Saturday, August 30, 2003
Back at the motel room I have a message from Jake. Tomorrow's leave time has been moved back to 9:00am because Tonya has a long way to travel. That means I will again have a leisurely morning. Because I have to leave tomorrow, I use the extra time to pack things and move everything that I won't need for the next night into the van.
I head into the park long before I really need to. I figure on an unhurried trip and I want to be able to able to stop if there is anything interesting going on. Once past the gate I drive down the straight row of Lodgepole pines. Finally I find the first curve and with it the Madison River. Elk and bison are here and there along the Madison and they are attracting the appropriate crowds.
When I pull into the Lone Star trailhead I discover that I am the first one there. My feet are working pretty well by now and I wonder if I made a bad decision by not going on this trip. I wander over to the bulletin board and take a look at the usual posts. Then I get my gear together and put my boots on. About the time I finish Tim, Besty, Jake and Leslie pull in. Everyone piles out of Tim's van and there are smiles all around. I can't believe it! Betsy doesn't remember me from the Loonion.
A few minutes later Tonya pulls in. Everyone is busy getting the last minute stuff together. Betsy has a little tape player and headphones. She is studying for an exam she has to take. We promise not to make too much fun of her. While the others as busy with their packing, I set up the tripod and camera for the customary trailhead shot. Tim pulls down the gate on Tonya's truck to use for a staging area. After plenty of fussing and mussing, the photo is taken and we are ready to go.
The day is overcast and the air feels wet. I am reminded of the hike that Laurie and I made to Lone Star last year. But this time better fates rule us and we are spared a little rain.
We burst down the trail, a happy and noisy bunch. Everyone is talking all at once. Since the trail is wide, we sometimes walk shoulder-to-shoulder like a Yellowstone version of Dorothy, the Tin Man, and the Scarecrow in "The Wizard of Oz". After the footbridge as the trail narrows a bit, we seem to naturally break into two groups. Jake, Leslie and Tim are setting the pace. First Tonya and I follow, talking up a storm. Then some other natural feature of the landscape (say, a big puddle) pushes Tonya ahead and Betsy back with me. Betsy and I are the oldest in the group. I comment on how this must be how the elk herds work--the oldest in the back. Betsy picks up the pace a little bit at that comment. As an elk, she say, she's in perfect condition. I make a little joke about the wolves picking us off. "I suddenly feel like pronging."
After we cross the footbridge and get to the little thermals by the side of the trail, I ask Jake if he has ever bothered to take a look at them. He says he hasn't. There are some interesting fumaroles and a couple of hot springs up there.
The miles pass and we see no wildlife today. I keep one eye on the Firehole, hoping to see mergansers, ducks or geese. But I have no such luck today. While we pass some scat, we see no wildlife. The miles pass very pleasantly. Before I know it we have arrived at the junction with the Spring Creek trail. We are making great time. In few short minutes we are at the last little rise in the trail and come to the logs that mark the end of the bike trail. There are a couple of bikes locked up there.
We have the Lone Star Geyser Basin to ourselves. Leslie goes off to check the geyser log. Betsy finds a place to sit and puts the headphones on. Leslie says she thinks we have about an hour and a half before Lone Star erupts. But the last entry was from yesterday evening, so we don't really know. Lone Star is pretty quiet at the moment. So we go off to play and explore.
Betsy finds a hot spring with a dead vole in it. When she pokes it with a stick its skin begins to come off. Of course this spectacle draws a crowd. Everyone needs to see the vole. Tim finds a orange-colored pool that none of us can remember seeing before. He takes a reading with his thermal sensing gun. It's warm, but not super heated. We watch the activity on it for a bit. It seems to be a fairly constant little bubbler and there is no evidence of periodic activity.
All the time there is chatter about what people have done recently. Tim fills us in on the 100th anniversary celebration. Tonya has stories from recent hikes with Ballpark. I mention that I am planning on going back to the carcass today and someone, maybe Tim, tells me that Ballpark plans to be out in Hayden later today. That sounds like good news to me. I would love to see Ballpark one more time before I go.
Betsy wants to know which vents are Black Hole Geyser and Perforated Cone Geyser. I point them out to her. After our exploring is done, we settle back under the trees to wait for Lone Star. Betsy puts her headphones back on and the rest of us eat and chat. More people arrive to enjoy Lone Star with us.
I am talking with Tim when we hear noisy sandhill cranes in the distance. They are flying toward us from the south and look like they are going to pass right over us.
"Is your camera turned on?" says Tim in a careless way.
Without saying a word or even raising the camera, I turn it on. Both Tim and I fix our gaze at the two large birds flying our way. At the right moment I get them in the viewfinder and I follow them as they pass overhead. I think the result turned out pretty well considering that they were flying and I had to move the camera to match them.
