Yellowstone National Park (Canyon), WY to Yellowstone National Park (Madison), WY

26.8 mi / 11.9 mph / 920 ft. climbing
Home: Madison Campground hiker/biker site

Two nights in a Roosevelt cabin, three nights at Canyon Village campground, and now it’s time to move onto our third Yellowstone home. Of the ten campgrounds in Yellowstone that have hiker/biker sites, four of them are closed this season (Pebble Creek, Tower Fall, Mammoth, and Norris) due to continuing effects from last year’s flood, and construction staging, so that has put a limit on our options, for better or worse (sometimes reducing choice is actually good). So a short ride west to Norris isn’t possible, and instead we’ll continue on to Madison.

We returned to moving-mode, waking at 5am and hitting the road by 7:45. Potatoes and onions pre-cooked yesterday sped along our still-fancy breakfast. And it was relatively warm in the morning, with zero condensation on the tent, so our weather-timing strategy continues to make our time in Yellowstone far more enjoyable than it would have been otherwise.

We would be crossing the middle belt of the figure-8 made by the Grand Loop road, and it’s one segment that has a consistent shoulder. Unfortunately the surface quality was far worse than the surprisingly-smooth roads we’ve been on in the park so far, so riding in that shoulder wasn’t always possible, but again the early birds beat the traffic so it wasn’t too big of a problem. And then once we got to the mid-segment summit and began the long downhill to Norris, we got perfectly-timed fresh asphalt so were able to fly down it through the dense and endless forest.

Early in our ride on the Canyon to Norris segment, when the road surface was still crappy.

At the junction with the north/south section of the Grand Loop, we continued straight across into the parking lot of the Norris Geyser Basin. This was another of the stops I made in 2007 in my transit through the park, but it was cold and gray that afternoon, so seeing it in the clear morning light was an entirely different experience.

Hmm, it seems this basin has more than a few geysers in it!
Hot pools the color of the sky.
It’s just so crazy to me that this is a thing constantly happening here. Like, no one is showing up in the morning and turning on the heaters and pumps to make this display happen.

We walked nearly the entire system of boardwalks and trails in the basin to see as many features as we could. Seeing a couple dozen bubbling pools would have been amazing on its own (like, where else do you see small deep pools of water at all, much less ones with wild colors, much less ones bubbling and steaming with the earth’s heat?) Likewise, it would have been amazing if we only saw a couple dozen noisy and sulfur-smelling steam vents. Or a couple dozen geysers tossing water in the air. But what we saw was a couple dozen features running a gamut much wider than that list, and much wider than even human imagination.

I can’t think of a similar class of objects where there is such extreme variety between members of the class. A forest usually contains a variety of tree species (though ironically, not Yellowstone forests!), but even if every tree in the forest was a different species, and even if they were all wildly-different species (a redwood next to a palm tree next to a baobab next to a saguaro), that still wouldn’t capture the variety of the hydrothermal features we saw.

My thought-experiment was this: if I hired 50 creative designers, told them the general characteristics of a hydrothermal feature (water, rock, heat, etc.), showed them five examples from the park, and then told them each to “invent” five new hydrothermal features, I think the range and variety of the actual features in the park would still exceed the range of the 250 inventions that the designers came up with. And if I presented them with additional real examples, many would be thrown out: “c’mon, no one is going to believe that’s real!” “that one is totally unrelated to the examples you showed!”

Constant Geyser (I believe) erupting over the heads and excited yelps of some much-closer onlookers. The day makes the steam so visible, it masked the actual water inside shooting 10-20 feet in the air. We were lucky to see this go off twice, maybe 15 minutes apart, with each eruption consisting of two or three 5-second bursts.
Roiling, boiling mud-water being constantly thrown into the air. Yellowstone is insane!!
For some reason the Chicago Plumber’s Union must have showed up here to dye this rivulet green.
From a distance you’d assume that there are eight or ten of the same things spouting steam in the air, but I can guarantee that if we got closer they’d all be completely different, in size, sound, smell, shape, color, etc.
Here’s one that’s red and blue, because why not?
Steamboat Geyser is the tallest active geyser in the world (they warn in the parking lot that the spray from its 300 ft. high spout could wreck the paint on your car). It goes off pretty rarely, so chances of being there to see it are almost zero, but just seeing the level of destruction in the landscape that surrounds it is impressive (and even in its “quiet” state it was still shooting more water and steam in the air than most other geysers).
How about a nice blue-green pool? Sure!

On our way out it was much more crowded, with cars overflowing out onto the road. That made me half-wish we had shown up later just so that we could roll our bikes right up to the geysers while they all had to hike in, but more-seriously it showed that even as we’ve gotten into these busier areas of the park, it’s still not that hard to avoid being overwhelmed by crowds.

