Sunday, May 25, 2014

May--2014: Mesa Falls Scenic Byway

My grandsons at Warm River Spring

We had plans to get up early on May 24th, 2014 and head up to Yellowstone.  We wanted to see more bears and more animals.  This is the time of year when the animals are most visible.

However, there is the right way, the wrong way, the easy way and the hard way.  After that is the "Benson Way."  The Benson Way is defined by the fact that there is no straight line between two points no matter how close the points may be.  The Benson Way prevailed and we were not able to make it to the park.

Another aspect of being Bensons though is that we are adaptable.  We couldn't get to Yellowstone yesterday so we opted for Plan B.  When we want to get out and do something, we generally get out and do it.  By the time we were ready to leave, it was later in the day and I remembered what it was like in Yellowstone on Memorial Day Weekend last year.  The line of traffic at the West Entrance of the park stretched several blocks into downtown West Yellowstone.  Not my idea of a good time.

Plan B was to have a short day and run up to Mesa Falls and hit a couple of trails at Harriman State Park. None of our sons wanted to go so it was just going to be the Hot Chick and I.  Our daughter and son-in-law and their kids had already been planning to head up to Mesa Falls and they suggested we head up and spend the day together.  As much as I love Yellowstone, I think Plan B turned out a lot better than Plan A.  We had a great time with our family.

First Leg:  Lower Mesa Falls
We decided to take the Mesa Falls Scenic Byway which departs from Highway 20 at Ashton, Idaho.  The Byway descends into Warm River Canyon, up the side of the Island Park Caldera (the largest volcano in the world), descends down into Bear Gulch and then winds up the canyon until it intersects with Lower Mesa Falls.  The road continues past Upper Mesa Falls and finally meets up with Highway 20 again.  I think it used to be the old road before Highway 20 was built.  Sometimes the old ways are better.

At the top of the hill, there is a pullout with a beautiful view of America's most iconic mountains, the Teton Range.  Of course we had to stop...

The Teton Range with an overcast sky.  The weather must have been worse in Wyoming.  It was awesome in Idaho

Big clouds over the Tetons.  Almost looks like a painting

Warm River Canyon

We met our married kids and grandsons at Lower Mesa Falls and took the walk over to the viewpoint.  There is an area with a stone guardrail on the canyon wall that has a great view of Lower Mesa Falls.  Upper Mesa Falls is majestic and a straight drop of 110 feet.  It looks like a miniature Niagara Falls.  Lower Mesa Falls, though is a series of cataracts that fall angrily down the canyon for 85 feet.  Both are spectacular.  The Henry's Fork of the Snake River is the only major stretch of river in the western United States that isn't dammed  or exploited for hydro power.  These waterfalls are pristine and have not been changed by man.  They look the same as they have for millenia.

The view from the overlook is good, but there is a better one a little farther on at the top of the big talus slope or boulder field.  That is where I wanted to take my photos from.  When I walked out onto the boulder field, of course the grandsons wanted to follow.  One of my grandsons said, "Grandpa, we have our Dad's blood.  That means we don't do what our Mom says, we just do whatever our Dad does!"  Cutest quote of the day!

Yellow Mountain Violet at Lower Mesa Falls

Lower Mesa Falls from the boulder field

Grandson, Son-in Law and Daughter at the boulder field

Mist from Upper Mesa Falls in the distance.  Shot from the boulder field at Lower Mesa falls

Interesting textures

More texture


Yellow Arnica (I think)

Second Leg:  Upper Mesa Falls 
At Upper Mesa Falls, there is an old Inn that has been remodeled into an information center.  It's a log building over a hundred years old.  Very neat.  In the back room there is an interactive display of animal parts, skulls, feet and skins.  Guests are encouraged to touch the displays.  It's like a petting zoo of dead things.  Essentially there are pelts of most of the fur bearing animals in the area.

After the "petting zoo," we headed down to Upper Mesa Falls.  The trail descends partway down the canyon.  When we got to the view of the falls, it dawned on me that the zoom lens isn't always the best lens, even though I like it a lot.  We left the smaller lens in the car.  Would have been nice to have it there.  My daughter did the same thing.  I guess that means we have to come back sometime and bring the smaller lens!

The Grandsons at Upper Mesa Falls

These were all over the place.  Some kind of cocoon.
Like I wouldn't include a skull picture...

The Dead Petting Zoo

Grandson with a dead thing

Canine pelts

Sandhill Crane Skull

Great Horned Owl Skull

Wild strawberries in bloom

Brink of the falls

There is a micro-ecology at the falls.  Ferns and moss grow there abundantly

Upper Mesa Falls with too big of a lens


View down the canyon

Upper Mesa Falls from further away.  Now the lens works

A lone hoodoo at the bottom of the canyon

My grandson being photogenic.  Best picture of the day

View down the canyon

I liked the sun in these trees

And these

Another shot of the micro-climate

Rocky outcrop on the other side of the canyon.  Would be a great view of the
falls from there, I think

Some kind of textural weirdness.  Isn't nature cool?

