Feed on

Old Faithful

[photos: flickr – Grand Teton NP]

[photos: flickr – Yellowstone NP]

I’ve wanted to visit Yellowstone (Yellastone) for a while. I know of at least two people that have been this summer so I finally decided to go for it. Watching the Yellowstone TV show also inspired me, despite it being filmed nowhere near the park. It’s about 950 miles away, so at least a solid day of driving. I took off on a Friday, thinking I’d drive over the weekend and avoid a weekend crowd at the park. I didn’t have a reserved campsite and lodging was $400-$500 night in the park, yikes. I planned to stay on forestry land somewhere outside of West Yellowstone.

The first night I made it all the way up into Idaho on I-84 and slept at a rest stop. I decided to hit up Jackson Hole, Wyoming first, I went up through Idaho Falls and cut over through Teton Pass. I rolled into Jackson around 1 PM on Saturday, and downtown was crazy busy. A sign said Yellowstone was “only” 66 miles away, not great, not terrible. I wasn’t sure yet where I was going to camp, so I decided to stay in Jackson at the world’s most expensive Motel 6 for the night.

Having secured lodging I continued up through Grand Teton. The last time I was here was in May 2010 during my great road trip from Austin. This time things were much greener and less snow on the mountains. I worked my way up to Yellowstone when I realized my grave mistake of not paying close attention to the map: it was 66 miles from Jackson to the south entrance of Yellowstone, then another 30 miles to the first “thing” which was West Thumb. Then another 20 miles to Old Faithful. Another 30 miles or so out to West Yellowstone.

I wasn’t really impressed with the southern approach to Yellowstone, it was 60 miles of solid forest, two lanes and slow drivers. There wasn’t anything to see here, I was beginning to wonder why this place was so famous. Some people may think the solid forest was quaint, I found it monotonous after driving all day.

I got to Old Faithful around 5 PM. Coming over the hill I saw the geyser blow, missed it by about 15 minutes. I was tired and didn’t feel like waiting around for the next eruption, plus I was over 100 miles from my room.

I had looked at options for staying in the park, most of the campsites were filled by 8 AM according to NPS’s website and the visitor center charts. I debated getting a few hours sleep in Jackson and making the haul back up to get in like at 7 AM. Unfortunately that meant leaving at 5 AM. I was tired and decided to get at least one good night of sleep, figure it out later.


I had been noticing my ammeter wobbling a couple of volts and thought that was curious. When I started the truck for the first time for the day, it sharply deflected down to 10 volts before coming back up to 13 V, but still wobbling. uh oh. I knew the battery was reasonably new. I was afraid it was my alternator trying to die again, I had just replaced it in 2009, not too long before my last Wyoming trip.

I sure didn’t want to get in the middle of Yellowstone with a dead alternator, no cell service, and be stranded. I found the only auto parts store open in Jackson on a Sunday and bought an alternator as a precaution. I had intended to replace it with a high output unit eventually, I didn’t want to replace it here now, but could if I had to. In the process of checking under the hood I noticed a battery cable was loose. I tightened that and after a bit of hard driving it seemed to fix the wobbling ammeter, yay.

A moose once bit my sister

Working my way back up through Grand Teton, I stopped and took a lot of photos. Somebody tipped me off to a moose at the end of a road, I drove down to find a mama moose in a stream and a baby moose hiding in the grass. NPS peeps were there watching them and keeping people away, and told us quite a bit about them.

There was a big swath of Grand Teton that I apparently had not even driven through back in 2009. I went up to Signal Mountain and got a great view over the valley. Somebody had spotted a herd of buffalo miles away oven in a field that I eventually spotted, too far away to go drive back over to get closer photos. Somebody else spotted an elk on the road up to Signal Mountain, but I didn’t see it on the way back down.

