The kids have been doing the Junior Ranger Programs at the parks for years. Everyone likes “winning” something – in this case a collectible National Parks Badge – and it’s a good way to trick them into learning stuff. Most Parks’ Junior Ranger worksheets can be done in an hour or two. The Yellowstone program was a large newspaper with many pages and it took most of the 3 days in the park for them to complete it. Some of the activities are things you can do while kicking your sibling under the table, like word searches or crosswords. Others require you to get out in the park and identify natural items like animal tracks and scat.
Back at Fishing Bridge (which you can’t actually fish from, and haven’t been able to since 1973), we see where Yellowstone River comes to meet Yellowstone Lake. What a coincidence that it turns out that way.
This is the spawning ground of the Cutthroat Trout, which sustains most of the food chain for the local wildlife. At least the interesting ones (Bald Eagles, Ospreys, Bears, etc.)
We learned at one of the ranger talks that at some point, some jerkwad (officially sanctioned US Parks and Wildlife title) put Lake Trout into Yellowstone Lake. At which point they went about eating pretty much every Cutthroat Trout they could get their lips on and reproducing without limits, as they have no natural predators here. They are too large and stay too deep to be preyed upon by the aforementioned wildlife that people come to see. Lake Trout numbers up, Cutthroat Trout numbers down – and in turn this crashes the numbers of eagles, bears, etc.
As such, if you go fishing in Yellowstone Lake, you face restrictive limits on Cutthroat Trout. But you are encouraged to collect as many Lake Trout as possible, put them under hot lights, beat them repeatedly about the face, and string them up as a warning to the others.
We walked the shore at Fishing Bridge, looking to fulfill some of the field requirements for the ranger booklet. Luckily, we came across a renowned scatologist. He really knew his shit.
Moving on to West Thumb geyser basin, there is a looping boardwalk which hugs the shore of Yellowstone Lake.
Mmm, this sign makes me hungry for pizza.
Elk can’t read.
I know this is hot, but I still can’t help wanting to dive in.
At the water’s edge (sometimes this is above water) is Fishing Cone. Legend goes that you could stand here and catch a fish on your hook, then cook it in the boiling water above Fishing Cone.
The elk seems to be unfazed by the water temperature. Or maybe it’s not actually hot and we’re just being conned by the government. You first.
Down the road is Old Faithful Village, where you can see one of nature’s most amazing physical features with people from all over the world. As it turns out, the person to our left was from the town adjacent to ours back home, and the next guy we talked to is a firefighter in our town. This was pretty amazing since most people in the parks seem to be from Germany and Japan. Some Japanese men were annoying my daughter by constantly passing loud audible gas. They played it pretty cool, but come on dude, we know it was you. “Cultural differences”, maybe?
Old Faithful geyser is not the largest geyser, but it’s one of the most predictable. The park has many seismographic sensors placed all throughout the area. It’s very high tech.
Thar she blows! Somewhat on schedule. A bit late, maybe. Some people ask for refunds. There’s no pleasing people.
There is a relatively new visitor center at Old Faithful. This seems to be an attempt at creating a snowed-on effect, though it doesn’t quite seem finished.
Inside we found a wealth of information…
Wait, you’re telling me that we’re standing on a volcano? Why did no one tell me this?! Eh, I guess it seems to blow every 600,000 years or so and it just blew 640,000 years ago. What are the odds, right? Though the Japanese guys have me on my toes.
We slip off to the Old Faithful Inn for a real meal, as we have been living entirely on cereal and Slim Jims to this point. My wife ordered the elk, which I tried a bite of. I have always heard of elk being described as “gamey”. I never really knew what that meant, but if it means “not very good and hard to chew”, I’d say they were spot on. I think back to the Japanese men. Maybe their digestive systems are simply not equipped to properly digest elk. Geography be damned, my New York Strip was a good play.
The geyser basin beyond Old Faithful…wait there she goes again!
…was packed full of interesting geologic features. Geysers, mainly. Some of it ran along the woods where there was no one else around. So the subject of bears came up again.
“The ranger said we shouldn’t run from a bear. But what should we do then?” asks my son.
“I think you’re supposed to just stand there and make yourself wide,” I add.
“That shouldn’t be a problem for you, Dad.”
He just made the list. Here is Sawmill Geyser, which seems to be constantly at work.
This group of bison started coming up toward us. Surprisingly, they hopped the boardwalk with ease – they were quite nimble, which reminds me of my own cat-like agility – but the youngster was stymied.
We watched as one bison stayed there for a while. If it was anything like our family, they must have been saying, “Just jump on the damn boardwalk! What is wrong with you?!”
Finally, the young one hopped the boardwalk, and the entire crew started coming our way. We made ourselves scarce because, do you have any idea how many people are gored to death by bison each year? Well…I don’t either, but I bet it’s a lot!
We moved on to Castle Geyser, which the onlookers assured us would be erupting any minute. After taking way too many videos and stills as was prudent with a dying camera battery, I did the same for this wolf…or coyote… I still don’t know which.
So when we came upon this bison herd hanging out at Old Faithful Inn, we had to use the awful phone camera.
So what, they’re just a bunch of cows right? Well, then a train of mothers with young walked right past us. It was pretty incredible. And look at that, Castle Geyser going off right behind them.
So after a requisite stop in the park store, we return to our vehicle. This is a common sight, whether it’s a National Park, Disney World, LegoLand… we shut a place down. We’re all about value.