September 12, 2021
Sadly my last full day in Yellowstone was here. To make up for the sunrise dud the day before at West Thumb, I was greeted with a spectacular sunrise as I made my way from my campsite at Canyon towards Norris Geyser Basin in the early morning hours.
Seriously, I made it about a mile before I was stopped and taking photos of the sunrise and soaking it in. I parked at a pullout and walked to get the best angles. As I was walking back, a car on the road stopped, rolled down their window and asked, “What do you see? What are you taking a photo of?” Kind of shocked that the people who were driving towards the amazing sunrise had to ask the question, I replied “The sunrise!” I got very disappointed looks and the car continued on.
As I approached Norris I descended into thick fog. Since the lighting and fog was magical, I decided to go past Norris to the west a bit to check out the Chocolate Pots and Gibbon Meadows.
I say every geyser basin is my favorite, but I do really enjoy Norris a lot. Norris is the oldest and hottest thermal area in Yellowstone, and nearly all the features are at boiling temperate or above, and most are acidic as well. In fact, the hottest temperature recorded at Yellowstone was here! On top of this, the area can change daily and undergo “disturbances” which can dramatically change the look and activity over the course of the year. And, to top it off, Steamboat Geyser is located here, which is the tallest active geyser in the world.
My early morning start meant easy parking (it gets crazy in late morning with long lines and parking lot rage) and plenty of time to take things slowly and soak it all in. It was cold when I set out, and I was wearing my puffy jacket and thermal layers. I decided to explore in the opposite direction of how I did in 2020, starting with Steamboat and working my way around Back Basin before Porcelain Basin. The boardwalks heading down to Steamboat were covered in a layer of thin ice, making things a bit spicy as I shuffled along in my Chacos, gripping the handrail in hopes I wouldn’t go sliding down into a hot springs. It was legit that icy, and I really wish I had microspikes with me!
I arrived to find Steamboat Geyser in a minor eruption after it erupted the previous morning after a bit of slumber. Though not anything like a major eruption that can shoot more than 300 feet into the air, the minor eruption was still a sight to see, especially in the foggy conditions. I slightly grumbled about what could be happening to my car’s paint in the parking lot, but that’s life in the Norris Geyser Basin parking lot. But overall I was still happy to be catching Steamboat doing something, even though I’ve never seen a major eruption (despite being in the park during such an event).
Probably cooler than Steamboat itself (at least in minor eruption mode) to me is Cistern Spring. Steamboat Geyser and Cistern Spring are linked underground, and after a major eruption, Cistern Spring will completely drain. When I was here in 2020, Cistern was completely full, so it was beyond cool to see the change! Also, seeing a drained spring is a good lesson in why you don’t get close to them as the thin crust becomes quite apparent (as if the boiling water wasn’t a big enough deterrent).
Next I meandered through the Back Basin and then onto Porcelain Basin, keeping my eyes peeled for geysers and features I missed in 2020. These are not separate geyser basins, but they “separated” into two areas by a figure 8 of boardwalks and paths. I decided to first check out Back Basin clockwise, which was nice as I noticed things I didn’t see on my last trip because I was walking towards them this time. As the sun got higher, the fog burned off and temps rose (and icy boardwalks melted!).
Back Basin wrapped up, I followed the dirt path through the trees and popped out by the Norris Museum and Porcelain Basin. The part of Norris is legit one of my favorite places on Earth as it is so otherworldly!
And now we take a trip to the surface of Jupiter!!!
Okayyyyy we’ll go back to Earth now.
I stopped into the bookstore to get my passport stamps, and then ran back to my car to ditch my puffy jacket, layers, and grabbed the Adventure Dinos before heading back to Steamboat to see what was going on. The boardwalk was no longer icy and the crowds thickened, but I found room on the bench to eat my tuna and a muffin before posing my dinosaurs as adults looked on amusingly.
After wrapping up hours at Norris, it was time to see what else I could do the rest of the day. I swung onto the one-way road to Virginia Cascades, and found a beautiful little spot along the creek where I sat and soaked in the nature.
I still had plenty of time in the day, so I decided to check out Ice Lake, which is a short and easy one mile hike round trip through the forest to the western side of the lake. You can also do extended hikes in this area, including looping all the way around to Little Gibbon Falls.
I knew it was a shorter to reach Little Gibbon Falls from the Wolf Lake Trailhead, so I cut my Ice Lake hike short and headed back to the car to waterfall chase. In one of the hiking guide books I had it made it seem like Little Gibbon Falls was a hard hike, with wayfinding and potential to get lost so I had scratched it from my plans, especially after a “bear in area” warning was put out at NPS. However, I learned the bear had moved on, and decided to give the hike a try – boy am I glad I did! It turns out this was a totally easy hike with a well worn trail to follow, and only a couple of miles round trip. I parked at the pullout, and crossed the highway to follow the Wolf Lake Trail.
There was a group at Little Gibbon Falls, but they left shortly after I arrived, so I had the view of the falls to myself. I sat down and enjoyed a snack and a beer to toast my final day in Yellowstone.
Hiking complete, it was early afternoon and I decided it was just time to relax, read in the hammock, and just enjoy one final day of no worries of work, texts, emails, the world. I had a new neighbor moving in, a solo gal with the best doggo in the world named Annie. Doggo came over to see me a few times with her stuffed moose, which was adorable.
I popped down to call my parents as I didn’t not have service at my campsite (but Canyon Village has amazing Verizon cell service near the stores/visitor center), and then went back up to cook my final dinner and go back to reading in the hammock. I chatted with my neighbor for about an hour or more, swapping travel and life stories before heading to the tent to get settled in for the night.
Gosh, in 24 hours I’d be heading to bed on a real mattress with sheets… what a weird concept!