Yellowstone National Park – Day 4: Yellowstone Lake, Old Faithful

On Thursday, we started our day on the Cascade Lake Trail, a flat 4.5 mile walk, mostly in the woods. It was a chilly morning, but beams of sunlight found their way through the trees and a smell of toasted pine filled the air. The path began flat and easy, but got a little challenging as we came across areas of unmelted snow. As we were navigating around the slushy patches, we looked up to see a group of four or five elk, including a majestic eight point buck. They must have heard us coming, because they were staring directly at us as they backed into the woods and out of sight.

After about two miles of walking, the path opened up to a meadow, but we only got a few steps beyond the trees when we realized the rest of the trail was basically flooded. We tried to maneuver around the deepest areas, but could not avoid getting completely soaked from the knees down. Since we were already wet, we went ahead and marched through the swamp to get to the lake. The lake was large and completely still We stopped for a few minutes to soak in the silence and solitude, but once our toes started to go numb, we thought it best to turn around. On our way back we took notice of seemingly fresh bear paw prints along the trail and spent the rest of the hike jumping at every unfamiliar sound.

Other than the elk, we did not see another living soul on the trail. By the time we got back to our car, we were sopping wet, freezing cold, and caked in mud. We hadn’t showered since arriving at Yellowstone, so we stopped at the Canyon Village Campground to clean up. For $3, you can take the longest, hottest shower your little heart desires. Also available at the campground is pay by the load laundromat and across the street you can find various shops, including a place to rent bear spray.

Clean, dry, and very hungry, we started looking for a place to stop and eat lunch. We drove south on Grand Loop Road toward Yellowstone Lake, following the park map to the nearest picnic icon. Just after Bridge Bay Campground, we took a left on Gull Point Drive and found two lone picnic tables situated on the edge of the lake with a picturesque backdrop of snowcapped mountains. The breeze from the water kept us cool and refreshed while the scenery kept us blissfully thankful for another picture perfect day in Yellowstone.

Bellies full, we packed up and continued on Gull Point Drive until it reunited with the main road. From there, we drove about half an hour to get to West Thumb Basin, noticing a significant decline in the animal population. West Thumb Basin is another popular boardwalk trail where steaming thermal pools collide with Yellowstone Lake in a brilliant display of color. This was one of the few sections of the park that Jonathan remembered from his previous visit, and as we walked he reminisced about a heard of elk that had wandered into the area and through the pools.

Finally, it was time to witness one of the park’s most popular attractions, Old Faithful. I didn’t have very high expectations of the infamous geyser, but felt obligated to gather round with the masses of tourists to await its eruption. We settled into a spot on the benches, unaware what time it would go off next, but hoping the crowd meant we wouldn’t have to wait long. After about ten minutes, Old Faithful burst straight to the heavens in a glorious display of force. It was wider, higher, stronger and more powerful than I had ever imagined and I was grateful I hadn’t missed it.

Thrilled by yet another spectacle in Yellowstone, we headed away from the geyser to find Old Faithful Inn, a National Historic Landmark and the biggest log structure in the world. With a floor to ceiling fireplace in the 76 foot lobby, the inn is one of the most beautiful examples of architecture I’ve ever seen. We followed the stairs up to the next level, past a cellist who was filling the space with old classics. On the second floor, we found a small bar and ordered two huckleberry martinis before walking out to the balcony. The balcony offers unobstructed views of Old Faithful Geyser, but since it had just erupted, we had no problem finding a place to sit and enjoy our beverages.

We had previously decided to treat ourselves to one restaurant meal during our visit, but without a reservation, we would have to wait a few hours for a table in the Old Faithful Inn Dining Room. So instead, we crossed the parking lot to have dinner at the Obsidian Room. The tables were available much quicker and we were able to sip another huckleberry beverage while we waited. By the time we sat down, we were very hungry and very excited to have a meal that had never been dehydrated. Our waitress was lovely and helpful, even letting us know that the souvenir wine glass wasn’t great. I ordered a fish dish, Jonathan ordered bison and our food came out very quickly. We were fully salivating as the plates were set down on our table, digging in immediately. Unfortunately, the meal left much to be desired and for the price, we wished we had stuck to our Mountain House spaghetti.

After that let down of a meal, we rushed back to the campsite to cleanse our palates with some ooey gooey s’more deliciousness. We sat around the fire, reminiscing about the week and lamenting the fact that this was our last night in Yellowstone. In two days, we would be back in New York City and as the flames died, so did our souls.

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