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

Falling for Yellowstone: Day 4 – Norris Geyser Basin, Mount Washburn, Mud Volcano, & Yellowstone Lake

October 3, 2022

The final full day in Yellowstone arrived as we crawled out of the rain soaked tent that was thankfully still keeping us perfectly dry inside despite being solidly drenched for four nights. It seemed like the precipitation was holding off, so we quickly packed up the wet tent as best as we could, and set out east towards Norris Geyser Basin.

Norris Geyser Basin is my favorite. Not only is it home to the world’s tallest active geyser (Steamboat Geyser), it is the oldest (about 115,000 years old) and hottest geyser basin in Yellowstone. Most of the features are also acidic (acid geysers are pretty damn rare). To boot, it sits at the intersection of two faults!

Norris Geyser Basin sits on the intersection of major faults. The Norris–Mammoth Corridor is a fault that runs from Norris north through Mammoth to the Gardiner, Montana, area. The Hebgen Lake fault runs from northwest of West Yellowstone, Montana, to Norris Geyser Basin. This fault experienced an earthquake in 1959 that measured 7.4 on the Richter scale (sources vary on exact magnitude between 7.1 and 7.8).

These two faults intersect with a ring fracture that resulted from the Yellowstone Caldera of 600,000 years ago. These faults are the primary reason that Norris Geyser Basin is so hot and dynamic. The Ragged Hills around parts of Back Basin and are thermally altered glacial moraines. As glaciers receded, the underlying thermal features began to express themselves once again, melting remnants of the ice and causing masses of debris to be dumped. These debris piles were then altered by steam and hot water flowing through them.

National Park Service (https://www.nps.gov/yell/planyourvisit/norrisplan.htm)

Eric and I were one of the first cars to arrive in the parking lot, and the garbage truck was the only activity going on. I quickly boiled some water so we could take our coffee to go as we meandered on the miles of boardwalks. Norris Geyser Basin is divided into two basins for boardwalk purposes (but really it’s all the same geyser basin system), the Back Basin and Porcelain Basin. I figured we would start with the Back Basin to give the sun some time to rise and burn off some steam before hopefully ending with a bang at Porcelain Springs, which in my opinion is one of the most unreal places on Earth. We made our way straight to Steamboat Geyser. During my visit last year the boardwalk was icy, and I was slip and sliding all over the place, but luckily there wasn’t as much ice, and I was wearing Crocs, which are grippy. Check hiking in Crocs off the bucket list…

Emerald Pool is always a stunner
Splash of color in Dr. Allen’s Paint Pots

Steamboat Geyser was just spouting steam. I’ve never seen a major eruption, just a minor eruption, so it was another Yellowstone trip with my car’s paint being spared Steamboat’s silica onslaught!

The scene around Steamboat Geyser is one of hydrothermal destruction
A sleeping Steamboat.
Cistern Spring will completely drain after a major eruption of Steamboat, so I saw it emptied in 2021. All full this trip!
Steamboat’s runoff channel. During an eruption the runoff will come up and over the boardwalk.

We wound our way around the Back Basin, taking in the steamy scenes and capturing lots of photos. The Norris Geyser Basin is known for its “disturbances” and fluctuations depending on ground water and other factors, so I geeked out over the changes in some features thanks to all the recent moisture.

Echinus Geyser is super acidic. Its eruptions are currently rare.
Echinus is a beauty!
Thick fog was the main feature of this visit to Norris
Root Pool
The unnamed NBBNN025
Boardwalk winding around Dishwater Spring
Mystic Spring looking all mystic today
Mud Spring not looking too muddy today
Yellow Mud Spring
Approaching Puff N Stuff Geyser, which I think has the best name in Yellowstone
I have always been a fan of this patch of meadow across from Puff N Stuff
Green Dragon Spring. Surprisingly, this is the best view I’ve ever had of this thermal feature!
A closer look at the Green Dragon’s mouth
Blue Mud Spring
Yellow Funnel Spring
Orby Geyser spouting away
Distant springs that do not have public acess
Porkchop Geyser. It exploded in 1989 and blew itself to pieces.
Just some brilliant blue holes!
Earth is weird
The geyserite beads of Vixen Geyser
Corporal Geyser
Veteran Geyser has frequent, minor eruptions and is really fun to watch for awhile
Closeup of one of Veteran Geyser’s vents
Fearless Geyser showing some spouting activity
Monarch Geyser
Yep, still foggy!
Minute Geyser
Branch Spring with the Norris Sinks in the background

With the Back Basin explored, Eric and I headed into the woods on the trail connection the two portions of the Norris Basin. We dodged squirrels who were tossing pinecones out of trees, marking the first time I’ve been assaulted by wildlife in Yellowstone!

