Off Trail Finale

Friday, September 11

My coworkers all decided today was the day to do Tomato Soup, so I eagerly tag along with.

This isn’t a hike a person can easily try themselves unless they’re with someone who’s done it before because it’s entirely off trail, there is no worn path or markers to follow. In Yellowstone and other national parks I’ve worked at, it is legal to go off trail unless posted otherwise. Sometimes you need a permit depending on where you want to go though so it’s a good idea to check in with the back country ranger office first and explain your plans. They can also give you advice about the terrain and hazards you might face.

Midway Geyser Basin from a distance

Midway Geyser Basin from a distance

Every step on fallen pine needles, dry grass, and bare earth brings a little thrill of excitement. This is different than following a trail through the woods where you know exactly where you’ll end up. My coworkers have hiked out here before, but because there is no path it’s pretty much impossible to follow the same route twice. The possibility of stumbling across something none of us have seen before brings a bigger sense of adventure to the proceedings.

The first thing we stumble across is a lone bison, standing in the middle of a clearing and blocking our way. Going around him would be hard, runoff from hydrothermal features has made much of the meadow boggy and stepping in hot water isn’t how we want to start the day. Luckily he moves off quickly and we’re able to pass.

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I creep closer to the pool the bison was standing in front of, being very careful where I step and looking at the edge critically to see if it’s an overhang. There are no boardwalks here to keep a person from falling through the crust, no signs warning visitors away from unstable areas, and no one else around to call for help if something were to happen. So we need to be very cautious; Death in Yellowstone is one of the most popular books we sell at the store and a lot of those stories involve hot springs.

It’s blue in the center and is steaming heavily, which means it’s probably quite hot. One of my coworkers has his temperature gun with him and he points it at the center of the pool, 180 degrees. Yep, wouldn’t want to fall in that one. The pool next to it has less steam and rust colored bacteria growing in it, indicating a cooler temperature which the temp gun confirms.

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Hotter on left, cooler on right.

We follow a creek upstream. Even though it isn’t warm where we join with it, it’s easy to tell that it’s runoff from hydrothermal features because of the white residue left on rocks where the water has dried and the interesting colors of the creek bed. As we move closer to the source the water gets warmer, red and orange bacterial mats and emerald green algae colonize the water.

The many colors of hydrothermal runoff

The many colors of hydrothermal runoff

We cross the stream in two places where it’s narrow enough not to get our feet wet. Eventually it forks, and we follow the right fork up to two large steaming springs with a tiny bridge of land between them.

Judging by the way the pools are deepest on the side they share and the fact that the water level is the same in both of them, we can surmise that they connect under that spit of land and have the same water source. In one of them, a large chunk of ground has broken off and slid into the pool, making a little island. It was clearly an overhang that finally gave way under it’s own weight – this is why you never want to get too close to the edge of a hot spring.

The broken bit is on the right side of the pool, on the left you can see an overhang that has yet to break

The broken bit is on the right side of the pool, on the left you can see an overhang that has yet to break

My coworkers have received advice about another large hot spring in the area, nicknamed Micky Mouse because it has a main pool and two lobes that look like mouse ears. None of them have seen it before but have vague directions on where it should be. We strike up the hill into a dense stand of young pine, catching this smaller pool filled with the white skeletons of dead trees before being swallowed by the forest.

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Walking through fire regrowth without a path is hard work. This area burned in the ’88 fires so the trees here are about 25 years old. They’re tall enough where you can’t see over them but still have limbs at ground level that you need to push through. Plus most of the old mature trees that died in the fire have fallen to the ground now, making a lattice of deadfall that we’re having to climb over.

We quickly get lost and miss Micky Mouse, but eventually steam becomes visible through the trees and we’re spit out of the forest next to a tiny reddish orange pool, must be close to Tomato Soup! Next to the pool a gigantic bleached scapula (shoulder blade) is leaning up against a dead tree. Must be from a bison. This isn’t the first or last bone we’ll come across out here, but it’s the most impressive. There are no other bison bones nearby, so I’m guessing someone moved it and set it down here.

