Yellowstone National Park – Summer 2018
It feels like a decade ago, but it was only two years ago when my family finally made a trip out to Yellowstone National Park. We had been planning the trip for years (I was surprised to learn just how tricky it can be to plan a trip to a popular national park in the busy summer months) and it was wonderful to be done with the reservations, preparations, & travel, and to finally drive through the gates and into the park.
We loved it. It was a great week for my two daughters, my husband and me. We enjoyed the mountains and forests, the rivers and waterfalls, the wildlife near the road and off the beaten path, the history and the geology, and the chance to be together away from the demands and rhythms of our usual life. It was a great week of sunshine, hiking, picnics, animal spotting, huckleberry ice cream, and some of the most spectacular views you can imagine. I was surprised, though, that the geysers captured my attention and my affection in a way I had not expected.
I have only vague memories of a visit to Yellowstone when I was a kid. Mostly, I remember not liking the smell of the sulfur in the water from the geysers. My mom tells me that back then, we were not able to wait around for Old Faithful to erupt (tired and grumpy kids?). On this trip, we stayed two nights in a cabin in the geysers’ neighborhood, so there was no shortage of erupting water. Our little cabin was within easy walking distance of the boardwalk around Old Faithful and a dozen or more hydrothermal features of various sizes.
Much of the day, there were crowds of people gathered around the Old Faithful viewing area and the Upper Geyser Basin (remember back when people crowded together without a care?). Eventually, one of the geysers would send a plume of steaming water into the sky to reward the watchers. Waves of people would arrive on tour buses for an hour or so of watching and waiting. Once they’d seen a display or two, most would disappear back onto their buses. A little waiting could mean a spectacular water show, or just seeing pools of hot water – timing is everything with geysers. When evening came, though, the crowds would thin out and there was plenty of room and time to sit, enjoying a refreshing evening breeze while waiting for yet another geyser to show its stuff. As the sun would sink and the stars came out, the whole area was awash in beautiful moonlight and amazing hot water eruptions.
Our first morning, we took a tour of the Upper Basin with a Park Ranger who suggested that we join the growing crowd waiting at Grand Geyser. It was expected to erupt early that afternoon, and we were told it would be truly grand. Two hours of waiting in the midday summer sun is not fun, but despite some whining, we were rewarded with a remarkable water show just a few minutes before we were ready to give up and get out of the sun.
Surprisingly, my favorite was Old Faithful. I would have expected to like best a geyser that was off the beaten track, but Old Faithful is front and center. Since Old Faithful sends its water plumes up so often and so predictably, we were able to see its bursts from various angles, at different times of the day, with crowds or practically alone, and I started to look forward to each new show. The morning before we left, Old Faithful was expected to erupt around 7:45 am, so we took our breakfast to a table on the deck overlooking the geyser basin at the Old Faithful Inn. In the chilly sunrise, drinking hot tea to keep us warm, my family ate and chatted while watching for the eruption. Old Faithful did not disappoint. I hated to leave it.
Travel teaches us things. Sometimes it teaches us practical skills like map reading or the benefits of planning ahead. Other times, it teaches us to be adventurous or to take a few chances. If we let it, travel and other adventures always teach us about ourselves. Those days at Old Faithful taught me anew that I always like to have more information, to see things one more time. At least one of my daughters was done seeing that same old geyser and ready to move on. I was sad to leave and regretted that I could not see Old Faithful send its watery plumes into the sky again. Each time was a little different because I was at a new angle, or the wind was from another direction, or the sun had shifted in the sky. I learned again how much I like to get the full picture.
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