Yellowstone and Grand Teton Cycle Tour, September 2014. Day 5
Wednesday 10 September – Old Faithful Inn to Canyon Village – 45.4 miles
I can’t remember why we planned such an early start, with breakfast at 7.00: maybe it was the fact that we had a lot of geysers to see, perhaps it was because someone had told us there’d be a big queue for breakfast; but for whatever reason that’s when we got up. Then I saw on the board in the lobby that Old Faithful’s next eruption was due at 0730 ± 10 minutes so I decided to postpone my breakfast and wander to the viewing area, all of 100 yards away. Others went for a hurried breakfast so as to be out by 0720.
Old Faithful erupts
At 0710 up she went! Not the most spectacular eruption the old geyser is capable of, but nevertheless a moment my old kettle would be proud of. I managed to get a couple of photos and a video, then wandered back to the hotel in time to give the others the disappointing news as they were leaving the dining room. Most decided to wait another 90 minutes.
Then I did a tour of lots of other geysers in the so-called Upper Geyser Basin – Castle Geyser, Grotto Geyser, and Riverside Geyser to name but a few. It was a cold morning and the atmospheric conditions meant that the view was of steam rising from the ground all over the place. Once on the main road we headed north past Biscuit Basin (more geysers) and then ran alongside the Firehole River until we reached Excelsior Pool. Here you can see a gushing stream which delivers 4,000 gallons of boiling water to the river every minute. I really wanted to see the adjacent Grand Prismatic Spring, one of the most spectacular sights in the Park, but sadly the conditions meant that all the amazing colours were obscured by the mist and steam. However, you could see the mats of thermophilic (heat-loving) bacteria which manage to survive in conditions which would kill us in seconds.
4,000 gallons of boiling water a minute from...
Grand Prismatic Spring on a better day
Mats of thermophilic bacteria
A detour around Firehole Lake with more geysers followed and then, after we rejoined the main road, we (Jeff and I) met a couple from Tennessee who were also on bikes, Ben and Anne Cowan. They are frequent cycle-tourers and were keen to know where we’d cycled and what we were doing this time. They showed us the entrance to Firehole Canyon Drive, which was a spectacular two- or three mile detour, and rode along with us. The way we were headed was against the one-way system there, but signs clearly indicate that bicycles are allowed to travel in either direction. At Mammoth Junction (yes! a junction!) they turned left to West Yellowstone while we went right to Norris, and Ben’s parting words, in his southern drawl, were “Enjoy your ride, I’ve gotta catch my bride!”
A short, steep pitch at the end of Firehole Canyon Drive took us back to the main road, which climbs gradually alongside the strangely-named Gibbon River, past Terrace Spring (another ‘steamer’) and then on to Gibbon Falls where I stopped for half a turkey sandwich. The turkey was in thin slices, like ham, but whereas in the UK you’d expect one or two slices, here in America you get TWELVE! Incidentally, Gibbon Falls (like other waterfalls in Yellowstone) mark the edge of the Yellowstone Caldera. There is a turnout here which was full of tourists from all corners of the world, but mainly Japan I think!
Next up, with the river on our right, was the gushing, gurgling and sulphurous Beryl Spring, right next to the road; soon after, an Osprey was perched at the very top of an Aspen tree and was happy to pose for a photo. The road levelled out at the rather nice Gibbon Meadows, then dropped to Norris, where for some reason (lack of research or general doziness) we failed to visit the spectacular geyser basin there – but don’t worry, we visited it later in the tour, so I’ll tell you about it then.
Another slight detour along Virginia Cascade Drive, with spectacular drops on the right hand side, where I stopped to eat the other half of the turkey sandwich and gaze at the cascade. Soon afterwards the road kicks up very steeply, just before rejoining the main road, and here Jeff’s chain jammed at less than 1 mph and he crashed to the ground. The malfunction occurred when he shifted down to the ‘granny ring’ at the front – the chain jammed every time, so he had no choice but to stick to mainly (or manly?) high gears, not easy with a long climb coming up. He wasn’t hurt by the fall, by the way, or at least he said he wasn’t.
Well I guess most of them are!
In fact it was a very long climb, which took us to over 2,500 m above sea level, with the temperature dropping and the odd snow flurry in the air. I was quite happy to get to Canyon Village, where we would stay the next two nights in a cabin, and they also had a Volcano Visitor Centre, all facilities and a General Store, where I bought my favourite post-ride tipple – a pint of full-fat milk! It’s the best rehydration drink there is, believe me.
All the motels and in fact just about everywhere else outside the Park has free wifi on offer. Inside the Park, everything is run by Xanterra, who charge $4.95 an hour for wifi that is so slow you spend most of the time wondering if you really are connected or just watching the egg-timer. That’s what happened when we returned to the bar/restaurant in the evening. I also learnt that unless you stand between a certain two chrome rails at the bar, you are invisible to the bar staff. I asked some fellow customers if this was the American way and they confirmed that it was. Which made it doubly confusing the following day, as I will reveal later.
We were also about to get a change in the weather. I was glad I’d packed those thermals!
Total mileage now 158.2