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An Adventure Down to Old Faithful on Reopened Roads

“Opening day” can only mean one thing to baseball fans. But opening day only means one thing to Yellowstone fans—the first day you can drive to Old Faithful in the spring.

Opening day this year was April 21, but for the folks who had to wait for the weekend, Saturday felt more like the real first day.

I headed south from Gardiner with an old friend, and we had plans to rendezvous with another friend entering through West Yellowstone.

With lunch, snacks, plenty of extra layers, phones in airplane mode and cameras at the ready, we started off with high hopes of encountering well-known and well-loved “charismatic megafauna”—bison, elk, wolves and bears. Park insiders use the phrase “charismatic megafauna” sort of ironically. The term refers to the large animals that everybody wants to see—in addition to a three-person feminist punk party band, the Internet tells us. They’re often thought of as “keystone” species, and perhaps a tad cynically, as the species that raise the most emotional response among the public and the most funds for environmental organizations.

The drive was uneventful and traffic was light. The skies were clear and bright and the temps were coolish, in the high 40s to low 50s. We saw a few bison and scooted through one small band walking along the road, but no sign of any calves, although others have reported seeing a few already.

Near Biscuit Basin, we came upon a small animal jam with cars parked on both sides of the road. We spied a man with a massive telephoto lens crossing the road and carrying a tripod, so we turned our heads in the direction he was headed: Bear!

Grizzly bear. It was sniffing around an area of silicified trees on slightly thermal ground. It was alone and not gigantically big, which made me think it might be a youngish male. It was wearing a radio collar. You can see a photo of it at the top.

I was hoping a bear researcher with the National Park Service could have told me which bear it was and what sorts of information had been gathered from the collar, but a park spokesman said there are actually numerous collared bears that could have been in the Old Faithful area Saturday. Who knew? Perhaps a story for another day.

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At Old Faithful, we ran into a small “March for Science” event, it being Earth Day and all. Marches were held all over the country to send a message to elected officials that science matters in political decisions and policies.

The Old Faithful event was only a table as an actual march was not allowed. Visitors stopped by the table, which included information on how to reach one’s senators and representatives. The table was staffed by two year-round park employees, Alexandra O’Connor and Jenny Jost.

O’Connor said for those park employees who couldn’t get to a march, their table was a way for them to participate. Tourists were interested, too. By about noon, the two organizers had collected more than 100 signatures on a petition.

“People feel disconnected and don’t know what they can do,” O’Connor said. “This is a way for people to get involved.”

Jost said she was one of those people who hadn’t been involved in marches and other political activities because she didn’t know how. This was her first political action. She supports the Environmental Protection Agency, which is facing possible cuts from the Trump Administration.

“Gutting the EPA is a really scary thing,” she said.

After a dash out to Fountain Paint Pots, we returned to Old Faithful and had a quick tailgate lunch.

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There was a young family nearby getting their bikes out to ride to Riverside Geyser, which was predicted to erupt around 2 p.m. They were Tom and Angela Hoffman and their 4-year-old son, Parker (seen above), all from Bozeman.

Tom was putting the bikes together. He said coming to Yellowstone for opening day is a yearly ritual, and this is the first year Parker was old enough to bring his own bike.

He was very excited to come to the park Saturday.

“He was up at 6:30,” Angela said. “He said, ‘Let’s go see the geysers.’ We come to say hello to the geysers, and for the closing weekend, we come to say goodbye.”

Parker had a tiny little cast on his left arm. Tom explained Parker was involved in a bike crash with a buddy recently and ended up with a broken thumb.

Did he get his little friends to sign his cast?

“He did,” Angela said. “But some of them needed a little help. Not everybody could write their name yet,” she laughed.

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We finished up our lunch and headed out to Riverside Geyser, where a small crowd was gathered.

Riverside is in the Grotto Group, about a mile from the Old Faithful Inn and not far from Grotto Geyser and the iconic Morning Glory Pool. Riverside’s geyser formation hangs somewhat above the Firehole River and erupts at an angle, sometimes forming an arc of water and steam above the river.

Ferdinand V. Hayden, a U.S. Geological Survey geologist, named Riverside in 1871. The Hayden Survey’s report, including photographs by William Henry Jackson and watercolor paintings by Thomas Moran, helped convince Congress to pass the Yellowstone Park Act, creating, in 1872, the world’s first national park, for which, on beautiful spring day, we were, naturally, grateful.

About Liz Kearney

Liz Kearney is a former Yellowstone tour guide and snowcoach driver. She lives in Livingston, Montana, where she covers the park and other news for the daily newspaper, the Livingston Enterprise.

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