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Yellowstone Adventure [Part 3 of 6]

Starting out the morning at neighboring Grand Teton, we would visit Yellowstone National Park for the first time.

At some ungodly hour of the night, I found myself outside with binoculars, stargazing. Also did this photograph of the Big and Little Dippers, with red lines meticulously added in post-production.

But I didn't hoot and holler and drink and stoke the fire all night, because we wanted to catch the sunrise at the lake.

Returning to camp, we had a huge breakfast, for which we cooked the components piecewise: the sausage, then the biscuits, then the eggs, with boiling water for coffee. We broke down camp in an unhurried fashion, packed the car, and headed north.

A couple of parting shots as we left the Tetons...

A little further along, and we reached Yellowstone!

No molesting animals. Got it.

First impressions: there was snow, and lots of it. In fact, the south entrance to Yellowstone had been closed for winter until only a week or two before. Also, we saw evidence from the 1988 fires that swept through much of the park. The first landmark we stopped to see: Lewis Falls.

The car in that last picture was a participant in the 2012 Trans America challenge, an expedition of antique cars driving 8,500 miles across America from New York to Alaska. We parked behind these folks as we made our way to the most famous of Yellowstone's geysers, Old Faithful.

Back in the days when I knew most of what I knew about Yellowstone from Yogi Bear cartoons, I was under the impression that Old Faithful spouts off with Swiss precision every 73 minutes. Not quite so. There is variation, depending on weather, rate of snowmelt, the condition of the natural plumbing, and the circumstances of the previous eruption. The park officials do their best to predict the timing of the very next eruption, but if you're expecting something akin to a tide clock, that's just not how it works.

Nevertheless, it erupted almost exactly as we walked up to it. Our timing could not possibly have been better.

We actually stuck around for two eruptions, using the time in between to explore the Old Faithful Inn and the Visitor Center. Check out that lobby.

There are about ten visitor centers throughout the park, all of which are worth visiting. Each has a particular focus: here at the Old Faithful area, guests are educated about geysers. Near the Canyon, another center has a fine exhibit on the volcanism. At the North Entrance, they concentrate on the human history in the area. So if you go to one, don't dismiss all the others, thinking, "Aaaah, they all show the same thing!"

After our second performance from Old Faithful, we explored some of the other geysers located close by.

This place is so crazy. It's like walking on Io. You really, truly feel like you are in a different place from your home world. It boils, it fumes. It stinks. You hope you don't get any of it on you. And even though these pools can be hot enough to cook a lobster, life thrives in them. That's where the funky colors originate. Signage talks all about the bacterial extremophiles that inhabit these waters.

We moved on to other geyser areas, which include the brilliantly blue Excelsior Geyser Crater and the Grand Prismatic Spring.

Watch out, kiddoes.

Continuing on, we found ourselves on the road towards the west entrance. We stopped to watch bison, which are all over the park. If you don't see any bison while visiting, you're doing it wrong.

As neither Tim nor I had ever been to Montana or Idaho, we took a drive outside of the park to hit both, stopping just over the Idaho state line to visit this picturesque spring and claim a nearby geocache.

Dinner was in Montana at the Wild West Pizzeria in West Yellowstone. I was able to enjoy a pint of Moose Drool in its home state.

Aww... if only we had more time.

The park is kind-of square-shaped, and we'd had dinner on the western edge of that square. Our motel would be in Gardiner, MT, on the north side of the square. So we backtracked in, took the road to the northernmost point I've ever been on land before. In fact, we crossed the 45° parallel, the point midway between the equator and the north pole.

I'm embarrassed how many takes we needed to get us both in the picture with that damn sign.