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  • Writer's pictureInger and Jeff Latreille

The Oldest Thermal Area

~Saturday, September 12, 2020~

Day 90

We got the move on earlier than usual so we could have a full day in Yellowstone. Today, the northwest portion of the park. But first, a stop for some breakfast yummies….burritos and coffee/tea. We found a perfect little place in West Yellowstone, MT called Mountain Mama’s Coffee House. Delicious and hardy! A little pricey as the burritos were $13.00 a piece, but to their credit, they offer large portions.

It didn’t take long for us to spot some wildlife as a bison welcomed us back to the park. From the Madison junction we headed north with the first stop at Gibbon Falls. Another breathtaking 85 foot waterfall with a large amount of water still flowing for this time of year. But what sets this waterfall apart is that over 650,000 years ago, this waterfall cut through the edge of the Yellowstone caldera. To prevent erosion at the top of the Norris Basin road, a number of impressive low stone walls were constructed by 750 workers in the late 1800’s in undesirable conditions.

From there we stopped at Norris Geyser Basin, which is the hottest, oldest and most dynamic thermal area in the park.

The hottest temperature ever recorded here was 459 degrees at 1000 feet deep. The many boardwalks that meander through the basin take you through mainly two areas, the Porcelain Basin and the Back Basin where it presents the tallest geyser in Yellowstone, the Steamboat Geyser. Even when we entered the parking lot, there were signs in the parking lot, warning you to park at your own risk. Evidently if Steamboat Geyser goes off high enough, it shoots damaging acid into the air that can reach the parking lot to ruin a paint job. Something that we didn’t have to worry about today. We just missed an eruption by 3 days that reached a height of 400 feet. It’s dormancy can be anywhere from 1 week to 50 years. Crazy isn’t it?

Last stop of the day was Mammoth Hot Springs. Since each one of these basins we went to today take 1-½ to 2 hours to tour, we ran out of time to see Lamar Valley (another recommended area to watch a great deal of wildlife, especially wolves, at sunset), and we wanted to get back at an earlier time to our campsite to enjoy a nice dinner and relax. We had been to this part of the park about 10 years ago and one of our first observations today was how very little thermal activity there was as opposed to the last time we were here. Regardless, as we took the upper and lower boardwalks, the area was beautiful with the many travertine terraces and blue pools to appreciate. Unfortunately, as expected, all museums and visitor centers were closed but we did manage to find a general store that was open. Ahh, a much needed bottle of H2O!

On the way home, we did spot a few bison along the road.

Even Sadie wanted to get a glimpse of the “large black dog”. No chance for a photo this time as park staff were on it. Since they know that much of the wildlife is observed at dusk, they facilitate traffic by driving along the road, telling tourists through their megaphones to move it along. And there were no pull outs in this particular section. It’s a good thing they do this or the bottleneck could easily double your drive time.

We actually arrived back before dark and made a really nice dinner of salmon, baked potatoes and broccoli. The plan was to get a jump start on leaving tomorrow to break down camp tonight, but the day wore us out with all the walking at 8,000 feet. Can’t wait to see Yellowstone with the family next time.

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