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Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Day 46: Norris & Midway Geyser Basins and The Three Tetons (7/20/15)

Today was my last morning in Yellowstone! I woke up and the feeding frenzy for a campsite in Norris was on. Within minutes of me breaking down my tent (up for appearances sake only) a family staked their claim on my campsite. I left and knew I wanted to camp at Teton Canyon where there are a few walk in I was weighing getting their early to get a site with wanting to see a few more things in Yellowstone before I left. Yellowstone won because YOYO. (You Only Yellowstone Once) (My motto for the day) (but really I hope I come back someday with Dan).

So I went to Norris Geyser Basin and I was not sorry that I went. These hot springs and thermal features and mud pots keep getting stranger and more beautiful. I only toured the short loop...but the "porcelain pools" are aptly named for their light blue milky smooth color and "texture" (if water can have a texture). Just really stunning. You look out across this basin and there are the beautiful blues I described and different puffs of smoke and steam blowing in the wind and some hearty pines scattered nearby, becoming more dense in the distance. There are some dead white/gray trees too that contrast with the green pines. It is such an unusual sight to behold and I really just stand there in awe and wonder, not really needing or wanting to know how or why, but marveling that it just is.

I did a sketch here because it was a nice scene with mountains and trees in the background behind Crackling Lake. I have been contemplating why I haven't been more compelled to paint these geysers and hydrothermal features...I think it's because with many there isn't much of a "scene" involved. With the boardwalks limiting, it is difficult to get a good angle for a compositionally compelling artwork, since it's not that interesting just to look down at a pool of water (even if the colors are fascinating). Maybe I am just making excuses. I also feel like these features beg to be depicted with watercolors. Moran was such a skilled watercolorist, I didn't even appreciate until this trip, after trying to do some myself. Part of me wishes I had painted one of the hot pools with my oil paint, other than Old Faithful. But because of Moran, I tried something new and different than I would have otherwise. Maybe I'll take a watercolor class and hone my quick, portable painted sketch skills (because it really is nice how much lighter and portable my watercolor travel set is).

After talking with a ranger at Norris, I decided to make one more stop at Midway Geyser Basin before I left to see Excelsior Geyser, which Moran painted. (YOYO). It was packed. Although I woke up feeling *much* better this morning, I felt a little queasy at Midway. So I decided not to sketch and to snap some photos a la William Henry Jackson and walk around. Again, Moran brought me to a beautiful spot I seriously thought about skipping. The geyser crater was like something out of the Land Before Time. (They should really make one with a hot springs/geysers theme...). I thought Little Foot and the gang would come out at any second. Anyway it is a spectacular blue and really looks like a meteor came down and smashed the crater into the ground. Beyond the crater is Grand Prismatic Spring which is the most spectacularly colored features I saw in Yellowstone. It's like a living rainbow. Most of the colors are created by bacteria that thrive off the super hot conditions. Again, biology baffles me.

I made my way to the Tetons after this final stop on my YOYO tour. Much to my regret I didn't get a selfie with the Yellowstone park sign. There was no safe way to get to it when I drove out the West exit. I made my way back to the Tetons and thankfully secured a spot at Teton Canyon campground. This is a national forest campground and the campground hosts were...interesting. Nice enough but as a national forest suggests it's a bit more secluded and off the beaten path (about 8 miles on a gravel road). After this stop I made my way to Jackson to meet a fellow Sycamore High School grad and marching band alum! I hadn't seen or really talked to Kathryn since high school but she sent me a Facebook message (isn't social media wonderful sometimes) that she's living in Jackson. So I was like we need to meet up when I'm back by the Tetons! We had awesome Thai food which was a welcome variety to my chicken noodle soup diet of the past week and grabbed ice cream at Haagen Daas afterwards. I told her about my trip and my upcoming nuptials, and she told me about living in Alaska for a summer (seriously straight off an Alaska Discovery show), working in Jackson, and her plans for grad school in the fall at IUPUI. We also each had some funny stories from college of other students getting too intoxicated.

After this lovely reunion Dan and I fought in the Battle of the Cell Phone Service and is spotty out here even if it says you have five bars and full data. I went up to the overlook I considered painting at when I was here last at Grand Targhee Resort. It was a beautiful view and the setting sun illuminated the mountains. Again...I saw what Moran saw. I saw the glow he captured in his paintings of the Tetons, and more specifically these three Tetons. The light changed rapidly as it does when the sun it setting, but I found it most magical right before it stopped lighting the mountains. It was this pinkish hue and cast a purple glow on the rest of the mountains. Definitely worth the trip back.

So, reflecting on my time in Yellowstone and following Thomas Moran. There are many books and materials I wanted to read and reference on this leg of the trip. I was thinking about trying to read more and incorporate the information into the remaining blog posts...but I need to cut my losses and keep moving forward. I don't want to be reading about Moran when I want to be reading John Muir. I just decided to be okay with it. I'll have things to read and keep me inspired when I'm home in my studio, and I want to focus on being present and processing my experiences day to day for the rest of my trip. Anyway...Moran. In his oil paintings I feel like he is a master sky painter, especially wispy cirrus (?) clouds. That being said I regret doing zero cloud or sky studies while I was in Yellowstone. I tried plein air watercolor for the first time because of Moran's work...I was challenged to paint a visually complex canyon, which resulted in two of my best paintings from the trip. I saw geysers and hydrothermal features, and although I didn't paint as many as I wanted to, I saw and experienced them through the eyes of an artist. Their color is unusual and remarkable. I realized how much I love mountains by spending time away from mountains. Yellowstone is "strange and mysterious" and not quite the Artist Mecca I thought it would be (excluding the canyon). Perhaps I will go back someday with watercolor skills and no illness and feel differently about making art there. I am happy, too, that Moran brought me to the Idaho side of the Tetons. Although not as spectacular as the Jackson Hole side, they were worth visiting and especially worth seeing as the sun set. Moran was also a lifelong artist and traveler of the west. He painted much more than the Tetons and Yellowstone, places I actively look forward to visiting and painting myself. Behind Moran, same with all these artists, was a loving and supportive spouse, and I am ever thankful to the people who make what I'm doing possible. Thank you, Moran, for challenging me in Yellowstone.

Norris Geyser Basin, Porcelain Basin.
Ledge Geyser
The most incredible blue! I can't believe this color exists here in nature.
So mysterious and beautiful...
The mystery continues...runoff from Pinwheel and Whirligig Geysers.
Crackling Lake
A little mud pot.
I think those are the Gallatin Mountains in the background.
Loved the view with the hot lake and mountains.
Porcelain Basin
Porcelain Basin
Midway Geyser Basin
Excelsior Geyser Crater
Aka the Land Before Time
I know the water is scalding hot...but doesn't it look inviting? Like a giant hot tub?
Grand Prismatic Spring
Very prismatic - the whole rainbow almost.
Much prisma!
It got even more colorful...those bacteria mats, at it again.
Alright nature, I'm impressed.
Ahh, back to the Tetons. Definitely the light Moran saw.
Beautiful colors on the clouds.
Life is good.
So happy I came back...The Three Tetons at sunset.
Thank you, Thomas Moran... <3




  1. Life is good, Emily! You have learned so much and, thus, anyone reading your blog has also learned! The Parks could hire you to be their ambassador! And, how fun to meet up with Kathryn!?!
    Love, mom

  2. What a great finish to Yellowstone!! How awesome. Great photos, and great reflection!!! AH I just want to come and join you and Moran on this magnificent journey!!

  3. Your photographs are magnificent!