We had done the String/Leigh lakes paddle with John and Carol Herr earlier in August, and on one of our excursions Carol had mentioned she wanted to kayak on Yellowstone Lake. Being such a huge lake, with easily changeable weather conditions, she had been advised to go with an outfitter rather than by ourselves. In cruising for information, we came across O.A.R.S., advertising guided kayaking trips on Yellowstone Lake. It sounded good, and they gave us a local employee discount of 10%, so we signed up for Sunday August 24, a day both couples were free of already planned activities. Since it was an afternoon trip, we planned on going earlier in the morning and exploring the West Thumb Geyser Basin first.
Well, the weather was looking pretty iffy a few days prior, but we figured if we changed the dates at that point, we were going to lose 50% of our costs, which would really make the trip pricey. So, in John's famous words, he said "Let's go and get it done!". So we bundled up...not only was it rainy, but it was also very chilly, a high in the low 50's was forecast) and headed up to Yellowstone that morning.
We arrived at the West Thumb Visitor Center, and headed inside to warm up a bit :-). We discovered we were about then minutes away from the start of a Ranger-led tour of the basin, so we decided to join up with the tour. Our Ranger Nina gave a good tour, about 2 hours long, of this smaller geyser basin. It was pretty cool out, so there was quite a bit of steam to contend with as we took pictures.
The boardwalk was quite close to the geysers and springs, so I was able to get some good close-ups of the thermophiles and bacterial mats around the geysers.
This geyser had some really interesting run-off right down to the lake.
One of the more interesting features of West Thumb is this cone that is actually in Yellowstone Lake. It's called Fishing Cone. The folk lore behind the name tells us that as people used to catch fish in this area, they would immediately dunk it in the boiling waters of Fishing Cone to cook the fish.
This is no longer allowed :-).
We were pretty chilled by the end of the walk, and although we had brought sandwiches with us to snack on before our kayaking started, we decided a hot lunch at the restaurant was in order...much better than eating cold sandwiches outside at a picnic area in the cold damp weather...at least we told ourselves that! We headed down the road to the Grant Village section of Yellowstone, where we were going to meet the kayak guides. The Grant Village Dining Room had a nice selection of hot sandwiches and we totally enjoyed warming up in the restaurant before heading out to the lake.
We met our guides at the boat launch promptly at 2PM. We waited awhile for another group that was supposed to show up, but they never did, so we bundled up and off we went.
Fortunately, it did not rain on us, but the wind did pick up a bit. You can see in this picture how many layers of clothes John and Carol had on! We had just as many I think :-).
As we kayaked along the shoreline, we slowly realized we were heading right back to the West Thumb Geyser Basin...the same area we had explored this morning! It was a bit disappointing, as we were expecting to paddle to an area that was not able to be seen by foot.
It was interesting to see the area from a different angle, from the water side rather than the land side.
We saw some interesting stone formations along the lakeshore. The itinerary said we were also supposed to paddle to Lakeshore Geyser, but if we did, I missed it somewhere along the way!
In spite of the weather and the extraordinarily uncomfortable kayaks, Carol still had a big smile :-).
As we paddled back to Grant Village, the mountains in the distance had fresh snow covering them. Being a little turned around as to my directions (it's real easy to do in Yellowstone!), I asked our guide which direction that was...oh, it was southeast, down east of the Tetons and over the Togwotee Pass. Right by us! Remember, that date is AUGUST 24...and look at all that snow!
So, we finished up our paddle, thanked our guides, peeled off layers of clothes and headed back home for the day. We had dinner at Flagg Ranch, at the northern end of Grand Teton National Park, which was ok. It wasn't fabulous, but we had a great waiter that we enjoyed chatting with, so he kind of made up for the lackluster meal. The four of us discussed our paddle trip and decided it was nice, but definitely not worth the cost...the value meter was not good. It was definitely a paddle we could have done on our own. The guides were very good, however, we just felt it was a bit on the pricey side and also we have never been in such uncomfortable kayaks before. It really detracted from the overall experience. But I am proud of us for not giving in to the elements and having a good time anyway!
Earlier that week we had signed up for a dinner cruise to Elk Island in Jackson Lake, offered by a concessionaire within Grand Teton National Park. It sounded like fun, and we decided to join our co-workers Kenny and Jody on the trip. As the afternoon progressed, it started to cloud up, but the cruise went on, so off we went!
It was a nice trip across the lake, and we were stopping at Elk Island, No-one is allowed on the island unless on the dinner cruise, or by special permit for back country camping. Once we landed, we disembarked and headed off to the chow line.
There was plenty to eat, and I think they liked it :-)!
There was just enough time after eating to take a short hike up a STEEP hill to an overlook of Mount Moran. It would have been much nicer if the clouds had cleared, but you take what you can. Kenny and Jodi have been working with us this season here at Luton's, and we've had a great time together. They've decided to join us at Amazon in Kentucky this fall as well :-).
It was a nice excursion, but once again, I felt that the value wasn't there for the price we paid. It would have been nice to have a longer time to relax on the island and enjoy the campfire they had built there. But it felt very rushed, like "eat and get back on the boat"! It's funny, but both adventures we did this summer that we had to reserve and pay for weren't as much fun as the ordinary, and free, hiking and kayaking we've done. And yes, there's a couple more adventures to tell you about before we wind up our summer here.
And, for those of you curious about our plans for next season, we have been honored with a request to come back to Luton's next summer, and we have accepted. Its a wonderful place to live and work, a beautiful playground for the summer, and positively the nicest people to work for. So anyone heading this way next summer, give us a shout and stop by, we'd love to see you!