From Mammoth Hot Springs To Old Faithful! Living Atop a Super Volcano

Miles Driven Today: 76 Total Miles Driven: 3,431

Today the sun came back! Not the heat…. Maybe the temperature reached about 13C today but the sun was out and it felt warm. Of course we had loaded all our ice weather clothes onto the back seat and Bob had trousers not shorts on…. So we were a bit hot at times!!!! No matter, it was great to see the blue sky again.
We headed off at about 0850. It would have been later but the infuriating Mammoth Springs Hotel had closed all the food outlets except the full restaurant, and there was no coffee machine in the cabin (first time since we arrived) so we were driven out in search of coffee. In fact we found it in the gas station on the edge of the settlement, so not far to go. Even got a discount for using our refillable mugs! I cannot recommend the Mammoth Springs really. The other hotels have been much better and I’m not entirely sure that the north west quadrant of the park is worth the visit. The thermal sites are better around Old Faithful, the animal sightings are better around Roosevelt or Canyon, as is the scenery. And it’s too near the northern gate – only 5 miles – so it gets a lot of “arriving” or “departing” traffic which makes it feel too busy.
Lovely drive south along the western side of the park. We passed lots of thermal hot spots along the way: boiling springs; boiling rivers; mud pools, geysers; smoking pots…. This is one active area! In fact as anyone who goes to the movies knows, Yellowstone is a giant super volcano just waiting to explode and destroy the planet. And the crust here is very thin…. Very thin indeed…. Unsurprisingly, you don’t see so many animals this side. Apart from the elk who were right outside our cabin this morning eating the grass. Obviously not even hot lava comes between an elk and a good feed.
We stopped at lots of places along the way to see the features. Memorable ones were Steamboat Geyser, that shoots 300 feet in the air from time to time. There are warnings in the car park that your car can be damaged. Yikes!!! What about you???? Anyway, it wasn’t doing that when we were there but it was very active. There were also lots of “painted pools” the sort you see in New Zealand where algae and minerals turn the water vivid colours like an artist’s palette.
We approached the road leading to the west entrance to Yellowstone and decided to go down there and have lunch in Idaho!!! It was only 14 miles. Lovely drive along the Madison River. There were lots of fly fishermen along the way. Totally “A River Runs Through It”. We got about half way along and noticed that there was a massive queue of traffic going in the other direction, and we hadn’t noticed any reason for that. We went on a little further and the queue held steady, by now 10 miles long. We took the pulloff down to the Madison River and had our picnic lunch there, thinking to let the queue go. What could be the reason for it???? After lunch, it had still not abated so we gave up on entering Idaho (next time!!!) and forced our way into the nose to tail jam heading back to the main park loop. A ranger police vehicle roared past! Anyway, within 5 minutes the traffic started to move and we slowly – quite slowly – retraced out steps until suddenly the traffic began to speed up and the reason for the chaos became clear: A lone buffalo!!!! Clearly the newcomers entering Yellowstone were all so excited by the lonely bison that they created a 10 mile tailback taking pictures of him. Not knowing that within 24 hours they would see thousands of them, herds of them…. Bison everywhere!!!! Bison Shmison!
On we went…. Took a side tour along the Firehole river and falls and past a place where people were actually wallowing in it. It is heated by the thermal outflows but is still maybe only 80F. brrrr. Came to the Grand Prismatic Basin and Hot Spring. Traffic and parking were a nightmare. We had to queue but it was worth it. We walked around the area on the boardwalks and saw the various pools and upwellings. The colours and algae mats were extraordinary and you could feel the heat coming off the water. The water was so clear and blue – a turquoise – in the pools, contrasting with the yellow and orange around the edges. The Grand Prismatic pool was especially colourful and we want to go back tomorrow and hike to the overlook above it on a hill. Today the steam semi eclipsed some of the view and we hope to get a better one from the hill overlook.
