Camping, Cycling, Hiking, National Parks & Monuments, State Parks, United States, Waterfalls, Wyoming, Yellowstone National Park

Caldera Tales – Day 5: Lone Star Geyser, West Thumb Geyser Basin, and Yellowstone Lake

September 10, 2021

Time to pack up and move to another spot! After three nights at Madison, I was looking forward to new scenes and rejuvenating my energy for the rest of my eight day trip. I’d be heading south for a one night stay at Grant Village before heading up back north for a few nights at Canyon Village. Initially I was wanting to end my trip with a night at Grant Village, but they were closing for the season before my trip would be over, so I moved it to the middle.

I departed before sunrise and enjoyed another steamy drive through the geyser basins, stopping occasionally for photos.

Sunrise at the Madison River as the elk bugled.
White Dome Geyser seen from the highway. You can get closer by taking the one-way Firehole Lake Drive, which is one of my favorite drives to take in the world.
I stopped at a highway overlook south of Midway Geyser Basin to check out Flood Geyser.
Looking towards Excelsior Geyser Crater and Grand Prismatic Spring from the Flood Geyser viewpoint.

I did not have a long drive to my first adventure of the day. Kepler Cascades is a great roadside waterfall just south of the Old Faithful/Upper Geyser Basin area. There is a large parking area, and boardwalk to a viewpoint over the waterfall.

Kepler Cascades on the Firehole River

Next up was a morning bike ride to Lone Star Geyser. I did not realize the parking lot is right off of the Kepler Cascades area, so I had to do a U-turn a bit down the road. Lone Star Geyser a predictable backcountry geyser that is roughly a five mile roundtrip hike or bike. Because cycling opportunities are so limited in Yellowstone, I definitely was happy to take a chance to avoid hiking!

Lone Star Trailhead. You can start here for lots of backcountry adventures, including hikes to Shoshone Lake.

Though Lone Star is predictable, they do not issue predicted times since it is in the backcountry and a little hard to continually monitor like the geysers in the Upper Geyser Basin. Luckily there is a log sheet at the trailhead where people are encouraged to write the time of the eruption they saw. I did some math, and knew aiming for the morning window would be ideal. I had my pack loaded up with a mug of coffee, plenty of snacks, a library book, and an inflatable cushion as I knew I could be waiting up to three hours in case I had just missed an early morning eruption.

The ride down to the geyser was smooth sailing, and for the most part the old road is paved (though a bit rough and chunky in areas) so a road bike could make it down (I had my gravel bike). At the end of the old road there is a bike rack and no bikes are allowed the last few hundred feet down to the geyser. There were already two mountain bikes in the rack, so I knew I’d have some company.

End of the trail for bicycles
Time to park the bike and take the short walk to Lone Star Geyser
Lone Star Geyser’s cone is quite large, so there’s no mistaking where the geyser is as you’re walking up to it. And check out those blue blue skies!

I joined the most lovely couple from Bend, OR at the geyser, and we passed the time chatting about our travel plans and adventures. Another couple from Boulder, CO, joined us, who had hiked down. Great company makes things fun! I was also happy to see clear, dark blue skies!

Lone Star Geyser with some light splashing as we waited for eruption.
The trail continues on to the backcountry beyond the geyser.

It was only about an hour of waiting and Lone Star stirred to life at 8:44am. What an eruption! It went on for over twenty-five minutes, including the steam phase (which I find almost more impressive than the water phase, and so loud!). I walked around taking in different angles (and getting a view of the geyser-bow that formed in the morning sun!), and just soaking in the magnificent view.

Water eruption begins at Lone Star Geyser!
The steam phase is more impressive than the water phase.
There is a log book at the geyser itself

I honestly could’ve sat and waited for another eruption, but had other places to be (and was out of coffee). I was still sad a bit to leave Lone Star, but I bid goodbye to my geyser companions and jumped back on my bike. It was once again smooth sailing back to the car. I logged the eruption time at the trailhead log, and then slowly changed out of my cycling clothes (yes, I am the type that must wear a chamois even on a five mile ride!), disposed of trash, and prepared for the rest of the day.

Goodbye, Lone Star!
Cruising back to the car
All done!

Usually when I travel it is very bam bam bam… go go go. Always a full itinerary and places to be. This Yellowstone trip definitely changed that for me. While I had hikes and places to see planned, my days were not exactly jam packed – a big perk of eight days in the park. The rest of this day I knew I wanted to explore West Thumb Geyser Basin and Yellowstone Lake, but did not have really set plans. (I really don’t know how people do Yellowstone in one day. The thought exhausts me and I feel like I’d see nothing. It’s like the Ring Road in five days… I spent nineteen days and still missed so much.)

Upon arriving at West Thumb I ducked into the information station bookstore for passport stamps. I ended up buying a fantastic tool to help identify which thermophilic bacteria are in a hot spring (nerd alert). After some snacks, I decided to revel in the non-smoky skies and hike up to the Yellowstone Lake overlook which starts from West Thumb. Last year in 2020 when I visited the wildfire smoke was so thick that it felt like I was at the ocean as you could not see across the lake, so I was soaking in the clear (albeit a bit cloudy) skies and scenery that was hidden my trip before.

West Thumb is a beginning point for a few short, family friendly hikes – The Lake Overlook and Duck Lake, along with the boardwalks through the geyser basin.
Well worn singletrack is easy to follow up to the overlook

The hike up to the overlook can be a bit steep, but otherwise is an enjoyable hike through the forest and is just a shy of two miles total. There are also a handful of backcountry thermal features in the area. I watched storm clouds building, so I ate a snack and then headed back down since I was one of the tallest objects on the overlook and I didn’t know if it would storm. I’m silly and didn’t “lollipop” the trail, and just did an out and back (I’m not sure why).

