Friday, May 16, 2014

2014--May: Anniversary in Yellowstone (part II)

Bob.  My kids call them that.  It stands for Big Ole Bison
Part II

Day 2:  We left Old Faithful at about eleven o'clock in the morning.  The plan was to see as many animals as we could.  That translates to bears.  Over the years we have spent a great deal of time in the western half of the park, from Old Faithful to Mammoth.  We have been to Canyon quite a bit and Tower only a few times.  We have rarely visited Lake or West Thumb.  Since we were already at Old Faithful, we decided to make the lower loop and hit West Thumb and Lake, continue on to Canyon, head west to Norris and then on to Mammoth and end up in the Lamar Valley.

The eastern half of the park still has abundant snow on the ground.  The snow is mostly melted on the western side.  I don't know why that is.  It could be that the ground is hotter on the west side.  I know that to be the case at Norris.  It could be that the elevation is higher on the east side.  I don't know that for a fact but I surmise it to be the case.  Whatever the reason, there was a great deal of snow on the east side of the park.  As we drove through, I began to think it may have been a mistake to drive the southern loop.  Before too long, though my fears were put to rest.  We had a great day in Yellowstone.

We went looking for animals but we stopped at a few other locations as well.  When I was mapping out this blog post, I originally was going to categorize the photos and show all the waterfalls, then all the varmints, then all the ungulates and finally the carnivores.  I think I'll do it chronologically instead.  I think it gives a more accurate view of our day that way.  Therefore, the pictures won't be organized by category instead you'll just have to take it as it comes.  That's the way it was for us.

First Stop:  Keppler Cascades
Keppler Cascades is a beautiful waterfall just a few miles from the Old Faithful Inn.  In fact it is the source of drinking water for the village at Old Faithful.  Each of the villages in Yellowstone have a local water source. We had to climb a two and a half foot tall snowdrift to get to the overlook at Keppler.  I wanted to see it with the snow around.  It did not disappoint.

The Hot Chick at Keppler Cascades

Keppler Cascades in the spring with snow around

Snow in the parking area at Keppler Cascades

Second Stop:  West Thumb
West Thumb is so named because from the aerial view that portion of Yellowstone Lake looks like what we used to call a "hitchhiker's thumb."  There is a thermal area at West Thumb and I took the walk.  I think this thermal area is better in the summer than it is in the winter or spring.  It's still cool though.  Different kind of thermal area from the Upper and Lower Geyser Basins

West Thumb seems to have had a violent past.  The first view looks like bomb craters filled with water.

Another bomb crater

First animal of the day.  A little chipmunk.

Yellowstone Lake still snow and ice covered

Bacterial mat in the sinter

How travertine terraces begin

Thought this was cool

Apparently there is a hot spring under water here

A little geyser cone in the lake

Mud cracks are cool

Another geyser in the lake

The old man.


Third Stop:  Lake Hotel
We have considered staying at all of the inns, lodges and hotels in the park for our anniversary each year.  Since we were passing by we decided to see what the Lake Hotel looked like.  It's a very old building, built in the 1890's.  It was originally meant for rich people and it still caters to the richer than me.  Lake Hotel is probably the swankiest hotel in the park.  Maybe we'll wait for the 35th anniversary for that one.  It was originally a clapboard building with little exterior decoration.  A short time after the Old Faithful Inn was built, the park commissioner hired Robert Reamer, the architect for the Old Faithful Inn, to make Lake more special.  He added classical porticoes to the front of the building and called it good.

Classical portico at the Lake Hotel

Yellowstone Lake, iced over at the Lake Hotel

And the other side.

Fourth Stop:  First Bear
We traveled on from Yellowstone Lake toward Canyon.  As we came around a bend, there were a lot of people stopped.  There were folks with really big lenses on their cameras so I though it must be something more than a bison.  It was a young grizzly bear.  Our first bear of the season.  He was fairly close to the road, but he wasn't very cooperative.  He was too busy eating to give us a nice face shot.  We stayed there for about ten minutes, watching him.  Bears and wolves are the rockstars of Yellowstone.  We love to see them.

First grizzly bear of the season

Fifth Stop:  Second Bear
Probably less than five miles from the first bear, we came around a corner and saw more people with big lenses on their cameras stopped.  We stopped to find out what it was and they said it was a grizzly bear that had swum across the river, crossed the road and climbed up the side of the mountain.  We missed it by mere moments.  So we had to settle for a pelican.

