Wednesday, September 11, 2013

2013 Yellowstone--Norris

Chimene and the boys on the trail at Norris
When I was a boy, we lived in West Yellowstone, Montana during the summers because my Dad owned and operated the Playmill Theatre.  We spent a lot of time in Yellowstone, but mainly we stuck to the southern loop, going only as far as Old Faithful because we had to make it back in time to do a show that night.  Once in a great while we went to West Thumb, and every now and then we went over to Canyon.  I really only remember going to Mammoth once or twice in my early years.  Mainly we stuck to the upper and lower geyser basins.

When I became a teenager, I had a little more freedom, and when I learned how to drive I had more freedom still.  One summer, we had a guest director at the Playmill named Ivan Crosland.  He had two sons about my age and we hung out a lot together.  The older boy had his license and could drive.  Together, we discovered Norris Geyser Basin.  I think I'd only been there a couple of times before, but we happened to make it to Norris in time to see Echinus Geyser erupt.  Wow!  It was the coolest geyser I had ever seen.  In those days it would erupt about once every hour or hour and a half.  It was very reliable.  The entire eruption cycle was visible.  The pool would slowly fill up with water, when the reservoir was full, there would be a short period of boiling where big bubbles would rise violently to the surface, then the full on eruption would start.  Water would shoot out of the ground in a pinwheel fashion.  The seats were very close and up on a hill, so the view was spectacular.  Once in awhile the geyser would soak the crowd.  That was always fun.  The eruptions would last for seven to ten minutes, but I sat through a sixteen minute eruption once.  Finally, the water would calm until it looked like glass and after a few moments, we would notice a little whirlpool in the center and as it grew bigger the water level dropped until it was no longer visible.

Our routine in those days was to drive in to Norris, eat a bag of Clover Club potato chips with Frito Lay Bean Dip while we watched Echinus erupt.  Then we'd drive in to the Firehole Canyon Drive and go swimming in the swimming hole for a few hours and make it back in time to do the show.  I remember those days fondly.

In the last several years, we have been on a mission as a family to see as much of the cold water in Yellowstone as we could, waterfalls, lakes, rivers and such and have neglected the hot water.  Too many tourists in the hot water areas.  I found, this summer that I had been missing some of the hot water and we've been seeing quite a bit of it lately.  Last Saturday we decided to see Norris.  It had been years since I had been to Norris and decades since I had seen the Porcelain Basin section of the Norris Geyser Basin.  Chimene and I packed up the two youngest boys and headed up.  There was rain in the forecast that day and thunderstorms, but they were predicted to begin after five o'clock.  We had time.

We arrived at Norris and had a picnic in the car because there are no picnic facilities in the parking area there.  We'll know better next time.  The two boys found a jack fence and had to walk it, of course, because that's what boys do.

Rhys on the fence

and Garrett
The Norris Geyser Basin Trail is divided up into two parts.  The Back Basin and the Porcelain Basin.  The Back Basin is where Steamboat Geyser and Echinus Geyser are located.  Norris is the most active geyser basin in the park, it is the oldest geologically speaking and the most dynamic.  The landscape of Norris is always changing.  It is also the hottest of all the geyser basins.  Back in 2003, the Park Service had to close Norris for awhile because the ground temperature rose so high it was dangerous.  While we were there, I noticed many features that I recognized but was amazed at the amount of new stuff there was. 

The Back Basin
We walked the trail along the Back Basin and noticed that all the boardwalks are new.  They have been redone and are much nicer.  It appeared to me that this area must have been hit hard by the fires of 1988 because of all the new lodgepole pine growth.  There were areas where the trees were so thick they looked like dog hair.  That's a real term, by the way.  As the trees grow and mature, the stronger trees choke out the weaker trees, and they die off.  A mature lodgepole pine forest has several feet between trees.  In this immature pine forest, there were mere inches between trees.

We stopped at Steamboat, but didn't wait for an eruption.  We'd still be there if we had done that.  Steamboat only goes off rarely.  It is the tallest geyser in the world.  Before the 1959 earthquake, it went off quite regularly.  Since then, it has had many dormant periods.  It did go off this summer, though.  Sad I missed it.

There was another earthquake event in the late eighties that messed up the plumbing of Echinus and it only rarely erupts now.  That makes me sad because it was my favorite geyser in the park.  I probably will never see it erupt again unless there is a new period of activity that is predictable.  The ranger said the last time it erupted was last May.

