There was already a crowd gathering on the circular wooden walkway around Old Faithful.
You can practically see the thing from the main gift shop and I had already just looked at dozens of keychains, post cards, mugs, and other Chinese made goodies showing the famous geyser. The blue sky in the picture above is deceiving — the wind was cold enough to make you want to throw your body into one of the nearby scalding springs.
Since this is the most popular attraction in Yellowstone (give me a day of hiking any day), we had to get there 15 minutes early to jockey for position with the camera wielding masses. With icy wind whipping sulfuric scents across our faces, we waited. And waited. And waited.
When the first sign of life from Old Faithful began to show, there were gasps and points from the crowd. First, more steam than usual started coming out, then a splatter of toxic water here and there. Then it stopped…as if to tease everyone and so we waited. And waited.
Finally, to everyone’s delight, the thing exploded into a jet of steam and water which smelled about like a toilet in Beijing. Most people began walking away before it was even complete — smiling with a vacation checklist and a Sharpie marker in hand.
As we started to walk away a ranger stopped us and told us that another, rarer geyser just behind Old Faithful was getting ready to go — and unlike the famous one, this one was random so we couldn’t miss it.
I thanked her through gritted teeth and went back to the tourist blob with frozen snot on my nose. And waited. And waited.
The geysers are not much to look at in my opinion, but it is a keen reminder of what is going on just below your feet when you are there. The building pressure causes new jets of steam and new pools to form almost every day….many are in the woods and go unnoticed. The temperature inside one of the geysers is around 400F and you can imagine the labyrinth of chambers and tunnels that interconnect all over the park.
There is even the story of two exchange students working at the park who decided to slip away and have a romantic dip in one of the pools at night. It was against regulations but lots of people had gone to this same pool for years — after all, why not enjoy God’s hot tub?
The problem this particular night was that deep below the surface, some new vent tubes had formed and raised the normally comfortable water to a boiling cauldron of death. The people that swam there hours earlier were just fine, and probably had sexy smiles on their faces. This particular couple wasn’t so lucky. That is how unstable things are below the surface.
Later that night, I explored Yellowstone West town…a small grid of shops and restaurants. I turned on my craic radar and did my best to find a happening pub, but was disappointed every time. Under a full moon I wandered in the frozen hours until I happened upon a local watering hole. You can still smoke indoors there, and it rolled out into the mountain air when I opened the door.
It was the type of place where the music stops when you walk in, but I did my best to meet some people and even met a guy working as a fire jumper who had some pretty cool survival stories. Pretty much the season here is coming to a close, and everyone is in transition. If you live here, you are happy to see the RVs go. If you make a living here, you are sad. It reminded me a lot of coming through Talketna, Alaska, at the end of the climbing season last year.
Despite the serious lack of craic, I can see the Rocky Mountains glowing under a full moon and even the air smells different here. It feels good to be somewhere outside of Kentucky for a while.