Forgotten Fumarole
Loving this moss and lichen scene
Munched on fungi

We did a clockwise loop at Porcelain Basin, which was still encased in thick steam and fog. Porcelain Spring was a bit secluded as a result, though in the minutes we spent the sun burned off some of the fog and it was becoming more vibrant. However, I was a bit disappointed that many of the pools were brown instead of blue from silica, and kept swearing to Eric it looked much different in my prior trips.

Teal Blue Bubbler in the foreground as we headed down towards Crackling Lake. A large tour group had arrived so we were trying to avoid them.
The amazing textures of the Milky Complex
Cracking Lake brings the colors
Crackling Lake with Crackling Spring in the background
Whale’s Mouth
Yellow Crown Crater
The runoff of Pinwheel Geyser is always a treat
Thermophiles being all colorful and showing off
The fog and steam wasn’t burning off in the sun like I had hoped
Sunday Geyser
Hurricane Vent
Colloidal Pool looking much bluer than during my previous trips
Porcelain Springs and surrounding weirdness
The latest photo from the surface of Jupiter… erm… Earth
Lots of spouters in this area
Not the bright blue scene I’ve seen in the past, but still quite spectacular!
The trail that goes from Porcelain Springs to the Norris Campground has been swallowed by Nuphar Lake
Congress Pool

We wrapped up Norris by stopping into the educational displays, which describe why this geyser basin is unique. The ranger had just set up her desk outside, so I asked if she had the passport stamp (the bookstore had just closed for the season), and she graciously went to retrieve it from the store. I was left “in charge” of the ranger desk for a minute, which was exciting stuff! Ranger for a minute!

After Norris it was time to head towards Dunraven Pass to hopefully hike to the summit of Mount Washburn. Most of Yellowstone’s higher peaks have quite the approach and are best done as backpacking trips – Mount Washburn is one of the exceptions. This 10,219 foot peak (and former volcano in the Absaroka Range dating back 50 million years) is a popular hike because the summit can be reached by two trails that are pretty gentle in terms of mountain climbing. The first option is the Mount Washburn Trail that leaves from Dunraven Pass, and the second is Chittenden Road. Both are wide paths that are never crazy steep, and bicycles are allowed on Chittenden Road (though it is gravel and can get quite chunky, in my cyclist opinion a mountain bike would be best, or a gravel bike if you are experienced with descending on chunky rocks and gravel). On the summit of Mount Washburn is one of three remaining fire lookout towers in Yellowstone as well, and it is staffed during fire season.

Had a bit of traffic going up Dunraven Pass thanks to this fluffy cow
Mount Washburn summit view as we got ready in the car
The clouds were doing wonders for the scenery. Not that its bad without clouds!
Start of the trail from the parking lot on Chittenden Road
Obligatory trailhead sign

The hike started out overcast, but once we got near the summit light snow started falling. We lucked out, and on the summit we had a few minutes of great sunshine before the mountain was swallowed by clouds. The exhibit in the lower level of the fire lookout was open, so we took this chance to eat our snacks inside and read the exhibits. In the summer months when the lookout is staffed, you can go up to the upper levels. Myself, and others on the summit, also took advantage of the incredible cell service to check in with those at home! I later learned a lot of the communication equipment for the GPS and other volcano monitoring systems is located on Mount Washburn – so there’s not just good service cell service so tourists can Instagram their selfies, ha!

The connector path from the parking lot junction with Chittenden Road. This road is not open to vehicle traffic of the public variety. It is a primitive service road. You can bike up it though!
The views while gently hiking upwards do not disappoint
We hit some snow at the higher elevations
The fire lookout on the summit, one of three remaining in Yellowstone. A lot of the communications equipment helps transmit data back from the various volcano monitoring devices.
Summit photo with a small window of some views!
By the the time we were leaving the summit, thick clouds had moved in.
Ran into this birds on the descent from the summit
Descent views.
The track we managed to spy in the dirt. Couldn’t tell if there were any claw marks. The ranger at Canyon said it was either wolf or mountain lion, but did say it would be rare to have a wolf in that area.

