A short ride from the Flagg Ranch campground brought us to the entrance to Yellowstone National Park. In order to explore as thoroughly as possible, we had planned to ride only a short distance per day which shouldn’t be a problem given the number of campgrounds in the park. Once we got inside, however, we were greeted by a sign that announced a number of campground closures. Snow was still thickly layered all but a few campgrounds. The closest open campground was in Madison, 55 miles away from the park entrance where we stood contemplating our options. We had taken our time getting ready in the morning and by the time we had ridden the few miles to the Park it was late in the morning. Plus, we were hesitant to race through the park concerned about putting in the miles rather than enjoying at our leisure. We were tempted to turn back to attempt the distance earlier in the day so we’d have more time but we are both loath to backtrack and we were drawn forward into the Park by our excitement at having made it to our next big milestone.
We rode uphill until the road plateaued to a pleasant flat stretch lined closely by trees. Despite not knowing where we would spend the night we took our time and stopped often at turnouts to take photos. We stopped at a waterfall, Lewis Lake, another Continental Divide, and gawked with the other vacationers at the occasional animals gathered near the roadside. By lunchtime we had cycled to Grant Village, where we asked about the possibility of lodging. We were told that there were no vacancies anywhere, that the rooms were over $150, and that the only campground open was in Madison. Then the manager made some calls and found us a vacancy at the Old Faithful Inn. Although we would rather have camped to save money, we were thankful to have found a place for the night. Plus, the manager helped us get 25% off the room.
We rode the 15 miles to Old Faithful and passed two more Continental Divides, one being 8391ft and the other 8262 ft. As leisurely as we wanted to ride, we still spent a majority of the time climbing, stopping frequently for breathtaking views of lakes, rivers, and snowy mountain sides. As we approached our destination, we began to see countless plumes of steam rising from the phenomenal geysers ahead.
As we arrived and caught our first glimpse of the Inn, we could hardly believe this is where we would be staying. The Old Faithful Inn was opened in 1904 and designed by the 29 year old Robert Reamer from Ohio. They used lumber collected 4 miles south of the hotel, and 500 tons of rhyolite rock quarried just 5 miles away. It looked like a winter wonderland! It was as if we went back in time with stone fireplaces, tree trunk support beams, and antique light fixtures all around. We even had a bell hop help us carry the immense of luggage was have up to our room. We were hungry, but quickly rushed out to the deck to watch Old Faithful erupt. It was the first time either of us had seen it before, and as we watched we shed a few tears. This was the prize for riding our bikes more than 2300 miles to see this. We were happy and so proud of our accomplishments. Over the course of our stay we witnessed this periodic eruption six times and each time we felt like it was a celebration of our achievement.
That evening we prepared dinner in our room and cooked it outside on the path to the park’s most famous geyser. This earned us more than a few funny looks but we didn’t care, the curry we made was delicious and the dinner show was well worth it. We got to bed early so we’d have time to walk around to view the other impressive geysers.
The next morning’s walk was incredible. It began with coming face to horned face with a group of bison that were sleeping on the warm grass on either side of the most direct route to the geysers. There were about eight shaggy adult bison and five auburn babies. We took the long way around to view the multitude of geysers and thermal pools. The walkway was a platform raise above the thermal beds that were white and crusty with minerals, mainly silica. There were a few people walking around but we mostly had it to ourselves, which was a little unnerving once we started to see bear tracks in the sand on either side of the wooden walkway. There were also abundant bison tracks circling the bubbling pools; the wooly beasts had obviously been seeking warmth from these natural hot tubs.
A few of the geysers erupted while we watched, including the North Goggles Geyser which had been dormant for a number of years until recently. Kelly’s favorite of the pools was the Morning Glory which we found at the far end of the loop. It is deep and has rings of bright blue and orange. Mi’s favorite is the Grotto which was formed over hundreds of years of mineral-rich eruptions that deposited layers of silica over a stand of dead trees to create a cone-type geyser.
We wrapped up our walk at ten so we would have enough time to pack up before checkout. We got our bags outside just in time to see Old Faithful erupt again. We took a few minutes to watch before packing our bags onto our bikes. By this time it was almost lunch time and we were hungry. We went to the general store and picked up a couple micro brews, one named Old Faithful and the other named the Grand Tetons. We then headed to the closest benches by Old Faithful make sandwiches and wait for once more for the eruption. We watched with hundreds of other people as the geyser made its famous performance. We waited for the crowd to disperse before navigating our way back to the road. Before setting off we checked out the visitor center. On our way we had our picture taken by numerous tourists which always feels kind of strange. It is bizarre being an attraction that people want to photograph. We will be in a bunch of family photo albums!
We were able to get the weather forecast from the Inn and knew rain and snow were due as soon as that afternoon so we made our way towards West Yellowstone, MT. We rode on and stopped frequently to view several herds of bison. At one point there was a bison trotting nonchalantly toward us in the opposing bike lane holding up traffic. We made sure to keep a car between us and the bison just to be sure we wouldn’t freak it out.
There were many more geysers, pools, and hot springs along the way. We stopped at a few for a quick picture but kept going as the ominous clouds slowly rolled overhead. We made it to Madison campground where we met two cyclists, one German and one Austrailian on their separate journeys who were going to share a campground that night. We stayed for about an hour, sharing stories and information about the roads to come. Before we set off we saw yet another herd of bison grazing on the spring grass.
We set off for the last 15 miles of our Yellowstone experience when the wind started to pick up. We knew this wind would push in the storm so we quickly rode out of the park and into our sixth state of the journey, Montana. As we were taking photos at the dinky sign that marked our entrance into Montana a woman trotted out from a turnout and offered to take out picture. She was a member of a team car touring around the country to spread the word about the Silver Oak Winery from Napa, CA. They asked us to pose with their Tower Tour sign so be sure to check us out on their website at http://www.silveroak.com/TowerToir2012!
Just then the raindrops started to fall. When we arrived in West Yellowstone we stopped at the visitor center to ask about camping. They told us about close by free campgrounds but warned that bears were likely to come up on our camp. The combination of rain and bear scares made camping unsavory so we proceeded to price all of the motels in town. We asked about 12 motels before finding the cheapest one in town. They even gave us $10 off for being cyclists riding for a good cause. We checked in just as it started to pour.
It has rained and snowed all day yesterday and today. We are starting to go a little stir crazy so we hope the weather clears up, maybe even in time for Mi’s 25th birthday tomorrow. Our next major destination is 330 miles away, Missoula, MT. The route is not especially challenging and Missoula is where the Adventure Cycling Association headquarters are. We hope to be there in 7 riding days, weather permitting.
The rain has let up so we are taking this opportunity to get out of the room for a bit. Cheers!