I liked this

The sun hit this aspen just right...

Third Leg:  Warm River Spring
My Son-in-Law has spent many hours in the wilds around this area.  While we were in the lodge at Upper Mesa Falls, I asked him if he had ever been to Warm River Spring.  He said that he had not.  We decided we needed to go there.  It's not often I get to introduce my Son-in-Law something new in this area.

About two miles past Upper Mesa Falls, a dirt road cuts off to the right.  That's the road to Warm River Spring.  It's about six miles on a dusty dirt road.  Just before the spring, the road leaves the plateau and descends down the Moose Canyon.  There is an old lodge there that you may rent from the forest service if you wish to camp down there.  Someday we want to do so.  There are several miles of trails in Moose Canyon that we have not hiked yet.

Warm River Spring  is a natural spring that flows from the ground at 200 cubic feet per second.  That's a lot of water.  It is also 50 degrees Fahrenheit year round, hence the name Warm River Spring.  The spring gushes out of the side of a cliff about forty feet up and cascades down to the river below.  I assume the water is slightly heated because it is situated over the largest volcano in the world.  In the 1930's the Civil Conservation Corps tapped the spring and created a fish hatchery on the site.  The hatchery has since been abandoned and the machinery has long since ceased to work and nature is slowly taking the site back.  Water still gushes from the pipes used to tap the spring, but water also flows from several places in the rock around the pipes.  Eventually there will be no evidence this spring was ever tapped.  The old lodge is a remnant of those days.

All of us boys climbed up the side of the spring.  I stayed at the source with my youngest grandson while my Son-in-Law and the older boys climbed a bit higher up the side of the cliff.  On the way down one of my grandsons had to be rescued so I went and got him.  It's a beautiful little canyon that is visited mainly by fishermen.  I understand sometimes you can see moose, bears and great blue herons in this canyon.

It was also nice to be able to show my Son-in-Law something new.

Heading up to the spring

Heading up to the spring some more

and more

At the top of the spring, grandkids climbing

Rescuing a grandson

Wild larkspur

Warm River Spring, an idyllic little water feature in the middle of nowhere, enjoyed mainly by fishermen

Moose Canyon

Another little spring.  These things crop up everywhere in this canyon

Haven't identified this yet.  Might be some kind of daisy.  They are abundant up on the plateau.

Last Leg:  Harriman State Park
The Harrimans were railroad barons.  As I understand it, they owned the Union Pacific Railroad.  The family was responsible for opening up great portions of the western states.  Sun Valley, Idaho was the first winter destination resort, created by W. Avrell Harriman.  Growing up, we used to pass by this large area called The Railroad Ranch.  It was a huge working ranch in the Henry's Fork Caldera (smaller than the Island Park Caldera).  In the 1970's, the Harriman brothers donated the ranch to the State of Idaho with the provision that it be managed as a professional park for the people, by the state.  It's a beautiful piece of land with abundant wildlife and great vistas.  Last year we took our family there for the first time.  We decided then it would not be the last.

We want to visit during the winter and go snowshoeing along the trails.  You can stay in a yurt, year round at Harriman State Park.  I think I need to spend a night in a yurt.

We didn't have a lot of time in Harriman, but it was okay.  The grandsons were hungry and the Hot Chick and I needed to get back home.  We walked around the park just a little and saw a bunch of pelicans.  We also saw some great wildflowers.  Part of the park is the old ranch buildings and the rest is made up of trails through the prairie and trails through the forest.  We ended up spending our time in the old ranch part.

Just as we were leaving to go back to the parking area I spotted a moose being chased by a herd of ponies. Nobody believed me, but I grew up in the forest, I know what a moose is.  I was the only one who saw the moose.

We got back to the parking lot, said our goodbyes and as we were driving out, I spotted another moose in a marsh.  Vindication!  My Son-in-Law spotted the calf behind the moose.  I got some great shots of both the cow and the calf.

Purple shooting star

Pink shooting star

White shooting star.  All three of these were withing ten square feet of each other




Hairy clematis, my new favorite wildflower

Hairy clematis

Old hitch

Great clouds


Pelicans doing more than sitting there

Don't know what this is, I'll find out though

Same here

Mama moose

when one pic of the moose just isn't enough


I need to identify this one too

This was a dam on the way out of the park at Silver Lake

As we were leaving, one of my grandsons exclaimed, "This was the best day ever!"  I agree.  We had a much better time with our family than we would have had with a bunch of strangers.  So our original plan was thwarted.  Who cares?  This was better.  Lemonade anyone?

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