A pelican where the bear should have been

Sixth Stop:  Beaver
We stopped at a turnout in the Hayden Valley and the lady there said there was a beaver in the river below.  I watched for about ten minutes and saw the beaver.  Sadly, I didn't see him long enough to get a picture.  Just as I was getting the camera up he dove under water.  I waited another five or ten minutes hoping to get a shot but he wouldn't come back.  I know where he is now though and maybe I'll see him another time.

Where the beaver was in the Hayden Valley

Seventh Stop:  Great Blue Heron
About a mile from the elusive Beaver we saw a great blue heron very close to the road.  The Hot Chick took the best picture of the day there.  My favorite picture of the trip right here.

Best pic of the day, a great blue heron

Eighth Stop:  The Real Second Bear
This time of year, when you see people with cameras at the side of the road, especially ones with professional looking lenses, you can be fairly certain it's a bear or a wolf.  Later in the summer there will be traffic jams for bison and elk because the tourists in the summer have probably never seen them.  This time of year, however, it's people who come often.  They're going to stop for the carnivores.

We saw a bunch of folks stopped once again and there was a reasonably large grizzly bear on the side of a mountain.  He was digging in the dirt, presumably hunting for grubs or other bugs.  There were about a hundred people there watching but he ignored us all and kept eating.  I took a lot of pictures of this bear.  The Ranger thought he might cross the road so we waited for that for a long time but he never did.

As I was waiting for the bear to cross the road, I looked up and there were three bald eagles flying overhead.  That was neat to see.  In addition, there was a set of bear tracks in the snow and some of the people said it was another grizzly that had come charging through the valley and when he saw the other one he changed direction and made a beeline up over the hill.

Second bear of the day

Pair of bald eagles

Ant the other one

Tracks of the bear that got away

Ninth Stop:  Third Bear
About two miles past the second bear, we came around a corner and there was another grizzly bear and a bunch of ravens.  This time we were the first car to stop.  He was pretty far away and all he was doing was hanging out with the birds.  We watched him for a few moments and then went on our way.  Shortly after that, though we drove around another corner and in the distance there was a sow grizzly with a cub.  Five grizzly bears so far, plus the two that got away.  The sow and her cub were so far away that we could only see them with the binoculars.  The binoculars are more powerful than our big lens so we didn't get any pictures of the fourth and fifth bears.

Third grizzly bear with ravens

Tenth Stop:  Canyon

We love the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.  We only stopped for a short time and only stopped at Artist Point.  We got a great shot of Lower Falls surrounded by snow.

Lower Falls of the Yellowstone River with snow

Eleventh Stop:  Rustic Falls and the Golden Gate
Just as you descend into Mammoth, there is a waterfall at the side of the road called Rustic Falls.  I've photographed it before but usually later in the season when there isn't much water.  I wanted to see it with abundant water flowing over it.  Also, just north of Rustic Falls is a view called the Golden Gate.

Rustic Falls

Golden Gate

Twelfth Stop:  Undine Falls
Undine Falls is one of my favorite waterfalls in the park.  It is about four miles east of Mammoth Hot Springs.  There is an observation point on the south side of the canyon and a hiking trail on the north side.  We've viewed this particular falls from both sides.  Undine Falls is a three tiered cataract that falls about sixty feet.  On the edge of the cliff on the north side there were the bleached bones of a winter killed bison.

Undine Falls

Winter killed bison bones

Moss on a tree at Undine Falls
Thirteenth Stop:  Wraith Falls
Wraith Falls is a few miles past Undine Falls.  It's a short hike of about half a mile and most of it is along level ground.  There's about fifty feet of elevation gain at the end of the trail to the observation point.  I've seen this waterfall many times but I wanted to see it with abundant water.  I usually see it later in the summer when there isn't much water.  There were quite a few varmints on the trail.  Some of them were kind enough to pose for me.

Yellow wildflower.  Too tired to identify it right now but will later

Some kind of varmint.  I think it's a ground squirrel

Wraith Falls

Big ole yellow bellied marmot.  This guy was the sentry, keeping watch on the
riff raff, ready to raise the alarm if we got too close.
Fifteenth Stop:  Shaggy Elk
Along the road, we saw five bull elk that were still wearing their winter coats and their antlers were just coming in and were covered with velvet.  There were five of them, but I'm just going to show the best pic of one of them.  I don't usually stop for elk, but when I see something this unique I'll stop.

