Day 4 -- Grand Teton to Yellowstone

It rained again over night, and we broke camp this morning to move on to Yellowstone. Before we ate breakfast we took the rain fly carefully off the tent and drained all the water off of it. We packed up the sleeping bags and the pads and opened up the tent so that the air can circulate through it. Then we could eat breakfast while the tent and fly dried out.

Rebecca is just not a morning person. Kathy must to insist on her arising every morning, vigorously. Daniel was not eating very well and complained occasionally that his stomach hurt. We talked him into eating a fruit cup. Then we packed up the tent and folded up the tarp, packed the car, loaded in the kids and left the campground.

This was my second day wearing bifocals all day, and I still felt uneasy, a bit tipsy. But I wouldn't be taking a long hike today since we were moving camp and would have to claim a site and set up early. Before leaving the Tetons we paid a visit to the Oxbow Bend again to watch the morning activity. Again there were no large animals here but the prairie dogs entertained the children, and I watched the birds. Then we left to begin our drive north on the John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Memorial Parkway.

It became obvious very shortly that we were climbing steadily as we approached the entrance to Yellowstone. The altitude at the south entrance is 6886 feet (2099 meters). We followed the Lewis River north. We crossed the caldera boundary, with Lewis Falls on the left side of the road and continued on along the edge of Lewis Lake. In a short while we crossed the Continental Divide for the first time, at an altitude of 7988 ft. (2435 m). We continued past Grant Village and the West Thumb of Yellowstone Lake and turned west toward Old Faithful, Madison Junction and Norris Geyser Basin, where we hoped to camp. Very shortly we crossed the Continental Divide again at an altitude of 8391 ft. (2558 m) and then again at 8202 ft. (2518 m). It was definitely cold and very windy outside. We passed the Upper Geyser basin, home of Old Faithful, vowing to return after we have set up camp. Continuing north we also passed Midway Geyser Basin but decided to take the Firehole Lake Drive since it is short and oneway going our way. This 1.2 mile drive took us past 4 active geysers but none of them were erupting at the moment. Because it was so cold and windy and because we wanted to get a campsite, we didn't wait for any of them to blow. However, the massive mineral dome of White Dome Geyser was truly impressive, as was the smaller Pink Cone Geyser. Rebecca, Kathy and I got out to look at the steaming streams and pools around Great Fountain Geyser, but the cutting wind was very discouraging. When we reached Firehole Lake, we decided to put sweatshirts on and take a walk around the boardwalk. I shortly found that I had a special problem today because my glasses became cold and the steam condensed on the lenses. I was walking blind much of the time. Fortunately I could use my walking stick to probe ahead of me so that I didn't step off of the boardwalk. However, even without glasses, the steam really bothered Daniel. There was also a strong odor of sulphur here which must have contributed to his uneasiness around the geysers and hot springs. We talked him around this boardwalk, but the weather, Daniel's resistence, and the need for a campsite kept us from taking the walk over Hot Lake and around Steady Geyser.

We continued our drive north, past Madison Junction, and followed along the rim of the caldera until Gibbon Falls, where we turned north toward Norris Junction. The Norris campground is about a mile north of this junction. There were bison grazing in the meadow just before the campground entrance road but there were no campsites left there. Last time I was in Yellowstone we camped at Indian Creek, a nicely placed campground, between the Norris and the Mammoth Geyser Basins. We drove on to Indian Creek, passing Obsidian Cliff on the way, and found that a few campsites were left. We drove through the campground and picked a nice site which showed no sign of being occupied. It was entirely empty of equipment and clean. We set up camp and had a leisurely lunch while Daniel played with his trucks. While we were there, a campground employee came around and emptied the trash receptacles and sprayed disinfectant around the toilets. This made Daniel very happy and content to use the toilets here. When we were ready to leave, we filled out the fee envelope, put in the fee, and returned to the entrance station to pay. At the station we found that the site was marked taken. The off-duty campground host told us that we should have come right back and registered as soon as we could. Then he said the nearest campground would be outside the park in Gardiner, MT. But the receipt on the board said that the site had been occupied last night and would be again tonight by the same people. They had left nothing at the campsite. So we went to see the on-duty campground host and caught him just before he was going to take a shower. His records said that no one had paid for that site, yesterday or today. So we all proceeded back to the other campground host to talk this over. They decide that we should pay for tonight and then go off to do whatever we wished. If the other people showed up, we would negotiate when we returned.

Porcelin Basin
© 1982 Stephen E. Strom

So we paid the fee and went back to our campsite to put the receipt on the numbered post at the site. Not completely at ease and feeling that we have wasted time, but with nothing else that we can do, we drove out of the campground and turned south, back toward Norris Geyser Basin. The bison were gone from the meadow below the campground there. We turned into the geyser basin, made a tour of the parking lot (most people seemed to want to be close to the restrooms!) and found a spot near the trail. From there we walked on down to the Geyser Basin Museum and through to the overview of the Porcelain Basin (above), an utterly fantastic landscape. We walked down the steps to the lower walkway, past Ledge Geyser and then onto the boardwalk over the steaming basin to the Porcelain Terrace Overlook.

