Tuesday, July 28
All day at work customers are coming in bundled up and the mood is subdued. A cold front swept through Yellowstone yesterday and even in the afternoon the temp is only grudgingly pushing 50 degrees on the thermometer. Sluggish clouds hide the sun, and people spend more time in the buildings at Old Faithful than outside on the basin.
Not me. I can’t wait to get off work and spend some time in the great outdoors. Moseying along the boardwalks and sitting on the benches to watch geyser eruptions may not be comfortable, but I’ve found that as long as I keep moving I stay plenty warm enough so that makes this ideal hiking weather.
The plan is to drive just a few miles south to Lone Star Geyser since it’s close and I haven’t done it yet, but when I drive past the parking lot is blocked off for repaving. No matter, there are still plenty of other trails I haven’t hiked yet. Hmm, where to next?
I keep driving over Craig Pass and down into West Thumb 17 miles to the east. A sign points to Yellowstone Lake Overlook trail. Heck, why not?
The flowers here don’t seem to have gotten the memo that their prime season is past. They may not be the flashy ones seen elsewhere in the park, but their primary color display of blue red and yellow is pleasing.
As expected few people are on the trail, which is fine with me. As the trail breaks through the young woods and into meadow, I’m greeted by the appearance of a lot of LBJs. That’s short for Little Brown Jobs, a blanket term one of my coworkers uses for many species of sparrows, finches, and swallows – basically any small brown bird. I wonder if there’s been an insect hatch of some sort that’s brought them all here, if so the insects are leaving me alone which I’m more than okay with.
The trail climbs up the side of a hill, and Yellowstone Lake comes into view with distant mountains behind. The clouds have broken up some, and more sunlight is getting through and playing across the treetops.
Sure, it’s not be what most people would consider ideal July weather, but how can you argue with a view like this? And again I have it all to myself. When people complain to me in the store that Yellowstone is too busy, I tell them get out on the trails. That’s where you find the real park.
For kicks and giggles, I also tour the hydrothermal basin while I’m here at West Thumb. The water level in the lake has gone down since my last visit over a month ago. Fishing cone is now above the water, as are these two furiously bubbling pots that looked dormant under the water surface before.
The colors are also a lot more vibrant at the pools, probably because of the lack of fog that was shrouding the lake last time although it’s possible the temperature or water output has changed. It’s interesting how you can come on a different day and get an entirely different show at the basins, their dynamic nature is part of what makes Yellowstone so unique.
Thursday, July 30
Last night was the YA south district’s Halfway Gone party. That is, over halfway done with the season. It’s going so fast! There was a pot luck, campfire, and plenty of stories (and good food) shared. There were also arrangements made to meet with coworkers at the EDR this morning for breakfast and then take a hike after that.
EDR stands for employee dining room, a phenomenon I first got to experience in the Badlands two summers ago. Because many Yellowstone employees don’t have RVs and live in dorms with limited kitchen facilities, the two big concessionaire employers (Xanterra and Delaware North Companies) both have EDRs that their employees can pay to eat at. At the Badlands, the meal plan was actually cheaper than buying groceries myself and so I paid every week to be on it, but here it’s cheaper to cook for yourself, so my fellow YA employees and I only occasionally buy tickets to eat at Xanterra’s EDR when we’re craving something different or feeling lazy.
Breakfast tickets cost $4.30, lunch is $5.30, and supper is $6.30 so it’s still a very good deal vs. eating out at the tourist restaurants in the area. I have a biscuit with gravy, sausage patty, scone, and a small piece of breakfast pizza, it’s delicious and worth waking up at 7 am for.
The hike today is the Divide trail, and follows along the, you guessed it, continental divide. The trailhead is in Craig’s Pass between Old Faithful and West Thumb. We’re hiking 3.8 miles out to the top of a mountain that is described as offering a good view of Shoshone Lake – the largest inland lake in America without road access.
The trail climbs about 800 feet in a steady fashion through a mature mixed conifer forest, the big fires of ’88 never touched Craig’s Pass.
Not far from the top we get a glimpse of the lake through the trees, just enough to tease really. Two of today’s group took this trail 12 years ago and remember the view from the top being quite good, but when we get there, all there is to see is more trees!
There use to be an old fire tower at the top of the mountain and that’s probably where the good views came from, there are depressions in the ground with concrete showing through where the fire tower use to be, but it was dismantled some time ago now. The hike’s not a complete wash though, old old cans are visible along the bases of stately old trees and big chunks of low quality obsidian gleam in the sunlight. There is beauty to be found here, the more quiet sort that gets overlooked in Yellowstone where so many views grab your attention and refuse to let go.
Of course we give the two coworkers who remembered this hike differently some good-natured grief, but they get the last laugh. On the way back down we find the lake view glimpse and strike off trail to see if we can get a better sighting, and it isn’t hard to do. On a steeper section of the mountain where washouts are more common the trees are thinned enough to catch the panorama of Shoshone Lake, sparkling blue and untouched by the hand of man.
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