Wednesday, August 28, 2013

2013 Cloudy Day in Yellowstone

Clouds over the Upper Geyser Basin in Yellowstone National Park
This summer has been a strange one for the Benson family.  Normally, we would have spent several weekends in Yellowstone, but because I chose to be in a play, we only made it to Yellowstone once in May until after the show ended.  No problem.  I don't get to be in a play very often and I relished the experience.  But it did cut into my travel time. 

Once the show was over, it was time to travel except that my boys are getting to be teenagers and we had camps to deal with and this and that and the other.  Finally all the camps were done with and we had time for one last push for Yellowstone trips and the weather tanked.  Rain, thunderstorms, wind, you name it.  Everything, it seemed was conspiring to keep us from Yellowstone.

Tomorrow is the first day of school for my boys and the first day of work for my wife who is a lunchlady at the high school.  We decided to take one last excursion to Yellowstone before school started.  Then I looked at the weather forecast for today and it said "scattered thundershowers".  I don't know about you, but I don't like hiking with lightning all around.  It looked like today was going to be a bust as well.

This morning, I looked a little more closely at the forecast and it said the precipitation and thunder were going to happen from three o'clock in the afternoon on.  We had to be home by seven o'clock this evening anyway because I have a son that needed to pass his swim test for his First Class award in scouting tonight.  Two hour trip home, thunder not starting until three, seemed like the planets aligned for us to make it to the park today.  We decided not to go on any really long hikes in the backcountry, instead we decided to do something we haven't done a lot of lately.  We decided to see some of the hot water in Yellowstone.  The hot water features are close to the parking lots and if it started to rain we could scurry to the car and get out of Dodge.  For the record, I don't use the word "scurry" very often.

For the other record, we did drive through an area that had received some rainfall a few minutes earlier, and we did get sprinkled on when we were driving, and on the way to Morning Glory Pool, we did hear one thunderclap.  Other than that it was just an overcast day.  Made for some cool pictures though.

I hadn't seen Morning Glory Pool since I was a small boy and you could drive right to it.  I've wanted to see it for several years.  We even attempted to see it a couple of years ago but were waylaid by a spectacular eruption of Castle Geyser.  This time we were determined to see it.  So we spent the day in the Upper Geyser Basin. 

First Stop:  Howard Springs

When I was a boy, we travelled back and forth from West Yellowstone, Montana to Rexburg, Idaho for a week or two in the spring and a week or two in the fall.  Dad taught at Ricks College and us kids had school to attend.  That always coincided with either rehearsals for the Playmill Theatre or performances.  It was always a treat for us to stop at Howard Springs, and we didn't do it very often. 

The spring was used by Chief Joseph and the Nez Perce tribe and was also used by General Howard as he pursued them.  Now it is a rest area and picnic location along highway 20 on the way to West Yellowstone.  For as long as I can remember, the spring has been tapped and the water pumped to a rock fountain for weary travelers to drink.  We introduced it to our kids and always make a point to stop and get a drink of the best water in the world.  Even Chimene likes it.

Picture of Garrett at the fountain on an earlier trip to Yellowstone this summer
I like Howard Springs for other reasons as well.  The hillside is covered with wildflowers in June and July.  Not so much in August.  Most of them have lost their petals by now and have gone to seed.  There are a few holdouts though.

The sky at Howard Springs

Another shot of the sky

A daisy, holding out
Next Stop:  The Upper Geyser Basin

When we got to Yellowstone we knew we were going to see the hot water, we just didn't know which hot water we were going to see.  We checked our schedule to see how much time we had, then we checked to see what we hadn't done for a long time.  I don't think I had ever walked the entire boardwalk at the Upper Geyser Basin.  I don't remember ever doing it.  I know I've walked portions of it, so we decided we were going to do it.  First stop, though was going to be Morning Glory Pool.

We passed several neat thermal features on the way to Morning Glory Pool but we didn't stop and wait for anything to erupt.

The boys in front of the world's largest log structure, The Old Faithful Inn

I don't remember the name of this pool, but I like it

Hot water running into the Firehole River.  I know from experience that places like this are pleasant to swim in.  I don't think it's legal at this particular location, however.

Another thermal feature that has a name but I neglected to identify it.  Notice the chips next to the pool.  Apparently the crust is stable right here.

A clump of Asters.