Back inside Yellowstone I headed back to West Thumb along the way to turn around, some dude on the side of the road flagged me down and asked if I had jumper cables. He had his F350 pulled up behind an RV, trying to jump start it. I put my cables and booster pack on, and the engine wouldn’t crank. Oddly enough the guy in the RV had these foam replica dinosaur bones he wanted me to see while we waited between attempts, weird flex but okay. Eventually we gave up, and he’s “here, have this book as thanks” to me and another person … oookay? Turns out the book was “A Closer Look at The Evidence”, about the evidence of God. Thanks guy, did you just fake RV trouble to pass out your book? Was F350 guy his partner in this scheme? (The book was pretty awful and full of handwavy “facts”, btw)

I made it back to Old Faithful. This time I hung around long enough to see it blow twice. There was a huge number of people there, it was totally a zoo. After each time it would erupt, there would be a huge exodus of people leaving the area. Unfortunately a couple of hours after I got there, it started pouring down rain. This put off wandering around the other geysers in the area.

I headed out to West Yellowstone to find a place to stay around there. Apparently everyone else had the same idea to leave after the rain, the highway to West Yellowstone was bumper-to-bumper for several miles. I caught a great double rainbow over the highway and it was magnificent. I finally got to see more of the park before sunset, there was considerably more to see than the drive from the south. Maybe this wasn’t such a bad park after all!

Rooms at West Yellowstone were well over $200. I saw other RVs parked at the visitor center and tried staying there for the night. Shortly after the police showed up and knocking on doors, telling people they couldn’t stay overnight and had to leave. However the cop that talked to me said there was a truck turnout about a mile outside of town where people could stay, so that’s where I went.

Ironically the Norris campground filled at 11 AM, so had I left Jackson at a normal time I could’ve made it in time to snag a spot.


I ventured back into the park, people, people, everywhere!  I think the weekday crowd was worse than the weekend crowd, maybe the rain forecast put people off. I stopped at several geyser spots and the Grand Prismatic Spring. That thing was huge, and had so many people queued up for it. The size and color and spectacle of it all made this trip worthwhile. I took what photos I could, as NPS showed up trying to shoo people along.

The surprising thing about the people were how clueless they were. Here are these geysers and hot springs with ~200 F / 100 C water gurgling out of them. More than a few times I heard somebody say “I wonder how hot the water is?” and immediately stick their hand into the water! Fortunately nobody got scalded that I saw, but I was sure waiting for it.

I spent a while at Old Faithful taking photos of the geysers around there, pretty much all afternoon. I had dinner there and headed back out to West Yellowstone for the night. On the way out I hiked up to the overlook at Grand Prismatic Spring, got decimated by mosquitos, but got some photos above the spring. I highly recommend the overlook, you can actually see the entirety of the spring which is difficult to appreciate from the ground.


Finally decided I had seen enough and it was time to head home. But first I wanted to head up to Bozeman, Montana for giggles, partially because the Yellowstone show was set there, and I wanted to see the area again. I was also last there in 2010 during the migration of Jordan from Boston to Seattle, we passed through there on I-90. Big Sky was a lie, it’s in a valley between mountains, Bozeman totally had bigger skies. I got there, visited some stores, and turned around for the long drive home.

Coming down through Idaho Falls, then Blackfoot on the interstate I felt my truck suddenly lose power. I smashed on the gas and it barely accelerated, and after a minute of losing speed, the engine died. It felt like when my catalytic converter burned up, huh. I coasted to a stop on the shoulder. I still had battery and could crank the engine, so I felt like it wasn’t the battery or alternator. I suspected a fuel pump, as that’s how it behaved when it died before.  So at 4 PM I called up AAA for a tow, just in time to make it to a mechanic before they closed for the night.  I asked the tow driver where to go, he suggested a place down in Pocatello.

We dropped off the truck at the mechanic right as they were closing. Funnily one of the mechanics had lived in Fremont and Hayward back in the 80s. He took me over to a Motel 6 where I spent the night.


I waited around all day at the motel, mostly sleeping. The shop said it was indeed the fuel pump, it’d be about $700 to fix, and should have it done by end of day.

Finally at 5 PM they called to say it was done, so I picked it up and got back on the road. This time I wasn’t so gung ho to get home, I was tired and just wanted to get it over with. I drove the remaining 770 miles home in one shot, finally getting home around 5 AM Thursday morning.


It was a long trip and tiring trip, but I got over 600 photos and an hour of video out of it and filled in some of my US “places travelled” map. I highly recommend reserving a campsite in the park, I underestimated just how huge the park it is and it was a lot of unnecessary driving in/out. I certainly don’t recommend driving up from Jackson, start from West Yellowstone, it’s a lot closer to the main attractions of the park.

Leave a Reply