All said and done, according to my Garmin the total hike was 6 miles with 1511 feet of elevation gain. The hike took us a total of 2 hours 32 minutes, including our time hanging out in the fire lookout. Eric and I are pretty fast hikers, so this was a speedy hike for us.

The sun was out slightly when we got back to the car from the hike, so I took to fixing up sandwiches while Eric spread the tent’s rainfly out on a rock to see if he could get to dry up some. Surprisingly, the wind and light sun did help dry the rainfly every so slightly! We then hit the road, stopping at some overlooks coming off of Dunraven Pass and then briefly again in Canyon Village, swinging by the ranger desk to ask about the tracks we saw on the hike, why the trees are missing branches on one side of road.

Obligatory daily Yellowstone raven photo

It was smooth sailing across the Hayden Valley with very little wildlife to be seen, and as a result, no traffic jams.

Looking at Mount Washburn from the Hayden Valley. You can see the lookout!
Hayden Valley views

Sulphur Caldron and Mud Volcano were up next. One of Yellowstone’s most acidic hot springs (pH 1-2), Sulphur Caldron is a great quick stop with plentiful parking. I also enjoy overlooking the Yellowstone River and spotted areas of hydrothermal activity within the river itself.

Eric checking out the hole in the Sulphur Caldron parking lot
Sulphur Caldron. Thomas D. Brock discovered the archaeon Sulfolobus acidocaldarius here in the 1970s
The Sour Creek Resurgent Dome, one of two resurgent domes that are monitored in Yellowstone. The magma chamber underneath causes the ground to uplift or sink.
Turbulent Pool
The Yellowstone River

Mud Volcano is just seconds down the road from Sulphur Caldron. This is a thermal area near the Sour Creek Resurgent Dome, one of the areas the Yellowstone caldera experiences ground deformation due to the magma chamber underneath it (meaning the ground moves up and down, and thus, this area is highly monitored). It is about a one mile walk to explore all the boardwalks from the parking lot, and some of my favorite features of located here. If you want to get nerdy about the status of the Yellowstone volcano, the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory social media pages puts out monthly updates on earthquakes, ground deformation (measured by GPS), and status of hydrothermal features, like Steamboat Geyser eruptions. They also publish an annual report, and it is for sale in some of the gift shops in Yellowstone – I bought my 2021 annual report at the Albright Visitor Center in Mammoth.

Mud Volcano trailhead.
Thermal marsh area of Mud Volcano
Dragon’s Mouth Spring is just awesome!
Grizzly Fumarole is either a dry fumarole or a mud pot, depending on moisture. Thanks to the recently wet weather, I got to see it as a mudpot for the first time!
Bubbling mud is my favorite!
Sour Lake
Panorama of Black Dragon’s Caldron
Sizzling Basin. Forever memorable due to the comment a guy made to me about calculus in 2020.
Cooking Hillside use to be covered in trees until an earthquake in the 1970s changed the underground temperature and the trees literaly cooked.
Looking down on Mud Geyser

Wrapping up the last of our hydrothermal adventures, there was nothing but heading south to Lewis Lake Campground to accomplish. But like I’ve previously stated, you simply cannot just drive to a destination in Yellowstone! We took a short detour over to the Fishing Bridge area, where we scoured the general store for anything we could not live without, leaving with some dinner beers/ciders and a souvenir smashed penny for Eric (he’s moved on from tokens after collecting like 25 pounds of them on the Utah adventure).

Leaving Fishing Bridge, there was a bull elk eating close to the road, so we found a safe place to park off the road, and joined the camera-equipped crowds for some photos.

The lovely bull elk just trying to eat dinner in peace near Fishing Bridge

As we approached Yellowstone Lake and reveled in the rain-free skies, we got the brilliant idea to find a picnic area to enjoy dinner at on the shores of the lake. It took a bit, as most of the picnic areas were wooded and not lakeside, but then we found the perfect one!

