|Thursday, May 31, 1990...
God, am I tired. Every muscle in my body aches. My lungs have vowed revenge. I did all of Yellowstone in one day! I'd planned to wake up at 5:20 to be on the road at 6; instead I woke up at 4:30 and tossed and turned until 5:20. Got to the park just as planned, a little after 7:00, and soon began my counterclockwise circle of the entire park. Fairly early in the circuit I stopped at one of the Hamilton Stores that dot the park and bought a bunch of postcards, a polarizing filter for the still camera, a few trinket-type souvenirs, and a batch of food to munch on in the car. I wasn't planning any lengthy meal breaks...
First stop: Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. This time I stuck mostly to the south rim (I'd done the north rim last time through), taking a couple of trails to get closer to the falls. One of these, Uncle Tom's Trail, went 3/4 of the way down into the canyon from the rim -- a descent marked by 329 stairs as well as the usual hills. It was like evacuating my 40th-floor office via the fire stairs, then walking right back up -- except that at an altitude of 8,000' my lungs were even less used to the exertion. By the time I returned to the top, my lungs had started a slow, deep burn that would last the rest of the day. From the Canyon, I continued north to Tower Falls, going up and down another steep half-mile trail. I grabbed the first of two large hot dogs I would eat today, the only "real" food all day.
About this time I first began to notice the devastation wrought by the 1988 Yellowstone fire, as charred trees and stumps appeared along the sides of the road. The indigenous wildlife didn't seem to mind, though, because the road featured the usual complement of bison, deer, and elk. I detoured north at Mammoth Hot Springs to leave the park through the Roosevelt Arch, the original gateway to Yellowstone, but quickly returned to begin touring the thermal features. The tree population along the Norris Geyser Basin had probably been reduced by 50-60%. The Park Service constructed several new turnoffs, with displays highlighting the fire and the pattern it had taken.
I took several trails through the geyser basins, noticing for the first time as I did that the weather had grown a lot colder. If I needed any more evidence, it began to snow! As I returned from watching the Echinus Geyser erupt (after a 35-minute wait, seated at the site and hunched over in the path of vapor from a nearby hot spring in hopes of keeping warm), a ranger told me that the night's forecast called for 2-5" of snow in the park!
I got to Old Faithful at about 6:20 PM. I figured it would be an appropriate last stop -- near the west entrance so if the snow started falling I could get out of the park with no trouble, and along the circle route should the snow hold off and allow me to complete my tour of the park. I ate a second hot dog and warmed up briefly in one of the Old Faithful cafeterias before heading out to watch the star of the show; fortunately, according to those who had been waiting longer, Old Faithful was already a little late and was expected to erupt at any time. Like the good showman it is, Old Faithful treated us to a couple of false starts before starting the real eruption, to the satisfaction of all. Especially me, since I had only waited seven or eight minutes for the eruption.
I got back in the car and continued the circle route around the park. From previous days' travels I knew it would remain light until at least 9:00 -- but I had forgotten that the trees and mountains in Yellowstone meant that most of the park would be too dark to photograph after 8 PM. Nonetheless I drove past West Thumb, along the north shore of the lake, and back past the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone before cutting across the middle of the circle route and heading for the west entrance. Reached my motel at about 9:25, hoping that tonight's snow would miss me...
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