October 1, 2022
Allllll the hot water! This would be the day for main geyser basins of Yellowstone… the greatest concentration of geysers and hydrothermal features in the world. My geyser geek self would shuttle Eric through the Upper, Black Sand, Midway, and Lower Geyser Basins before the exhausting day was done! We didn’t even get to see them all, as for the sake of time and me feeling under the weather a bit with sinus congestion, we skipped Biscuit Basin and were unable to travel Firehole Lake Drive as it was closed (an atrocity as that is my fave!).
We awoke to a chilly and moist morning, as it rained heavily throughout the night. I was definitely getting my soggy Yellowstone trip I had mused in the past would be “fun.” (I need to update my definition of fun.) Tent was torn down and I boiled up some water for coffee and oatmeal before we set out from Lewis Lake.
As we climbed up Craigs Pass the scenes turned slightly snowy, which was exciting. Though Cheyenne was having fall-like temperatures, we had yet not had our first freeze or snow, so I was giddy to see some of the white stuff! We made a stop at Isa Lake, an abnormal lake on the Continental Divide that drains opposite of how it should. My previous visit here was under harsh morning light, so I enjoyed photographing the foggy scene with light snow.
After a quick stop at Kepler Cascades, we descended the pass into hydrothermal heaven.
$4.89/gallon fuel up later, I pulled into a front row parking spot in the massive Old Faithful parking lot, a first for me. I had a plan of attack, so Eric and I headed first to the visitor center for passport stamps and souvenirs – and a collector’s edition passport book I had been coveting! This was also my chance to grab a photo of the geyser predictions (thought thanks to low visitation, the app and phone service was working perfectly, so didn’t need the photo after all). Not every geyser is predictable, but NPS issues predictions for Old Faithful, Daisy, Grand, Castle, Riverside, and Great Fountain geysers. The exhibits in the visitor center were also open, so we filled up on all the geology knowledge. I wanted some more coffee, so we swung through the general store just to find no coffee, but the perfect souvenir mug for my coworker with her name on it.
Back to the car to change into shoes for miles of thermal wonders, grab cameras… time to chase! Or, well, sit at Old Faithful for a little while.
I wish I could get super excited for Old Faithful, but like in 2020, I found myself a bit disappointed. It’s a great geyser, but not the biggest, not the longest… yet most visitors seem to think this? Because we needed data for our Junior Ranger books, I noted length of eruption, and it was only about two minutes and seemed small. I think Grand Geyser ruined me forever, because THAT is an impressive geyser. I don’t know… but the geyser chase had at least successfully started!
After coffee in the lodge, we set out for the Observation Point, which is reached by a trail that climbs the hill behind the Upper Geyser Basin and gives a panorama view of the area. Neither Eric and I had been up here, and it was listed on several of our national park scratch off posters and books, so had to do it!
Upon arriving at the top point of Observation Trail, I noticed Castle Geyser was erupting! I couldn’t tell if it was a major or minor eruption, but either way I was overjoyed! In 2021 I sat in the hot sun for 90 minutes past the prediction time hoping for an eruption of Castle, but it was a dud and never happened… redemption!
After Castle faded out, we headed down to Solitary Geyser. This small geyser is really all out by itself, and plays every 4-8 minutes. The spring actually never erupted until in the early days of the park water was diverted from it for a swimming pool, and it has erupted ever since then (even though water diversion stopped a long time ago). The loop around Observation Hill was great and filled with quietness away from the crowds. I can’t speak for how it is in the middle of summer (though I do believe I was solitary at Solitary Geyser back in August 2020), but definitely I would recommend this trail as a way to get away from the crowds.
A short descent later, we were back into the thick of things on Geyser Hill, and begun miles of exploring. I was super happy to see Eric really getting into the thermal features, as this meant we meandered and enjoyed things. I can get quite geeky about these things, so happy I wasn’t feeling rushed!
As we approached Beehive, a geyser gazer stopped us and explained Beehive was in the eruption window and asked if we had a two-way radio so we could be notified when the indicator started playing. I had explained the geyser gazers to Eric, but I had to giggle that he finally got to witness the true enthusiasts of geysers that camp out for eruptions! Sadly we didn’t have a radio, but it was good to note we might see Beehive.
After Geyser Hill, we headed north on the boardwalk to see the other parts of the Upper Geyser Basin. Though it tried to spit rain every once in awhile, we were lucking out with the weather.
Sawmill was still playing away, which I was excited to see. Sawmill went silent in 2017, but then stirred back alive in June 2021 and has continued eruptions. Tardy Geyser also erupted, and Spasmodic was splashing away, so it was an exciting little corner.
