West Thumb Geyser Basin Yellowstone National Park
Day Two of #ALEX14 was pretty inspiring, what with the hike up Jenny Lake to Inspiration Point. But it would pale in comparison to what the National Park Foundation had in store for the third day. On this day we would hit Grand Teton National Park and make our way up to Yellowstone National Park and spend the morning at the West Thumb Geyser Basin.
After a hearty breakfast at Togwotee Mountain Lodge, we met with Sean Beckett a biologist and guide with the Teton Science Schools’ Wildlife Expedition. Sean is also a photographer and blogger. You can find his blog at The Green Man Blog. In particular, check out his amazing series of posts on the phenology of Yellowstone, since it coincides with this post. I don’t know where those bears were when we went looking for them, but I’m glad to see them in photos at least.
This day would teach me that you can’t visit an area like Grand Teton National Park and Yellowstone National Park and get everything out of the experience unless you are going with someone who knows the area like the back of their hand. So, if you’re ever visit Grand Teton or Yellowstone National Park, I recommend booking guided trips with Teton Science Schools.
This day gave me the opportunity to try my new Canon PowerShot G16 that I purchased to take pictures on this trip. All of the photographs of in this post were taken with the PowerShot G16. The photos I used in the posts for Day One and Day Two were taken with my phone, a Samsung Galaxy S3, and my Canon Rebel XT DSLR Camera. We started the morning at Willow Flats, an area where you can actually see a lot of wildlife. Animals come down and give birth here and leave their offspring in the willow bushes. The willow bushes act like a Faraday cage for the scents of the babies. The bushes keep the scent of newborn calves down and out of the air where it could be picked up by predators.
A relatively short drive that morning took us to the West Thumb Geyser Basin at Yellowstone National Park.
Unfortunately, the road that leads to Old Faithful was closed during the trip, but the geysers here more than made up for it. I’d never seen anything so enchanting in my life. The colors at the hot springs and hydrothermal vents were mesmerizing. This was a cold morning and I’m glad it was that cold because we got the full effect of visiting hot springs. One moment your teeth are chattering, and then you’re engulfed by hot steam rising from the spring and vents.
The West Thumb Geyser Basin overlooks Yellowstone Lake, the largest lake at high elevation in North America. Every day the geyser basin pours 3, 100 gallons of hot water into the lake. Surprisingly, all of that hot water does little to change the temperature of the lake.
Given how beautiful the area is, it was no surprise that there were busloads of tourists here that morning. Trying to take pictures when you’re surrounded by throngs of tourists is a little difficult so I forgot to make not of the names of all the springs and geysers as I was taking pictures. But I think this may be the Abyss Pool at the Geyser Basin.
Just look at these beautiful colors in the pools of the geysers. The colors are a result of the microorganisms that live in the waters. The crust at the pools is very fragile and you can quickly find yourself submerged in water reaching 200 F in some of the pools. We were told the boardwalk you use to traverse the geyser basin has to be regularly maintained because it breaks down really fast.
Anyone thinking of a dip into these pools would quickly meet the fate of the elk that fell into the pool and was boiled last winter. Can you see the bones?
It’s hard to depict how eerily beautiful it is to walk along the hot springs at this geyser basin. When the steam rises people can disappear and appear seemingly out of nowhere. See this Instagram video I took at Black Pool to give you an idea.
Big Cone Geyser at West Thumb Geyser Basin juts out into Yellowstone Lake. Eruptions from this geyser are rare and only reach a couple of feet high. But you can see Big Cone letting of just a hint of steam in this pictures.
According to my Mac’s Field Guide to Yellowstone & Grand Teton National Parks: Trees & Wildflowers this is a Yellow Monkey Flower, and they can even be found blooming among the geysers in winter because the warmer temperatures.
Fishing Cone geyser overlooking Yellowstone Lake. Back in the day, it was popular to fish at Fishing Cone geyser because you could catch a trout in the lake, swing your pole around, dip the fish into the cone and cook the fish without taking it off the line. Due to damage caused by fishing at Fishing Cone, fishing is no longer allowed here.
Lakeshore Geyser, West Thumb Geyser Basin. Although it often erupts a few feet, the last time this geyser erupted with any significant force was in the 1970s. The smaller of the two geysers is usually not exposed until mid to late August.
Sean told us that all the hot water that is sent into the lake allows the shoreline to be used by animals in the dead of winter. So you can go in winter and find animals drinking from the lake when it has frozen over.
Seismograph Bluebell Pools, West Thumb Geyser Basin.
Seismograph/Bluebell Pools, West Thumb Geyser. These were renamed Seismograph Pools after the 1959 Hebgen Lake earthquake. Nobody is sure what changes occurred here to warrant a name change, but I like Bluebell Pools name better because there were bluebells blooming near here. The muddy pools are caused by the mud pot runoff nearby.
After a too short visit to the geysers, we stopped an had lunch before continuing with the rest of our adventure.
The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River. Sean kept mentioning that we were going to the the “Grand Canyon” and I almost had to pull out Google Maps to make sure I knew what state I was in. It turns out that there is a Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River. Yes, Virginia, there is another grand canyon in America.
When we arrived here I was ready to pitch a fit because there were throngs of tourists on buses arriving. I had to push my way through people to get this picture. And then Sean says, “Come with me, I know a better spot for pictures.”
After a hike that seemed to take all of five minutes and we were at the top of the canyon looking down on the Yellowstone River from the top. It was secluded and quiet but I didn’t manage to overcome by fear of falling into giant canyons to get really close. One of the other bloggers on the trip would later says that she had this odd desire of jumping into the canyon. Which I found funny because to me the canyon was very evocative of something in the way Georgia O’Keeffe paintings are evocative of something. It had an oddly inviting feel to it.
Here’s a panorama of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone that I took with my phone. I decided to include it even though it wasn’t taken with the camera mentioned above because the pictures didn’t quite depict the vastness of the canyon.
Lower Falls of the Yellowstone River from the top of the canyon. On the way back to the car I found myself picking up candy wrappers and small pieces of trash that was left behind by the visitors on the tour buses. And I was feeling that same annoyance I feel when I pick other people’s trash out of my garden. I guess this was the moment that I began to feel a sense of ownership of this land. I was all in, as they say. ‘This Land is Your Land’ played in my head on the car ride to the next location.
A short drive, u-turn, a quick hike down a woodland path, and Sean delivered us a pristine waterfall where many selfies were taken.
The day with an amazing sunset back where we started at the started and we even caught a glimpse of a bald eagle and a buck with his harem at the willow flats. It was a perfect end to an amazing adventure. I’m glad we had Sean and Grand Teton Science Schools with us this day because it felt like visiting an area with a friend who knew all the cool spots where you wouldn’t be surrounded by tourists.
…this land is my land…
What is #ALEX14 ? It is the hashtag of the American Latino Heritage Fund Expedition for 2014. In its second year, ALEX is an effort to introduce the national park system to a new generation of Americans who will in turn introduce the national parks to other Americans who have never been or are even aware that visiting national parks is even an option. Eight [email protected] blogger and social media influencers were selected by the National Park Foundation to tour the Grand Teton National Park and discover our role in the future stewardship of national parks. The trip was made possible through partnerships with Go RVing, Aramark, Columbia, Alaska Airlines and REI who generously paid for accommodations, clothing, food and travel costs.