After a wonderful 10 hours of sleep we checked with W around 7am, and learned that she'd been outside, monitoring Old Faithful for the past 45 minutes - meaning its eruption was imminent. We hustled out under the cloudy predawn sky - me without hat and gloves, a mistake - and after about twenty more minutes of heat-generating knee bends, our "faith" was rewarded by a joyful eruption. Had breakfast, revised our wardrobes, toured some MORE geysers - there are hundreds of them - then set off down the road in our trusty Subaru Outback.
We visited "Grand Prismatic Spring" which is supposed to be a pool of vivid rainbow colors, but adverse atmospheric conditions (umm, fog) prevented our seeing anything but huge clouds of thick impenetrable steam.
W took us on a short "off road" hike in a place called Pocket Basin so we could see a mudpot - yes, you guessed it, a pool of gurgling, boiling mud! D's feet were daringly clad in boat shoes, as his hiking boots were now too painful. The trail went on but was quite soggy and with so many hidden thermal and run-off streams, W decided it was best to turn back.
We passed a large herd of head-butting buffalo, and watched a bull elk gather his family, warning them with a noise not unlike a rusty metal gate. Much of this area of the park was ravaged by the forest fires of 1988. However, thanks to the intercession of St. Darwin, the hillsides are becoming green again, baby Christmas trees springing up beside their ancestors' charred trunks; evidently, the pinecone seeds of the Lodgepole pine are activated by heat!
By lunch time we'd arrived at Canyon, gateway to the "Grand Canyon of Yellowstone". This was our first encounter with anything remotely resembling crowds: the ubiquitous Japanese tour bus, plus a group of aggressive amateur photographers with massive equipment who hogged the best viewing areas. By now, it was not only cold, it was windy as hell.
We saw where W had started her hike to Fairyland and while stopped there, W recognized a van parked there. The licence plate read "Wolves". Yes, it was a group of W's Yellowstone "Loon" friends, wolf -watching enthusiasts, who greeted her warmly, reported on their recent wolf sightings (none) and invited us to dinner. Thereafter, we repeatedly met friends of hers in the park - an eclectic bunch of people from all walks of life, united by their love of the Park in general and wolves in particular.
We then headed south with through a wide valley (Hayden) made by the Yellowstone River. W pulled over to try to find wolves for us. It was a beautiful spot but far too cold and windy for me to stand around watching...wind! But someone did spot a grizzly bear - way, way far away on a hillside. I hopped out for a quick look through W's scope, then retreated to the warmth of the car.
Finally, we headed towards our final destination of the day, the beautiful, historic Lake Hotel on the shores of Lake Yellowstone, surrounded by snowcapped mountains. A herd of buffalo had taken up residence on the front lawn. We drove around back to park and encountered our first traffic jam - several dozen cars were pulled over, observing a large brown animal. "Oh, another buffalo" I thought. But it wasn't! A large grizzly bear was grazing the "lawn" about a hundred yards away. It was a great scene, with the blue lake in the background. People stayed close to their cars but got great pictures.
We decided we'd check in and not go back outdoors in the dark (!). The hotel was bustling; it was now about 5:40, and the only available dinner times were 5:45 and 9pm. So I reserved the earlier time, and we set a record stripping off our layers and then settling back to enjoy the first and only gourmet meal of the trip: rack of lamb, blackened trout, a "cauldron" or some such-named molten chocolate dessert for an apt finale.
We sat in the lounge afterwards, sipping bourbon, listening to the piano, and speculating that D's grandparents may have stayed here ages ago on their once upon a time Yellowstone journey.
To bed early again, anticipating further adventures.