As I predicted, my thigh and ankle have rendered me a semi-sedentary tourist for awhile. What better to do, then, than toodle around Yellowstone with the hordes on 4th of July weekend? So I got some beta on what to see from John, then made my winding way through the park from south to north.
I made my way fairly directly to the Old Faithful section of the park, with its ring of hotels and restaurants surrounding the rows of benches surrounding Old Faithful. Arriving around 8:00, I was surprised to see the parking lots almost empty. I eased myself out of the car, put on my pack, and spent a few hours hobbling along the boardwalks, trying to take some interesting pictures. I was not too impressed by the geysers themselves, and didn’t have much luck taking interesting pictures of them — it’s hard to anticipate when the geyser will emit an interesting spray, and autofocus lag gets in the way. I found the multicolored pools and bacterial mats more interesting and photogenic.
By the time I was done, hundreds of people were sitting waiting for Old Faithful, and the parking lot was closer to full. I spent the rest of the day among the tourists, including a surprising number of Indians.
The highlight of the park for me was the Grand Prismatic Pool. A high-temperature spring supports a variety of colored bacteria in a large, steaming pool. From some angles, light reflected off the pool bottom colors the steam. The Museum of the Park Ranger, though small, was also interesting.
I was less impressed with the terraces, which are featured on the front of the park brochure. It was hot and crowded, and most of the area was dry and inactive. I saw a few bison, and three bears at two bear-jams, but after my up-close encounter in Burnt Wagon Gulch, watching distant bears through binoculars was not that exciting.
I ended the day with an extended hobble up the old road to Mount Washburn from the south. The trail was still mostly snow-covered, but the snow was well-consolidated and -traveled. Being the highest point in the northeast corner of the park, it affords a good view of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone to the southeast, the caldera to the southwest, and the Absaroka, Beartooth, and Teton ranges on the horizon.
There are truly excellent free, no-reservation campsites near Grass Lake, only a few miles from the south entrance to Yellowstone. Each site has its own picnic table, fire ring, and outhouse. While there are only 14 sites, I had no trouble finding one early in the evening during prime tourist season.
Gardiner, near the north entrance, is surrounded by national forest with good access roads and no restrictions on dispersed camping. The town itself is not as bad a tourist trap as one might expect, but WiFi is hard to come by; the coffee place charges $2.50 for the password.