Wednesday, April 23, 2014

2014--April: First Yellowstone Trip of the Season

Spectacular eruption of Old Faithful

I have been in Yellowstone hundreds of times in my lifetime, but most of those trips have been in June, July and August.  Particularly in July and August.  Recent years I've taken the family up in September quite a bit, but rarely have we visited in the spring, and never in the winter.  I hope to change that next year by the way.  One of my best friends is a snowcoach guide and my bucket list says he needs to guide us in the wintertime. 

For the last few years, we have been looking at things other than the hot water in Yellowstone.  The times we've been able to go have been peak tourist time and the thermal features are always crowded then.  We've been hitting waterfalls and hikes into the backcountry.  Not so deep that we have to camp to get to our destination, but hikes of six or eight miles don't phase us.

This early in the season, however the park is only open so far.  The road from West Yellowstone to Madison Junction, the road from Gardiner, Montana to Old Faithful and the road from Norris Junction to Canyon are the only ones open right now.  Still too much snow for the rest of the park to be open. 

We could have driven to Canyon or Mammoth, but this time of year we wouldn't have seen much on the way or at either location.  Old Faithful seemed to be the best bet.  For the last few years, I've wanted to visit the geyser basins between Madison Junction and Old Faithful in the early spring to see if they are more impressive or more spectacular when there is more ground water than they are later in the year.  I can tell you that YES THEY ARE!  They did not disappoint.  The one I was most interested in seeing though was Fountain Paint Pots.  I wanted to see the mudpots when they are more active.  Later in the year, most of the mud is dried up and is a hard clay.  I have always wondered if they were better in the spring or winter because of the abundance of water during those times.  Turns out my theory was correct.

Haydn had rehearsal all day and Garrett was at a campout until three o'clock on Saturday, and Rhys didn't want to come along and be the only kid, so Chimene and I made a date of it.  Just the two of us.  We had a nice time in Yellowstone.  The park opened last Friday, but the weather was too bad and Chimene didn't get off work until two o'clock, so that day was out.  We went on Saturday instead and the weather was great.  It was sunny and breezy at times but not terrible and even though there was a lot of snow on the ground it really was jacket weather.

I went back and reread several blog posts from last year and a phrase kept popping out.  I had written several times, "This is why I need a zoom lens for the camera."  Santa Claus must have read my blog, or maybe Mrs. Claus did because I got two new lenses for the camera.  A zoom lens and a portrait lens that will lend itself to wildflower photography.  Thank you Mrs. Claus!

Obligatory shot of the first bison of the year

Canada geese.  contrary to popular belief, they are not Canadian geese and they do not say "Eh."

First Stop:  Fountain Paint Pots

I love all the mudpots in Yellowstone.  Always have.  I can watch them for a long time.  They mesmerize me.  They were especially active on this trip because of the excess ground water.  Our friend, Jeff Carter also said that since the earthquake a few months ago a lot of the thermal features were more active.  Whatever the reason, it works for me.  They are one of my favorite thermal features in the park.

When we got there, there was still about fifteen inches of snow on the first part of the boardwalk.  As we ventured further into the geyser basin, though the ground temperature was hot enough that the snow had either already melted or had failed to collect.  Whatever the case, it was fun to walk through the snow with the other intrepid adventurers.

All of the thermal features we saw in the park seemed to be more active and more powerful in the spring.  It was spectacular.  I think I want to come in the spring more often.  I loved it.  Enough talk, here are the pictures.

Me walking on fifteen inches of snow to get to the paint pots

Travertine being formed.  Is it just me or is this larger than it was last year?

Silex Spring

Sinter and bacterial mats on the edge of Silex Spring

More of the same

Fountain Paint Pots in the spring.  Much more active than later in the season

Mud bubble

Gives an idea of the amount of mud bubbles

More mud bubbles

But wait, there's more mud bubbles


This is why I like Yellowstone, one of many reasons

Fountain Paint Pots from the other side.  In the summer, most of this will be dry and hardened

First wildflower of the year for me.  Don't know what it is but I'll identify it sometime
Leather Pool
Red Spouter formed after the 1959 Hebgen Lake Earthquake.  It's usually just a hissing vent later in the season

Spring is definitely the right time to see Red Spouter

Love this feature

Volcanic tableland

Twig, Fountain and Clepsydra Geysers all working together

The Hot Chick in front of the snow.  Quite a bit still there
Second Stop:  Midway Geyser Basin

I used to love Midway Geyser Basin when I was a teenager.  There was this really great spot where the water from Excelsior Geyser runs off into the Firehole River.  Back in the 1970's it was legal to swim there so we would go in just after dark and go skinny dipping there.  Unfortunately, a few rude people tend to ruin things for the rest of us.  The rangers closed it down in the late seventies because they got tired of having to clean up underwear and beer bottles every morning.  It was good while it lasted.  If you got too hot, you just had to kick off into the river.  When you got too cool you moved closer to the geyser runoff.  It was idyllic.  Selfish rude people.

