Friday, June 8, 2012

Day Fourteen: Yellowstone - southern loop

I should not have worried about waking our neighbours - for they wake before dawn. It is bitterly cold and a few birds twitter their welcome to the sun. We depart an hour or so later, grabbing breakfast at the cafeteria (yoghurt parfait, banana, cinnamon roll and hot chocolate). We head back down the route already tread, back past Hayden Flats. This area is prime bison habitat - with vast grassy plains and a river, also good visibility, allowing one to scan with binoculars for more interesting subjects.

 A herd of bison are gathered by the side of the road, and one chooses to cross just as we pass him by:
A coyote trots by, giving us a momentarily thrill, but it is too lean, its tail too fluffy to be a wolf. It it were smaller and not a greyish colour, I would have thought it a fox.

 Soon we are alongside the lake, where we take a side route down to Seagull Point. Here the road seems to run directly over the lake. Goldeneyes and buffleheads gather in adorable flocks. Returning to the main route, we see something dark trotting across the road. A cluster of cars, parked illegally by the roadside, alerts us to an interesting animal spotting. We slow to watch a mother bear, trailed by her cub, trotting off into the trees. Further along, a bison trundles along the verge, the road here is flanked by tall trees - too close for a bison to enter. This could be an uncomfortable surprise for an incautious driver. Bison definitely have right of way!

There are some beautiful glimpses of the lake and a short walk around some bubbling hotpools.

We make our way uphill, across the confinental divide and towards Old Faithful. Old Faithful is the most reliable of Yellowstones many geysers - spouting approximately every 90 minutes. We wait about 35 minutes for its performance and it is a fairly lacklustre one - possibly because off in the distance is another geyser, which begins pluming sometime before Old Faithful - huge spouts of water rising above the distant trees, and continues in this manner for at least fifteen minutes. Beside it, Old Faithful's intimettent, half-hearted spurts cannot help but pale in comparison. After that performance, we managed to luck out in the village and beat the queue - and get a table - in the small cafe next to the Visitor's Centre. This is probably because we headed that way, instead of towards the more popular cafeteria.

Further along, the appropriately named "half-acre of Hell" lived up to its reptuation. Stepping from the car, the scent of sulphur hung in the air, and steam rose from the river.  This is the location of the beautiful Prismatic Spring, but we will have to rely on hearsay for that, because we could not see a thing. The clouds of steam were blinding, wind gusts blowing them to envelope the path - the moment I stepped onto the boardwalk my glasses fogged over, leaving me stumbling and watching my feet - the only part I could confidently see, to make sure I remained on the boardwalk.

Onwards and forward, we continue, visiting many other thermal phenomena - we see no less than five geysers fountaining - including my favourite, the White Tower geyser. This odd white lump lies off the main route, down the Fire River side road. It looks mostly like a calcified rock and afer staring at it for a couple of minutes, I began walking away, commenting "I wish I could see it fountain." A heart-beat later, and it began!

After a while, the appeal of thermal phenomena had begun to fade and we returned to our cabin to relax for a time, before heading out to explore the beauties of the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone.  Here the rock looks like it has been painted in shades of white and apricot, and the river that roars through the canyon is the most glorious shade of blue. It is an artist's vision.

It is also where the girl died yesterday, but we do not find that out until later. The precarious drops and sheer force of the water make me stay well clear of the edge and worry about what might happen in an earthquake.

Returning, we join the wait for a table in the restaurant. Told that it will take 50 minutes, we make our way across into the Visitor's Centre with our table monitor in hand. We have spent only 15 or so minutes looking at the displays and admiring the topographical map when the monitor begins to buzz. We make a dash across the carpark, hoping that they will hold our table for us. They do, of course. I chose to partake of the salad bar - which is a buffet style, whilst Tim partakes of the native wildlife - a bison burger. His meal comes with "biscuits", that is to say scones, and we save two for the next day. Bison takes a bit like venison, with a hint of beef.

Clouds had been looming all day and around bed time the rain sets in, pounding down on the roof and eliciting squawks from some of the children playing outside. We snuggle up warm in our paraffin-heated cabin and drift swiftly into sleep.

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