We went to Yellowstone earlier this month and it rained on our parade. Every day. But it was okay. Not only did it bring a lovely overnight snow, we were able to squeeze in several new and favorite stops between raindrops.
Usually, we find Yellowstone’s autumn grasses dry and done, ready for a covering of winter snow. This year? In many places the grass was fresh. The aspen were more green than gold. And the moss was lush.
Every season is different.
This one showed us a new and unexpected face of Yellowstone’s autumn.
Just a short walk from one of two pull-outs three miles north of Fishing Bridge, a quiet path leads through the woods along the Yellowstone River as it dances over these gentle rapids.
An easy, half mile trail through the delicious scents of sage and pine leads to a short stairway from which you can see the falls.
Mammoth Hot Springs: The Chapel
This was the last building constructed by the army during their thirty year tenure as overseer of Yellowstone. Because it is hard to heat, services are held in this stone chapel only during temperate months. We attended the final service for the season and I was both challenged and encouraged. During the rest of the season services are held at the hotel. Non-denominational services are conducted park-wide by Yellowstone employees who volunteer for A Christian Ministry in the National Parks.
Mammoth Hot Springs: The Elk
Some of the park’s elk make their home at the former Fort Yellowstone, drawn by the sweet grass that the army planted. For most of the year, it goes fairly smoothly, but the rut brings out the craziness in elk and tourists alike. Bulls gather their harems and defend their mating rights. Tourists risk their bodies, their vehicles, and sometimes their youngsters in search of the perfect photo.
During autumn, my family calls it The Elk Show. Sometimes that refers to the bulls. Sometimes it refers to park visitors and the rangers or volunteers who come each fall to keep distance between photo-seekers and territorial, testosterone-driven bulls. Sometimes the education and protection is carried off with as much flair as the strutting, sparring, and bugling from the elk.
Mammoth Hot Springs: Randy Ingersoll and the Map Room
Randy plays music both familiar and original—some of it inspired by Yellowstone—from from 5:30 – 8 p.m. most weeknights. Sometimes park visitors sing or play another instrument along with him. At 8:30 he presents a program born from his love for Yellowstone. With live music, games available at the front desk, tables, desks, couches, and an espresso cart just around the corner, it’s a relaxing way to spend an evening after a long day on the trail or on the road.
Red Rock Point
This half-mile trail—paved, switch-backed, and stepped—leads to an artful vantage point of the Lower Falls of the Yellowstone, a graceful drop of over one hundred feet. The fenced deck is distant enough to afford a broad view of the falls yet still close enough to allow the mist to settle on your skin.
Artist Paint Pots
This is a family favorite. A one mile loop into the woods leads to mudpots, unusual and colorful thermal features among the trees. Usually, the contents of the mud pots are gloppy but this year, probably from the rain, the mud was thin.
Upper Geyser Basin: Home of Old Faithful
Old Faithful erupts every ninety-two minutes, on average. Each eruption is different and influenced by the one which came before. Its appearance is affected by the steam, the sky, and time of day. Cloud formations and moonlight add their own influence. You might be able to catch an eruption on Old Faithful’s streaming webcam here.
The Upper Geyser Basin is home to more than just Old Faithful. Morning Glory Pool, and Castle, Grand, and Riverside are favorite destinations of our family. Prediction times are posted at the Old Faithful Visitor Education Center.
The trail to Fairy Falls is a flat, non-strenuous five-mile roundtrip hike which takes you along the Firehole River and through once burnt but quickly regrowing lodgepole pine forest. We set off on a thirty-seven degree morning and added the steep trip up the slope across from Midway Geyser Basin which warmed us and gave us an aerial view of Grand Prismatic Spring. Grand Prismatic is usually shrouded in steam and so far from the boardwalk at Midway that from that walkway it’s hard to see anything more than a blue haze. The view from the hill was worth every fallen tree I climbed over and every uncertain step I took.
Fairy Falls is a long, thin stream of water befitting a fairy. This year, it ran especially strong and full.
We, along with a few fly fishermen, parked by the gate to the closed-for-the-season Pebble Creek campground and walked to the canyon that the creek flows through. We didn’t venture too far in because some hikers coming out told us that they’d heard a bear on the ridge above. It was late and cold and we didn’t want to risk coming face to face with a bear, nor did we want to have our way back to the car blocked by its movements–even for a little while.