates large clusters of circular fields that can be seen on satellite photos of farmlands. That's the farming lesson for today.
Helena Capitol Building
The Helena Capitol building.
Helena Capitol Building
And again.
West along Sixth Avenue
Looking west along the nice, leafy Sixth Avenue.
Since I was intending to do mainly laundry today, I went for a walk about town and came across the Capitol Building, this one of average size but with very little parkland in comparison to others. Not wanting to break with tradition I took a couple of photos and went on my way. I parked in the downtown area and walked up and down the pedestrian mall amusingly named Last Chance Gulch (apparently the original name from when the town was settled). Most of the shops were closed and there were very few people around, which I discovered was due to a number of
South along Last Chance Gulch
South along Last Chance Gulch.
South along Last Chance Gulch
South along another part of Last Chance Gulch.
Church of St Helena
The Church of St. Helena.
reasons, the first being Columbus Day (a holiday I think), the second being a huge football game in the nearby town of Missoula (I say nearby, but being North America it was 100 miles away), and the third being the beginning of hunting season. The mall was nice with mostly independently owned shops and scattered all around were stone bears about three feet high, each painted in a different style and set of colours. After getting back to the car and driving out of town I saw a large church, the Church of St Helena, which was
Rotated Church of St Helena
And again.
quite nice so I stopped for a couple of photos of that, before getting back into the car and promptly getting completely lost and inadvertently driving about 15 miles out of town. After driving around the airport several times I finally made it back to the motel and spent the rest of the day doing laundry and other such thrilling activities.
North on I-15
Looking north along I-15 near Great Falls.
Having left the motel, I headed north out of Helena on I-15. The road went through some flat prairie-like country and then through the Big Belt Mountains giving some nice winding curves. It tracked the Missouri River for a while, a fairly large river, where the land flattened out again. The day was turning quite clement - relatively warm, about 15° C, with a nice, blue river surrounded by yellow aspen. I passed through a fairly large town called Great Falls and over the Teton River, all through slightly undulating
Panorama West from SH-49
A panorama that almost matches up. Looking west from SH-49 into Glacier National Park.
land, populated by lots of much smaller towns, grass and low shrubs. I turned off I-15 at state highway 44 west through Valier, which then met up with US-89, where I went north. All the roads since leaving Helena were very windy indeed, with big lumps of tumbleweed flying across the road all the time, occasionally splintering over the car. It started getting hillier as I entered the Blackfeet Indian Reservation. A tribe renown for their courage and bravery they took insult and gave revenge easily and were much feared by the white settlers of the day. The reservation has many small shack shops selling "original" native trinkets.

I eventually drove into East Glacier, a small town on the border with Glacier National Park consisting of a few small wooden motels, and turned north onto state highway 49 to go up towards the park entrance, about 35 miles away. The highway was very narrow and sharply curved, with patches of snow and ice beside the road and rocks from cliffs scattered
Northeast on SH-49
Looking northeast along SH-49. In the distance is the Blackfeet Indian Reservation.
View from St Mary Lodge 1
The view from the balcony of St. Mary Lodge. I believe that the central mountain is East Flattop Mountain.
around, giving some excellent rally driving practice. The highway met up with US-89 again and I went north until arriving in a town called St Mary, where I decided that time and light dictated staying the night there. I found a large, new lodge, (not that difficult to find, in fact, because it was almost the only building in the whole town) and booked
View from St Mary Lodge 2
The view to the right of the previous picture. You can see how new the lodge is by the unfinished state of the grounds.
in for the night. Being relatively small (I think the entire town population of five was in the supermarket, also the location of the lodge check-in) there were about five buildings and the only hot food available was served in the multifunctional supermarket. It was actually quite friendly and nice, so I ate there, where a guy was cooking chicken and burgers on a couple of gas stoves on tables. It was getting very cold outside, but the motel room was excellent: nice and new and warm, with a big comfy armchair and two big comfy beds with lots of cushions (approximately ten thousand per bed). And less than $100 to boot! Definitely my best find so far. The balcony opened out to a river, a line of trees and a series of snow capped mountains fairly nearby - my destination for tomorrow.
Miles so far - 7541.
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