What a great example of nature’s rebirth… a new tree growing out of a burnt tree’s remains
Looking up to the overlook. This is the steepest part of the trail.
Yellowstone Lake and beyond
Some thermal features on the overlook
Heading back down the way I came
Bear warning and some random Russian (?) that I have no idea what it says!

Okay, I resisted the thermal basin long enough… West Thumb Geyser Basin exploring time! I do love this basin, I think mostly because it sits on the shore of Yellowstone Lake, which makes it that much more unique. You won’t see very many active geysers here, but the pools are still worth exploring.

West Thumb Paintpots
Bluebell and Seismograph Pools
Bluebell and Seismograph Pools, and a happy Heidi!
Look down on an unnamed spring to the right, Lakeside Spring on the left. The boardwalk meanders along the shore of Yellowstone Lake
Yellowstone Lake shoreline and Winter Spring
Lakeside Spring
Venting Pool
Lakeshore Geyser splashing away
Looking towards Fishing Cone. I was loving these dramatic looking skies!
Fishing Cone
Side vent of Fishing Cone
Big Cone
Big Cone and Fishing Cone
Black Pool runoff and thermophiles
Black Pool runoff
I like thermophiles and I cannot lie
Black Pool underwent a series of eruptions in 1991 which killed off its thermophiles, and turned from black to this brilliant blue.
King Gesyer
Abyss Pool not nearly as colorful as one year ago.
Abyss Pool being kinda meh this year.
Twin Geysers, which last erupted in 1999
Blue Funnel Spring
The generic named WTLGNN048
Though without an official name, it is pretty!
Ephedra Pool
Perforated Pool all empty and stuff
This kind of looks like a face…
Oil Slick Pool… maybe? Looks like a giant eyeball
Percolating Spring
Collasping Pool, whose sinter collasped during the 1959 Hebgen Lake earthquake
Ledge Spring
Closeup of Surging Spring
Surging Spring
Thumb Paintpots
Thumb Paintpots are some of my favorite (but have I ever met a paint pot I haven’t loved?!)
Yes, it is really that neon green color!
Mimulus Pools looking like Mickey Mouse

By now I had killed enough time that I could go check into the campground. I had reserved a tent/RV site, and the kind lady at registration changed me to a large tent site, which I greatly appreciated. Driving through to my campsite I fell in love with the Grand Village campground! Thick, tall pines are everywhere, and it just seemed a lot cozier than Madison.

My magnificent campsite, J350!

My campsite, J350, was HUGE and after having neighbors too close for comfort my previous nights at Madison, I was overjoyed. Seriously, I was SUPER excited! I took to setting up my tent, and then made lunch. As I was enjoying my food, a campground staff member came by to ask if I noticed the huge bull elk that was sleeping a bit from my campsite. I grabbed the Nikon, and headed to take some photos from a safe distance.

Hey there, handsome guy!
Heavy is the head that wears the antlers

I needed to drain my cooler, so I headed over to the restrooms so I could drag the cooler into the dishwashing station to drain out the melted ice (draining onto the ground is a no no, there could be food odors that could attract bears). While I was doing this I noticed a cow elk wandering through the campsites. There were a group of “kids” (okay, they were probably early 20’s, haha!) taking photos and following the elk around. Shyly, one approached me and asked what animal they were looking at. Then they asked if the elk was friendly enough to go touch. !!!!!!!

“Where are y’all from?” I asked.

“Connecticut.”

“I see…”

I did some education about not petting, hugging, and otherwise approaching elk, and let them know there was a bull in the area (which then I had to explain was a boy elk) and it was mating season so really keep distance from them.

“Please don’t let them pet me, please don’t let them pet me… hey lady, got anything good in that cooler over there?!”

Cooler drained and repacked, Connecticut kids educated, I headed to the general store to check things out at the gift shop. I ended up buying some local beers (pricey splurge, but worth it!) and some snacking pickles. There were a few thermal areas in the West Thumb area I wanted to see that are along the road, so I checked those out (you’re unable to get close due to the thin crust) and then parked along the lake so I could eat my pickles and dip my toes in the frigid water.

Lake Shore Group of West Thumb. There is an elongated pullout on the highway here, making parking convenient for checking out the area from a distance (you cannot legally enter this area).
Mantrap Cone
Lone Pine Geyser erupts every few days of so, up to 75 feet. It would be quite the sight to see!
Occasional Geyser plays about every thirty minutes.
Another angle of Lone Pine Geyser
Up the road a short distance is another pull out where you can see Potts Hot Spring Basin from a distance. Once again, it is illegal to enter the area. Until 1970 there was a boardwalk for this basin and the road was a lot closer.
Potts Hot Spring Basin
Mercurial Group
Mercurial Group
Toesies in Yellowstone Lake
Looking back towards the shore
Colorful pebbles on the shore of Yellowstone Lake
This boiling mucky mess is near the West Thumb highway junction

Back at camp I cooked some dinner (another Knorr pasta side with chicken in a pouch), enjoyed two of my new beers, and then jumped into my hammock to enjoy reading until it was too dark. I was pretty sad that I would only have one night at Grant Village as I really was enjoying my campsite and overall atmosphere.

Beer #1, a delicious honey hefeweizen while I prepared dinner
My dinner (Knorr chicken pasta with chicken from a pouch) and beer #2

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