Midway is home to the largest thermal spring in the world, Grand Prismatic Spring.  It's a beautiful blue pool that is enormous.  Unfortunately, because the air temperature was so cool and the water was so hot we couldn't see much of the water at Midway.  Too much steam.  Later in the season, when the air temperature is much warmer, we'll be able to see it better.  The problem with that, however is that we'll have to share the experience with a couple thousand tourists at that time.

I still love Midway Geyser Basin.

Where I used to skinny-dip

Still a great deal of snow on the mountains

I believe this is called Turquoise Pool

The Hot Chick at Turquoise Pool

Travertine terraces being formed.  In a thousand years this will look like Mammoth Hot Springs in it's heyday

Bacterial mat in the discharge waters of Grand Prismatic Spring

Strange looking discharge channel

Don't know how or why, but I do know this is cool

I waited for just the right moment when the steam cleared to get this shot.  The edge of the crater of Excelsior Geyser.  It looks ethereal like this.  The photo doesn't do the real experience justice

The edge of the crater of Excelsior Geyser, once the largest geyser in the world.  in the 1880's, however, it erupted so violently that it ruined it's plumbing and has been mostly dormant ever since.  The Hot Chick digs the min-waterfalls running over the side here

 Bacterial mats in the runoff of Excelsior Geyser
Third Stop:  Black Sand Basin

Black Sand Basin is so named because of the fine particles of decaying obsidian, which incidentally makes black sand.  Who knew?

This is one of the smaller geyser basins in the park and is visited less than the others.  By the time you get this far, you've probably already seen Fountain Paint Pots, Midway and Biscuit Basin.  This is the last stop before Old Faithful.  Black Sand Basin is pretty but not as spectacular as some of the others.  We hardly ever stop, but I wanted to this day.  Glad we did.

Biscuit Basin was closed by the way.  There was a winter killed elk that was providing a living for a grizzly bear and the rangers closed that geyser basin to give it some privacy.  Personally, I don't like being watched while I eat.  Can't blame the bear for that.  We'll get to Biscuit Basin later in the summer.  It's also not one of the more spectacular thermal areas, but it does have the trailhead to Mystic Falls, one of our favorite waterfalls in the park.

Say hello to my little friend

Attempted murder

Small geyser near the river

I like the sinter around this geyser

Runoff into the Firehole River

Bacterial mat at Black Sand Basin

Second wildflower of the season.  This is a Yellow Monkeyflower

Cute little bubbly thing
Last Stop:  Old Faithful

Since we came this far we decided to go all the way to Old Faithful.  I've never seen it erupt this early in the year before.  Glad we did.  Later in the summer, where there's not as much water, the eruptions are still cool, but sometimes can be anticlimactic.  This time, however, there were not many people there (compared to the summer months) and when Old Faithful erupted, it was powerful and I could feel and hear rumbling like I never have before.  I really think winter and spring are overlooked times of year for Yellowstone.  Not for me, not anymore.

Me in front of a ten or so foot snowdrift

Snow up to the eaves

Old Faithful Inn, where we have reservations to stay for our anniversary

Lots of snow there

Old Faithful

It teases

And it begins

A particularly powerful eruption

It gets bigger

and bigger

and it goes for a long time

Classic eruption
Bonus Materials

On the way home, as we crossed Fountain Flats, there was a bit of a traffic slowdown.  I've seen upwards of ten hundred million billion bison and elk in my life and even though I like them, I'm not impressed enough when I see them to stop and gawk.  If they were fighting or doing something besides eating it would be different.  At this part of the park you expect to see bison and elk.  I noticed the license plates on the cars though and they were mostly Idaho and Montana.  I thought, hmm something must be up.  Idahoans and Montanans don't usually stop for bison and elk. 

I looked across the meadow and shouted, "It's a wolf!" to Chimene and about gave her whiplash when I pulled the car over to the side of the road.  The wolf was a long way away, but it was close enough to get some 'decent' shots of it.  At least you can tell what it is.  You don't expect to see a wolf at Fountain Flats.  You expect to see them in the Lamar Valley or the Hayden Plateau, but not here, so it was a real bonus.

Wolf and ravens

We saw a few other animals on the way home, a few bison and an elk, and there were sandhill cranes and three swans on Swan Lake.

Bison on the roadway.  They think they own the place


Sandhill Cranes and Canada Geese at Swan Lake

Trumpeter Swans on Swan Lake
I never tire of Yellowstone.  This was a beautiful day.  I hadn't been in the park since September.  That was way too long.  Great day, and I got to spend it with my best friend.