Day 2 or was it 3 ? (I had lost track of time and days. I was in cold turkey phase without any technology and connectivity) began at 4:00 am. We drove in pitch lonely darkness from Grant to Old Faithful to start our photo tour. Just when we reached, dawn broke ( my dislike for Twilight movies prohibits me from saying ‘Breaking Dawn'. Forever). And this is when I think i understood what it might feel like if we lived above the clouds. Let me explain: the Old Faithful area has a lot of hot geysers and springs. The pre-sunrise temperatures are pretty low and heavy rains the previous night had added quite some moisture in the air. So when the cold air meets the hot steam, they create beautiful cloud-like mists. These are not your every morning-out-on-your-apartment-balcony mists. These are surreal.
Do a early morning tour:
The Circle of Fire tour is the most popular and starts around 9:00 am. The tours start from almost all villages including Canyon, Grant, Lake and Old Faithful. The tour guides are informative and will give you a tour of geysers, hot springs – the Fountain Paint Pots being most popular, the Canyon, the Yellowstone Lake etc., and if you're lucky, you will spot some wildlife as well. The tour costs $74 for adults and $37 for kids, but it is totally worth it. The boarding and lodging is easy on your pockets, so you can afford these tours if you have limited time.
We, however, opted for the Picture Perfect Photo Safari. The tour starts at 5:30 am and lasts a good 4.5-5 hours. We were driven around in a 1938 quaint and charming, wooden-framed tour bus. Cuteness quotient = very high.
Anyway, this tour takes you off the beaten path. The guide is an expert on photography and I must say the tour is more about photography than sightseeing. So think before you opt for this tour. We did have a great time though, cos we noticed things we wouldn't have otherwise – the pine trees, a small but gorgeous creek, tiny flowers, hidden cascades,spider webs (eeeekkkk), among other spots. It was just four people (another couple apart form us), so it kinda became a personalized tour. The tour will NOT cover popular spots, so set aside time to see that if you chose this safari. The guide was pretty awesome and everyone learnt something- from the fancy guy will $1500 lenses, the DSLR newbie, the iphone addict, and me – the point and shoot girl. Here's one pic, more at the end of the post:
Old Faithful Geyser's magnificent eruption:
This happens approximately every 90 minutes. So time yourself accordingly. It's quite a site I must say, but what i found even cooler was that they had build a round stadium-like seating area around the geyser for people play sit and wait. 30-20 minutes before every eruption, people come from far and near, occupy the seats and plain wait. It sort of reminded me of sitting in the Colosseum of Rome, not knowing when a lion would spring out of the cages.
The Old Faithful along with a few more large geysers forms the Upper Geyser Basin. It has the highest concentration of geothermal features and has constant activity underground.
There is a tour of the historic Old Faithful Inn tour that takes place frequently and lasts about 45 minutes. So, if you are too early or just missed and eruption and want to wait for the next one, you could choose to do this tour. It's free anyway.
The Grand Prismatic Spring:
After lunch, we retraced the route of our Photo Safari to see the Grand Prismatic Spring. We were really looking forward to it. I, for one, was in total awe of it before i even saw it. I mean how can anything that is called ‘the Grand Prismatic' be anything unspectacular. I wasn't disappointed.
The Grand Prismatic is the US's largest hot spring and third largest in the world. It is called so, because of its unusual and absolutely beautiful coloration. The multiple colors resemble light diffracted from a prism; simply put – like a rainbow. The colors are due to the microbes and bacterial mats that grow around the edges of the springs. They thrive in the heat of the water and hence called thermophyles. Different temperatures support different microbes that break down compounds to produce an assortment of colors- blue, green, orange, yellow, red. The center of the pool is sterile and therefore remains turquoise blue.
One of the best ways to see the multiple colors is to hike to a nearby hill and get an aerial view. Also, the best time to see and photograph the basin is when the sun is overhead. So anytime from noon to 2 pm works best.
Fun Fact #1: If alien life ever exists/existed in the solar system, it would be in the form of the exact bacteria found in this spring. No, they will not be like the ones from Independence Day, Predator or even ET. They will be microbes. Most other planets are way hotter than Earth, making thermophyles the only organisms probably survivors.
The Grand Prismatic is surrounded by smaller pools, also with rainbow colors. The Excelsior is just as beautiful as the Grand Prismatic itself.
Fun Fact #2: The Excelsior Crater Geyser discharges 4000 gallons of water per MINUTE into the Firehole river.
Other pools are the Opal lake and Turqoise Lake:
These form the Midway Geyser Basin. Next, is the Lower Geyser Basin, which covers the popular Fountain Paint Pots. Do this whole Upper, Middle, Lower loop around noon. There are boardwalks everywhere but be careful never to step away from those. Treat them as warnings, not just instructions for discipline.
If you've had a busy afternoon, the sun has probably sapped off all your energy. Take some rest, a catnap maybe and wake up refreshed for a long evening. We did the same. It was raining again and we chose to drive down to the Yellowstone Lake, stopping en route at the Bay Bridge Marina.
Here are some tours you can choose for the evening: Scenic Cruise on the Yellowstone Lake when it is not raining, or the Yellowstone Lake Butte Sunset tour. If you haven't seen the Firehole geysers as yet (you have no reason to have skipped them though), choose the Twilight on the Firehole tour.
That mostly wrapped up our 2 amazing days at Yellowstone. Back to the Grant lodge, dinner and bed. Next morning we drove for 8 long hours, waited an unending,long 7 hours at the airport, flew back on a delayed and 5 hour long flight to New York, and spent a good 1.5 hours on the last leg of our journey on a subway ride home. We were back amidst the chaos and the crazies; with problems like plumbers, bosses and sales numbers to occupy our minds. But we were back with a new sense of awe, a renewed sense of how small we are in the larger scheme of the Earth, a peaceful sense of how we coexist with bears and buffaloes and canyons and cascades,and with an overwhelming sense of how incredibly complicated and absolutely beautiful Earth is. More beautiful that New York's skyline even. And that's saying something.
Tips for your Yellowstone trip:
Carry clothes for the heat and cold: Carry a jacket, a poncho or raincoat, a cap, cotton clothes. Layer up basically. In the summer, the days are hot but evenings get chilly.
Wear good shoes. This is Yellowstone. Not Fifth Ave.
Before you start your roadtrip, stock up on large packs of water, small eats like granola bars and muffins.
Charge cameras well.
Inform your family or whoever will worry about you that you will not have good cell phone signal and hence will be difficult to get a hold of.
Lodging is inexpensive. But whether you want to camp it out, spend the night in an RV, or in the accommodation the villages provide, call and book space early.
Book as many tours as you can. You can relax later. You're here to see everything you cannot see elsewhere.
Travel in your car in between tours to cover spots and sights that tours won't cover. See above point on why.
Choose to go on the Wildlife Safari in the evening, rather than the morning.
Look with your eyes, before your photograph. Seriously.
I don't break promises, so here are some photos from our photo tour that I promised earlier in the post:
Not all good photos need a photo tour or expert guide in photography. This one was from my iphone, taken right outside our cabin
And thank you very much Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.Yours truly…