When in Yellowstone, the early bird gets the worm, metaphorically speaking. Early mornings and late nights are the best for wildlife viewing but on Friday, June 21 we decided to sleep in until 7:30 am. After a quick breakfast at the Yellowstone Grill in Gardiner, Montana we set off for Norris Geyser Basin.
This would be our first visit to Norris Geyser Basin, which is the hottest geothermal section of Yellowstone National Park. From the official Yellowstone National Park Service (NPS) website: “Norris Geyser Basin is the hottest, oldest, and most dynamic of Yellowstone’s thermal areas. The highest temperature yet recorded in any geothermal area in Yellowstone was measured in a scientific drill hole at Norris: 459°F (237°C) just 1,087 feet (326 meters) below the surface! There are very few thermal features at Norris under the boiling point (199°F at this elevation).”
Our first stop in Norris was Steamboat Geyser off of the Back Basin Trail. When Steamboat has a major eruption, it can shoot between 300 and 400 feet into the air. This makes Steamboat the tallest geyser in the world; unfortunately it isn’t as predictable as Old Faithful or many of the other regular or semi-regular thermal features in the park. According to the ranger on the Steamboat Geyser viewing platform, the last major eruption for Steamboat was in 2005.
After watching a few minor eruptions of Steamboat, we continued on down the boardwalk to Echinus Geyser and beyond. From the get-go, the stinky sulfur smell had been irritating Ava but since she was fine at Mud Geyser last year, which is far smellier in my opinion, we just told her to suck it up (in a much nicer way, though.) By the time we hit Crater Spring she was done with a capital D.
We made our way back up the way we came and took a quick pit stop at Echinus Geyser to see if we could catch any bubbling action (we didn’t). Alex really wanted to continue to explore Norris Geyser Basin and so he and Dave continued the Back Basin Trial while Ava and I walked back up the steep boardwalks to the visitor center, where we waited for the boys to return.
Once we reunited, we hopped in the truck and made our way back to Gardiner. This was our quiet day and since I only packed a few days worth of clothes, to save space, it was also our laundry day. Thankfully, the Yellowstone Village Inn (our hotel) had an onsite laundry room and free wireless Internet. While the clothes were in the washer and dryer the kids and Dave took a quick nap and I did a little writing.Dinner this evening would be at The Raven in Gardiner; it comes highly recommended on Yelp and the Yellowstone.net forums. Dinner was great and I loved the huckleberry crème brulee we had for desert. Back into the park we went and our first stop was the Blacktail Plateau Drive.
So, up until this point, I’d done most of the in-park driving. It can be stressful with all the traffic but Dave took over driving duties for a bit. As he drove from the paved main park road to the dirt Blacktail Plateau Drive, he hit a series of about 5 potholes and bounced everyone (and our bikes) around. I was in tears from laughing so hard and quickly decided that I’d take over the driving duties once again. He swears he didn’t see the potholes until we were bouncing through them – they were big, and in the middle of the road – can’t miss ‘em! hah
Near the end of the drive we came across the courting black bear couple from the day before. They continued to graze near each other and I can only guess that next year around this time we’ll see momma with a cub or two.
Next stop for the evening was the Slough Creek campground. We didn’t camp but that area is also wildlife rich. On the way in we saw the wolf watchers breaking camp – evidently we just missed something exciting. However, once we entered the campground we came across yet another black bear.
There was a gentleman camping there that said he walked over to get some firewood and the bear just meandered by mere yards from him. He slowly walked backwards while the bear continued on its way. This was turning out to be a bearific trip!
The day’s bear viewing didn’t end there, though. One of the pullouts in Lamar Valley near the Institute was filled with scopes pointing out towards the bench and a kind woman shared her scope with us. A grizzly sow and her older cub (at least a yearling) were play fighting. Although they were very far away, the scope gave us a great view.
Once we’d had our fill of playful grizzly bears we continued on through Lamar Valley and saw a nearly full parking lot just before the Soda Butte Cone area. Thankfully there was a parking spot open and we hopped out to see what was going on – wolves!
Big Gray and a black collared Lamar yearling were frolicking about in the sage. Evidently the fun started a bit before with a chase but once Big Gray (a Lamar pack wolf) realized that the yearling was a relative, the action turned into fun – at least based on what the wolf watchers on site told us.
There were dozens of scopes and many times that in viewers. What I experienced over the next 1.5 hours was beautiful – experienced watchers were calling out the wolves’ location, helping others locate them. People were sharing their scopes so that everyone there got to look.
We ended up making friends with a wonderful lady named Betsy. She lowered her scope so both kids could see and said, “the adults can just bend over.” We watched the wolves play and finally Big Gray crossed Soda Butte Creek while the black yearling looked at him like he was crazy – no way was he getting in that cold water on this cold night! Eventually Big Gray crossed the road out of sight and the black wandered back off into the forest.
At this point it was nearly dark and time to call it a night. Two nights in a row Lamar Valley paid off for us.
Read all of my YNP Summer 2013 Road Trip Recaps:
- Day 1 – PHX to SLC – Yellowstone National Park Road Trip – Summer 2013
- Day 2 – SLC to JAC – Yellowstone National Park Road Trip – Summer 2013
- Day 3 – Grand Teton – Yellowstone National Park Road Trip – Summer 2013
- Day 4 – 1st Day in Yellowstone – YNP Road Trip – Summer 2013
- Day 5 – Norris Geyser Basin, Bears and Wolves – YNP Road Trip – Summer 2013
- Day 6 – Off Trail Adventures, Beartooth Highway & A June Snow Storm
- Days 7 & 8 – Yellowstone to SLC to PHX – Final 2 Days of Our YNP Road Trip