Yellowstone, first full day — Old Faithful

My sister told me she had seen a bear near the hotel the night before.

I was supposed to do a two hour run this morning. I was worried about bears.

The rules for hiking in bear country are: Don’t go alone, Don’t go at dawn or dusk, Make lots of noise, Don’t startle the bear(s). I feared I would be breaking pretty much all of those. No one would want to run with me. I wanted to go out early so I could be with my family the rest of the day. I was at 6000ft+ and running, would I have any breath to make noise? And running would mean I’d come upon bears much faster than a hiker and be more likely to startle them.

There were signs up saying there were bears in the area.

The old stage-coach road from the hotel to Gardiner is a 5 mile dirt track. I thought a road might be less likely to have bears than a hiking trail, especially as it still got occasional vehicular traffic (It’s a one way road now).

I figured that would be the best I could do. I also decided to recite The Hunting of the Snark as best I could while running (It’s the longest monologue I have committed to memory, and while it doesn’t last for 2 hours in normal circumstances, I did not expect to be able to spend as much time talking as I normally do in a recitation. I expected to spend more time panting.).

The trail took off immediately behind the hotel, and went straight up for about a quarter mile. This was a bit surprising as Gardiner is about 1000ft lower than the hotel. It wasn’t easy going uphill and trying to recite, so the Snark came out in bits and pieces between pants. I tried to make sure that I shouted something before each twist in the road.

Eventually the climb ended and I got a view a very stark landscape. Dead grass, sagebrush (which is not related to sage at all, at all), not much else. Some trees and wildflowers down in the canyons where there was a bit more water.

I had been concerned about running at altitude. Admittedly 6200ft is not that high as these things go, but it is higher than I am used to. Going up the hill had been difficult, but not impossible. That was consoling. Going downhill seemed easy. Indeed, when my watch beeped out the first mile I found I had been going for less than 10 minutes which is a pretty fast clip for me on a trail (of course this was a road, and a downhill road at that, still it was cheering). The Snark was coming out a lot more easily now.

The road dips across a small gully with a stream at the bottom of it. A little water makes a huge difference in the vegetation. There are trees, and the ground cover looks green. There’s even a small lake down below me.

But I climb out of that and into the dry landscape again. There’s a bit of sun now and it doesn’t look as gloomy as it used to.

Then it’s a meandering descent down to Gardiner. The old coach road intersects the main road at the Roosevelt arch, the official park entrance. My watch tells me I have run 4 miles. This road was supposed to be 5 miles long (my watch isn’t perfectly accurate, but it isn’t that far off). Drat. That throws off my calculations. Normally a 10 mile trail run would more than fill a 2 hour slot, but I’m running faster on the road than I expected, and the road is shorter than I was told.

I decide to run back to the hotel, and then turn round and repeat as much of the road as I need to to get in my 2 hours. I ended up running ~12 miles in roughly 2 hours. So I guess the altitude didn’t slow me by much? Or maybe the road, even with a 1000ft descent/climb was easier than I expected.

When I returned everyone else was leaving to go to Old Faithful. I hurriedly showered and breakfasted and then went out after them.

It’s about 50 miles from Mammoth to Old Faithful. It took me 3 hours to drive it. There was road construction that slowed things down immensely.

En route there was also a wildlife-viewing traffic jam. There was a bison wandering down the middle of the road. After he passed me, I pulled over and got out of the car with my camera to take a picture. But the camera didn’t go. I remembered I’d taken out the battery the night before. So I bent over and fished the battery out of the bag, and put it in. When I looked up the bison was about 6 feet in front of me and heading toward me.

I backed up.

Quickly.

It was some time before I was in a position to try to take a picture.

Eventually I got to Old Faithful. I was about 45 minutes before the next eruption and already the viewing area was almost full. I found myself a seat and waited (there were lots of people, I didn’t try to find my family).


T-45minutes

T-10minutes

Starting…

T+30 seconds

T+1:30

I felt I had to see Old Faithful. I didn’t know how commonly other geysers erupted and I wanted to make sure I saw at least one.

While I was waiting for it to erupt I could see at least two places down in the basin below where great clouds of steam would suddenly appear. They seemed to erupt more commonly than Old Faithful. Now if I could only figure out how to get there…

As I wander down into the basin I pass many pools. I turn a corner and witness an eruption. Only it doesn’t end. It just keeps going. Nowhere near as tall as Old Faithful, but impressive in its own right. It is impossible to get around it without getting splashed. Surprisingly, the water is cool, though the mist is warm. “Sawmill Geyser”, says the sign.

There are many pools that are called “geysers”. Quiescent, or barely bubbling, or with small eruptions. Some of them have little signs: “Next eruption will be on 26 August”, or “Will probably erupt between 4 and 7pm today”. I did not wait.

I see my parents and my nephew and niece (but not my siblings). They seem to be done with the geysers, but I want to see more, so I don’t join them as they head back.

After a long wander I come to something called Castle Geyser. It was erupting. It had been erupting for a while and had no intention of stopping (According to Wikipedia it erupts for about 20 minutes and then throws up steam for another 40). I found the sheer volume of ejecta, and the duration of the eruption even more impressive than Old Faithful. Also we were allowed closer to it so it looked bigger.

The drive home only takes an hour and a half. I get really lucky and get waved through the road construction area with no wait.

That evening a herd of elk wandered onto the hotel grounds. The lawns are irrigated, and the grass there is more succulent than elsewhere.


More pictures:

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