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

Caldera Tales – Day 6: Mud Volcano & Grand Canyon of Yellowstone

September 11, 2021

It rained overnight, and I strangely enough love camping in the rain (aside from packing up soggy tents). I woke well before sunrise, hoping to get out to West Thumb Geyser Basin for the sunrise. I was happy after days of record high temperatures the weather had turned more seasonal, and I jumped into my fleece lined pants and thermal layers with a fair amount of excitement.

Sadly the cloudy weather did not lead to a spectacular sunrise… it in fact, it was quite a dud. But I really enjoyed having West Thumb Geyser Basin entirely to myself, minus the elk eating breakfast nearby, and later on, NPS employees cleaning the restrooms in the parking lot. And I so rarely use my tripod, so it got its annual trip out of its case out of the way!

An empty boardwalk at West Thumb Geyser Basin
Black Pool
Big Cone
Fishing Cone
Another view of Fishing Cone
Roadside Steamer. The perk of the morning hours is you can spot features due to their steam.

After my sunrise dud, I went back to camp and started packing up my tent, complete with its soggy rainfly. I am happy I had dragged my camp chair under my vestibule before going to sleep, so at least that was not soaked (lesson learned from my 2020 trip when everything got soaked in an overnight storm!).

Soggy morning, but dry under my tent! Goodbye, Grant Village!

I think the rainy, cool temperatures kept the hoards in bed a bit longer than usual, and it was light traffic as I wound my way around Yellowstone Lake before heading north to the Grand Canyon area.

I took the one-way Gull Point Drive for some pretty morning lake views
Yellowstone Lake
Mud Geyser as I was approaching the Mud Volcano area.
Thermal features on the banks of the Yellowstone River

I was planning on stopping at Mud Volcano on the day I left the park, but since the crowds were still small and it was a surreal, steamy scene, I opted to stop. It was still cool enough for my fleece pants and socks with Chacos. I grabbed the Adventure Dinos and set out. Mud Volcano is near the Sour Creek Dome, an area in the caldera where fluctuations in the magma chamber below Yellowstone causes the land to sink and rise. There’s also many faults that converge here, so earthquakes are common, which can change the thermal features (like on Cooking Hillside). It is quite a stinky thermal area, so if you’re sensitive to the smell of rotten eggs (hydrogen sulfide), you may not enjoy your stay. Luckily, for whatever reason, I am not normally bothered by the smell on most days!

Dragon’s Mouth
I take the best selfies next to stinky hydrothermal features!
Mud Volcano
On the boardwalk heading towards Sour Lake
Sour Lake
Black Dragon’s Caldron
Churning Caldron
Sizzling Basin
Look down to Mud Geyser
Mud Caldron
Looking into the thermal area between the road and parking lot at Mud Volcano

After Mud Volcano I made the 30 second drive to the overlook for Sulphur Caldron, one of the most acidic places in Yellowstone. The average pH is 1-2 here, putting it on par to battery acid.

Sulphur Caldron
Bubbling battery acid goodness
A churning part of the Yellowstone River and all the geese
Yellowstone River looking south from the Sulphur Caldron parking area

Thermal feature fix done for the day (kind of… at least for an hour, ha!) I made my way through Hayden Valley with only one bison jam, and swung into the Wapiti Lake Trailhead on South Rim Drive.

Look at those fuzzy baby Fluffy Cows!
Hayden Valley views

Today I would be doing a hike that I skipped the previous year due to worn out legs, and I was happy to be hiking in some cooler temperatures and to see some new backcountry thermal areas (because after all, it only had been maybe an hour since I saw a thermal feature…). I would loop up to Clear Lake and Lily Pad Lake, and then continue along the south rim of the Grand Canyon all the way back to the car. Overall this hike is about 5.2 miles, but can be shortened by starting and ending at the Upper Falls viewpoint.

Map of the trails accessible from the Wapiti Lake Trailhead
Looking towards the Grand Canyon as I started my hike
The fork. The left will take you to Clear Lake, and that’s the way I headed.
Wide open scenery before the trail disappears into the trees
Clear Lake is a mighty clear green color
Clear Lake isn’t the type of lake you jump into for a swim.