We continued a few miles and then made a shorter stop at the Artist Paint Pots, another hydrothermal zone, with, guess what, completely different features than any we’d seen so far.

Here is some mud flying through the air. Not because some kid, or even a mischievous chimpanzee is throwing it around, but because the earth is animating itself in a constant, controlled, low-level explosion.
This basin looks like a mega-rich person had taken all the designs those creatives had come up with and asked landscape engineers to lay out and construct an elegant environment based on them in his back yard.
Some trees and bushes seem ok with it, but I wouldn’t particularly want to try walking around down there.
The appropriately-named Blood Geyser erupts perpetually, and has been doing so, day and night, for at least 100 years. On the one hand, it’s difficult to believe that this sort of energy and activity can exist so consistently across human timescales, but on the other hand it’s equally boggling that other features dramatically change (“Geyser X exploded regularly from 1982-1997, but then one day its pool changed color from black to orange and it hasn’t erupted since and no one knows why”). Yet another form of variety!
The outflow from Blood Geyser and other springs. Probably shouldn’t drink this!

On our ride on to Madison the Gibbon River canyon felt vaguely familiar fro,,m our 2021 drive, but it wasn’t until we did the entire loop through a picnic area while scouting for a lunch spot that I realized it was the exact picnic area we had looped through on that drive too! We couldn’t remember if we’d stopped then, but if not, that would make us 2-for-2 on wasting time at that picnic area!

Riding along the main road, there’s a steaming 196 °F pool of water! (Beryl Spring)

We ended up just continuing to the Madison campground, where we got a really nice welcome at the office. Most workers we’ve encountered at campgrounds seem pretty positive towards hikers and bikers, but they really go above-and-beyond at Madison. The hiker/biker site is right behind the office, so they provide a large tarp-covered shelter with picnic tables we can use (and a hiker/biker guestbook), they’ll charge devices in the office, and they even provide us coffee in the morning! Unlike amenity-filled Canyon Village, there is not much nearby besides the campground, so the kindness is extra-appreciated!

Showers were one of those missing amenities, but we took a walk down to the Madison River at the back of the campground where we found a perfect spot on the bank with an underwater ledge that you could sit on just like a chair and have a nice seated bath.

Bathtime at the junction of the Firehole and Madison Rivers.

Back at the hiker/biker site we were sitting on our chairs and doing stuff on our phones (despite no cell reception), and the biker who had already been set up there appeared for the first time and said “phones work here?” as he passed by. Since he didn’t wait for an answer, it really felt much less like a question than a negative commentary on the fact that we were using electronic devices. Further interaction (or lack thereof) confirmed that he was a weird guy, but at least he kept to himself after that.

Subsequently a much more-normal French couple set up next to us (he was pleased to learn about the river-bath from us, she less-so), and then a very friendly CDT through-hiker from Texas (insanely doing the CDT for his first-ever through-hike!) filled out the site for the evening. But suddenly we noticed that the afternoon sun was even dimmer and oranger than it had been during our smoky days in Glacier, so hopefully this smoke will be as transitory as that was…

That’s not what the sun is supposed to look like hours before sunset.

Day 2

By the morning the smoke seemed to have cleared out, so our luck with smoke continues during this summer in the mountains. The campground has a mini-store set up in a trailer, similar to the store in Roosevelt with enough food-essentials to get by, but less than a normal Yellowstone or Glacier store. But they had frozen breakfast burritos, a microwave, and muffins, so we treated ourselves to an easy breakfast (augmented with the coffee from the office!)

In the morning a worker came by and reported that a bison and her calf were heading this way through the campground, and sure enough, a couple minutes there they were! As usual, making their own way, pretending us humans trashing their environment don’t even exist.

We didn’t really plan it, but our lack of motivation told us it was fine to make this into a do-nothing day, our first genuine rest day since leaving Red Lodge. Thus we went back to the store to get some beers. We already knew it had been short-staffed with shortened hours, but then were surprised when the employee they had found today was under 21 and thus not able to sell us beer. But for unknown reasons she made an exception for us, calling over someone older from the campground office, who then put up a sign saying there would be no more alcohol sales this afternoon.

Despite the regulations, they failed to prevent underage drinking at this campground!
Rotating our chairs throughout the day to stay in the shade (unfortunately the bear box couldn’t be moved into the shade like us, so it was a challenge keeping our food as cool as we usually do, but I made a “refrigerator” out of our EVA foam mat and cold water bottles, and it did a pretty good job).

With the limited supplies, we used some of the dehydrated vegetables Rett carries to make soup for dinner. Our only neighbor tonight was a cool and interesting marine biologist riding the Great Divide route. He got a bag of ice for his beer that he then shared with us in our Scotch, and then also let me look over his Great Divide maps so I could see if we wanted to risk taking that route south through Wyoming.



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