Glacier to Yellowstone: Mammoth, Norris, Old Faithful

So Jim and I are here in Yellowstone! Yesterday we left Glacier National Park, early in the morning. I discovered that I somehow had left my boots in Portland, and the only shoes I had otherwise were TOMS, which are *great* hiking shoes (not). So after we got some coffee and GNP postcards, we went back through Missoula to go to REI to get boots. I called my dad to have him ship my boots to Madison, but until then, I need something to hike in at Yellowstone. Yay for REI’s generously lenient return policy.

So far this has been mostly a beautiful road trip, but it’s also been a reminder of how commercial our highways are. I captured a photo that reflects our roadtrip so far: beautiful scenery, occasionally obscured by America.


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We are camped at Mammoth Hot Springs, near the North entrance of the park. We bought some firewood from a dodgy little vending machine with extortionist tendencies – the camp attendant said it only worked sometimes. Luckily we got some firewood out of it after the first $8.

Mammoth Hot Springs is a beautiful spot – it’s so brilliantly white, you can see it from a long way off, especially at dusk, which is when we decided to take photos of it.


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So today was our first official day in Yellowstone. Our campsite was in a beautiful spot. It certainly made getting up before sunrise easier. We got out at first light, intending to go to Lamar Valley. We must’ve missed the turn, so we changed our plan and decided to do the thermals instead — Grand Prismatic Springs, Morning Glory, Norris Basin, Old Faithful, etc.

I have to say, I love how cold it is here! I feel like I can breathe again.

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First was Norris Geyser Basin – the thermals were quite steamy in the 50 degree weather. They had this little illustration of the dangers of walking on the thermal areas. We also got a flyer with a depiction of a bison gouging someone in the bum, to show that you should be wary of the wild animals. Jim and I were imagining what the artist’s reaction would’ve been to have Yellowstone National Park commission them to draw a set of illustration/warnings.

“So, can you draw us some sketches for our signs and pamphlets? We want people to get the idea not to do bad stuff, but with a bit of a comical air to it, like, ‘yeah, beware of death in Yellowstone, but wow is it so fun here!’ We want to see pain, but not gore.”


We behaved, and stayed on the trail. Here is my cynical description of Norris Geyser Basin: It was like walking through a vast wasteland with nothing but the devil’s dryer vents to keep you company. They spewed noxious-smelling sulphur into the cold morning air, and all the trees in sight had withered into spindly corkscrews. Hordes of bacteria in mingling shades of ochre and chartreuse clung to the slate along the streambeds.

Here we are! We haven't showered!
Here we are! We haven’t showered!
People losing their hats in the thermals where they can’t get them back leads to some funny photos. I just loved how forlorn but cheery this hat seemed to be.

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Ok, but really, it was one of my favorite parts. Coming down into the basin, you could hear the jets of steam coming out, and it really did remind me of dryer vents. But the whole place was an ethereal white slate, shrouded in mist. There were so many colors! The first pools we saw glowed electric blues and greens, but others were deep orange, or clear blue. The bacteria hung out in the far end of the basin, creating swaths of bright color behind the curtains of mist.

Anyway, moving on. Cool place. And by cool I mean hot. Next up was Gibbon Falls, which was all right. Then Grand Prismatic Spring and Beauty Pool. These were, by far, the most disappointing. I had seen many amazing photos of the Grand Prismatic, in all its rainbow glory, so I couldn’t wait to get one of my own. Unfortunately, though late fall is a great place to see Yellowstone for other reasons, Grand Prismatic was all but invisible behind a giant cloud of steam this time of year.


It was hard to take photos of anything in this area, because there was so much steam – even the walkways were covered with beads of sweat. The steam either crowded in front of the thermal we were trying to get shots of, or blowing straight at us in the wind, fogging up our camera lenses.

Excelsior Geyser
Excelsior Geyser
Excelsior Geyser
Excelsior Geyser
Bacteria mats.
Bacteria mats.
The best I could do with Grand Prismatic...
The best I could do with Grand Prismatic…


Next we went to Biscuit Basin, which was much less steamy, and pretty much made up for the GP disappointment. The Sapphire Pool was one of the coolest things I have ever seen, such a spectacular shade of cerulean, with ridged edges all the way down. The wind was blowing away from us, which also helped. There were moments of clarity (literally)…


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You have to drive a lot in Yellowstone, right? We spent several hours today just getting *to* the places we wanted to see. I didn’t realize it was such a big park. There is also a ton of fire damage. There was the big fire(s) in 1988 that burned almost 800,000 acres, which is still growing back, but there were also big fires in 2011 and 2013 that left big grey patches of snags along the road.

Luckily we didn’t have to wait for Old Faithful, well, at all. We went to check it out to see if we should eat lunch before or after, but judging by the number of people milling around, we figured it would be erupting soon. Not ten minutes later, everyone oohed and aahed for about 4 minutes – long enough to get some photos & a video!

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Then we made our way back home. Took some photos of wildlife on the way back…


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And got some more postcards!


Cheers until later…

Jim and Anna

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