*Note, our visit was in August of 2020. The park was open but with limited services due to the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic
So, you know what I didn’t read in all of the blogs, vlogs and ‘Gram posts about Yellowstone National Park?
It’s at 8000 feet!
Yeah, I know, right?
Ok, I see you smirking people from Denver. But I’m a Flatlander. An East Coaster. I live in the bosom of the Great-Grandmother of all mountain ranges, The Blue Ridge mountains which are a part of the ancient Appalachians and would be considered foothills to you Rocky Mountain folk.
Yellowstone sits on a plateau of the same name, surrounded by the Middle Rocky Mountain range. It’s incredibly beautiful, (I wanted to say “breathtaking” but I refrained) but keep in mind that it is entirely possible to get altitude sickness while visiting the park fellow Flatlanders. At the very least you will find yourself huffing a little more than usual up the stairs and trails.
Like all of the other 4 million+ visitors that flock to Yellowstone each year (Not including 2020 when the Coronavirus had us all in lockdown making sourdough bread) our first stop was the iconic Old Faithful Geyser in the Upper Geyser Basin. Documented by the Washburn-Doane-Langford expedition in 1870, they noted that this particular geyser erupted at regular intervals and gave it the enduring nickname, “Old Faithful.”
CROSS TIP: Install the Yellowstone National Park Service app before you go to keep up with geyser eruption times, road closures, and animal movements. Because there is limited cell service in the park make sure to download the online content of this interactive app.
1. In the app, select the “Settings” option.
2. Then tap the choice “Download Offline Content.”
There are bathrooms available near the ample parking lot, and during normal seasons there are snack bars in the buildings around the Old Faithful loop. While you are waiting faithfully for the next eruption, take a gentle stroll on the boardwalk around the Upper Geyser Basin, which won’t leave you gasping for breath too much since it’s relatively flat.
There are 10,000 hydrothermals in Yellowstone, with 60% of the world’s geysers. Of these 500 geysers, only 5 (Castle, Daisy, Grand, Old Faithful and Riverside) are predictable enough to have eruption times posted. Another great source for eruption times is the Yellowstone geyser Twitter feed @GeyserNPS
You will have the opportunity to witness 150 geyers, hot springs, and even a newly developed mud pot if you explore the one square mile radius that makes up the Upper Geyser Basin. Visit the Old Faithful page at NPS for great information regarding other hikes and trails to explore.
The Blue Star Spring, which you can see as you stroll on the boardwalk loop around Old Faithful, is a gorgeous simmering hot spring lined with sinter, “a hard siliceous or calcareous deposit precipitated from mineral springs.” It rarely erupts and is truly one of the most beautiful thermal elements in the basin.
Meandering past the perpetually bubbling East Chinaman spring, shown in the lower left corner of the photo above, is the steamy Firehole river. This north flowing river runs through three of the geyser basins in Yellowstone. It is also a famous trout fishing spot for anglers and was designated as a fly fishing only river in 1968 by the National Park Service.
Unfortunately for us, two lengthy flight delays to Bozeman MT had us arriving at our West Yellowstone rental at 1:30 am, so we were just too wiped out to do the hike to the Morning Glory pool. But reading the information about the famous pool leaves one a little heartbroken and also damn right angry. Apparently, the blue hue to the water has changed over the years due to coins, clothing, and all manner of trash being purposefully thrown into the pool. This blocks the vents from circulating and kills off the bacteria that produced the blue hue.
While some may think the colors of the pool in its present condition may be pretty, it is the result of human destruction and should be a lesson in how we must take care of these unique bio sensitive formations.
Sadly, my childhood dream of visiting the Old Faithful Inn was dashed when it was still closed for safety reasons during the pandemic. Located within sight of Old Faithful, this National Historic Landmark is the largest log structure in the world. Built between 1903 and 1904 it serves as a hotel with 327 rooms, a full scale restaurant, and also houses a gift shop and snack bar. Guided tours are available, but don’t expect to see the headless ghost of the newlywed bride from room 127. The one time assistant manager, George Bornemann, fessed up in 1983 that he made up the gruesome story.
SIDE NOTE: Did you know that no lodgings within the park have air conditioning, televisions or radios?
We’d seen as much as we were physically able to between the jetlag and the altitude, so we made our way back from the boardwalk toward the Old Faithful viewing platform. Fortunately, we were able to find a spot on an empty bench (Thanks Coronavirus!) and only a few minutes off the mark, Old Faithful lived up to its name.