When Mike tested positive for Covid days before we were scheduled to depart for Montana and Yellowstone National Park, I may not have been as sympathetic as I could have been. Of course, I was worried about him and made every effort to help him feel comfortable. However, I was also desperate to salvage our trip. In my panicked mind, I figured if I could just avoid getting sick, we might still be able to head off as scheduled. My simple plan was to keep him quarantined in the bedroom (which I had vacated for a room far away on another floor) and deliver tasty meals to his door while I wore a mask and disinfected anything that might have been contaminated.

However, Mike didn’t seem to have that same sense of needing to isolate. He would wander out of his room as I went about my business in the rest of the house prompting me to yell, “Stay back! Put your mask on!” as I backed away, hastily pulling a mask on and virtually flashing a crossed finger anti-vampire hex at him. However, I eventually realized that the CDC guidelines were not going to allow us to travel as planned so I put my efforts into trying to salvage our trip.

One of the most important parts of our original itinerary was staying at Old Faithful Inn.

We had been able to nab reservations for two nights at a relatively reasonable rate when we first planned our trip. Openings are hard to come by, so when we started to reschedule our trip, I was thrilled to find a room at Old Faithful for two nights as well as one night at Canyon Lodge and Cabins.

We signed up for our third Montana race (after having nixed the other two due to scheduling issues and Covid) and hoped that the third time would be the charm. So after an earlier detour, we were back on track to finally head to Yellowstone. I had avidly (obsessively?) been listening to podcasts and reading books about Yellowstone so I felt ready to embrace our country’s first national park. I was well-versed in how to deal with bear encounters from Tooth and Claw. Listening to the audiobooks “Death in Yellowstone, “Dangerous Beauty“, and “Ranger Confidential” added to my knowledge and completely ramped up my desire to visit. And the Nat Geo “Overheard” podcast, “Harnessing the Power of Yellowstone’s Supervolcano” was riveting.

But when we entered Yellowstone, I was still unprepared for the reality of a spouting, bubbling landscape, home to herds of bison that casually sauntered along the roadside, the potential for a bear encounter at any moment, and scenery that stunned us around every corner.

Within moments of driving into the park, a lone bison meandered past our car and into the woods.

On high alert, we continued our drive to Old Faithful Inn, anticipating more wildlife at any moment. We had reserved a room in the “Old House” portion of the Inn, which meant we did not have a private bathroom. The chance to be staying yards away from the Old Faithful geyser completely outweighed the inconvenience of a bathroom down the hall. When we walked through the solid log door into our room and swung open the quaint windows to gaze outside towards Old Faithful geyser, I couldn’t have been more pleased.

The next morning due to my excitement about being in Yellowstone, as well as the 2 hour time difference, I was up at 4:30 a.m. I wandered out to the lobby which was quiet and empty except for a lone desk clerk. I was mesmerized and sat quietly, soaking up this historic inn.

Before the sun had risen, I wandered outside through this famous door.

The sight of steam rising from a multitude of thermal features was awe-inspiring. Of course, I knew that Yellowstone was famous for its geysers but I had apparently figured they were isolated. As I gazed at the landscape I was struck with the slightly alarming realization that the ground was literally boiling beneath my feet!

We were first in line for breakfast in the dining room and ready to set off to explore more of the park. Our first stop was Black Sand Basin, just a short drive from the lodge.

Seeing the bubbling hot springs and spouting geysers up close was enthralling, but we were also entertained by this sign.

Strolling on the boardwalk allowed us to be within feet of these thermal features. I found the bubbling and subtle thumping of this small geyser oddly soothing, kind of like a washing machine.

Biscuit Basin

A short drive along the park road brought us to Biscuit Basin where we were hypnotized by the depth and beauty of these pools.

As we followed the boardwalk, it led us to the Mystic Falls trailhead.

We were aware that there were black and grizzly bears in the park so we were prepared for an encounter.

The trail was an easy walk through the woods alongside a stream that we could hear before we saw it. The early morning air was cool and the hiking was easy.

Eventually the falls came into view.

The trail appeared to become much steeper and more difficult to discern, so being apprehensive about rock scrambling, I convinced Mike we had gone far enough and we retraced our steps back toward the thermal pools. The return path brought us past more remarkably colored, mesmerizing pools which I found incredibly alluring.

Fountain Paint Pot

We were deterred from visiting Grand Prismatic Springs due to a packed parking lot so we happily continued on to Fountain Paint Pot. Once again, we walked along a boardwalk past mud pots, geysers, hot springs, and fumaroles. The path was so close to the geysers that we were enveloped in a balmy blast of steam as we strolled past.