Castle Geyser.  I'd like to see it go again

The Firehole River

Grotto Geyser.  One of the most interesting geysers in the park if not the world.  Sinter formed around fallen trees to give this feature an unearthly look.  Apparently, the water rushes out of all of those openings in different directions.

Another shot of the Firehole River

Water shot

Interesting butterfly on a thistle
Next Stop:  Morning Glory Pool

This part was bittersweet for me.  Sweet because I got to check something off the bucket list but bitter because Morning Glory Pool is a shadow of it's former self.  At one time it was amongst the most beautiful pools in the park if not the world.  Guests used to throw coins in the pool to make wishes.  That was one of the reasons the Park Service closed the road and made Morning Glory Pool accessible only on foot, and a one and a quarter mile hike at that.

The coins have reacted with the algae in the water and instead of the beautiful crystal blue color of years past, it is now brown and orange.  Sad that people did that.  I'm sure most of them didn't do it in a malicious way, and I don't think scientists back in the sixties knew it would damage the pool the way it has.  Very sad indeed.

Morning Glory Pool

From a different angle

From a slightly different angle
Next Stop:  Geyser Hill

After Morning Glory Pool, we decided to take the long way back to the Inn, where we had parked our car.  That took us over the remainder of the boardwalks I had never been on in the Upper Geyser Basin.  Lots of cool things on this trail.  Pools, geysers, fumaroles etc...  Several of the geysers in the Upper Geyser Basin are reasonably predictable, within a couple of hours or so.  I added some items to my bucket list today.  I want to see the predictable geysers in the Upper Geyser Basin erupt.  It dawned on me today that I have seen a few geysers go off a lot of times but I haven't seen a lot of geysers go off.  That needs to change.  It will necessitate having patience, however.  I think what we'll have to do is plan to sit at the geyser's edge and read a good book until showtime.

Along the path I spied hundreds of Fringed Gentian flowers.  Between them and the Lewis Monkey Flower I think I have discovered my favorite wildflowers.  At least until I find some Elephant Heads in bloom.

This may be Fan Pool or Fan Geyser.  I don't remember.

Riverside Geyser.  This is one of the predictable ones.

Angry sky over the Upper Geyser Basin

The fam on the trail.  Open your eyes Boy!

Fringed Gentian

and his brothers

I believe this is called Giant Geyser.  It's also a predictable one and a large one at that.

No, this one is called Giant Geyser

The boardwalk through the geyser basin

I like texture

I believe this is called Chromatic Pool

Pretty cool bacterial mat

Don't remember what this is called

I don't think this one had a name.  Looks like a kidney though

If I were to name this one it would be Bagel Pool

Don't remember what this one was called

Pretty cool rock formation in this small geyser

Pretty pool that is

The fam on the trail.  The Hot Chick used to get after me for not taking pictures of people.  Well there you go.

I believe this is called the Lion Group

This may be Heart Spring

Beehive Geyser.  Probably named by a Utah explorer

Bacterial mat

Bacterial mat

Bacterial mat

This little guy was going off non-stop.  Only about a foot off the ground though

I believe this is Anemone Geyser 

Don't remember what this is called but I like it

Firehole River

My favorite shot of the Firehole River from today

Aquatic plants under the water of the Firehole River

An angry sky
Next Stop:  Old Faithful 

You can't stop at the Upper Geyser Basin and not see Old Faithful.  That's just not done.  We got back to the Lodge with enough time to get Ice Cream and then went out for the eruption.  We shared this experience with about ten thousand of our closest friends.  I ran into a very large, very bold raven on the sidewalk on my way to the viewing area.

The zombie raven

What the sky looked like just before the eruption

It begins

Building up

More is better

Getting there

At the high point.
It was a nice eruption.  I've seen bigger and better, but I am still in awe of this piece of natural plumbing.  I never tire of Yellowstone National Park.

Last Stop:  Home

We got home just in time for my son to do his swimming test for scouts.  He passed.  I'm glad of that.  When I got back from taking him to the pool, I noticed that the sun was setting and it was kind of pretty so I climbed up on my roof to get a couple of pics.  Don't tell my wife...

This makes me think of a Maxfield Parrish painting.

Idaho has no shortage of spectacular sunsets

Thought this was cool
We had a nice time today.  It's nice to clean up the bucket list just a bit.  The problem is that every time I cut off a head, two more rise up in it's place.  I'm anxious to get back.  Yellowstone is my sanctuary.