YELLOWSTONE IV THE LOWER GEYSER BASINS by john aldrich

On October 7th we needed to journey from Gardiner, MT, to Old Faithful. Since the weather had been unsettled in Mammoth we anticipated that there might be snow overnight. And there was, but only at the higher elevations. Both roads south from Mammoth were closed because of the weather. We started out into the park thinking at least one of the roads might be open by noon. But we hadn't proceeded more than a mile when a fit of common sense overtook us and we realized the possibility that neither road might open that day.

Consequently we elected to take the three hour round-about route from Gardiner to West Yellowstone. This involved driving north along the Yellowstone River to Livingston, west to Bozeman, and then south via the Gallatin River canyon to West Yellowstone where we could reenter the park.

This turned out to have been a very good decision since information at the west park entrance and later at Old Faithful suggested that both roads remained closed all day. Despite the extra driving we were rewarded with beautiful scenery both up the Yellowstone River valley and down through the Gallatin canyon.

After reentering the park we proceeded up to Madison Junction once more and then turned south along the Firehole River. This route features a series of thermal areas. Moving upstream, the first is the Lower Geyser Basin, then Midway Geyser Basin and finally the Upper Geyser Basin where Old Faithful is located.

I titled this portion of the travelogue The Lower Geyser Basins, and it will feature the interesting areas one encounters prior to reaching Old Faithful. This departs from the actual chronology of our travels since we didn't really stop at Black Sand, Bisquit, and Midway Geyser Basins until 2 days later when we were leaving the park.

Not long after starting up the road there is a waterfall on the Firehole River. It seems interesting that both the Gibbon and Firehole Rivers have waterfalls not far upstream from where they join to form the Madison River.

This is followed by the first thermal area, the Lower Geyser Basin. We chose to start with the Firehole Lake Drive and soon found scenes similar to what we had seen at Norris Geyser Basin.

The first geyser we encountered was Great Fountain Geyser. At Norris we had seen geysers bubbling, gurgling, and hissing but hadn't actually seen one erupt. A sign at Great Fountain suggested that an eruption might be imminent in an hour or so. Thus we finished the loop and its sights and then looped back to Great Fountain where we saw our first geyser in action.

First is a still image of the geyser and its pool followed by a video of the geyser erupting and subsiding. I left the audio track in place despite the wind noise and exuberant teenagers in the background since it all adds to the sense of what it was like there.

Across the highway from the Firehole Lake Loop Road in the Lower Geyser Basin is Fountain Paint Pots. This short loop was a bit disappointing from the standpoint of both the number of visitors and our general lack of inspiration here. The following photos show one of the geysers and one of the visitors.

Next up the road was the Midway Geyser Basin, home of one of the Yellowstone Park magnets, Grand Prismatic Spring. The popularity of this stop was exceeded only by the scarcity of parking places. We had to circle the parking area numerous times before scoring a space. Many had parked much further away along the highway and hiked in.

To see this spring (the largest in North America) in its full glory would require an aerial view, but what we could see from the boardwalk was still spectacular. The runoff from the spring flowed over colorful mats created by thermophilic bacteria. The boardwalks were a mixed blessing - they were choked with tourists but they also made it easy to take photos without people in the foreground.

Further up the road the final two locations in this segment were Biscuit Basin and Black Sand Basin. They're most likely considered to be part of the Upper Geyser Basin area, but I include them here.

We actually hiked to Biscuit Basin from Old Faithful - a round trip of about 5 miles. It was our last morning in the park and very cold when we started out just after sunrise. And what did we find when we got there? - another bus load of Chinese tourists. Fortunately they were just leaving and we had the place mostly to ourselves.

Black Sand Basin is just a mile or two short of the turnoff to Old Faithful. The thermal features here were beautiful but not uniquely different from what we had seen up to this point. Opalescent Pool caught my eye, though, because the intense color of the water was similar to Porcelain Pool at the Norris Geyser Basin.

Another feature in this photograph are the "bobby socks" trees. These are fairly common in thermal areas throughout the park where lodgepole pines have died and their lower trunks have turned white from minerals wicked up from the water.

To end this portion of the travelogue I will repeat the park map for anyone who might like a reorientation.

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