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Next up is a much larger pool in a lighter orange color, my coworkers call this one Cream of Tomato Soup, and are surprised at how much bigger it’s gotten since their last visit.

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Uphill from that is Tomato Soup. Being off trail, this pool was not well known until it showed up in a book about Yellowstone’s thermal features. More people visit it now, but it’s still nothing like visiting the basins with boardwalk access. We don’t see another person the whole time we’re out here, although there are tracks to show that we’re not the first.

Wouldn't be as tasty as it looks.  Temp gun says 150 degrees

Wouldn’t be as tasty as it looks. Temp gun says 150 degrees

There are two other smaller pools in a similar color up here. Tabasco and Rose, but the shadows of the trees make them harder to photograph. Between them in a murky gray pool called Lattice that use to have a lot of dead trees crossing it, but they’re mostly gone now, my coworkers say this one has grown too.

Rose on the left, Tabasco on the right

Rose on the left, Tabasco on the right

At this point we could head back down the hill, but we still want to find Micky Mouse. We pass by a large hole in the ground issuing a little bit of steam, and I spy a red squirrel making his way across a dead tree spanning the hole towards us. Careful little guy, it probably wouldn’t be pleasant to fall down there!

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We break through the trees and are confronted by a low area that would be all but impassible at wetter times of the year. It still looks boggy so instead of passing through it we climb up the side of another hill and finally get to look down on Micky Mouse.

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The right ear is at the top of the photo, the left ear is off camera to left

It’s a very large pool and very dark in color with a lot of algae and weeds growing in it, it looks more like runoff than an actual spring. A look around confirms that the water gets stuck in this low area of the marsh, there are no outlets. So where’s the water coming from? The northern end looks steamier, if only we could get over that next rise and take a peek through the trees…

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Ah-hah, found it! This smaller pool feeding into Micky Mouse is a brighter green and doesn’t have weeds growing in it, it must be hotter. Where the edge of the pool meets the hill ripples mar the surface of the water, indicating where the spring is coming out of the ground. Mystery solved, now it’s time to start heading back.

Turning back down the hill we find a curious pool, ringed by rust but with a deep spot in the center that turns from dark green to a light aqua. Walking around, it seems as though the lighter spot is a larger chamber visible through the narrower opening. There are tracks in the shallower part that are well preserved, the water level is higher than it was in the past.

I think this one is my favorite of today's finds, aside from Tomato Soup

I think this one is my favorite of today’s finds, aside from Tomato Soup

Back at the runoff creek, we follow another fork up to it’s source. This nearly colorless pool is similar in size the twin ones on the other branch, but it’s a geyser instead of a hot spring. My coworkers say they’ve seen it erupt up to heights of five to ten feet on previous visits, but it doesn’t do that for us today. Instead it has bouts of bubbling and sizzling with intervals of quiet between them.

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Not far from that is an impressive set of mud pots. This area reminds me a bit of the Artists Paintpots thermal area between Norris and Madison. Black and olive lichen grow where the ground remains warm from the heat underneath, the water bubbling up is acidic enough to dissolve the ground turning the water in these thermal features a multitude of muddy colors.

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Visible from the mud pots is the largest spring we’ve seen yet, the size of a small swimming pool and bright blue in color. This is the main water source of the runoff creek, and where it flows from the pool it’s an equally bright yellow that boggles the mind. Of course it’s not the water itself that’s yellow, it’s the bacteria in the water.

But still, how amazing is it that you can find creeks that run red, orange, yellow, green and blue. My inner child giggles with delight that something this fantastical is actually 100% natural, and it makes me think that if water can come in every color of the rainbow, then surely some of the other seemingly far-fetched things I dream of are equally possible.

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Things like hiking 100 miles in a summer while simultaneously working a job, maintaining a blog, and writing a book. By the time we get back to the car, we’ve clocked 4.3 miles which puts me at a solid 102.5 miles hiked since I arrived in Yellowstone. Mission accomplished!

