10/07/2011: Day 8: Yellowstone Full Day 1
(Composed on my laptop, copied to Droid via USB, and posted via Android browser. Pictures added nearly a year later.)
I woke before dawn, did a quick calculation in my head, and decided to catch the daybreak eruption of Old Faithful. They don't start posting eruption times till after 9:00. So I bundled up slipped out of the room with cameras and tripod at 6:30 so Karen could sleep in. It was quite dark, but the precipitation was down to light flurries. The recycled plastic boardwalk was treacherous under the icy snow. I had good traction on the surface, but patches of that surface underfoot would break loose and slide almost frictionlessly on the plastic below. I took some exposures at 15 second (the max my camera allows without hackware), and walked around it to frame the predictable and frequent geyser with the Old Faithful Inn. And waited in the cold wind. I had to hang onto my hat, and try to shield the tripod from the wind. Even so, the wind was enough to make my long exposures blurry. Finally it erupted. I took some pix and video. But it was misty and dark. Also, the wind was toward me, so all I could really see of the geyser was a column of fog. So I returned to the Inn, quietly deposited my outer layers and tripod in the room, and went out to one of the 1904 postcard carrels to do some writing about the previous day.
Earlier, as I passed the desk, I'd heard that all the roads were closed. Anyone in the Inn was stuck here till further notice. Guests gathered for their egress milled around below me with a gently audible note of consternation. The road out was supposed to be passable before noon.
By 9:30 some kids were up and around and rowdy. I gave up trying to write out in the public space, and went to wake Karen to get her to join me for breakfast in the grand dining hall. It was relatively packed with the trapped, but we got a table fairly quickly right by the fireplace. We ate the buffet: Standard fare, but well prepared. Only the "Baked goods" section was disappointing; like typical conference pastries. After brunch, we bundled up to maybe catch the geyser in brighter haze. But it went off just before we could get out there. So we went out to reorganize the car, and move it to a closer spot. Then it seemed to be nap time.
I got up after an hour and again let Karen rest longer. I went to the center atrium and sat on the third balcony right by the exposed-works mechanical clock above the fireplace to write for another hour and post the previous day. As we are staying here three days, and the weather outside is not beckoning us, it is a good day to rest.
About that impressive clock. It hasn't run for years. It worked fine from 1904 until the earthquake of 1959. It was fixed a a few times, finally with an "upgrade" so that the drive weights could only be wound by electric motor. A storm (in the 1980's?) killed the motor. They hope to someday fix it. My question is, why not disengage the lifter motor and just raise the weights by crank once a day? The original catwalk to do that is still there. Oddly, the tour guide here didn't even know many details.
I made Karen get up around 3, and we had a Huckleberry sundae before taking the building tour. I'd have loved a technical/architectural tour. But this guide was more about the culture, customs, history, and money that went into building this establishment.
Some odd points: Built by railroad money in 1903 as a marketing gambit, it is the largest log cabin ever built, at 73 feet high. It originally had electric lighting, with an on-site generator (Edison or Tesla?). They hired special logger crews to find "bad" timbers to use for decorative details. The guide was quite thorough describing some antique details, many like those in my own house. I guess I'm spoiled by living in a house that's older than this Inn, and hasn't been as thoroughly upgraded. I noticed in our room that the rough cut boards were of modern knotty pine. They had completely rehabbed all the old rooms in 2005. The only original equipment is the 1904 claw-foot tub, 1912-ish marble sink, and 1904 hand-wrought-iron fixtures. But the effect is quite remarkable; most people would never know the difference.
After the tour, we tried to see Old Faithful blow its top again. This time we got there when it was ready. So then we ambulated around the local geyser basin. Once we were off that slippery safety walk, footing was fine. It all looked quite familiar from last time. The boardwalks are new, but otherwise only the locations of the bison tracks and scats have changed. And last time it was hazy and cool, while today a light sleet was drizzling.
As we got to the end of our chosen loop, I decided to climb to the old faithful overlook. Roll of spousal eyes. I thought that we had time before the next eruption, about every 85 minutes this year. But about halfway up, we heard a geyser blow. Oh well. I chose to hurry on up to see if I could see. Pant. Wheeze. Still not used to the altitude. A mere ten minutes later we got to a place where we could see Old Eff below, and it was just starting! We must have heard another brother bubbler blow. But my super-zoom batteries chose that moment to die. Fortunately, I had my trusty SD1100 with me, in Karen's pocket. So I got some video clips and pix. But not as sharp because of the lack of zoom and smaller relative aperture (Higher F-stop) in the low light.
So we moseyed back down the trail (1/2 mile meander, 200 feet down) and went to choose a building for dinner. At the Snow Lodge we decided that the Oh Eff Inn dining room was more charming, the same price, and they could get us in at the Inn in an hour. So we walked back through the intensifying sleet (still just a drizzle) to pick up a dinner pager and go to our room to rest.
Dinner was delicious. I'd initially figured that the high prices were a combination of supply difficulties and because-they-can. But this was fine dining. The bison ravioli were delicious, as was the thick-as-pudding marinara sauce. I ate them separately to better savor each. But I ate too much, and that was enough to do me in. It was getting close to bed time anyway.