One of five shaggy boys we saw

Sixteenth Stop:  Petrified Tree and the Sixth Bear of the Day
For the previous two years we have seen bears in the small canyon at Petrified Tree.  We decided to take a chance.  There is a big petrified tree in an iron enclosure.  The Park Service wants everyone to stop and see that tree.  What they don't tell you is that if you look up on the hillside through the trees you can see eleven or twelve much larger petrified trees all standing vertical as well.

There was a young couple that we had seen and talked to a few times throughout the day and they were there at Petrified Tree as well.  I didn't go up to the tree.  I've seen it a bunch of times.  They did though and the guy came running down the hill to where I was and said, "There's a black bear down there!"  Sure enough.  In addition there were three blacktail deer very close to the bear.  There was also a big bison in the canyon.  It's a very small canyon but it was very productive that day.

One of the hidden petrified trees at Petrified Tree

Black bear

Three blacktail deer

Seventeenth Stop:  Pronghorn Buck in the Lamar Valley
We drove to Roosevelt and turned in to the Lamar Valley.  Right at the junction there was another black bear.  It was getting late and the bear was kind of far away so we didn't stop to take a picture of him.  A few miles down the road in the Lamar Valley we saw about thirty total Pronghorns.  They were in several groups and most of them were too far away to photograph.  There was a band of four or five really close to the road though and I stopped for a photo op with them.

Pronghorns are often mistaken for antelope.  There are no true antelope in North America.  The pronghorn is a unique species and genetically dissimilar to the true antelope.  That doesn't mean they aren't cool though.  The Pronghorn is the fastest animal in North America.  They are usually skittish, but this band must have been used to humans because they let me photograph them.

The Lamar Valley has been called "America's Serengeti."  I have heard but can't corroborate that there is more diversity of animal life in the Lamar Valley than anywhere else on earth.  Dunno if it's true or not, but it's cool if it is.

Pronghorn buck

Pronghorns in the Lamar Valley
Eighteenth Stop:  The Scruffy Moose
On our way back from the Lamar Valley, along the side of the road we came across a particularly scruffy moose.  I think it was a young one because of how small it was.  It's antlers were also covered with velvet.  I don't know how many years it had been since I last saw a moose in Yellowstone.  It had been a lot though.

The Scruffy Moose

Nineteenth Stop:  The Elusive Wolf
As we were on our way home, between Roosevelt and Mammoth, we came around a corner and there was a wolf just standing out in the open. I was excited and exclaimed to the Hot Chick, "It's a WOLF!"  I pulled over and fumbled with the camera, unrolled the window and by that time the wolf was making an exit into the forest.  We saw him for real, but this image is all we could get of him.  The wolf and the moose sightings were like a really good desert after a grand meal.  It was really fun to see them.

The Elusive Wolf
Twentieth Stop:  Mammoth Terraces
We didn't hike the terraces, instead we just did the one you can drive through.  To me it seemed there was less water on that drive than there had been the year before.  The thermal features at Mammoth are a shade of their former glory.  Sad.  I did take a photograph of an Alpine Larkspur and a very pretty bluebird though.

Wild Larkspur

The Bluebird of Happiness
Twenty-first Stop:  Gibbon Falls
Once again, we wanted to see a waterfall in the spring when there was a lot of water flowing down it.  We stopped at near dusk and for the first time ever, we had Gibbon Falls all to ourselves.  One of my favorite waterfalls in the park but usually I have to share them with a few hundred or even a thousand people.  Not this time.

Overlooking the valley with the setting sun from Gibbon Falls

Gibbon Falls

Another angle

More of that setting sun
Last Stop:  Sunset at Seven Mile Bridge
I came full circle.  The first picture I took on this trip was just past Seven Mile Bridge and the last picture I took was near Seven Mile Bridge.  I couldn't pass up a shot at a beautiful sunset and a huge full moon.

Bad Moon Rising

Why I live in the mountains!
My friend Jeff Carter told me he was amazed at how much of Yellowstone we saw.  I can see a lot of that park in a short amount of time.  It really is my favorite place on earth.  Plus the fact that I got to spend a couple of really good days with my wife, my lover, my girlfriend, my best friend.  I love you darlin'.  It just keeps getting better and better.  This was the best anniversary ever.  I had a very good time.  I think the Hot Chick did too.  I can't wait to get back!

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