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July 31, Sunday
Haze shrouds the mountains in Yellowstone today as I pull onto Fountain Flat Drive, a short paved road off of the loop road between Madison and Old Faithful that ends at today’s trail. While the air doesn’t have a noticeable odor to it, I’m pretty sure the cause is a wildfire burning somewhere upwind. A look online at maps of current wildfires confirms my suspicion and what’s worse – there are fires burning along both of the roads that my family could be taking to get into Grand Teton National Park to the south. I send my brother a text to warn him. (It doesn’t end up being a problem, the road is open on Monday when they come through).
Today, my friends Aaron and Tammy and I are doing the Sentinel Meadows hike out to Queen’s Laundry, which holds the distinction of being the first thermal area in the park altered for tourist activities long ago. There was a little building made out there with the idea of piping water from a hot spring in to a pool for soaking, but it was never finished. The wooden structure is completely gone now and everything looks natural, but the history books say it existed.
Tammy and Aaron are a couple I met last fall at Amazon, and they worked in Yellowstone last summer too when I was here, but because they worked at a different location and for a different company I didn’t meet them then.
I get asked all the time if it’s lonely being a solo full-timer and I personally haven’t had a problem with loneliness since I started taking the initiative about saying hi to my neighbors in campgrounds about 6 months after I hit the road. In fact, I have more friends now than I did living stationary, for a couple reasons. First of all, I meet a lot more people than I did before. And second, everyone who’s traveling is going to have some common ground to talk about in the form of places visited and sights seen.
Near the start of our hike is a large hot spring that is particularly hot as evidenced by the dark blue water. It drains into the Firehole River, which our route parallels for a while through open meadow with short grasses. The wildflowers are mostly gone in Yellowstone at the lower elevations this time of year as everything dries out, but it’s still neat country.
We quite literally stumble into the Queen’s Laundry thermal area. The trail is hard to follow being in the open like this, without trees to fence it in. Orange trail markers are sometimes a quarter mile or more apart and it’s all to easy to stumble off the official route onto game trails. Our beaten path heads right between two small springs and we all realize at about the same time that this can’t be the official trail. But if bison manage to make it through here without falling through the crust we’re probably safe. We get a couple pictures but don’t linger. I imagine scalding hot water under my feet and tip-toe out of the danger zone.
The official trail does cross a flow of hot spring runoff, rusty orange in color. Only in Yellowstone can you find water in every color of the rainbow. Well, it’s not the water actually, it’s heat-loving (thermophilic) bacteria that grow in colonies in the water, but the effect is the same.
All in all, our loop is about five miles long and we complete it in about 2.5 hours. This is a nice hike for people looking for level terrain, which can be hard to come by in Yellowstone. The sun is merciless though and there’s little shade, so make sure you bring enough water!
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Coming next: Leaving Yellowstone and heading south.
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