By Anna Gentry
We awake this morning and a short while later we make our way back into Yellowstone National Park, absorbing the chilly air, which beckons winter’s arrival.
We finally locate the elusive geyser spring that I sought as a child – Grand Prismatic Spring – though the view is greatly limited due to poor visibility. The spring’s warm waters meet the chilly air, causing a hazy fog that is reminiscent of a Halloween thriller. It is strikingly haunting, yet mesmerizing, as the warm molecules cling to the air, struggling for survival.
Afterward we travel the short path through Black Sand Basin, passing numerous springs and seeing the barren landscape. The acidic waters have created scenery that is unique, teaming with bacteria and spectacular colored rocks. Yellow, orange and vibrant shades of brown outline the pools that appear seemingly endless. The hypnotic power these vibrant pools possess makes one want to dive in headfirst. Then suddenly the haunting reality of their boiling cauldron-like powers brings reality soaring to the forefront of one’s mind, like a hurricane violently slamming into the ocean’s shoreline.
Heading towards Old Faithful remains almost mournful. The unnatural, super highway, which leads to this steady geyser, seems out-of-place in nature’s wonderland. The parking lot is massive, stretching for what seems like forever, edging against the dotted pine forests. Instead of taking the traditional stadium-style seating approach to watching the geyser, we opt to head up to Observation Point. I read in one of my tour books that it is relatively secluded and offers an unsurpassed view of the valley and Old Faithful below. This one-way half-mile walk ascends 200 feet. I take continuous shots with my camera in stop-motion-style, capturing the geyser spewing forth its steam and boiling inferno-like waters. This panoramic viewpoint also offers spectacular outlooks over the colorful landscape, green foothills and the steamy Caldera Basin geysers.
We depart the concrete jungle and return into the heart of the wilderness, exploring the area between Old Faithful and West Thumb, up into Hayden Valley. We see a buffalo swimming across the Yellowstone River, so once again I use my camera to capture the stop-motion style events of this great beast peddling through the stillness of the mighty river’s waters. With fields of buffalo grazing aside the Yellowstone River, the bronze-colored grass and sagebrush landscape are simply stunning. The rolling hills, newly growing pine trees and carved canyons are heavenly.
Plunging into Canyon Village, we visit the South Rim Drive. Uncle Tom’s Trail is simply the greatest trek I have ever been on in my entire life. We descend the 500-foot trail in a mere 328 stair steps. It is a stair-climbing machine hike on steroids, but well worth every single step. Known as the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, this plunging carved chasm gives birth to the Lower Falls, an astounding 308-foot drop of rushing, churning cascading rapids. The colorful canyon itself appears unreal, almost as though painted by an artist, each color a masterful stroke of genius, perfectly blended with sublime precision. Sitting down on a bench, I take in the phenomenal view and am completely speechless. The canyon seems to have been formed by God’s thumb, pushing down into the depths of the earth and creating this blended, terraced terrain that is unmatched by anything else I have ever seen.
We return via Canyon Village to Norris, taking the two-and-a-half-mile Virginia Cascade loop. Highlighting a striking river and small waterfalls, this peaceful detour offers a pleasant, relaxing retreat within the forest.
On the way back into West Yellowstone and to the West Yellowstone campground, we pass a herd of elk. The first sign that animal life abounds nearby is the foretelling stopped cars, jerkily parked from side-to-side with passersby’s gawking. A park ranger has fortunately arrived on-scene to redirect traffic and bring visitors back to reality: these are after all, wild animals.
Eating at the West Yellowstone taco bus we have grown fond of, we are planning our adventures for a trip into Northwest Yellowstone’s wild frontier tomorrow. With only one full day in the park left, time is quickly passing us by.