Yellowstone Day 2
West Thumb Geyser
We quickly discovered that driving into Yellowstone was an adventure in itself. Since we stayed in Moran, just outside of the Grand Tetons, we had an extra drive just getting to Yellowstone. Once in the park, there are a number of factors that can lengthen the amount of time you spend in the car, namely, traffic and construction. The road is pretty simple, and it is easy to get caught behind a chain of cars or a slow moving vehicle (unless YOU are that slow moving vehicle...but I am NOT referring AT ALL to my husband's overly cautious driving, so quit making assumptions...you KNOW what that does...).
While researching at home the first night, I found that the main features are centered on one main loop. Once you drive into the park, you can follow this loop and get a quick overview of everything there is to see. We packed up the car with food, snacks, drinks, and other supplies (extra layers, sunscreen, bug spray, hats, sunglasses, etc. Paper towels, sanitizer and baby wipes make a great addition, too! Braids were also a good choice, especially since we made this a full day in the park.) We entered the park through the south entrance and took a right (since we'd been to Old Faithful the day before).
West Thumb was a great place for our first stop. By then, we'd been in the car for a couple of hours, and we were ALL ready to get out and have a little picnic and exercise. The place we chose was equipped with some nice picnic tables, and a little green space, so we ate comfortably, before giving the kids a chance to free roam a bit. Of course, for Xander, that meant finding a nice "little" partially downed tree to bear crawl up and lounge. 😂
There are tons of places throughout the park at which we could have spent all day. West Thumb Geyser Basin is just one of these. I know we merely cracked the surface in all there is to see. There are countless trails in the park...and lots of them are off-road, backwoods trails. Believe me, I felt the pull on my heartstrings for THIS kind of adventure. However, I will refer you to the photo above. The sheer number of kids eliminated this option. I won't even go into the ages...particularly the littles. We were not going to go back-country, and we were not going to set off on 10 mile trails. I had to keep things simple, while making sure each stop had enough beauty, fun and adventure to make any discomfort worth our while. A little stroll around the West Thumb Geyser boardwalk provided!
West Thumb is a geyser basin on the shores of the great Yellowstone Lake. The wooden boardwalk loops through the basin and allows lovely views of the many hot springs and pools, as well as the lake. The walk features a lovely bend around the breath-taking Abyss Pool...such a remarkable sight - the depth and clarity of the water. I don't know if it is a typical thing, or if we hit a day with ideal wind direction, but the steam would routinely rise up from the pool and blow onto us on the boardwalk. It was such a sensuous experience, the beauty mixed with the wet, warming steam blinding and surrounding us! So worth the time and effort...and we just took in the moment with gratitude.
The contrast between the colors of the springs, the lake, and the evergreen terrains made for a divine visual experience, and we were also grateful for the exercise after the drive. It was just long enough to burn some of that childhood energy, but not enough to cause whiny exhaustion (and the boardwalks made for great stroller access for Evan).
We took one long, last, loving look at the view (and a whole heck of a lot of pictures), and we headed to the car to set out for our next destination.
At this point in the day, we were really "winging it." We were actually still deciding whether or not to take the full loop. So, we just drove a bit to explore. When we happened upon something that appeared interesting but NOT overly crowded, we pulled off the road to check it out. Mud volcano was well-placed for our next stopping point, and we did just that.
I need to warn you. The key to mud volcano is sulfur, and in case you haven't seen Shrek...sulfur STINKS!
It was one of our simpler stops and included some steeper climbs, but the boiling mud made for a rather interesting sight. And we were blessed with lovely weather to enjoy some sweeping views.
Apparently, a couple of geysers in this area used to shoot mud rather high into the air (reportedly 50 feet or so)...for now, it just appears to be boiling mad and left me with an impression of the potential future for skin care products. But then, I am not exactly well-versed in make-up and skin care (and putting sulphuric mud on your face may not be a good idea), so I'll stick with the ball fields and leave skin care to the experts of that field.
Drive through Hayden Valley
Heading toward our next destination, we had the pleasure of driving through Hayden Valley. We were fortunate, in that the traffic was not terrible during this portion of our drive. I understand it can be relatively overwhelming at times. I would have loved to take the time to hit the supposed less traveled Lamar Valley, but it just wasn't in the cards for us on this trip. So, I focused on feeling fortunate that we had the opportunity to see the free range bison (no grizzly for us, but what did I really expect in a quick overview of the park?...and really, since I spent some of my evening times researching a few historic and gruesome Yellowstone grizzly attacks...I was ok with NOT coming up close and personal with one myself.)