The first major thermal feature on the Back Basin Trail

What the sky looked like

Dog hair growth of lodgepole pine

Steamboat Geyser, teasing

Mudcracks in the Steamboat runoff

I liked this picture

Interesting colors in the rocks

A new thermal feature adjacent to Echinus

Closeup of that feature.  There were little gas bubbles erupting from the rock surface in the orange part

The once magnificent Echinus

Sinter in Echinus perimeter

Side view of Echinus
Crater Spring

Random muddy hot water

This may be Emerald Pool.  There is one of those in Norris, not sure if this one is it

I believe this is a fumarole

The fam, enjoying Norris

Green Dragon Spring.  So named because of the green mineralization on the top of the cave

Mini geyser.  Probably new and probably a result of a bison stepping through the crust

This one was in a constant state of eruption.  Small eruptions, but fun to watch nevertheless

Runoff channels

Bison footstep that created a new thermal feature

Runoff channel

Pearl Geyser

Another possible bison crust fall

There was stuff like this everywhere.  I took three hundred pictures in Norris, I won't show all of them


Don't remember what this one is called either.  One of these days I'll have to take pictures of the signs as well So I can identify them.

Like I say, this stuff was everywhere

Small eruption
The Porcelain Basin

Whereas the Back Basin trail leads through a lodgepole pine forest and skirts it to a degree, the Porcelain Basin is almost all exposed.  I have spent less time in the Porcelain Basin than I have in the Back Basin, chiefly because of Echinus Geyser.  I didn't know what to expect when I got there last Saturday.  It was beautiful, but I would expect nothing less from Yellowstone.

Because of the intense heat in the ground at Norris, almost nothing grows in the geyser basin proper.  Nothing except bacteria.  Not only is there intense heat, the acidity of the water is not conducive to a lot of plant life.  The bacteria flourishes here though.  It ranges in color from intense blues and greens to oranges, yellows and browns.  I think I saw more variety of color in the bacterial mats in Norris than I have in other areas of the park.

The heat moves around in the all geyser basins as well, as evidenced by stands of dead, mature, lodgepole pines.  These trees once flourished but when the thermal activity shifted they were killed from the roots up.

Other things of interest in Norris are the old visitor's center which is a stone and log structure that was built in 1930.  There is also a strange log structure in a stand of trees that looks like a wickiup frame, but is not.  I don't know the origin of it so I can only speculate.

Descending into the Porcelain Basin
Don't know what this is called, but I like it

Notice how the trees were sacrificed for the other beauty

Stuff like this is everywhere

Death precedes the encroachment of the water

Sometimes tourists do stupid things

Crackling Lake, so named for the noise in this area

This might be Whale Mouth Spring.  I liked the lodgepole reflections

An extinct geyser cone

A couple of small features.  Things like this are everywhere.  It would take a Herculean effort to photograph them all, and I am not Hercules
I loved the reflection in the water here

I don't know what this one is called, but I'd like to see it erupt sometime.
Looks like it would be a good show

I love seeing terraces form
Porcelain Basin 

I love the pearlescence of some of the pools in this geyser basin

I think this may have had a violent past

Part of what gives Porcelain Basin it's name
More opalescence

Overview of the Porcelain Basin.  Not much grows here

I love the opalescence of some of the pools here.
Alien landscape

Geysers on a hill at Norris

There were many perpetual steamers in the Porcelain Basin

This kinda looked cool

More opalescence
It's not all pretty, but it's all cool

Errrr, uh, uhm, ahem, don't drink the water...

The old museum, built in 1930.  Also on the National Register of Historic Places
Strange wickiup looking thing.  There are old wickiups left standing in Yellowstone, but I don't think this is one of them, as evidenced by some of the timbers were cut with a chainsaw

Sheepeater Cliff and Mammoth

From Norris, we headed into Mammoth, thinking if we beat the storm we would soak in the Boiling River.  We stopped along the way because we spotted a couple of sandhill cranes.  I took a bad picture which illustrates why I want a bigger lens for our camera. 

On the way to Mammoth, though we stopped at Sheepeater Cliff because it's one of the favorite things our boys like to do in Yellowstone.  I like to do it too.  Sheepeater Cliff is an exposed cliff of columnar jointed basalt.  Over the years it has weathered and fallen and several routes to the top can be accessed.  It's a very easy climb and the boys scamper up it with ease.  I rarely use the word 'scamper'.  By the time we got to Sheepeater Cliff, it had started to rain, and it didn't look like it was going to let up anytime soon. 

