I get up early for the big day, but itís never early enough. By the time I get the bike packed and ready it is almost 8 AM when Iím going through the North Entrance. The entrance fee is $20 per automobile and $15 for a motorcycle, probably the most expensive of any park in the system. The fee is good for seven days and gets you access to Grand Teton National Park as well. If you are planning on visiting a number of national park sites, you should get yourself a Golden Eagle Passport for $50. This gets you into any national park, historic site or monument for one year from date of purchase. It will end up saving me hundreds of bucks. You can purchase one at any site that charges admission. If you are over the age of 62 (those Dempsy Fight Fans again) you can get a Golden Age Passport for $10. It is good until you kick the bucket.
My first stop is the rather noxious Mammoth Hot Springs. While the smell is nasty, the views are sensational. Travertine (calcium carbonate) has formed into spectacular terraces, which look like the landscape of another planet. While walking the boardwalk trail, I notice the many signs that I will see throughout the day warning visitors of the dangers of the fragile ground and thin crust of the earthís surface. You are encouraged to stay on the trails as dozens of people have been scalded to death and many more have been very badly burned. Not a good way to go!
As I travel south, stopping at many of the springs, geysers and scenic overlooks, I notice there are more people here than any other park Iíve been in. But thatís not saying much: itís not exactly crowded. However, I would never, ever come here in the summer. If there are this many people here in September, it must be a bloody zoo in July.
I also notice another striking feature of the park I havenít seen elsewhere. Forest fires have devastated Yellowstone. The trees, for the most part, are gone. Those that remain look like 40-foot high toothpicks, branch-less burned spires that cover the mountains as far as the eye can see. In 1988, (you may remember from seeing it on TV) the park suffered huge fires that have changed the landscape here for generations to come. The fire damage is quite substantial throughout the park, but is not everywhere. But those large areas, which by my estimate amount to about half the park, look a lot like Mount St. Helens after the explosion.
By lunch Iím at Old Faithful, the most frequently erupting of the 300 geysers in the park. People line up around the geyser rim like theyíre about to watch a Broadway show. Just as the range station had predicted, Old Faithful erupts around 12:30 PM, spewing itís boiling hot water a hundred feet in the air for a couple of minutes. When the show is over, the audience applauds. The average interval for the geyser is about 80 minutes but it does vary from 45 to 110. Each eruption lasts 1 1/2 to 5 minutes. The estimates are based on the previous eruptionís height and duration.
There is much to do here at Yellowstone, but Iíve had my fill for the day and itís time to head south to the Tetons. I cross the Continental Divide three times at heights over 8,000 feet, travel out the South Entrance, cross the John D. Rockefeller Memorial Parkway, and enter Grand Teton National Park. As soon as you reach Jackson Lake, less than a mile from the entrance, the stunning view hits you like a tectonic plate. The Rocky Mountains offer some dramatic vistas, but few are as impressive as the Teton skyline. As the Teton Range rose though sporadic earthquake producing jolts, the valley called Jackson Hole subsided. Because of the way the mountains formed, no foothills hide jagged peaks and broad canyons. The valley sits at 6,000 feet and the peaks reach 12,000 feet, rising straight from the valley floor. Large lakes mirror the mountains with a breathtaking reflection.
I head over to the Colter Bay Visitor Center to get two more stamps (Teton and The Parkway) and check out the camping situation. I had planned on camping at the Jenny Lake campground, mainly because it is right on the water and does not allow RVs. But it is already full, and itís only 2:30 PM. The Camping Gods are working against me again. I wander over to the Signal Mountain campground and manage to reserve a site, although the best ones are already taken. Camping at Teton costs $12 a night. Not exactly a bargain and my Golden Eagle gives no discount. I break out the gear and pitch my tent, a Eureka Backcountry 2 Man, which is comfortable for one and packs to the size of a toaster.
As I am not cooking out (because I canít carry the gear and donít want to encourage the bears) I head south about 30 miles to Jackson, Wyoming for an early dinner. Jackson is a neat place combining that old frontier feeling with a bit of a modern touch. Good shops and lots of places to eat and drink. Actually, itís probably gotten a bit too much of that modern feeling. I can understand having an Eddie Bauer store here, but does there really need to be a GAP? This town was probably way cool about 20 years ago. I check out the famous chicken fried steak at The Wagon Wheel.
On the way back to Signal Mountain, I stop at the Snake River Overlook. Youíve seen this picture a thousand times. Ansel Adams probably took the best shot: the majesty of the Tetons with the river curving in the foreground. I sit right in that spot for about an hour and watch the sun go down behind the mountains.
I get back to my campsite as the light is fading. Two women have the site right next to mine and they invite me to sit by their fire. Theyíre on their way to Florida from Alaska, camping along the way and seeing the country like me, albeit at a slower and less encompassing pace. We trade travel tales and as the embers die down, I retire to my tent. Itís been a busy day and Iím exhausted.
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