We did have the privilege of getting an up close glance at a couple of free roaming bison. I don't know about you, but I got the impression they were talking about us...definitely meme worthy pic, don't you think? I just have to come up with the perfect lines. Give me a minute...or two.
Yeah...I got nothing...for the moment. But on to bigger things. Our next stop was just BREATHTAKING. We saw a little hubbub up ahead and decided to pull off at something called "The Lower Falls." Slowly, but (kind of) surely (there are some pretty steep steps, and the acrophobic among us got a little bit woozy), we made our way to a special little overlook called "Artist's Point." It took us a bit of a hike to reach the grand master sight of this destination, but I am going to cheat and give you the spoiler right up front, because OH MY GOODNESS!!! Check out this view!
Canyon Falls Artist's Point
So, this one is not for the weak-of-heart. Our resident fear-of-heights expert got the heebie-jeebies a time or two, but even he was glad we'd made this stop one of our highlights of Yellowstone. The boys probably would have been content to stop here at the giant boulders. Dad would have been much more comfortable had we NOT taken this next one. 👇 But it was all too majestic to let fear cause us to miss out. The view is of the Lower Falls, which drop out over 300 feet. These falls can apparently be viewed from several look-out points. We just happened to pick Artist's Point as our stopping place. I can't speak for the views we missed, but this one definitely made the top of the list of things we are glad we did in Yellowstone!
It was definitely a day to remember. I cannot speak as to which is my actual favorite of the sights we saw. Old Faithful was definitely a must. It is the icon of Yellowstone, after all. But West Thumb Geyser and Artist's Point were equally impressive to see. However, we had yet to embark on the finale tour of the park, and I had no idea what we were about to see would grasp my heart so thoroughly...
What a way to end a full day of adventure. Yellowstone definitely provided. Happy kids. Happy Papa. Happy Mom! This will go down as a trip of a lifetime for this blessed crew. As we exited the park, we found one last touch of home (Falls featuring my maiden name) to capture for our memories. We were way too exhausted by this point to make it a full-on stop, but Matt allowed me to jump out and grab a quick pic for posterity's sake.
And that made for an official "Goodnight Yellowstone!" Grateful for the phenomenal memories. 💖
Note the beauty of the hot springs flowing into the river. Isn't it glorious? Now take a moment and do me a favor. Scroll back to the top of the page.
Do you see me in that first picture? Do you notice how happy I am? FYI...that joy is, in part, because I am wearing my VERY ABSOLUTE FAVORITE hat ever. I splurged on that hat on a little shopping trip in the place that will forever hold a piece of my heart...Sanibel, FL (and, if you know me well, you will understand that shopping trips, even in Sanibel, are few and far between in my existence, since I do NOT like shopping!).
I debated buying that hat, because I hate spending money on pretty much anything. But it was so comfortable and so cute and so perfectly me, and it is one of those items that you never once regret buying. We were meant to be together, forever, me and that hat. Alas, those blessed winds that provided such a sensuous experience at West Thumb sealed the fate, which forever parted me from my dearest love. For, as I walked upon the bridge, juggling cameras and bag and phone to take this lovely photo, that fateful gust of wind, so pleasing to me earlier in the day, took my hat and sacrificed it Yellowstone forever via the dreaded river below me. Do not think me callous, my friends. We spent a good deal of time trying to find and recover my beloved hat to no avail. (And the guilt I feel over trying to replace it with a souvenir purchase later in the trip...another rebound relationship fail. I will NEVER replace you, my dear Sanibel hat.)
Fortunately for me, I had plenty to distract me in my lament. I momentarily put aside my grief, for the kids' sake of course, and continued to embark on our adventure. And what better than a few reminders of the comforts of home to cheer my soul? In one little loop, we came across Opal Pool (pictured with Matt and named after my mother, no doubt) and Excelsior Geyser (her hometown school and the story of her own parting traumatization...but that story will have to wait for another day). While Opal Pool was not quite so remarkable, the overwhelmingly gorgeous waters of Excelsior Geyser did much to soothe my silently aching heart.
However, it was around the next turn that I found another keystone visual memory to cherish from our Yellowstone adventures. Grand Prismatic is a bucketlist sight, for sure. I have since enjoyed reading stories of this "super volcano" which has been under recent, intense surveillance, and it is with pride that I think...every time I read a new story...I have been there, and I saw that! 💖
And that made for an official "Goodnight Yellowstone!" Grateful for the phenomenal memories. 💖