The picnic spot we found along Yellowstone Lake
Yep, this will do as a dinner spot!

How freaking amazing is this?! We cooked up our final dinner of the adventure, returning to a favorite of chicken and fajita veggies.

Fajitas for our final night in Yellowstone
Looking across the lake to a distant hillside thermal area
The light was doing spectacular things!
Life on the edge
A big group of ducks rolled through
We lucked out and stayed dry, but was treated to watching storms on distant mountains
Dinner with a view

As a novice geyser gazer, I know where some hidden thermal areas are along the shores of Yellowstone Lake, so I took the opportunity to show them to Eric, who was game to see them. First up was Potts Basin, which use to have boardwalk access years ago before NPS tore them out. Now you can only view from a distance.

Potts Basin from across the lake
Sunset colors coming in while we checked out Potts Basin
You cannot get close to Potts Basin, but luckily a telephoto lens helps!

Just down the road we reached the Lake Shore Group, another thermal area next to the road that has no boardwalks or entry, but still some views of some thermal features. There was a cow elk having her evening meal under the sunset, and thanks to me being stopped on the side of the road, this meant every other car had to stop, too! (Life goal checked off the list – create a traffic jam in Yellowstone! Ha!) After jokingly yelling out “Ma’am, you can you please move, you are blocking the sunset!” to the elk, I wandered down the fence line for a better view of the thermal features, away from the crowds.

Dinnertime at the Lake Shore Group
“I’m interrupting the sunset? Well, you’re interrupting my dinner!”
Freaking goodness. ❤
Sunset at West Thumb
Okay, it is okay she photobombs the sunset
The Lake Shore Group is another area you really just have to view from the fence along the highway
Lone Pine Geyser and sunset
Lone Pine Geyser, which erupts every few days.
Occasional Geyser looking a bit empty
Sunset, mountains, thermal features… these are a few of my favorite things!
She was still working on her dinner… never even paused to watch the sunset!

Finally we set our sights straight to our final destination and home for the night, Lewis Lake Campground. We stayed here on our first night in Yellowstone, and I chose it again for the final night since it would place us closest to Grand Teton National Park and our exit through Jackson (I originally was going to have to pop onto a work meeting in the afternoon of our departure day and made arrangements to borrow office space in Jackson… luckily the meeting got cancelled, but after I made my campground reservations). Our campsite was #48B this time. It was dark when we arrived and started setting up, but I could tell in the dark that it was a great site. The tent pad was away from the picnic table and bear box, and seemed to have a lot of privacy. Once again Lewis Lake was coming through with a great campsite!

Since we already had dinner, after the tent was set up it was time for changing into sleeping clothes and wrapping up our Grand Teton National Park Junior Ranger books before our departure in the morning!

10 thoughts on “Falling for Yellowstone: Day 4 – Norris Geyser Basin, Mount Washburn, Mud Volcano, & Yellowstone Lake”

    1. From the photos I’ve seen lately, it is quite snowy! All the interior roads are closed until they reopen for over snow travel in December. I’d love to see Yellowstone with a good snow cover, but it is such a long way to travel in the winter for me since all the Wyoming entrances close.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. I can that I have a few yellowstone photo pages on a personal website (not my blog). They are old and not as good as your photos, but it includes some interesting photos of, for example, close ups with grizzly bears. Two of them were class trips with our son’s math teacher Frank Jordan. At least one of the parents had to come on the trip for security reasons. Anyway, your blog brings back lots of good memories.

    https://www.texaswikmans.com/Yellowstone2007/default.html

    https://www.texaswikmans.com/TravelPhotos/Yellowstone_2005/Yellowstone2.html

    https://www.texaswikmans.com/TravelPhotos/Yellowstone_2004/Yellowstone.html

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Awesome photos, holy cow! Also, that’s so neat that you saw Cistern Spring empty last year. Seeing Steamboat erupt is on my bucket list and I have a feeling it’s going to be one of the most difficult items to actually check off. One day…

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    1. I think seeing Steamboat amounts to two approches – 1) pure luck of being there at the right time or 2) camping out on the boardwalk (which people actually do). My retirement goal is to be a true geyser gazer armed with a radio and all the time in the world to hang out, haha!

      Liked by 1 person

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