The weather was bright and sunny in the morning when we started our journey, promising an exciting and interesting day ahead. The road followed the Madison River. Very soon we saw a bison hoofing alongside the road on a grassy narrow swath of land. Shortly thereafter we had to slow down due to a traffic jam. It was a clear sign that something interesting was happening ahead. It came out that it was a herd of buffalo feeding and resting in a clearing between the woods and the road.
Later we could not resist an almost idyllic view of the Madison River and pulled over. The greenish water in the river was slowly flowing and the sun was glistening on mellow playful ripples. The backdrop was a steep mountain with fir trees. Three deer were grazing next to the river on the opposite bank of the river.
We did not drive too far when we saw two young, skinny deer on the side of the road and very close to our car. They were so busy eating that they ignored all the cars passing by and even excited photographers taking pictures.
At Madison junction we turned right and drove along the Firehole River. We passed Lower, Midway, and Upper Geysers Basins. White steam was rising from the ground indicating areas of hydrothermal features, such as geysers, fumaroles, and hot springs. The Firehole River’s character is very different from that of the Madison River. The serenity of the Madison River, running along woodlands and meadows, changed to patchy views of the Firehole River. The Firehole River’s banks, at some spots, were deprived of vegetation, showing the scars from the run off of hot water from geysers and hot springs.
We turned left at West Thumb of Yellowstone Lake. This is where the last volcanic eruption happened about 150,000 years ago. After the eruption a caldera was formed and later filled with the water, to become the western part of Yellowstone Lake.
The lake sits at an elevation of 7733 feet and is surrounded by snowcapped mountains. It is the largest high elevation lake in North America. The water is very cold all year round and is not suitable for swimming. The average temperature of its water is 41 F.
There are geological treasures under the lake’s dark blue surface. There are hydrothermal vents, old craters, spires of silica, hot springs, underwater geysers and fumaroles at the bottom of the lake, just like on the surface of the basins and valleys in the park. The northern part of Yellowstone Lake is located within the boundaries of the major Yellowstone caldera. This caldera was formed after the third mega eruption which happened about 640,000 years ago.
The lake is inhabited by cutthroat trout. This kind of trout is native to the Pacific Ocean and scientists are still baffled about how this fish found its way into the lake, which drains into the Atlantic. The answer might be that once Yellowstone Lake was connected to the Snake River and cutthroat trout swam to the lake passing the Continental Divide at Two Ocean Pass in the Teton wilderness. We enjoyed the views of the lake’s cold beauty and drove to Hayden Valley.
We passed a slowly walking buffalo. This time he shared the road with cars. When we passed him he moved to the side of the road and continued his steady walk. The buffalo’s big black eyes were focused on the road ahead, his black thick fur was covered with little twigs and his black beard curled under his chin.
Hayden Valley is considered one of the best places to view wildlife, such as grizzly, black bears, wolves, coyotes, elk, and deer. The Yellowstone River flows slowly through the valley forming backwater pools and is divided into arms. The view was wonderful, but we did not spot any animal. We knew that the best chance to see wildlife was at sunrise or sunset, but hoped to see them in early afternoon. Even our binoculars did not help.