We wandered all the way out to Morning Glory Pool before turning around and heading back to the car… miles away. (Helpful tip – there are vault toilets near Morning Glory at Riverside Geyser, which I was much thankful for!) We were able to catch a distant view of Daisy erupting. Sadly, timing for Grand and Riverside just did not work out for this trip, as we had other things to see and couldn’t hang out all day just at the Upper basin.
As we approached Castle, I noticed Beehive shoot off, so I took off running to get a better view. Woohoo, we get a show of Beehive! Both times I have seen Beehive have been from Castle, so Castle must be my good luck charm.
After Beehive stopped, I chatted up a fellow geyser enthusiast for a few minutes, and then Eric and I set out for the car. We made it almost to the car before the skies unleashed with heavy rain. I made sandwiches under the rear hatch of Fozzy, and we ate in the car as the rain fell. I was feeling exhausted, but knew the day was still young enough for us to catch some other things before setting out to the Madison Campground, where we would stay for the next two nights.
Black Sand Basin is right across from the Old Faithful complex, so it is easy to pop into. The name is from obsidian sand found in the area. Cliff Geyser erupts every couple of minutes and sits on Iron Spring Creek. Spouter Geyser was also doing its thing. Eric and I explored the entire boardwalk.
Next up was the overlook for Grand Prismatic Spring, which definitely has to be one of the weirdest things on this planet. I had visited here in 2020, but knew Eric needed to see this view. We had to park in the overflow lot for the Fairy Falls Trailhead, as this is one of the most popular areas of Yellowstone, even in the shoulder season.
Due to the clouds and occasionally rainy weather, Grand Prismatic wasn’t quite as brilliant as it would be on a sunny, summer day.
As we drove past the parking lot for Midway Geyser Basin (where you can get ground level next to Grand Prismatic), I noted a long line of cars waiting for parking, so we skipped this. Yep, even in October this is an issue…
I was sad to discover Firehole Lake Drive was closed, which is one of my favorite things to do in Yellowstone. I (half) jokingly declared that the entire trip was ruined, and was a bit salty about it. I always get great photos of geysers erupting by my car on this road, and enjoy getting up and close to so many of the features. I am not sure why it was closed and have had a hard time locating specific information on this online – whether it is from the June 2022 flooding disaster or from thermal activity damaging the road (like in 2014).
To try to make up for my astounding disappointment, I pulled into the Lower Geyser Basin so we could watch some bubbling mud.
Finally, we had filled our hydrothermal cups for the day and turned north towards Madison. But we could not make it straight there, as the bison were out in full effect near Fountain Flat Drive, so we stopped to grab photos.
I have stayed at Madison Campground at all my recent Yellowstone visits. It is one of the two (along with Lewis Lake) that are still open this time of year currently. Learning a lesson from 2021 on site size, I reserved a large tent site for two nights, and we received site #G264. This is a big site, but is very out in the open and exposed – no trees to shield the tent! The site behind ours was really cool, I believe it is G237, and I would’ve loved to be in that one. The commercial campgrounds assign you a spot, but maybe it is possible to request one?
First task was setting up the super soggy tent in the rain, and then cooked some dinner as the rain fell. The moisture was making everyone’s campfires really smoky, aggravating my asthma that has become increasingly reactive to campfire and wildfire smoke over the last few years, adding to my grumpiness. Luckily after a heart dinner of mashed potatoes with some Dinty Moore stew on top, I perked up!
After dinner, we had a bit of daylight left so we set out to the one-way Firehole Canyon Drive. The highlight of this was finding a massive biomass foam “donut” in the Firehole River! Eric asked the ranger about this the next day, about how it formed, etc, and we learned all about biomass foam in rivers.
Back to camp, sinus medication acquired at the small campground store, into sleeping clothes, Junior Ranger homework, sleep! Day 2 done!
3 thoughts on “Falling for Yellowstone: Day 2 – The Geyser Basins”
That’s a lot of great photos. I’ve been there three times so I recognized many of the places and geysers you feature in your photographs. It is certainly a fascinating place and somewhat dangerous. Some people who had left the trails at the geyser basins fell through and died (the ranger told us). We had a risky encounter with a grizzly bear and her cubs. She was running towards us as we were running back to the car. A friend of mine was actually stalked by a grizzly bear and I watched another friend being charged by a bison/buffalo. The bison stopped though.
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Oh goodness, that bear encounter sounds awful! I’ve managed to never see a bear in Yellowstone… a streak I hope I keep!
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Well a bear encounter while sitting inside a car or from a far distance is fun and exciting. Encountering a grizzly outside and closeup or even having one chasing you that’s less fun. That’s why you should never hike alone in Yellowstone and if you hike don’t put sandwiches in your backpack.