As we took the Grand Loop road south from Mammoth Hot Springs, we passed a number of interesting features that didn't really offer a good place to stop. In large part, this was because this section of the road was under reconstruction at the time of our visit. In fact, a 7-mile stretch of it was narrowed down to just one lane; we were very fortunate to be sent through, rather than waiting on traffic coming the other direction.
Because we didn't stop, I don't really have the photos to go with some of the sights we passed. Still, I'd definitely recommend seeing the area known as The Hoodoos -- a strange rocky terrain reminiscent of where Westley wrestled Fezzik in The Princess Bride. Further on, there's the picturesque Rustic Falls, for those who haven't yet become desensitized to the amazing waterfalls throughout Yellowstone. And also worth a look is the Obsidian Cliff, just what you'd expect from the name, rather narrow but unmistakable from its surroundings.
We drove by all that and then stopped at the Norris Geyser Basin. It was getting late into the afternoon, so perhaps time of day had something to do with it -- but this seemed one of the least crowded areas we'd visited. And for absolutely no good reason. The Upper Geyser Basin (with Old Faithful) and Midway Geyser Basin (with Grand Prismatic Spring; more on that in a future post) may get more sightseers, but Norris seemed like the more special experience to us.
First of all, the Norris Geyser Basin spreads out in several directions, seemingly much larger than its cousins. Secondly, there are still a fair number of trees growing in parts of the basin, separating it all into different areas, some of them almost tranquil and secluded.
Early on in our hike around the area, we came to the Vixen Geyser. It's no monster, spraying maybe 12 feet high on a good blast. But it's also one of the less frequently erupting geysers in the area, and just happened to be going as we walked by. The walkway took us close enough to get splashed on just a bit, and made for a nice photo opportunity.
Lucky as that was, we weren't fortunate enough to see Steamboat Geyser in action. The tallest geyser in the world, Steamboat has had major eruptions anywhere from 4 days to 50 years apart in the time since its discovery. It gurgles and steams somewhat regularly, always threatening a grand show. But it didn't deliver for us.
There were beautiful springs of all different colors throughout this section of the basin, and we took our time enjoying it all. We happened to return to the information station in the center of it all right when a hail storm opened up. We took shelter while most other people seemed to take it as a sign to leave altogether. So when the storm passed just five minutes later, we practically had the place to ourselves as we moved into another gorgeous subsection of Norris, the Porcelain Basin:
This was yet another case where the panorama offered one kind of beauty, while the closeup offered another totally different one:
Before long, it was time to think about heading back to the truck and starting in the direction of Old Faithful. Yes, again. But this was because the night before, during our previous visit, we'd made late dinner reservations at a nearby restaurant. (If you have no inclination to cook by campfire or camp stove during your Yellowstone visit, you wouldn't have to -- there are plenty of restaurants and cafeterias all throughout the park.)
But with the summer sun still up, we allowed ourselves one more detour on our way south. We came to a one-way side road marked Firehole Canyon Drive, and decided to explore it. We found a rather secluded drive along the Firehole River, passing by the Firehole Falls:
The road also passed an area marked for swimming, which initially thrilled us... until we also saw the sign that said the swimming area was closed due to higher-than-normal current levels in the area.
We eventually found our way to dinner, already exhausted by all we'd seen and done that day. By the time we later made it back to our tent, there wasn't a chance of a campfire or gazing up at the (cloudy that night anyway) sky. We went straight to sleep.