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* * *

I hope you have enjoyed following me through Yellowstone’s back country these past 100+ miles! Yesterday (the 14th) marks my third nomadiversary as a full-timer (where has the time gone?!) and I’m looking forward to sharing many more adventures with you all.

If you’d like to show your support for this site and what I do, you can share IO with your friends who are looking to go RVing, sign up for my mailing list, leave a comment, do your regular Amazon shopping using my affiliate link, or donate through PayPal using the button found in the sidebar of my blog.

Thank you everyone for being a part of this community, whether you’ve been reading since the beginning or have come more recently!

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Becky

At IO I teach people how to ditch the status quo and travel full-time before retirement, and share stories of my adventures (and misadventures) to inspire future nomads and armchair travelers alike. Included at no additional charge: seizing your dreams, living boldly, and making a difference.

58 Comments

  1. Debbie in VA on September 29, 2015 at 11:11 pm

    Woohoo! Congratulations on reaching your goal. Thank you for sharing Yellowstone with us!
    Debbie in VA recently posted..Mosquito Lake State Park, OhioMy Profile



    • Becky on September 30, 2015 at 8:57 pm

      You’re welcome Debbie, glad you enjoyed this!



  2. Ed@Chasing Sunrises and Sunsets on September 24, 2015 at 5:41 pm

    Nice hike to Tomato Soup. I guess you are wrapping up in Yellowstone. Glad you completed the 100 Mile Club requirement. We have just wrapped up our 2 weeks in the Ridgway and Ouray, Colorado area. Then moved south toward Silverton, boondocking at Mineral Creek. OMG, the fall colors of the Aspens. We are in Durango now. This, our 30 day equipment “test” trip has been fabulous so far. We will start heading west and home soon, chomping at the bit to have garage sales and otherwise sell stuff. We’re hooked on roam’n.

    One DOWNSIDE has been that internet has been infrequent. Consequently, I have not posted while on the road. Written, just not posted. I’ll be rectifying that shortly.

    Be safe in your travels.



    • Becky on September 24, 2015 at 9:22 pm

      Yeah Ed, staying connected while traveling can be hard. glad to hear that the rest of your trip has gone well, may the road always rise up to meet your wheels. 🙂

      I’ve gone one more week of work, then it’ll be time to scoot down to Texas. Enjoy those fall colors!



  3. Sherry in MT on September 24, 2015 at 2:10 pm

    YAY congrats on meeting that 100 mile mark and surpassing it! I have thoroughly enjoyed your YNP adventures and now have more to add to my list of ones I’d like to do when I get down there!
    Sherry in MT recently posted..We Are Back!My Profile



    • Becky on September 30, 2015 at 8:56 pm

      Glad you enjoyed this Sherry, thanks for reading!



  4. Furry Gnome on September 19, 2015 at 7:41 am

    Congrats! Really enjoyed following along on all your hikes. You showed us a side of Yellowstone from the eyes of an insider that you don’t usually hear about.



    • Becky on September 19, 2015 at 11:51 am

      Thanks Gnome! It’s been a fun adventure for sure.



  5. Terri on September 18, 2015 at 1:09 pm

    Happy Anniversary and congrats on making more than the 100 mile mark! You are very smart, and I am sure that anything you put your mind to, you can accomplish. You’ve accomplished so much, and you have such a good head on your shoulders. I wish I had been like you when I was in my 30s, but hey, better late than never!

    That is so awesome all of those different colors – the yellow one is a bit freaky, I must admit, knowing it’s all bacteria. Thank you for being so generous and sharing all of these experiences with us, Becky. You don’t have to do so, but you choose to do so, and with such vivid detail, it’s like we are all right there with you. So, thank you.
    Terri recently posted..Have You Ever?My Profile



    • Becky on September 19, 2015 at 11:51 am

      Thanks and you’re welcome Terri! Even if it took you a bit longer, you’re doing better than a lot of other people your age who are still plugging away at jobs they hate.

