I’ve arrived in northern Wyoming with some friends in preparation for Monday’s total solar eclipse, and to make the most of the day before, we’re off to check out America’s very first national park, born on March 1, 1872: Yellowstone!
Yellowstone sits in the crater of a giant supervolcano that last erupted 640,000 years ago! It’s a super-seismic area full of hot spots and hot springs that we can only hope will not erupt again in our lifetimes. Echoes of its fiery fury can be found in the names of springs like the Black Dragon’s Cauldron, a mudpot that exploded to life in 1948 but has since moved 200 feet southeast and settled its roaring! Will it come back to life? Time will tell!
Yellowstone is not all chaos though. It is full of vast forests, sprawling meadows, and deep canyons, like the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, viewable from Artist Point! This spot is the quintessential vacation photo spot, but did you know it’s misnamed?
Artist Point is named for Thomas Moran, who painted the Lower Yellowstone Falls in 1872 to motivate Congress to make this a national park. The only thing is, he painted the falls from the opposite side of the canyon! The other thing about this spot is that, while the canyon’s deep stone walls are indeed yellow from iron oxide, the yellow stone that named the river that named the park is a few hundred miles northeast in Montana!
Unfortunately, it was already mid afternoon by the time we left Artist Point, one of the perils of traveling with late risers, so we only had time for one more art exhibit before our 5:30 appointment at Yellowstone Lake! Yellowstone is huge! The caldera loop alone is over 90 miles around and covers maybe a ninth of the park! So we barely had time to stop and listen to the Artists’ Paintpots go bloop, bloop, bloop! These mudpots were formed by sulfuric acid rising from below and turning the rhyolite rock into mud! There isn’t as much water here as in the springs below, so the rising gases push their way through the mud, forming bubbles that pop with a very satisfying bloop!
From there, we had to hustle south to make our appointment on time. We were scheduled to meet Peter and Brian with Geyser Kayak Tours for a 5:30 sunset paddle on Yellowstone Lake. Though I was a little sad that we weren’t going to get more time to visit Yellowstone’s famous geysers, I felt better looking out on the glassy smooth water where we would soon be paddling.
Our path stretched three miles along the shore to the West Thumb geyser basin, where the hot subterranean water pours into the vast lake. There must not be very many of these geysers heating the lake, because the guide warned us that anyone who fell in would freeze to death in 20 to 30 minutes!
So, with a group of about 18 assembled, we set off into the blinding sun. The temperature was perfectly cool and the paddles glided through the water like a spork through hot butter! It was like a warmer version of kayaking in Antarctica, but I was glad not to have the risk of someone splashing salt water on my camera!
Once the sun went behind the trees, I was better able to appreciate the lovely pine-lined shoreline! Though no moose, elk, or bears came down to drink, there were flocks of scaups and mergansers bobbing along, taking it easy until their next forage!
After a lovely 45-minute paddle, we arrived at the shore of West Thumb, where the steaming water from Big Cone Geyser trickled into the lake. We were encouraged to dip our hands/paws into the water to feel how warm it was, but we were also warned not to get too close or be burned! By this time, the sun was beginning to head home for the night, which cast all kinds of beautiful colors onto the water!
Then, it was time to turn back along the rocky coast, enjoying the muted blues and pinks of the setting sun on the lake surface! It was leisurely and lovely, a truly unique way to experience this amazing national park off-road!
Here are a few seconds of tranquility for you to enjoy too!
We hit shore just after sunset and hustled to grab a bite to eat at the Lake View Cafe before they closed. It’s a long drive back to Cody with an early morning coming up, so I hope the few hours of sleep we get will be sound!