August 27, 1996

Day 13 - Lower Geyser Basin, Yellowstone to West Thumb, Yellowstone

"The next morning several tourists came to camp to take pictures of the bicycle corps. After breakfast rode around the Grand Canyon taking in the Lower Falls, Look Out View, Inspiration Point and other points of interest. At 10:40 left for Norris Basin, 11 miles away, reaching the Government shack there at 12:50. Had lunch and left for Fort Yellowstone 2:30 P.M. Reached Post 4:30; distance 20 miles. Impossible to determine exactly the rate of travel through the Park, on account of our stopping continually to see the sights. A fair estimate, however, I think, would be 7 miles per hour. Our poorest time was made between the Upper Basin and the Thumb, where we crossed the Continental Divide twice the same afternoon, most of the time in sand almost ankle deep. Our best time was made between Norris Basin and the Fort: 20 miles in 2 hours, making the first ten miles in 55 mins. Although we had the grade in our fave, the roads were very dusty. Again and again would men fall on account of their wheels turning in deep dust. Soldiers delighted with the trip--treated royally everywhere--thought the sights grand. I think the sulphuric fumes and roaring from some of the geysers had a good moral effect on them."
- Report from Lt. Moss to Adjutant General, Oct. 10, 1896 [National Archives, R.G. 94 Box 346 46363-46575]

"At 8:45 A.M., August 27th, we left for the Upper Basin, nine miles away. The roads were very dusty and the wheeling anything but enjoyable. In less than thirty minutes we reached the Excelsior Geyser, the largest geyser in the world. It plays once in about eight years.
Within a few yards of the Excelsior lies Prismatic Lake, a pool of surpassing loveliness. The beautiful, delicate red of the surrounding formation, the white vapor rising from the surface, the bluish color of the water, "the red, white and blue" blending into one homogenous whole, produce a picture as rare as it is beautiful.
The soldiers shack at the Upper Basin was reached about 10 o'clock. Here we had lunch and spent several hours seeing Beauty Pool, Morning Glory Spring, Emerald Pool and other objects of interest. The waters of these pools are of the most exquisite colors imaginable.
Soon after our arrival, we were very fortunate in seeing the Giantees, the Castle and Old Faithful all playing at the same time.
This is the region of geysers, and a wonderful region it is. Within a space of one mile by one-half mile, there are almost three dozen geysers that throw their boiling contents to heights varying from ten to two hundred and fifty feet.
At several points along Firehole River, trout caught in the stream can be carried over on the line and cooked in boiling pools at the water's edge. At 3:30 P.M., bidding the noisy geysers good-by, we soon found ourselves in the quiet of densly timbered mountains, en route to the Thumb. This part of our trip was very hard, the grades were numerous, steep and sandy. We were frequently compelled to roll our wheels up grades in sand ankle deep.
Along the entire road through the park there are white mileposts with black numbers and letters, indicating to the tourist the next station and the distance therefrom. Thus, M. 5 to M., means Mammoth Springs, ten miles. As a rule I had never told the soldiers the next point we were going to. This time, however, I told them before leaving the Upper Basin, we were going to a place called The Thumb. Although always referred to by tourists and employees in the park as "The Thumb," it is called West Thumb on the map and so indicated on the mile-posts. As we rode along, the "W" of the abbreviation "W.T." seemed to worry some of the soldiers considerably.
I was riding almost ten yards ahead and could hear such remarks as, "Now, I've ofen herd ob different kines ob tumbs, crooked tumbs, sore tumbs and broken tumbs, but I never heard of a "w" tumb -- I wundah what kine ob a tumb is a "w" tumb, anyhow?" About 5:30 P.M., a sign indicated we were about to cross a Continental Divide. It seemed to amuse the soldiers very much to be able to stand with one foot on the Atlantic slope and ther other on the Pacific slope. We stopped about ten minutes for a rest, and as soon as I gave the command "Fall out!" one-half of the imaginary line between the two slopes and the other half on the other side, while they were all leaning over and shaking hands and crying out, "Well, ole man, how's eberyting wid you way down dah on de Pacific slope?" "Oh, eberyting is fine wid us!" "How's tings getting along wid you fellers way down dah on de Atlantic slope?"
The Divide is shaped like a horeshoe, and we crossed it again about 7:30 o'clock. It was now getting pretty dark and riding in deep dust was very difficult as well as decidedly uncertain. Someone was continually falling off on account of the wheels turning in the dust. These numerous falls were evidently a source of much amusement to the soldiers and for several miles, continuous peals of hearty laughter reverberated through this dark, dusty canyon. Indeed, one might have thought on hearing us, that a minstrel show "on wheels" was giving an open air performance in those wild mountains.
At 8:30 P.M., the Thumb was reached. We stopped with the cavalry soldiers, cooking our meals in their little log kitchen, on the very edge of Yellowstone Lake. This lake, surrounded by rugged, snow-capped mountains, towering 10,000 feet or more above the placid waters below, presents a view beautiful, indeed.
The faith colored soldiers have in their officers was well illustrated by an incident that happened about half an hour before we left for the Grand Canyon. A member of the corps upon whose face the map of Africa is most unquestionably stamped, was lazily sitting against a tree, smoking his pipe and with one eye closed and the other half opened, was amusing himself making smoke rings. A tourist who came strolling along asked him, "Where do you expect to go today?" To which he answered, "De Lawd only knows, we're follering de lutenant!"

- Lt. James A. Moss, Military Cycling in the Rocky Mountains, pg. 33-35

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