Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Don't go chasing waterfalls

What a day today was! When we watched the weather this morning, the forecast had changed to it being mostly cloudy tomorrow and Thursday, so we decided that with the last big thing we wanted to see being the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, we should do that today while it was sunny. Another early start in the fog, but we made it out there at a decent time. The first stop was Artist Point, a view of the Lower Falls, the higher of the two waterfalls.

It was an easy hike to the viewpoint and there was only one other person there. A big difference from the crowds of yesterday. As it turned out, almost all the places we went today were not accessible to buses, and the one or two places that were we arrived just before or after the crowds. It was easy to see where the name "Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone" came from. In some places, it's 1200 feet deep and 4000 feet wide! The colors come from the hot springs in the walls of the canyon. Very impressive.
Lower Falls off in the distance
The next stop on our checklist was Uncle Tom's Trail. This would bring us 3/4 of the way down the cliff face of Lower Falls for an up-close view. The website described the trail as "strenuous" with a set of 328 stairs. Still, we decided the view would be worth it. Unfortunately, I have a fear of heights and falling down stairs, and Beth has no depth perception, so this was quite the monumental task. It did not help that the stairs were metal grates that you could see through to your imminent death. At one point I was going step by step down the stairs, too afraid to go down normally. Once I got to the bottom platform, though, it was so worth the terrifying trip down.
Still managed to smile!
Of course that meant that we had to then go UP the 328 steps to get back to the trail, which also went up to the parking lot. It was slow going, especially with the altitude here (8000+ feet), but there were lots of benches to sit and rest on. Once we made it to the top, we went to Canyon Village to get our Passports stamped, use the facilities, and get lunch. That achieved, we went on to the brink of Upper Falls. As the name explains, you're right on the edge of the waterfall, sort of like the viewing platform at Niagara Falls. Upper Falls is only about 100 feet high, so it's not as impressive.
Upper Falls
Having seen all of the vantage points, and with our legs feeling like jelly, we headed back towards the western side of the park. This morning we also came upon a site that described a trail you could take to see the Grand Prismatic Spring, which if you recall was a great disappointment yesterday. We also discovered that in fact, we had driven straight past the sign for Artist Paintpots the other day, so we decided to hit both of those spots. Unfortunately, Artist Paintpots was a bit of a letdown. I was expecting colors of some sort, but it was just a pool of bubbling mud.
Ooooh, mud.
The last leg of the trip was the Fairy Falls trail to hopefully see the better view of Grand Prismatic. It was a nice wide, and most importantly, level, trail. Not much to look at. Off to the right you could see the spring and the people walking along the boardwalk we were on yesterday. Just as you got even with the spring, there was a little dirt trail going uphill off to the left. We saw footprints on it, so we followed it. It was really steep and not entirely clear where you should be walking, but we just kept going and walking toward the sound of people's voices. Suddenly, we got to an opening and you were overlooking the Grand Prismatic Spring! It was the exact view I'd wanted and had been seeing in all the pictures. I was so so happy we had gone back.

I had one more thing on my Yellowstone trip checklist: getting a picture of the Milky Way. After dinner we drove out of town and found a turn-off to pull into. Thankfully it was in a big field, so I didn't have to worry about an animal coming out of the woods to get me. I looked up and saw more stars than I'd ever seen! They were everywhere! And it was clear where the Milky Way was, a nice band straight over the top of us. I set up the tripod, made sure no cars were coming, and snapped away. It took a few tries to find the right spot, but I discovered that off to the south was the best angle. It was amazing. I even got shooting stars in a few of the pictures. Checklist complete, we went back to the room, ready to rest up for another day of exploration. Not sure what we're going to do tomorrow, but I'm sure it'll be fun!
Sorry about the power lines
Shooting star!
Day 4 Pictures

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