I left the Tetons reluctantly, heading north through the National Forest in hopes of stumbling upon a campsite in the stretch between Grand Teton and Yellowstone parks. I was unsuccessful, but stubborn (perhaps persistent is a nicer word, but perhaps less accurate) and thus continued on the rutted, dirt and gravel forest service roads across the border into Idaho (and maybe then Montana- not solid on where the campsite fell in this little corner between the states), where I found a spot at an almost empty campsite by a beautiful stream just on the technical border of Yellowstone- I don’t think you could enter to get anywhere else, but still.
I staked out my spot, paid my $10 at the little box, and went off to explore the few waterfalls up the stream. The first, Cave Falls, were more impressive than those further up. According to the internet search I just did to make sure that was actually the name, it seems that these are the widest waterfalls in the park at over 200 feet across. Cool! I stood with my toes in the cool water just staring for a bit before continuing on, but after these, Bechler Falls were less of a treat. Nice little walk though.
I then returned for a small fire by the stream at my campsite, where I discovered that perhaps a reason no one else was camped here was the billion mosquitoes that attacked relentlessly all night, and invaded my van every time I opened the door to get anything or get in to sleep. Worse even than being there in the swarm was the entire next day when I was attacked while driving by the little creeps that remained in the van. My legs looked like a war zone from bites and scratching for days (still do really). On the upside, the drive took me past meadows and meadows of wildflowers glowing in the sun, so al least there’s that.
The next day I continued on down more fabulous rutted forest roads until arriving on the western side of the park where I did find free camping not far from the entrance which was great for a busy Friday. I staked out my space with the tent, and went off to the park for the afternoon. Hooray!
My first adventure was to hike a little loop past a waterfall and up a hill with beautiful views of some pools. The hike to Mystic Falls was pretty easy aside from a few sections where the dirt made for a few skids down, and pretty empty after the brief portion to the falls where many turned back. The trail began from a boardwalk through biscuit basin, so I wandered around admiring the colorful steaming pools after returning from the hike. I may have walked out of my way through the parking lot looking for Delaware plates. No dice.
I had been to Yellowstone for a few days two summers ago, so I skipped a bunch of places I’d been already in hopes of maximizing my time with new adventures, but because it is the hallmark of the park I did return to Old Faithful just down the road. I arrived with just a short time before the next projected eruption, so I filled my water, bought some postcards and ice cream, and found a spot to watch with enough of a bubble. Boy do the people here not care about social distancing or masks. Even less than in the Tetons! They were all packed together like sardines talking and laughing loudly without a care in the world. Yikes. My 6 feet were unusual, and I kept having to edge further away as more people encroached. In any case, Old Faithful did it’s thing and it was still very cool the second time.
I wandered the boardwalk around the other geysers and pools at the site, and did a short hike up to an observation point and small geyser above the main area. It was weird to look down over Old Faithful’s lodge, parking area and seating which had only 20 minutes ago been packed so full and see it almost deserted. The geyser did not do anything but bubble, but I was more engrossed in having a pebble throwing contest with a toddler from one of the two other groups who had hiked up, and soon returned to my starting point just in time to catch yet another eruption. And it was still cool the third time.
My last stop that evening was to the Grand Prismatic Pool, which I’d seen from above on my last visit from the spectacular viewpoint on the way to Fairy Falls and Imperial Geyser, but hadn’t seen up close. I’ve got to say the view from ground level does not do it justice since you can’t see it’s scope and range of colors, but it was eerily pretty to watch the steam as the sun glinted through. On my drive out of the park I spotted some bison chilling after a long hot day, and caught the spectacular sunset over the river. I love that it stays light out until almost 10pm up here in summer, but it makes for long days!
The next day I wanted to do a hike up a small mountain in an area of the park I hadn’t been to, but the road was closed for construction and the mountain trail closed, too, I learned when I actually stopped at the visitor center this time. While chatting with the park ranger outside the building (which was just before entering the park gates in town), I also was treated to witnessing my first experience in person of argumentative anti-mask idiots in action- a big family entered asking questions and wanting to use the bathroom (which they’d just passed… outside…) and were shocked and angered to learn that masks were required and they had to leave, and even more shocked and angered to learn that this would be the case with any park building once they entered. The kind lady working gave them a few disposable masks so they could at least take turns using the bathroom inside but advised them to, you know, maybe invest in some real ones… They grumpy people half thanked her for the masks while also mumbling that she should have given all of them free masks since it was her “dumb rule”. Oh dear. Many props to you, park lady, I’m sure you deal with it more often than I’d like to think but I admire your plastered on polite face where I’d be eye rolling big time.
Anyway, my plan B recommended by the ranger was a loop from the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone past some paint pots and pools out to a series of lakes. Good call, ranger. It was a nice length, not difficult which made the full sun in parts more bearable. The trailhead took me past a bison guarding the parking lot across the street, through a field of sagebrush and wildflowers, and past bubbling mud and barren earth that looked like something out of a horror or space movie. Super cool. From there it veered into the woods and out to Ribbon Lake, where I had lunch on a log by the water and imagined it would be a beautiful campsite if not for the bugs, then back past Lily Pad lake (well named) and back to the canyon. The trail hugs the canyon edge and offers majestic views, including Artist Point, where you can admire the watercolor-eque shades and glimpse the falls from a distance. So beautiful! Last visit I did the other side of the canyon and did a horseback tour in the area, but this was a great way to round out my experience.
While I could have added in some more adventures, I just took in the drive on my way back to West Yellowstone where I had shelled out for a fancy campground to make use of the showers, but more importantly the pool. Ah, the pool. Yes, full of children, but what a way to cool off after a few sweaty, dusty days. Cooked a bunch of things as prep, emptied and refilled containers to my heart’s content, had access to an outdoor kitchen to wash my dishes. Small luxuries in life.