Lone Star is now splashing and steaming with some vigor. We check our watches. It has been almost an hour and a half. Leslie is sure that we will see some minors before it majors, but Lone Star begins its show full bore. Everyone is taking pictures all at once. Tonya takes off across the foot bridge to take some photos. We all bounce here and there taking pictures.
An eruption of Lone Star is something to see. After the initial splashing and discharge of water, the main vent shoots a powerful and steam-filled stream of water into the sky. As the eruption increases in vigor (and noise), the secondary vents come into play. The most spectacular of these is a side vent that shoots water and steam off to towards the north. There is a constant sound of rushing, as if the water jostled around a chamber before being forced from the vent.
Then I notice that Tim has not only brought his umbrella with him, he has set it up over his backpack. The wind is blowing the spray from Lone Star right over us. Once again, Tim shows the wilderness who is boss. I tell Tim to grab the umbrella and get out there for a classic tourist shot. So here's Tim, singin' in the geyser mist, ready to do his Gene Kelly "Singing in the Rain" dance.
All too soon the eruption is over and Lone Star moves into its noisy steam phase. People start leaving the basin and we all realize that the Bechler Bunch needs to be pressing on. I shake hands with Tim and Jake and thank Jake and Leslie again for the great adventure. Tonya has a smile playing in her eyes. They hoist their packs and head head south. I grab my day pack and head back north. I am the last one leaving the basin in this direction. I try to put the others out of mind and the great adventure they are going to have.
As I hike down the trail I feel really good and I know that I have a pretty good pace going. As I get along the big bend near the meadow after Lone Star, I catch up with a couple of girls who were at Lone Star. They are speculating about some steam they see at the other side of the Firehole. They overhead Tim and me talking about Buried Geyser. I tell them that they are most likely looking at the steam from Buried, if the book and Tim are right. Then they want to know how we know so much about Yellowstone. I laugh and explain that we are all Loons. We know each other because of the Internet and the Total Yellowstone Loon Chat Page. I then tell them how to find the page. If they get there and find "Geyser Gary" then they have found me. I don't know if they did, but I sure hope so.
They are a little slower than me and are interested in things along the trail. So I leave them behind. I next come on a couple coming in the other direction. Instead of the usual trail pleasantries they ask me about Bechler. Apparently they wanted to hike all the way to Bechler Canyon today. I explain that the Bechler Ranger Station is about 35 miles from here, that you need to cross the Continental Divide at least twice and it is a bit late in the day for that. The woman breaks out her map and I show them where Lone Star is, where the footbridge is and where Bechler Canyon is. They didn't understand the mileage correctly. But they love hiking by the Firehole and in the forest so I encourage them to catch an eruption of Lone Star Geyser and to explore around a bit.
By this time the other two girls have caught up and we part company with the other couple. We now hike together and chat about geysers and wildlife. They say they saw some funny waterfowl by the bridge on their way in. I thought they were describing mergansers. They want to see the little thermal area right before the bridge and we part company there.
Once I am on the bridge I know that I don't have far to go. I keep looking for the parking lot, but when I get there I feel a bit sad. I throw my stuff into the van and take one more last look around Tim's and Tonya's vehicles to make sure all the doors are locked.
I decide to head back to Old Faithful for lunch. I go to the Geyser Grill to see if Kristine is around. No, today is her day off. This time I eat there with many others and about a zillion kids. It's great.
I figure I can check out the carcasses, maybe find Ballpark and then stop at Canyon and get the presents I will need before coming home tomorrow. The drive out to Hayden is uneventful and thoroughly enjoyable. There is still no scanvenger activity on the bison carcass that no one wants. I drive up to the next pullout and find a place to park. It is now mid-afternoon. I check all of the cars. Ballpark is not here. The bear is not here either. Still everyone stays for a chance to see the bear. I pace around; I set up my binoculars and scan the river and the hills. There are no bears, just bison. So I check out the bison on the far side of the river. I am about to give up on Ballpark, but I decide I might try taking a little nap before leaving. So that is what I do.
I wake up after about a half hour and decide to take another look for Ballpark. This time I find his car, but no Ballpark. I ask some of the others if they have seen the owner of the car. They look at me as if I were mad. About the time that I am going to leave I see a handsome man and a companion coming up the little bison trail. I know that gait! It's Ballpark. I wait for Ballpark to start up the hill and then call out to him. It's great to see Ballpark on my last day in the park. We chat it up for a while and talk about the carcass, the bear and bear sightings in years past. Finally Ballpark wants to try a different spot and I need to be getting to Canyon and we head our separate ways. What a fine day I have had with the Loons.
I finally break down and actually buy stuff after a lot of indecision and indifference at Canyon. I then drive down the Canyon-Norris road for the last time. I need to get to bed early, I have an especially early wake-up time tomorrow. And I still want to have dinner at Pete's one more time.
Back in West I pack up everything I can and leave only the essentials in my room. I then enjoy the evening at Pete's and the bookstores. Overall it has been a very satisfying day.
On to the next day