We still went to Mammoth, though because that was the closest place we could go to get ice cream.  On the way down the canyon, we went on the Hoodoos drive and my boys were impressed.  They wanted to get out and climb them, but we decided against it on that day.  Maybe some other time.

We also took the scenic drive through the Mammoth Terrace Loop.  Mammoth is a shadow of it's former glory.  The landscape changed after the 1959 Hebgen Lake earthquake.  There is still thermal activity there, but not like it used to be.  I wish I would have been able to see it in it's glory.  Maybe there will be another event that will restart the plumbing at Mammoth.  Nothing devastating, just something to shake it up a bit.  For that matter, I'd like something to restart Echinus as well.

  The sky was getting angrier and angrier and while we were on the drive it began to thunder.  The thunder was the dealbreaker for me to swim in the Boiling River.  We had to be satisfied with ice cream.  As we drove out of the canyon, though there was a colossal rainbow.  Had to stop and get some shots of it.

The two dots in the center of the screen are the sandhill cranes.  This is why I want a bigger lens

Sheepeater Cliff

Rhys and Garrett climbing up the debris slope

Finding a new route

Side view

View from the top looking down at the boys

The trail down


More hoodoos

More hoodoos

and even more hoodoos

Twisted tree

Too good to only take one picture

Extinct area of Mammoth Terrace against an angry sky


An active area

I think this feature is named something about an elephant

Another view

Side view

This one has been extinct for a long time, long enough for a tree to grow in it's spout

Sacrificial trees

The hillside is still active

An old cabin in the Mammoth area


Complete rainbow

In fact it was a complete double rainbow

It was still going up on the plateau
The Road Home

We learned about solfatara while we were in Norris.  Solfatara is an area that gives off sulphurous gasses and steam, sometimes in combination with mudpots or other thermal features.  The sulphuric acid rots the rock that it passes through, making the footing very unstable.  There's a place called Roaring Mountain on the road between Mammoth and Norris.  It's the whole side of a mountain that is solfatara.  I'd never stopped before, but I decided to give it a look.  It is pretty impressive.  There's a hike called Solfatara that we've never been on.  I think I'll add it to the itinerary for this fall or next summer.

From Madison to West Yellowstone, we usually see a few bison or elk along the side of the road in the evening as we head home.  Saturday was no exception.  They usually spend the day in the cover of trees and only come out for feeding in the morning and evening at this time of year.  Since we're not very good morning people, we usually see them then.

The Roaring Mountain

Grazing Bison

Bull Elk, ready for the rut

Miscellanea--Bacterial Mats

The bacteria in the hot springs becomes a different color based on two things.  The heat and the alkalinity of the water.  The hottest springs tend to have bacteria that is deep blue or green.  The cooler the water different colors come about.  I took several shots of bacterial mats in Norris.

Bacterial mat at Echinus

Bacterial mat also at Echinus

Brown bacterial mat in the Back Basin

Neon bacterial mat in the Porcelain Basin

More neon bacterial mats in the Porcelain Basin

Bacterial mat in the Porcelain Basin

Brown bacterial mat (or algae, I dunno) in the Porcelain Basin

Large hooved mammal tracks disturbing the bacterial mat in the Porcelain Basin

I like interesting textures and took a few shots I wish to share

Mineralized tree root near Echinus, and shadow

Mineralized tree parts

The root systems of lodgepole pines are very shallow

Sinter gravel

Tree bark near Mammoth
Miscellanea--The Sky

The sky was spectacular last Saturday.  For some reason, instead of clear skies which we are used to this time of year, we have had a lot of late summer rain and thundershowers.  That's good because it tends to put out forest fires, but it's also bad because it tends to start a few also.  We've had very dense cloud cover for about a month now.  The other day we had monsoon like conditions for about an hour, then it cleared up.  Strange weather we're having.

Clouds over Norris

Clouds over Norris

Clouds over Norris

Clouds over Norris

Clouds over Norris

The sky over Norris

The sky over Norris

The sky over Norris

The sky over Norris

Sunset over Henry's Lake

Sunset over Henry's Lake

Sunset over Two Top
We had a wonderful day, and crammed a whole lot of activity in a short amount of time.  We live in an idyllic part of the world.  I'm thankful for that.