Day 14: Friday 19th
I woke late, and Pat and I were a bit later striking our tent. However, we were all up and away by 8.30am despite the rain and wind making things more difficult than usual. We drove back to Jackson to shop, and then onwards to the Grand Teton National Park. It was rather wet, and the views rather poor. Nevertheless it was obvious that on a sunnier day the views would be gorgeous. We tried the view from Signal mountain but it was still very cloudy, windy and cold so we returned down the mountain promptly.
Grand Teton NP is directly south of Yellowstone park, and we were there quite quickly. The weather slowly improved through the day, and by the time we got to Old Faithful for lunch the sun had made a fairly solid appearance. We lunched at a bench a hundred yards from OF, and it started its eruption as we were finishing lunch. I must admit to being bit disappointed with the height, although that is more due to pictures of it's highest eruptions than anything else. It managed over 50 feet anyway, which was quite impressive. Shortly afterwards, while I was having a brief look through the OF visitor centre, ??? erupted too, and was announced on the centre's PA system. Although it was a bit further away from me, it looked almost as high a Old Faithful.
We decided to move on rather than walk any of the trails, and drove over to the ???.
Day 15: Saturday 20th
As we weren't going far, we didn't have to get packed particularly early today. I woke about 7.30am and we left about 8.45am. First stop was Fort Yellowstone, the ex-army fort built to house the army personnel who first policed the park, and still used to house park employees. Just past this is the Mammoth Hot Springs, a huge collection of terraces formed from limestone beds in the rocks below the surface. The feature is about 300 ft high and half a mile or so long; it stretches far back up the valley side into the woods although public access is restricted to a 200 yard deep stretch. We first looked at the Liberty Cap, now dry, and the Minerva Terrace, which is perhaps the prettiest of the "live" terraces. we then wandered over to Canary Spring, past the now almost dry Main Terrace which formed by far the largest of the terraces but now only has a couple of small pools left.
Canary Spring is as you would expect -- mainly yellow -- and has quite a volume of water running over it. The colours are fairly pretty, with some nice blues and greens. It is also the highest of the springs, dropping almost 200 ft into the valley from the side of Main Terrace. As I was getting rather desperate for a toilet, I went up to the top car park in search, but finding nothing went to the very bottom, passing two other live springs on the way.
On the way back to the van I passed one of the park wardens. I asked him about the time the dead trees (from the '88 fire) would decay. Although in the UK a smallish tree might only take a year or so to noticeably decay, because of the cold and dry climate in Yellowstone the rangers expect that many of the still-standing trees will remain so for another 10-15 years, and then take another 25 years to decay... very slow!
We left the Mammoth springs and headed out to the Norris Basin, where there is a large area of vents, mud and water holes and proper geysers. There was also a surplate (an area where sulphuric acid emitted by vents, etc, prevents life on the surface). After only a short time however it started raining in earnest and we decided to return to the visitor centre. As the rain didn't ease much by then we decided not to wait for the next geyser eruption in 25 mins or so and carry on in the car.
We had our last lunch with Janette in the group at a fairly anonymous picnic area a few miles away; although modestly sunny it was very bleak there as it had been badly affected by the fires and although the new Lodgepole trees were mostly over a few feet the overall impression was of "blasted heath".
My overall impression of Yellowstone is disappointment. Perhaps my expectations had been too high, but the volcanic features were not as impressive as I had thought they would be. Nevertheless I am pleased that I have seen them and Dean tells me they would have looked a lot better with better weather, especially the geysers which were being blown over by the wind most of the time and the hot springs, which were steaming so much because of the cold air that it was difficult to see them at all.
After lunch, we set off out of Yellowstone, heading west towards the town of West Yellowstone, where we stopped for a while for food, petrol etc. I was feeling very tired -- I'm not sure why but several of the others were too -- and decided to stay in the van for a while, but in the end food won over and I nipped across the road to Ke. Fr. Ch. where Dean and Cordi were enjoying a meal. I tried hard to be quick, ordering chicken pieces and fries, but they were very slow even to appear! When they came they were again "potato skin" type fries, which went down well.
Once we were all back on the road, we set off towards Idaho Falls, getting a good view of the back side of the Grand Teton range on the way. The country here is a lot lower in altitude and much more lush; very like England in some ways, but much more open. I liked it. We stopped briefly in North Rexburgh for a rest before the last half hour or so of driving to Idaho Falls. The Snake River RV campground there is quite pleasant in itself bur there is a group of large silos next to it one way and a railway close by too.
We set up camp and by 6pm were able to laze around a bit. Janette gave Dean a massage, and then briefly looked through my photos again to order the reprints. Bruno was enjoying the sun while Julienne and Mayumi went off swimming and to do their laundry. Eventually Mick came to collect Janette, and we said goodbye. Dean and Bruno went off to get supplies while I went off swimming - the pool was lovely, just right, and afterwards I did my laundry too.
Supper was home-cooked burritos, with bought wheat pancakes, mince with Taco powder sauce, diced tomatoes and (raw) onions, guacamole, sour cream and salsa sauce. You wrap a little of each in a pancake, remembering to turn in the base of the pancake before folding it over so the contents don't fall out. Very nice.
After supper, Dean and Bruno decided to go to the saloon nearby (in the next field!), and everyone went with them. However, when I got there I saw it was a typical "rock" bar, with very loud music, smoke and "modern" furniture. As they were charging entrance I decided not to go in. I wandered up the street a bit but seeing nothing much to interest me went back into the KOA shop for a look round. A guy there was talking about his camper, and after a bit I asked him how much one of the big ones - the RV's - would cost. They are the size of a medium size coach, and some cost over $100,000... and you almost have to have a 4wd too, usually pulled along behind on a towbar. I wandered back to the camp and curled up in my sleeping bag for a read. I didn't last long though and fairly soon fell asleep. Sometime later a railway train started sounding it's horn, very loud,for about 5 minutes as it came by; I assume because of a level crossing.