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Yellowstone National Park Slowly Emerging from Winter

Some interior park roads opened Friday, April 20, with locals and visitors alike getting out in some springlike weather.

It was time to get out and mix it up with the tourists and park employees!

The early buzz was about Norris Geyser Basin’s Steamboat Geyser—the world’s tallest, spouting upwards of 300 feet high, although erratically—which had apparently erupted April 19 and also April 27.

On Saturday, April 21, there were telltale signs of recent water on the Norris parking lot. But the footpath down to Steamboat was still closed due to snowy and icy conditions. There was only a very short section of boardwalk open down to the Porcelain Basin. Visitors, however, were making the most of it.

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On the Porcelain Basin boardwalk, I witnessed a small uniquely Yellowstone event: a man lost his baseball cap in a breeze and it landed off the boardwalk just to the side of a hot stream of water.

He didn’t speak English, but a member of his party did. I told her the ground at Norris is very thin, and it is too dangerous to step off the boardwalk. She asked, “This is a form of pollution, right?” gesturing at the cap on the ground. I suggested they find a stick, and the gentleman walked back up the trail toward the small Norris Museum, where there were lodgepole pine trees with sticks on the ground under and around the trees.

I continued on my way and took some photos. At the turnaround point, I see the man with his hat firmly in hand. He gestured success with a big smile, and when I flashed him a thumbs up, he reciprocated.

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At Canyon Village, elevation nearly 7,900 feet, there was still a ton of snow on the ground. The parking area around the visitor center and stores had been dug out, but there was a 10-foot wall of snow near the visitor center. The sun was out and the air was warm, so why not take advantage of the picnic tables and eat lunch adjacent to a snow bank?

Many of the viewpoints and trails accessible from the North Rim Drive will be closed for re-construction for parts of the summer this year, as well as the Uncle Tom’s parking lot on the South Rim. Artist Point was partially dug out, but the stairway to the upper viewing area was still feet-deep in snow. A handful of visitors took their turns patiently at the best spot for the best shot of the Lower Falls, a far cry from the throngs of visitors who will crowd the spot later this summer.

Back at Canyon Village, I engaged in one of my favorite Yellowstone conversations, asking some park employees, “What’s your favorite funny tourist question?” Not to mock anyone, of course—I know I’ve asked my own share of obvious questions in other parks—but Yellowstone’s uniqueness is far above any other park’s “When do the deer turn into elk?” level of questions.

One Yellowstone employee had a great new one—“Are there enough dens for all the bears?” Answer: Yes. Bears can dig their own dens under a tree root system, for instance, or snuggle down into small caves.

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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