      Hope you’re continuing to enjoy Utah and are putting your new hiking shoes to good use. Take care!



  6. pamelab on September 18, 2015 at 12:51 am

    Becky – Congratulations on your Anniversary! You are now officially in your 4th year of being a full-time RVer. That’s a wonderful accomplishment. I hope to be a full-time RVer in about a year – fingers crossed. At one point in you hiking, I thought maybe you wouldn’t be able to make the 100 miles. But, YOU DID! That’s great. Really like your photos and such detailed descriptions. Every now and then, I remember the video where you were hacking ice off of your windshield after getting out of work at Amazon. Ugh. I have done that before, in Michigan, where I lived for 35 years. Keep up the great work and continue to enjoy your nomad life. I always look forward to your next post.



    • Becky on September 19, 2015 at 11:48 am

      Thanks pamelab! Here’s to the next three years, may they be equally as fun and exciting.

      Hopefully this Amazon warehouse down in Texas won’t get the ice as much being farther south and all. I’m hopeful. 😉 Best of luck getting on the road! I was so ready to leave winter when I moved away from Wisconsin so I know what you mean.



  7. Bill on September 17, 2015 at 8:44 pm

    Congratulations on reaching the century mark! Really enjoyed the post and the pictures. Thanks.



    • Becky on September 19, 2015 at 11:46 am

      Thanks Bill and you’re welcome!



  8. Rosemary Rizzo on September 17, 2015 at 8:15 pm

    Congrats on a wonderful achievement. Great memories for when your no longer on the road.
    beautiful photos. I have a copy of the book “Death in Yellowstone”. Some really sad stories.



    • Becky on September 19, 2015 at 11:45 am

      Thanks Rosemary.

      I haven’t read it myself, but we sure do sell a lot of them. My coworker tells me there’s a story in there about a thunderstorm at Old Faithful that struck several people walking the basin in… 2003 I think? He was working at the lower store that day when the paramedics were hauling people in.



  9. Andy on September 17, 2015 at 7:47 pm

    Congratulations! This hike has some of the prettiest pictures yet, thanks for sharing them. I can’t wait to make it out that way!
    Andy recently posted..Florida Caverns State Park–Marianna FloridaMy Profile



    • Becky on September 19, 2015 at 11:42 am

      Thanks Andy! You’ll love it. 🙂



  10. Jodee Gravel on September 17, 2015 at 10:13 am

    What an amazing hike – I agree that all those colors of water make so many other things possible! Love the pond with the green middle. It looks like a geode 🙂 Congrats on the 100 miles and the 3 years. Lots of adventures yet to come!
    Jodee Gravel recently posted..What Was I Thinking?My Profile



    • Becky on September 17, 2015 at 4:13 pm

      You’re right Jodee it kind of does! Especially as still as the water was.

      Thanks and I hope your own travels and going well!



  11. jim in alabama on September 17, 2015 at 5:35 am

    You said in an earlier post that you were ready to move on after about three months in one spot. But wow what a place to be stuck in. I cant get over that yellow river. Surely you are still having lots of fun and I know you don’t want me to call you Shirley again. Good times Becky and be safe.



    • Becky on September 17, 2015 at 4:10 pm

      Yeah Jim I’m still having a good time here, but when the end of the month comes I’ll be ready to move on. I still won’t have seen everything I’ve wanted to by then, but I don’t mind leaving a place with more still left to do – it makes it a lot more enjoyable to come back to later. 🙂



  12. PJ on September 16, 2015 at 8:45 pm

    I’ve really enjoyed your posts from Yellowstone, as well as your blog in general. I’ve wanted to hike to Tomato Soup since I heard about it, but we haven’t been back to Yellowstone for a few years, my husband is a mountain fan – thermal features, not so much! But I think they’re fascinating, so I drag him there every few years. I really enjoyed how you covered a lot of the other thermals in the area, too. Now I’m curious where you’ll go next summer….



