Nauru Travel Diary

From Houston to Sydney 2013

From Houston

to Sydney



Yesterday was a marathon of sightseeing.  That was deliberate because we checked the weather and yesterday was forecast to be the only clear, sunny day during our stay at Yellowstone.  True to the forecast, we woke this morning to overcast skies.  The skies cleared a little by mid-morning, but the clouds returned by early afternoon and rain began in the late afternoon.

Our itinerary for the day was based on the weather forecast.  Having completed what is known as the 150-kilometre ‘south loop’ yesterday, our aim was to complete the slightly shorter (135 kilometre) ‘northern loop’ today.  We found that the northern loop had fewer places demanding a stop, but the points of interest had far more variety than yesterday’s ‘south loop’ drive.

We set out at about 9:15 am from our hotel in West Yellowstone, following the same strategy of missing breakfast but taking our packed lunch to eat whenever we felt hungry.  We repeated yesterday’s entry route through the West Entrance to Madison, but then turned northwards towards Norris.

A few miles before we reached Norris, we made our first stop at an area known as Artists Paintpots.  This area featured a small geyser at the bottom of a large slope which was producing a prodigious quantity of steam and a stream of clear, shallow, boiling water which flowed over a bed of bright colours (mainly shades of orange) as a result of the bacterial growth.

The main feature of the area, however, was only seen after a long climb up a circuitous boardwalk.  The Artists Paintpots comprise several large pools of off-white, thick, boiling mud which make deep popping noises as the bubbles burst at almost the rate of machine gun fire on the surface of the pools.

Our second stop was just a few kilometres further north at the Norris Geyser Basin.  This large area was very well presented, with a small information centre describing the formation of the area’s features, and two circular walks through an array of thermal features.  I made a quick circuit of the smaller circuit, known as Porcelain Basin.

This small area contained a wide variety of features, including geysers, fumaroles, steam vents, and most spectacularly, several hot water streams with various brilliantly coloured beds according to the minerals contained in the water and the temperature of the water.  Different thermophiles (heat-loving creatures) flourish in different streams according to the precise temperature of the hot water, resulting in a myriad of colours ranging from orange through greenish-black to bright emerald green.  A highly productive visit to the small but excellently stocked bookstore at Norris completed a thoroughly enjoyable stop.

We drove northwards for about half an hour before making our next stop, a brief inspection of the beautiful multi-stepped waterfall at Golden Gate.  Golden Gate is a mountain narrow pass, and construction of the road through the canyon was obviously a major feat of engineering.

After just a few more kilometres of driving north from Golden Gate, we arrived at Mammoth Hot Springs, the site of the famous Mammoth Hot Springs Terraces and the major service town at the northern end of Yellowstone National Park.

We parked our vehicle in the car park at the Lower Terraces, surprisingly right in front of a young elk which was grazing on the narrow strip of grass between the car park and the road.  It was quite a pleasure to eat our lunches in the car while watching an elk graze just a metre or two directly in front of our car, even if it also meant that we had tens of other people standing right beside our vehicle with cameras pointed at the elk.

The Mammoth Hot Springs are a unique feature within Yellowstone.  Fuelled by a heat source just below the surface rocks, hot water bubbles from cracks in the rocks on the valley side.  The water brings dissolved calcium carbonate with it, which precipitates as the water flows down the valley side, creating step-like terraces of travertine as it does so.

Di has been suffering from a photosensitive reaction that has swollen her lower legs, and she found that walking in the heat exacerbated the condition.  Therefore, while Di sat in the shade at the foot of the slope, I explored the area.  Most of the slope was inactive and thus had become an arid array of white and light grey steps, some of which were crumbling.  However, three areas were especially active, resulting in depositional formations that resembled elaborate brightly coloured fountains.  These areas, known as Palette Spring, Cleopatra Terrace, and the Mound and Jupiter Terraces, displayed various bright colours depending on the particular thermophiles in the water, which was in turn determined by the temperature of the water – colourless and yellow thermophiles grow in the hottest water, where as orange, brown and green thermophiles thrive in cooler waters.

A very welcome surprise awaited us as we drive into Mammoth village.  An entire herd of elk had migrated into a grassy area in the middle of the commercial area of the town.  This was causing huge excitement for visitors and more than a minor headache for the park rangers, who were directing traffic around the area and keeping curious onlookers at a respectable distance from the herd of elk.

We drove east from Mammoth to encounter another surprise at an overlook with a display board describing the damage from the savage wildfires of 1988.  Some other travellers were excitedly pointing down the steep slope and we soon saw the reason why – a young grizzly bear was there, just 10 metres (if that) away from us.  Seeing bears in the wild is a rare event, and seeing one so close (and living to tell the tale) is an especially rare privilege.

Back in the car, we continued east and then south through a zone of extensive road work to Canyon Village, the jumping off point for Yellowstone’s Grand Canyon.  The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone may not be as large as THE Grand Canyon in Arizona, but is still very impressive.  It is 32 kilometres long, more than 300 metres (1,000 feet) deep and between 450 and 1,200 metres wide.  It is marked by the 33 metre high Upper Falls at one end and the 93 metre high Lower Falls at the other.

Although the skies were darkening with thick, gathering rain clouds, we took the time to explore both the northern and southern rims.  With the lack of sun, Di was able to participate more actively in some short walks, so we completed a short return section of the North Rim Trail (between Lookout Point and Grand View).  However, the highlight was undoubtedly the view from Artist Point looking west through the Canyon to the Lower Falls.

As we left Artist Point, the rain started and we began the long drive (40 miles) back to West Yellowstone.  Although briefer than yesterday’s travels, our sightseeing today was still substantial (10 hours) and we developed an even deeper appreciation of Yellowstone’s diversity.  There is far more to Yellowstone than simply being the world’s most extensive area of hydrothermal landforms and features.

Day 6 - Yellowstone National Park


11 July 2013