Day 2: STEAMY MOSAICS
It had been raining throughout the night, and when we awoke at around 6am or earlier, it wasn’t exactly the kind of conditions where we wanted to just get up out of our sleeping bags and right into the cold wetness. I was a little bit nervous about all the rain we were getting, but at least the silver lining to this was that the tent so far was pretty good at keeping the water out of our interior.
So we slept in a bit to hopefully wait out the rain. And it wasn’t until around 7am when the weather finally relented and we went outside to have a quick brekkie of instant foods and power bars. As we were having breakfast, we noticed there was a herd of bison that was essentially passing right through the campground. In fact, they were at the camp right next to ours!
We were a little worried about getting gored amongst the chaos, but they eventually went by without overwhelming our campsite. Whew!
The priority for today was to visit the predictable geysers of the Upper Geyser Basin. For a day like today, we didn’t feel it was necessary to get the early starts that I was starting to become infamous for (at least according to Julie).
So the first order of business was to get to the Old Faithful area, and we arrived there at around 8:30am. We went straight to the Old Faithful visitor center where there was a handwritten chart talking about the last known geyser eruptions of each of the major geysers in the park.
The method here was based on historical data giving you an idea of the intervals of time between eruptions. It was no guarantee that the eruptions would occur exactly within those intervals, but it seemed like this time-honored method worked out most of the time.
So we saw that Old Faithful Geyser typically went off after 75-90 minutes of inactivity. It still had a ways to go before the next eruption. Meanwhile, there were other geysers that seemed to have already gotten sightings for the day (I’m guessing some rangers doing their rounds early in the morning or some early birds doing it then reporting their eruption times). Some of the expected times seemed like they were right within our window of touring the greater Upper Geyser Basin, which was what we were about to walk through.
Most of the early morning was spent checking out a bunch of springs, each of which seemed to have names based on the apparent shape they assumed. Some of these springs were called Shield, Atrium, and Belgian among others simply because one looked like a shield while another looked like the atrium of a heart and yet another looked like the country of Belgium (I guess).
At some point we got to the Daisy Geyser, which was the one closest to erupting according to the Old Faithful visitor center. So we waited out this one, and sure enough by around 10:55am, Daisy Geyser did its thing!
We weren’t sure how it got its name, but with some pockets of blue skies, we tried our best to get the photo of the angled geyser against the contrast of the blue backdrop. The eruption seemed like it went on for a while (maybe 15 minutes or more). But when it was done putting on its show, we then continued further along the Upper Geyser Basin.
We’d eventually walk all the way to the colorful Morning Glory Pool at 11:15am. Apparently, this used to be much closer to the Grand Loop road where people would toss coins in there, which would alter the chemistry of the hot spring and ultimately affect the bacteria giving rise to the vibrant colors.
Now, getting here required a bit of a walk, and just that move alone seemed to have reduced the amount of mindless littering that could’ve easily jeopardized this lovely hot spring and ruin it for the next generation and the following generations to see.
The pool was quite wide from the official viewing spots so I used the wide angle lens that attached to my Sony Cybershot to bring the whole pool in (although I came to realize later that that lens tended to distort the edges and cause severe vignetting).
After having our fill of the Morning Glory Pool, we headed back towards the Old Faithful Geyser area. But along the way, we noticed there was a crowd gathering at the Grand Geyser. Given this, we just had to find a way there as we knew that a geyser eruption was imminent.
According to the signs here, there was also a second geyser called Turban Geyser that was said to go off together with Grand Geyser. We were anticipating the show as having two geysers going off together would be pretty neat to see.
Sure enough by about 12:15pm, the show was on. Initially, the jets of water spouting up from the ground could be seen, and we frantically tried to capture the action on our cameras as it was all happening before us.
But at the show kept going (the eruption must’ve lasted at least 20 minutes or so or longer), steam was starting to dominate the scene and that meant the jets of water started to become hidden amongst all that steam. So it was becoming less and less photogenic depending on the direction of the steam, and so we tried to reposition ourselves to get a more meaningful photo.
The walk back to the Old Faithful area seemed like a bit of a walk, which I guess attested to just how much real-estate we covered this morning. But at least the terrain was wide open and we could see the Old Faithful Inn in the distance.
Eventually, as we got closer to Old Faithful Geyser, we could see that it was going off around a crowd of people in the distance. It was a good way to photograph the whole context and overall size of the geyser itself from back here. Plus, the skies were opening up and showing a bit more blue.
We’d eventually have our fill of the Upper Geyser Basin at around 1:30pm. Next, we decided to go over to the Midway Geyser Basin where we were hoping to take advantage of the improving weather to see the colors of the Grand Prismatic Spring.
We ultimately got to the Midway Geyser Basin at around 2pm. By now we were quite used to the persistent sulfure smell of the geyser basins, but what was interesting about this geyser basin was that the Firehole River was passing by some geothermally-produced mounds that resulted in mini cascades of 5-10ft or something.
I believe they were outflows of the Excelsior Geyser, which wasn’t going off during our visit. But still the scene was a bit unusual and it kind of reminded me that perhaps we should’ve taken the time earlier this morning to check out the Riverside Geyser instead of the Daisy Geyser (I believe they were both going off at the same time according to the visitor center logs). Oh well, maybe next time.
But as we got further along the walkway, we were right amidst the kaleidoscope of colors that the Grand Prismatic Spring was known for. We saw several bands and streaks of orange and brown streaking towards bright blue in the distance.