Old Faithful Inn

We were happy to return to the inn after our morning’s adventures. The inn, one of the world’s largest log structures, offered a free tour led by a captivating historian who provided us with a multitude of tidbits about the construction and history of the inn which was opened in 1904. It’s architect, Robert Chambers Reamer, designed the lodge to blend with it’s rustic surroundings, including using local lodgepole pine and situating windows high above the ground floor so the light streaming in would simulate the sunlight filtering through the forest.

An after-dinner stroll around the surrounding boardwalk followed by listening to music in the lobby, was a fitting way to end our first full day in Yellowstone.

Early the next morning, we waited for a final eruption of Old Faithful Geyser.

Even though we had been fortunate enough to view the eruption of this famous geyser multiple times during our short stay, it always sent a jolt of amazement through me. Standing beside the geyser in the early morning, when the crowds were sparse, was an extra bonus.

A hike up the Observation Point Trail just behind Old Faithful was easy and offered a great view of the inn, Old Faithful, and surrounding features.

As we departed Old Faithful Inn, this lone bison offered a perfect photo op.

After a quick stop at Grand Prismatic Spring, we were ready to leave behind the thermal features and venture into other areas of the park.

Our lodging after we left Old Faithful was at Canyon Lodge and Cabins. These accommodations were much more modern.

Cafeteria style dining options were housed in a building at least a half a mile from our cabin. We figured we’d bring our ice bucket along since there were no ice machines near our cabin.

Somehow I found Mike bringing our ice bucket on a half mile tour of the compound completely hilarious.
The Canyon Lodge Eatery offered a variety of cafeteria-style dining options.

After dinner we followed the path just behind our cabin to the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.

We had hiked along the trail on the other side of the canyon earlier in the day but the view at sunset here was gorgeous.

Mike and I are renowned for our consistently awkward, clearly unflattering selfies. See exhibit A below.

So when another couple offered to take our photo, we eagerly accepted. Obviously the composition of this photo was greatly enhanced by the vast canyon and sunset sky.

We had purchased and downloaded the Just Ahead audio guide before we left home. When we used it in Rocky Mountain National Park, we found it immensely informative. The Yellowstone guide was equally captivating.

The next morning as we made our way toward the Lamar Valley, we learned tons of tidbits that were not in any of our park literature. As we drove up a hill, we listened to a story of a stage coach robbery that had taken place at that very spot. After a few more miles, the narrator informed us that one of the most popular hikes in the park was “just ahead”. We pulled into the Mt. Washburn trailhead parking lot and decided we’d give the trail a try, figuring we could turn around at any point if the trail ended up being too challenging.

The trail was a wide gravel path that wound up the mountain. There were no scary drop-offs or tricky scrambling. In my mind, it was perfect! We passed several other groups of hikers heading up and down the trail. As we approached one couple walking in the opposite direction, they informed us that there was a bear up ahead in a tree. We were cautiously excited but also wary. We opted to continue, talking loudly, our eyes scanning the path and trail-side trees, with Mike holding the bear spray at the ready.

Suddenly we saw a large black bear saunter across the path and disappear into the trees. The trail was a series of switchbacks so we knew there was a chance we would encounter it again as we turned around the corner. Maintaining our boisterous babbling, we continued up the trail. As we neared the top of the mountain another pair of hikers approached. We stopped to inform them that there had been a bear on the trail behind us. They hadn’t heard this news yet, so we were spending a few minutes recounting that it had been a black bear and it hadn’t seemed alarmed by the presence of hikers. Suddenly, as I looked behind these people, I gasped, “Oh my God, it’s in the tree right behind you!”

The cutest, juvenile black bear was perched in a whitebark pine tree contentedly munching on pinecones. I was thrilled and yearned to stay put and watch this little guy. But I knew we were way too close according to all the information about bear encounters I had learned. So I settled for snapping a couple of shots as we immediately moved up the trail.

Obviously, this was a shot taken on the go, but I still have a mental image of my first sighting of this bear’s cute black nose and shiny eyes, happily tucked high in a tree, obliviously feasting on what I’ve learned is a highly desired food source for bears preparing to hibernate.

The rest of the hike up the trail was filled with me continuing to exclaim about how surprising it had been to glance over and see the bear we had been speaking about literally just feet from us.

The trail continued to spiral up to the summit where there was a stunning 360 degree view of the valley below.

The fact that there was an actual restroom inside the visitor center at the summit was an unexpected bonus. We soaked up the views, feeling thankful that we had opted for this impromptu hike which turned out to be our favorite trail and gave us one of our most memorable experiences in the park.

The next morning we would be traveling to Red Lodge, Montana to run our 45th quest race. Our time in Yellowstone had been everything we had hoped for, and more.

9 thoughts on “Yellowstone!

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