    • Becky on September 17, 2015 at 4:08 pm

      I’m not sure yet myself PJ, but once I’ve decided I’ll let you all know of course. 🙂

      Glad you’re able to drag your husband back every couple years. If he’s big into mountains then you could camp at the north end of the Tetons or the south end of Yellowstone, hit both parks, and both of you could get what you want, just a thought!

      If you do get the chance to hike Tomato Soup, take it. You won’t regret it.



  13. RGupnorth on September 16, 2015 at 8:28 pm

    Congratulations on surpassing 100 miles this season. This last hike was another nice one. You have mentioned the fire of 88 a few times. My first trip to Yellowstone was in 1988 just before the fire. Went back in 90 and the amount of loss there was truly amazing.

    Thanks for sharing your experiences.

    Bob



    • Becky on September 17, 2015 at 4:05 pm

      You’re welcome Bob, glad you enjoyed this.

      Yeah that must have been a huge contrast pre and post fire. I would have liked to have seen the park in the years just following the burn, I heard that the blackened trees with the wildflowers going crazy underneath was pretty spectacular in its own way.



  14. Norm on September 16, 2015 at 4:43 pm

    Congratulations, you did it! Not that we ever doubted you would. Thanks for sharing your many steps in words and pictures. It was fun to feel as though we were hiking with you. Many happy future trails and roads. Three years already. Seems like I just found this blog. Blessings as you follow your heart.



    • Becky on September 16, 2015 at 6:02 pm

      Thanks Norm! And thank you for reading and following along. Hopefully I’ll have time for a few more miles of hiking before leaving. 🙂



  15. joe on September 16, 2015 at 4:39 pm

    love the pic becky keep doing a good job



    • Becky on September 16, 2015 at 6:00 pm

      Glad you enjoyed this Joe.



  16. Oystein on September 16, 2015 at 12:57 pm

    Congrats on reaching the 100 mile. Another awesome and informative post.



    • Becky on September 16, 2015 at 6:00 pm

      Thanks Oystein!



  17. Jim Schmechel on September 16, 2015 at 12:08 pm

    Do any of these places have distinct smells? I wonder if the minerals and/or bacteria have strong odors.

    Maybe some day you will share with us some of your seemingly far-fetched things you dream about. Or perhaps that will be in your new book! 🙂

    Congratulations on your 3rd year of nomadic life anniversary, and hiking the 100 miles.



    • Becky on September 16, 2015 at 5:59 pm

      Mudpot areas often smell of sulfur (rotten eggs!) but springs and geyers less so. The bacteria themselves don’t seem to have an odor that I’ve noticed.

      Thanks Jim, it’s been a fun 100 miles and I’m hoping to get a few more in before leaving.



  18. Cletus on September 16, 2015 at 11:28 am

    Well, Happy Nomadiversary, hope you have many more.

    Enjoyed spending part of my summer “hiking” with you, congrats on your achievement, what a Grand Finale.

    Still warm here in the Minnesota north country but the leaves are starting to turn and before they’re all fallen we’ll be wandering on down to Texas. We’ll be passing way west of you on US 281 during your second week of work, safe travels!



    • Becky on September 16, 2015 at 5:58 pm

      Have a safe trip Cletus, and in the meantime enjoy those fall colors. That’s one thing I do miss about Wisconsin.



  19. Sheryl on September 16, 2015 at 9:44 am

    CONGRATULATIONS Becky!! On having a wonderful time and fabulous hikes with flowers, mud pots, geysers, thermals, etc., trees, animals, sky, weather, companions and sharing your l00+ miles and season with us.



    • Becky on September 16, 2015 at 5:57 pm

      Thanks Sheryl! Glad you’ve enjoyed following along this season. 🙂



  20. Ruth (Richmond, VA) on September 16, 2015 at 9:39 am

    Happy anniversary and may you have many more miles under your wheels and feet!



    • Becky on September 16, 2015 at 5:56 pm

      Thanks Ruth!