Daniel was again bothered by the steam blowing over the boardwalk. I guess he's just not used to having the ground hissing and spewing at him, even if he lives in California! The view from the overlook was indeed spectacular. The "water" is a milky blue whose surface pulsates. Several geysers break the surface here and could be seen intermittently as the steam obscures and then clears. Within this basin new features appear and disappear, sometimes lasting for only a few hours. Blue Geyser, in the distance, is one of the more permanent of these features within the basin. We decided to follow the boardwalk around the basin and then continue on the trail over a small hill, around more thermal features in the basin. Daniel was dubious about the fact that we were not returning directly to the car, but we convinced him that the trail would lead back to the car; well, eventually it would.

We came around the hill and prepared to cross the west side of the basin, finding a group tour just ahead of us. Kathy and I heard the ranger tell them that the Echinus Geyser is one of the most reliable and spectacular geysers now in Yellowstone. Crossing this section of the basin presents a very different face than does the Porcelain Terrace. Here we saw individual features instead of the large, colorful, turbulent, filled basin. As we neared the point where we must climb out of the basin, we found deep holes into which we could see, with steam emerging and sulfur and mineral deposits around these vents, called fumeroles. In this basin we have seen geysers, hot springs and fumeroles, three of the four types of thermal activity that can be found in Yellowstone.

Grand Prismatic Spring
© 1982 Stephen E. Strom

Because we are pressed for time, we decided not to take the Back Basin Trail now but to continue on to the Midway Geyser Basin. On the road to Midway we found a very large bison beside the road. We passed slowly in order not to upset him. One crazy woman jumped out of her car just across the pavement from him to get a photograph. We hurried on to Midway so we would not have to witness the events if she succeeded in annoying the bison. At Midway, as we walked up the boardwalk toward the geysers, the wind blew the steam into our faces. Daniel got very upset and Kathy had to take his hand and coax him through the region. Once we reached the top of the climb, his fear abated as he looked into the crater of Excelsior, a former geyser, which still pumps out 4000 gallons of boiling water every minute. Testimony to the winds we were experiencing could be seen in the bottom of the pit, baseball caps and leaflets littered the edge of the water. But the biggest attraction for me here is Grand Prismatic Spring, the largest hot spring on the continent. The colorful strings of algae and bacteria seen here are reflected in the name of the spring. The ground water supply here must be ample given the flow rate of heated water through these features.

After leaving Midway, we continued south to the Upper Geyser Basin, home of Old Faithful. Here we found a large complex of buildings, a complete village, with arena seating (actually only 3 rows of benches) constructed for viewing the eruptions of the star performer. Kathy checked the schedule for the predicted time of the next eruption while I grabbed a brochure with a description of this area. It was only ten minutes until the next eruption, so we found seats where the kids could see. While waiting we read the brochure and discovered that there is much more to be seen in this area, many features that we don't want to miss. We made plans to visit some of these features after a quick dinner in the cafeteria. As the time for the eruption approached, some people started checking their watches, some even complained that the eruption "was late." A local marmot began begging from those in the front row, almost climbing into their laps. Then a bird appeared to show off for the crowd, hovering, then darting for an insect, then hovering again. It had the crowd in its hand (wing?).

The first spurts of water appeared from the vent and immediately the geyser had everyone's attention. It took a while to develop but soon it was in full blow. This was one of the shorter eruptions and no one wanted to leave in case it suddenly began again, but people soon drifted off. The marmot still tried for a few more handouts.

We wandered over to the cafeteria and found that a lot of other people had come this way too. They were out of many entrees and had not yet replenished them. The hardest part was getting a hot dog for Daniel because the line for hamburgers and hot dogs was by far the longest and none were ready when you got to the front of the line. Rebecca and I got the drinks for everyone while Kathy stayed on line for Daniel's hot dog. At least there were plenty of seats when we finally had our food. The food was passable. The little kids in the room eyed each other and one little girl came over to see Daniel. He finished about half of his hot dog, a major accomplishment! While we were inside it had started to rain, definitely putting a damper on our plans for a walk around the boardwalk to see the other local thermal features. We stopped at a muffin and cookie shop in the lobby to get cookies for the kids and a low-fat muffin for me. Then we ran to the car and figured out how to get to the gas station through the one way road system in the village. As the gas tank was filled, I took all of the empty soda cans that we had been saving to the recycle bin.

We drove back north toward Indian Creek in the growing dusk. There were no bison along the road on the way back. Fortunately, when we returned to the campsite, there was no sign of anyone else at that site either. Early tomorrow morning we will pay for another day and be set for the remainder of our stay in Yellowstone. One great advantage of a day spent outside is that everyone is ready for bed when we return to camp. Besides, it was cold and we were happy to be able to snuggle deep into our sleeping bags.

In a short while, a light rain began.


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See our map and guide reference section for trail maps and other useful information available from has over 3,500 maps.

Wyoming Atlas and Gazetteer, DeLorme Publishing.

Roadside Geology of Wyoming, David R. Lageson & Darwin R. Spearing, Mountain Press Publishing Co., Missoula, MT

Roadside Geology of the Yellowstone Country, William J. Fritz, Mountain Press Publishing Company, Missoula, MT

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© 1995 - Karen M. Strom