Vapor drifts eerily westward through a ghost forest of fire-killed pines while sheets of scalding water run eastward from hot springs and flow across travertine terraces. The water trickles quietly into the cold lake where the slope is gentle and splashes over waterfalls where waves have eroded sea-caves into the geyserite shoreline. Far across the lake loom the rugged crests of the Absaroka Mountains, bright with new snow. A few hours ago, Kent and I drove through those mountains from Cody and wound our way along the north and west shores of Yellowstone Lake to Grant Village. After registering at the National Park Service ranger station, we launched our kayaks and paddled northward along the coast. We are now passing the West Thumb geyser basin, dramatically located on the shoreline of the giant lake. The water is calm, the air is cold, and the sky is patchy with clouds and sunshine on this first day of October.
Blue-bottomed storm clouds creep across the sky and blot out the sun as we begin our return journey. There is thunder, then rain and hail. Thousands of tiny water fountains erupt where hailstones strike the smooth surface of the lake. Staccatos of stones bounce noisily off the plastic deck of my kayak. Iceballs glance off my nylon jacket with soft, scratchy tappings. Hunching over as I paddle, I call out to Kent to see how he is faring. A longtime outdoorsman, he is unfazed. “Builds character!” he quips across the squall. The storm ends a few seconds later. We reach the take-out point and drive a scenic loop back to Cody past Old Faithful, Yellowstone Falls, and a buffalo jam.