Wednesday July 11th (con't)
Heading out of the Norris Junction area I found a small picnic area along the Gibbon River where I fixed a sandwich and enjoyed my lunch. There were children playing in the water and a fly fisherman upstream who looked to only be in ankle deep. Several minutes later, a large bull elk was seen grazing.
Mobs of people stopped and went river-side to photograph the beautiful animal. As with the other elk I had seen in the park, he appeared to be healthy.
Back on the loop still heading counterclockwise, my next diversion was the Firehole Lake Drive, home to what is touted as one of the most spectacular geysers in the park - The Great Fountain Geyser. Unfortunately for me, while the posted eruption schedule had it down as a 10:30am to 2:50pm prediction, I arrived at around 1:00pm and waited with many others (some who had been there since noon) . . . only to learn when the ranger came through at 3:00pm that it had already gone off around 11:30 that morning. Being on an approximate 12 hour cycle, it would not be expected until sometime around midnight, give or take two hours.
While in the area, however, I did get to see (and photograph) the White Dome Geyser which seemed to be a regular twice an hour sort of event, with its brief (under three minute) eruptions that blasted around 20 or 30 feet in the air. I also stopped at the Firehole Spring which could be seen bubbling continuously. A note about the Firehole Lake Drive, RVs and vehicles towing are not permitted as the road is narrow and one-way, with lots of congestion especially around the Great Fountain Geyser and the Firehole Lake.
There is another one-way side road trip in this area worth mentioning - the Firehole Canyon Drive. The short (less than 30 minute) ride meanders along the river with a nice lookout below the Firehole Falls. Again, no RVs or towed vehicles.
My last stop along this major stretch of geyser locations was the world famous Old Faithful area. Having been more than 15 years since I was last here, I was surprised at the amount of development and traffic. The visitor center and adjacent parking lots all appeared to be built since my last visit back in 1996. My timing was such that I did get to take a bench seat and wait for Old Faithful's scheduled 4:19pm blast. Pretty much right on schedule, she blew and blew and blew. The children sitting in front of me kept encouraging it to go higher and faster.
After the eruption of Old Faithful, many left the area heading for their cars. I took the time to call home since this was a known area of decent cell phone reception. Even with my crummy SPRINT service, I was able to have a nice phone conversation with David. The traffic jam out of the area was reminiscent of leaving Disney World at closing time. It was miserable!
Heading back towards Canyon Village, it still seemed too early to go into my campground so I continued up towards the Tower area which had been a known black bear sighting area. I once again got caught in a bison jam in Hayden Valley; spent some time watching one large bull cross the river. The water was so deep, at one point all I could see was the top of his head and two horns. Once on shore, he shook the water off, much like a dog would after a swim.
Before reaching Tower, I did come to a small bear jam of cars with people out trying to get a glimpse of the momma bear and her cub. The cub could be seen high up in a tree, but the sow was up on the hillside really out of sight for most of the time. One car stopped and the driver asked what we were looking at. He proceeded to get out of the car and climb up the small hillside to get a look for himself. He scrambled down quickly, reporting that "she was right there!" Dumb @$$! Because it was nearing dusk and the forest was dense, the lighting was not conducive to taking photos . . . not that they were really close or visible enough to get a clear, in focus photo.
After the excitement of seeing my first bears, I figured it was about time to head back to camp. When I got to Canyon Village, I realized I had not eaten since around noontime and I was pretty hungry. With darkness coming, I didn't much feel like fumbling around to make a sandwich so I stopped in at the Canyon Soda Fountain for a burger. I have to say, it was not bad. Actually it was very good and reasonably priced ($8.05 for a burger & fries). Where they would get you, however, was on the $4.95 (16oz) milk shake. I kept it cheap with just the burger. I was lucky that I arrived right at 8:30pm, their last seating time at the counter.
Feeling full, I headed on over to my campsite as it started to rain. I spent the next 30 minutes off-loading photos from my three cameras and taking a glimpse at what I had captured from my day. With a quick run to the restrooms, I was ready for bed by 10:15pm.