Day 12: Hot springs and geysers galore - Yellowstone and Grand Tetons 2004 - CycleBlaze

September 8, 2004

Day 12: Hot springs and geysers galore

I got up at 7 AM and got away at 9:30 AM after an overdue cleaning and oiling of the chain. Just past the campground I turned onto the one-way Firehole River scenic drive. It is indeed very scenic, going through a narrow canyon with the river. I stopped at the Firehole River swimming area where nearby hot springs make the river a pleasant temperature for swimming. But the air temperature was much too cool in the morning for anybody to want to swim there.

Firehole river along the Firehole river scenic drive.
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A few miles later the road approaches the Lower Geyser Basin which produces clouds of steam visible from more than a mile away. A herd of bison crossed the road causing a large traffic backup. I had to wait 10 minutes for the bison to finish SLOWLY crossing the road.

Herd of bison near the Lower Geyser Basin.
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Today's route took me past miles of flat swampy areas criss-crossed with tiny creeks. I didn't see any steam, so I presume they are cold water.

Swamp (cold water) near the Lower Geyser Basin.
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A couple miles later I turned onto the one-way Firehole Lake Scenic Drive. I was somewhat reluctant to do this because it adds 5.5 miles to the route, and I was out of food and eager to get to Old Faithful to get more food. But I decided I could handle a few extra miles. The loop is very interesting. There is indeed a hot lake but it wasn't particularly photogenic. The next picture shows a large muddy hot spring with an erupting cone geyser in the distance. The cone geyser stopped erupting by the time I got close to it.

Cone geyser and a giant boiling mud pot on the Firehole Lake scenic drive.
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My next stop is Midway Geyser Basin which I think is the most photogenic of all the geyser basins. It contains Grand Prismatic Spring which is the world's largest hot spring-about 300 feet across. The giant pool was obscured by a big cloud of bluish steam drifting towards me.

Big hot spring in the Midway Geyser Basin.
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Edge of Grand Prismatic Spring, the world's largest hot spring.
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Runoff from Grand Prismatic Spring. My favorite photo of the trip.
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But there were other interesting large springs at Midway Geyser Basin. I could see this one better because the steam was drifting away from me.

Another large hot spring at the Midway Geyser Basin.
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After Midway Geyser Basin was still another wait for bison to cross the road.

Bison blocking traffic again. The backup was about 1/4 mile long behind me.
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Now onward to Old Faithful. My first stop at Old Faithful was at a snack bar for a big lunch. I was very hungry because I was completely out of food. Old Faithful erupted while I ate lunch. No big deal, I can wait 90 minutes. After lunch I stocked up on groceries, then walked around Old Faithful Inn. The inn is a designated National Historic Landmark constructed in 1904-celebrating it's centennial this year. The outside of the inn isn't very spectacular but the 90 foot (27m) high lobby atrium is very impressive for a log structure.

Old Faithful Inn.
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Lobby of Old Faithful Inn.
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Then I walked around the Old Faithful geyser field a few minutes while waiting for the next eruption. The eruption occurred a few minutes before the predicted time, but fortunately I had just arrived back at Old Faithful. The eruption lasted about 30 seconds and was rather anti-climactic. It sprayed more than 100 feet high, but I was viewing it from behind a fence 500 feet away from the geyser. Old Faithful is a very reliable geyser but it only erupts half as high as it did 100 years ago.

Old Faithful geyser erupting about 100 feet high.
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On my way back to the bike I couldn't resist snapping this photo of a bison outside the general store. Bison and elk wandered all over the Old Faithful geyser field.

Bison at the Old Faithful store.
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Elk and bison at Old Faithful.
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I departed Old Faithful shortly after 3 PM and still had 45 miles (72 km) to go to my planned destination at Flagg Ranch. First is a 900 foot climb to 8262 foot Craigpass, then a short descent and another climb to 8500 feet elevation. The highest Continental Divide crossing is just past the 8500 foot summit. Continental Divide crossings were never exactly at the top of a pass.

This was the highest of three Divide crossings .
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Then I had a very pleasant 800 foot descent to West Thumb. Yellowstone Lake and the Absaroka mountains looked great in the late afternoon sun.

Yellowstone Lake and the Absaroka range.
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At West Thumb Junction I continued south, beginning 75 miles (120km) of backtracking to Jackson Hole airport. I knew the route from West Thumb to Flagg Ranch would be fairly easy. After the Grant Village turnoff are two more small climbs, including my final crossing of the Continental Divide. Then after Lewis Lake is a very fast descent along the Lewis River to the Yellowstone park boundary. My speed increased very gradually. Near the bottom of the descent I noticed that my speed was 49.5 mph. Later I noticed that my computer recorded a maximum speed of 53 mph. That is a new speed record for me on this bike. The amazing thing is that I didn't even notice it at the time. The pavement was smooth, straight, and clean. There was no traffic because it was almost 7 PM and there was no troublesome crosswind. With such ideal conditions and a gradual increase in speed, I wasn't even aware of how fast I was going.

The road south of the park boundary is still under construction. I arrived at 7 PM just after the construction workers quit for the day. Nobody stopped me from riding 2 miles through the construction zone to Flagg Ranch. I got a campsite at the Flagg Ranch campground but I was not happy to pay $25 for the campsite. Same price for a solo bicyclist or a large family in a motor home. At least the campground has nice shower facilities. The facilities also make it easy to hand wash all my laundry. The main reason I'm here is because it's close to a hot spring I want to visit in the morning.

Today was mostly sunny with a high of 70F (21C). I had a slight headwind when going south but it wasn't much of a factor. Today's route took me past the most spectacular thermal features at Yellowstone. Midway Geyser Basin was my favorite. I also saw more bison today than any other day. Traffic was heavy but the road has a paved shoulder for most of the distance. I was pleased to bike through a construction zone where I was forced to ride a pilot car earlier in the trip. But that was only because I got there so late in the day. It was a long day but tomorrow will be a very easy day.

Distance: 67.9 miles (108.6 km)

Climbing: 2830 feet (860m)

Average speed: 10.9 mph (17.4 km/h)

Maximum speed: 53 mph (84.8 km/h) Fastest I've ever been on this bike

Hiking: 2 miles (3.2 km)

Today's ride: 68 miles (109 km)
Total: 567 miles (912 km)

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