I had another “You’re ALONE?!” moment during this hike that made me pensive. As I was descending into the heart of the Clear Lake thermal field, I came across a couple in fashion shoes, no water, and no bear spray who seemed very out of their element and comfort zone. Then the “you’re alone?!” remark was made. Sigh. My reply was a smile with a happy “yep!” as I hustled on by. They probably thought I was being “unsafe” in this scary, bear filled country. I shared the feelings, except I felt they were the ones being unsafe.

Three liters of water. Hiking boots. SPOT communicator. Bear spray. Pack full of snacks. A lifetime of growing up in the wilderness in Wyoming. Physical fitness to handle a five mile hike. Don’t worry, I got this. Nature is where I feel safe. You know what scares me? Humans and cities. Nature does not. I do what I can to mitigate my risks. I digress… can we just stop commenting on prepared women hiking alone in the wilderness now? Thanks!

Following the worn trail in the thermal area
Behold! Thermal stuff!

After leaving the thermal area, the trail returns to the forest and passes by Lily Pad Lake before turning north to the Grand Canyon area. I skirted the rim of the canyon (literally sometimes very close).

If you come from the north, you’ll hit this junction
Lily Pad Lake
Well marked trail junctions point the way. I turned towards Artist Point
And another junction! I once again headed towards Artist Point
Behold, the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River!

The rhyolite walls of the Grand Canyon make for spectacular closeups, and I nerded out a bit.

This hike also includes views of Yellowstone’s most famous waterfalls, the Lower and Upper Falls of the Yellowstone River. I was happy I chose to hike in a counterclockwise manner, as I was treated to views of the Lower Falls as I plodded along

The Lower Falls
Leaving the rim edge for a second
Lower Falls
The Upper Falls
Is it wrong if I admit that I like the Upper Falls more than Lower Falls?!

The Canyon area of Yellowstone is insanely busy and popular, so the end of my hike got very peopley very fast, but still was enjoyable. Overall, this hike was one of the busiest I did in terms of seeing other people, but that was to be expected with its proximately to trailheads. After wrapping up my hike, I freshened up and headed to the visitor center, gift shop, and general store (I needed to restock on local beers!).

There’s a great exhibit of the Yellowstone volcano at the visitor center
Display that shows ashfalls from the various Yellowstone eruptions, along with Mount St. Helens’ 1980 eruption.

I took the afternoon to check into the Canyon Village Campground, receiving site F111 in a mixed RV/tent area. My site was up a short hill and uneven, but had some space from others. I would be here for my final two nights in the park. I took to setting up my soggy tent, which quickly dried in the sun, and making some lunch.

My final campsite in Yellowstone at the Canyon Village Campground, F111. It sits up on a hill, and overall is slightly uneven (food for thought when placing the tent). I could’ve placed it further back where it is a bit more level, but it would put me closer to my neighbor’s fire pit – since I’m sensitive to smoke, I decided being slightly uneven was the better bargain.
Time for some mac n’ cheese for lunch. To avoid trying to keep milk fresh, I use cans of condensed milk while camping to make my meals that call for milk. Works quite well!

As crowds died down slightly in the late afternoon/early evening, I set out to explore the north rim of the Grand Canyon. First up was Brink of the Upper Falls.

This guy took possession of a car in the parking lot and was guarding it closely
Brink of the Upper Falls

Next up was the descent down to the Brink of the Lower Falls, which involves a jaunt pretty much down the side of the canyon. This is a pretty legit walk of 0.4 mile each way (so just under a mile round trip). It is steep, and sits about 7,900 feet or so in elevation, so it can be a difficult climb out for those with health problems or those from lower elevations. I always end up running down, as it is easier on my knees. Hiking out, this time I decided I wanted to do it as fast as I could without running, and it was actually a lot of fun (I’m so weird, ha!) to see how fast I could climb all that elevation.

A view of the Upper Falls while heading down to the Brink of Lower Falls
Fall colors!
Lower Falls

I rounded out my evening with stopping at a couple of the other viewpoints, and then headed back to camp for dinner and some relaxing. Only one final full day in Yellowstone left, and I was feeling sad about it as I realized I hadn’t thought about work all week and being with limited cell service meant I really was out of touch and I was loving it.

A massive glacier erratic, Glacial Boulder, on the way to Inspiration Point
Views from Inspiration Point
It had started to get really chilly, so I quickly snapped some photos at Inspiration Point and then ran back to the car and my awaiting jacket
First beer of choice for the evening!
Cooking up some potatoes for dinner, which I added some chicken breast to
Final beer of the evening!

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