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The Sports Guy: Waiting for the Morning

Anyone who knows me knows that I spend as much free time as humanly possible inside the boundaries of Yellowstone National Park. It amazes me the number of people I speak with around Powell who have either never been to Yellowstone or who haven’t been there in a number of years.

For me, part of the attraction is the subtle, and sometimes not-so-subtle, changes that can be seen from year to year. Nowhere is this more evident than around the geyser basins where change is the name of the game.

There is one particular patch of ground near Old Faithful that I always make note of when I go into the park for the first time each year. In photos from my childhood, this ground appears in the background as a grassy, flower-filled patch.

When I returned after college, a mudpot had taken residence where that meadow scene used to reside. In the late 90s, I watched in amazement as, over the span of a summer, the mudpot became soupier, ground crumbled away and a new sloshing geyser formed in its place. Today, that area sits as a tranquil deep pool of clear blue heated water.

To me, that small section of ground is Yellowstone in a nutshell — change. What you see today may not be there tomorrow.

So it was with some excitement that I learned last month that Morning Geyser, located in the park’s Lower Geyser Basin, had broken out of an 18-year dormancy with a surprise eruption. It was only through sheer luck that anyone learned of it — an eagle-eyed geyser gazer just happened to be driving past on the highway,  saw the steam cloud and realized that nothing of that scope should be erupting at that time and turned around to investigate.

That happened on a Wednesday. Thursdays are usually my off-day around the office where I do a lot of the wildlife and landscape photography that you see bearing my name. Unfortunately, I also had small mountains of laundry piled up that I’d scheduled for that Thursday. I now had a decision.

Should I kill a day in the park hoping that a geyser which only once in 18 years has sent a 85-foot-wide column of water splashing some 150 feet into the air would suddenly decide to do so on back-to-back days? Or should I be responsible and do laundry so that my co-workers wouldn’t object to the aroma of twice-worn shirts on Friday?

Contrary to what my mother is expecting as she reads this, I chose the responsible thing and stayed home. That night, I opened my email to see photos of Morning, which, of course, had erupted for the second time in 18 years that morning. Just prior to the eruption, five wolves wandered through the meadow nearby.

Talk about twisting the knife deep.

I have made four trips into the park since then, coming away with nothing more than a suntan each time. I’ve had plenty of company. Several folks have taken up daily residence at the lower basin in the hope of witnessing what could be a lifetime event for them.

Those crowds gradually dwindled as days went by without so much as a splash being seen. A third eruption earlier this week was enough to send me back into the basin with fingers crossed for all of July 4.

I’d love to say this story has a happy ending, but, alas, nature provided no geothermal fireworks display for those of us hanging out. Independence Day was very much business as usual around the basin, but that’s OK. Part of the fun lies in the uncertainty.

The peak summer season has definitely arrived, so travel around the park can be slow. Traffic jams materialize alongside virtually any elk or bison herd visible from the blacktop. Expect crowds at the main attraction points, but in spite of that, if you haven’t been to Yellowstone for a while, it’s not a bad idea to head back in. You might think you’ve seen it all before, but stare at what you see and appreciate it nevertheless. Trust me, change is the name of the game, and you never know where it will strike next.

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