While it was pretty cool to see the Grand Prismatic Spring up close like this, it would’ve been even cooler to see it from the air or at least from some place where we’d have a higher vantage point. I had recalled from my pre-trip research that it was possible from the Fairy Falls Trail, and we were about to do that next. So I kept that in mind as we slowly made our way back to the car.
At around 2:45pm, we were at the Middle Geyser Basin where there was another car park as well as the trailhead for Fairy Falls. We could see right away that the forest was heavily burned in the 1988 fires here, and even 16 years later, the area looked like it was still in recovery.
Anyways, we continued walking the initial flat part of the trail, which was basically burnt trees against a hillside to our left and the Grand Prismatic Spring way in the distance to our right. The whole time we were walking this stretch of the trail, I was keeping one eye to the left hoping there might be some kind of obvious spur path that would allow us to scramble up the hill for a better view of the Grand Prismatic Spring (albeit a distant one).
Ultimately, we found a few unmarked spur paths that seemed to be on the moderately wide side, and we just decided to start the steep uphill scramble. As we got higher, it seemed to get a little steeper. So we were trading off how much we were willing to risk a fall versus getting high enough above the burnt trees to get that nice contextual look at Grand Prismatic Spring.
I think we got somewhere around half- or two-thirds the way up the hill before we were content with our view against the ominously dark skies (as it seemed like there was still some instability in the weather despite the pockets of blue skies throughout the morning).
After having our fill of this little detour, we then returned to the main trail and continued further until we got to a junction for the Fairy Falls trail at around 3:30pm. Now, the spur trail went even deeper into a ghostly forest that was just full of charred and grayed out remains of trees still standing but bare and without leaves. Boy that 1988 fire must’ve been one mean inferno!
We’d eventually get to our first look at Fairy Falls at around 4pm. It was a tall and wispy waterfall, and I’d imagine that it wouldn’t flow very well the further along into the Summer it went. But from the looks of things, the view was pretty nice and open. I guess that was one silver lining of the wildfires of 1988 for I had read that the views weren’t that great and mostly obstructed by these trees in the past.
We decided against continuing the hike towards the Spray and Imperial Geysers since it was said to be another 3 miles to get there. Plus, I didn’t think they were predictable, and even if they were, we had already seen three predictable ones today. So we turned back and headed back to the car park.
Next, we then went to the Biscuit Basin as we arrived there at around 5:30pm. In addition to the intriguing hot springs here, I knew that it was also part of the trailhead for Mystic Falls. We figured that seeing this waterfall would be the perfect way to cap off this eventful day in Yellowstone as tomorrow, we had our sights on a rather unconventional visit to the Bechler Backcountry.
So by around 6pm, we were on the Mystic Falls trail. Unlike the trail to Fairy Falls, we saw some sproutlings and greenery though we also passed through more massive pockets of bare and burnt trees from the 1988 wildfire.
As we got closer to the waterfall, at first we thought we would have to settle for some pretty rough and subpar views of the falls from along the river. We figured there had to be a better way to see the falls so we backtracked onto the main trail, then realized that we somehow missed some climbing section.
Once we realized this, we then passed a temporary waterfall en route. I don’t think that one showed up in the Yellowstone Waterfalls book that we had brought with us, but then again, it was probably of the ephemeral variety and only came into existence today because of the rain from last night and this morning.
There must’ve still been some rain given the unstable weather (though there was plenty of sun today) because we saw a bright and bold rainbow in the distance once we reached the top of the climb around the obstacles that went above and past the awkward views we had of Mystic Falls earlier.
After a little bit of more climbing, we got to another part where it seemed like we would only get a partial view of Mystic Falls. It was mostly in shadow so we knew that there would at least be somewhat satisfying photos of the falls in even light instead of having those dreaded light and dark zones.
After a little more searching around, we found another small climbing section that led us even higher above the rock obstruction. And that was when we finally found a pretty satisfying view of the multi-tiered Mystic Falls.
From up here, we could see that there was some steam coming out of the river near the waterfall’s top. That seemed to suggest that even this waterfall was near some thermal springs. I wasn’t sure if it was accessible, but somehow getting in the water above a rushing waterfall didn’t seem to be like a good idea. Besides, we weren’t about to go take a dip anyways so we headed back to the car park at this point.
On the way back, we noticed another elk grazing across the river. I was somehow hoping to start seeing some of the more rarer wildlife as we had been seeing plenty of elk and bison to this point. I was now on the lookout for moose though somehow I didn’t think moose frequent this area.
Back at the Biscuit Basin, we took a few more minutes to see if any of the small geysers here would go off. I think there was one that frequently made small spurts before churning. But other than that, the weather was improving again, and we finally drove back to the Old Faithful area once again.
We arrived at the Old Faithful area at around 7:15pm. And we happened to show up just as the geyser was already in the middle of its show. We probably could’ve ran to get a closer look of the geyser against blue skies, but as we were taking a few steps more, the geyser was already past its peak eruption and now it was just in its remainder stages.
Since Julie and I had come prepared on today’s day trip with a spare change of clothes and toiletry, we didn’t have to go back to Madison then back to Old Faithful to go take a shower. So after doing that, we then had a dinner in the Old Faithful area before we returned to the Madison Campground to tend to get into our sleeping bags and spend another night in the great outdoors.