On to our overnight stop, The Old Faithful Lodge. The Old Faithful area has three hotels: The Lodge, The Inn and the Snow Inn. The Inn is the oldest, the Lodge goes back to the 20s and the Snow Inn only to 1995. We are in the Lodge and we have a cabin, again one without a bathroom. The Old Faithful area is easily the best lodging area so far in the park. The three hotels are well spaced out but you can easily walk between the three of them within a few minutes, there is loads of parking, a Park Visitor Centre, a general store, cafes. Old Faithful Geyser is “in front” of all of them, and there is a boardwalk all around it plus an extended boardwalk hike of 3 miles takes you around other geysers etc in the area. We plan to do that tomorrow.
We got to our cabin and unpacked and sorted out the picnic box, which we are leaving in the car here as it is now colder outside than inside overnight. The cabin is really nice. 2 double and it has a sink, cupboards etc. No tv of course and no coffee machine ggrrrrrr. The bathroom block is about 20 feet away. We really like staying in the cabins although we would prefer one with a bathroom. I feel like a rant about the coffee machines, although, truthfully, there are a lot of coffee outlets at the Old Faithful location. But still at over 100 dollars a night, I do think they could provide a kettle or a coffee machine. Xanterra are rubbish.
There was a scheduled eruption of Old Faithful at 4pm so we walked over to the viewing area and sat down. There was a large crowd spread out across the expanse of benches in a large semi circle around the geyser. It was definitely Disneyesque. Like waiting for one of the evening shows at WDW!!! It went off on schedule – well, it is Old Faithful!!!!! Fountains of scalding water shooting into the air. Lasted about 10 minutes.
After that we walked to the Snow Lodge which is the only place for wifi in the area. Surprisingly fast at 430pm. I managed to upload some photos and a video to Facebook and that hasn’t been possible for days. Hope that keeps up. Why it can’t be deployed to the other hotels is another question…… Obviously it can but for some reason Xanterra have chosen not to do so. I don’t expect to get it in my cabin, but if I was paying top dollar for a room in the actual lodge, I’d be pretty hacked off not to have wifi in the entire hotel!!!! And no phone signal either…. There is phone coverage here but not AT&T which is what EE (my plan) has paired with in the USA. I can only make emergency calls, so it’s not “no service” just not my service.
After 3 weeks in the wilds we are beginning to find these little things a bit more irritating. It causes problems. There’s all manner of things you haven’t done because you’re used to not having to do them. For example, you can’t just access information when you need it, because you have no internet access, either wifi or via the phone. So you have to think ahead in an old school manner and print stuff out in advance. Thank heavens I printed out all our itinerary and plans in detail including all the hotel stuff and a daily schedule. We would have been so stuffed otherwise. When you come here you have to pretend it’s 1980 again and work from hard copy. And if you don’t have it on hard copy, you have to do without. We have got so used to wandering around, seeing something, and then looking it all up online. Or going on a hike and having the map online on the phone, tracking you around. You can still do that but you have to download it all in advance. And with the very limited wifi in Yellowstone, and other parts of the mountain region, that means well in advance.
Went to the general store and bought some fresh bread and some packs of trail fruit and nut mix. Back to the cabin for a pre dinner margarita and a rest i.e sleep for Bob!!!
Tonight we had dinner at the Old Faithful Inn, the oldest and the original lodge. Built of massive timbers with a huge 3 storey central hall, it is the archetypal national park lodge. There is a great big fireplace in the centre of the room, comfortable plumfy chairs and sofas all around and a warm musical glow pervading. The dining hall is just off the great room and similar in atmosphere. It used to be the mess hall for the original rangers back at the turn of the 20th Century. We went for the signature prime rib buffet which was absolutely fantastic. $32 for all you could eat of total deliciousness. There were plenty of other offerings but I just went for a salad, a spoon of red skin mashed potato (shouldn’t have but it was delicious) and a massive slab of rare prime rib, with an additional bit of well done edge. That was it. No pudding, no side dishes, nothing to detract from the yummy beef which was very flavourful and literally melted in the mouth.
We walked back under the full moon and the stars with Old Faithful still spouting and steaming away beside us. The sky is pretty clear. If I wake up, I will look outside the cabin and see the stars tonight. It should be a good show.