  21. Shelly in Durham NC on September 16, 2015 at 9:06 am

    Congratulations Becky on completing your 100+ miles. Such a fun journey. It has inspired me to make the journey to Yellowstone to investigate Mother Nature’s soup kitchen.

    As always I enjoy your writing style with such accurate discriptions of the terrain, your insights of your lifestyle and kindness to our planet. You are a delight.



    • Becky on September 16, 2015 at 5:55 pm

      Hope you enjoy your time in Yellowstone too Shelly, there’s so much to see here.

      Thanks for reading!



  22. J. Dawg on September 16, 2015 at 8:41 am

    Looks like a great hike – definitely off the beaten path. Nice pictures. Thanks for sharing.
    J. Dawg
    J. Dawg recently posted..My Low Cost RV Solar InstallMy Profile



    • Becky on September 16, 2015 at 5:54 pm

      You’re welcome J. Dawg, thanks for reading.



  23. Dawn from Camano Island on September 16, 2015 at 8:26 am

    Love this post, Becky! Knowing that your hiking buddies could see changes since their last hike–and hey! Love the heat gun!!–reminds me that Yellowstone truly is a supervolcano. Congratulations on achieving your 100-mile goal and your 3rd nomadiversary! Both are cause for celebration! Cheers!



    • Becky on September 16, 2015 at 5:52 pm

      Thanks Dawn! Glad you enjoyed this.

      Yeah, I’d buy one of those doodads myself if they weren’t so pricey. If I was going to be coming back here regularly like they do I’d probably splurge for one.



  24. Metamorphosis Lisa on September 16, 2015 at 7:50 am

    I love how it is possible to go off trail and find as much fascinating features in Yellowstone as are available to the masses via boardwalk! This was a wonderful hike…and a fantastic persona accomplishment too! Good job!
    Metamorphosis Lisa recently posted..Yellowstone: Vivid, Vibrant & Wild!My Profile



    • Becky on September 16, 2015 at 5:51 pm

      Some people ask why more of the thermal features, waterfalls, etc. haven’t been made accessible by road, and part of the reason the NPS hasn’t done this is to preserve the wildness of it. An answer I personally am quite happy with Lisa. 🙂 Thanks!



  25. Kim on September 16, 2015 at 7:48 am

    Wow and congrats!
    Kim recently posted..Montrose, COMy Profile



    • Becky on September 16, 2015 at 5:48 pm

      Thanks Kim!



  26. Cathy P. on September 16, 2015 at 6:22 am

    Congratulations! And, thank you for taking us along this summer on your adventure in Yellowstone. You do an excellent job with both photos and narrative. I usually read your blog aloud at breakfast. It really has been quite an adventure.



    • Becky on September 16, 2015 at 5:48 pm

      That would be a good way to enjoy it Cathy, thanks for reading. 🙂



  27. Mike on September 16, 2015 at 4:50 am

    How interesting to see all of these colorful features in one hike.



    • Becky on September 16, 2015 at 5:47 pm

      It was pretty neat Mike. 🙂



  28. Wheelingit on September 15, 2015 at 10:53 pm

    Love the way you explained the science behind all the pools and thermals. This is my fav of your hikes so far. Congrats on reaching the 100 miles!L
    Nina
    Wheelingit recently posted..NP Campground Review – Gros Ventre Campground, Teton National Park, WYMy Profile



    • Marilyn, Dania Beach, Fl on September 16, 2015 at 5:17 am

      I echo Nina. Terrific photos and interesting captions.

      Two questions. Is this hike listed in a book with a detailed map and do you have to have permission to walk the trail?

      When is your time up at Yellowstone?



      • Becky on September 16, 2015 at 5:47 pm

        It’s not in any hiking book that I’ve found Marilyn, entirely word of mouth and advice from others who’ve done it before. You do not need permission for this particular one, just be careful of course since it’s in a thermal area.



    • Becky on September 16, 2015 at 5:45 pm

      Glad you enjoyed this Nina, thanks for reading!



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