Sunday, June 22, 2014

June 2014: Yellowstone while the Cat's away

Three of my four sons at Sheepeater Cliff

Last week, the Cat was away.  She was in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho for a lunchlady convention.  Yeah, they have lunchlady conventions.  So the mice decided to play.  We went to Yellowstone.  It was my oldest son's first trip to Yellowstone in two years as he had been serving an ecclesiastical mission for our church.  Since we were being mice, it turned into a rodent day in Yellowstone.  There will be more of that later.

Stop #1:  Bear Gulch
There is road construction with delays on Highway 20.  The sign says expect delays of up to 30 minutes.  I asked my sons which they would prefer, sit in traffic for up to thirty minutes or go the scenic route through Bear Gulch and Warm River Canyon at forty-five miles an hour.  I told them we would probably get to highway 20 at about the same time whether we sat in traffic or went the scenic way.  I wanted to give them full disclosure.  They chose the scenic route.

We have taken the Mesa Falls Scenic Byway many times this year.  On any given day it adds twenty minutes or so to the drive without any stops.  This season, however with the road construction on the Ashton Hill it seems like a no-brainer to take it.

We have stopped at Mesa Falls a couple of times this year already and my oldest son said he had seen Mesa Falls many times and we didn't need to see it that day.  We decided to just take in nature.  We did stop at the bottom of Warm River Canyon to feed the fish, however.  There is a stretch of river in the bottom of the canyon where it is illegal to fish.  Turns out there are a lot of lawyer fishes and they know that.  They congregate there and wait for tourists to throw fish chow in the water.  The cool thing is, you can go and observe some really big fish in the shallows of Warm River.

Oh, and throw in the occasional osprey and it's a pretty cool thing.

Osprey over Warm River

Really big fish

Real big fish

Reel Big Fish

Real big ghoti

There's that pesky osprey again

Stop #1.5:  Eagle along the banks of the Madison River in Yellowstone
On our way into the park we saw a bald eagle on a tree.  You don't see them every day in Yellowstone, so I participated in a small traffic jam long enough to get a picture or two.

This is why I need a $13,000 lens for my camera...

Stop #2  Artist Paint Pots
I've always loved the different mud features of Yellowstone.  The main one is at Fountain Paint Pots on the southern loop.  There are a couple more by West Thumb and Lake.  Artist Paint Pots Nature Trail is between Madison Junction and Norris Geyser Basin.  I used to take this hike frequently when I was a kid in Yellowstone.  I have only taken it a few times since moving back in 2000.  In the old days there was a wide spot in the road where you could park your car and take your chances crossing the highway.  The trailhead was a floating boardwalk over a wetland for a hundred yards or so, then the trail took off through the trees.

The trail wasn't heavily used in the seventies when I was growing up but some travel guide started listing it and the foot traffic became great enough that the park service decided to be pro-active and save the wetland.  They added a parking area on the same side of the road as the feature and rerouted the trail around the wetland.  It's a third of a mile in to the thermal features, then an elevation gain of maybe eighty feet or so in a short distance.  There are steps cut into the trail so you feel like you are climbing stairs instead of hiking up a hill.  That makes it easier.

Along the trail I found several wildflowers I had never seen, including Elephant Head Orchids.  I had been wanting to see them for a couple of years, ever since I read about them.  Scratch another one off the bucket list.  I'm knocking things off my bucket list so fast I probably ought to start expanding it.

When we got up to the top, in addition to the thermal features, we saw a chipmunk behaving badly.  I'd never before seen anything like what it was doing.  He seemed unconcerned that we were right there.  We were very close, just observing him.  He'd scurry around, then plow his face in the dust and roll around in it.  He did this for quite awhile.  I had the thought that it might be the chipmunk version of the broken wing dance that cranes do.  Maybe the chipmunk thought, "Hey, if I make these guys think I'm crazy, maybe they'll go away."  Whatever the case, after awhile he picked up and ran off.

Elephant Head Orchids

A whole bunch of them

One of the pools in the basin.  Don't know if it's orange because of iron or because of bacteria.  Could be either

Another feature.  The cratering suggests to me that this is more of a geyser than a hot spring.  I could be wrong, it's happened before.

The view from the top of the hill

Tres hombres 

Mini mud volcano

Another one.  I imagine in the spring, it's pretty active.  The runoff water is gone so this is just a vent now

Trees don't survive the changing heat in the ground from the thermal areas.  It shifts around quite a bit and trees that have been there for a hundred years suddenly die.  The wind does the rest.

Here is the chipmunk.  I will call him Chancho

Chancho looking one way

Chancho looking the other way

Chancho plunging his head in the dust

Chancho looking to see if we're still here

Chancho plowing a furrow in the dust

Chancho is one weird chipmunk.  He r u n n o f t after this pic was taken

This pool kind of looks like a giant's footprint to me.  Okay a giant with lumbago

Mud bubble bursting

More mud bubbles

Cool mud bubble, mid-burst

Looks inviting if you've ever had a mudbath.  I wouldn't recommend it here.  Not only is it too hot but it's also a Federal offense.  Best to let the spas do that for you.

Wet pool with mud cracks around the edges.  I believe in another week or two this will be a mudpot as well

Here's a silky blue pool, reminds me of the porcelain basin in Norris

Here's it's little brother

I'm still trying to identify this one

Another pool

Another mudcrack framed pool

Another dead tree

Stop #3:  Sheepeater Cliff
Those of you who read this blog may think, "What? Not another picture of the kids climbing Sheepeater Cliff?"  Sheepeater Cliff is one of our very favorite places in the park.  The kids never tire of it, neither do we.  There are several routes we use to climb up to the top.  It's a very easy climb and the view is rewarding. This was my oldest son's first time in Yellowstone for two years so we decided to hit Sheepeater Cliff for him.  Usually, when we get to the top, we turn to the right and follow the cliff to a trail down.  We've used that cliff for years.  For some reason, the two youngest boys turned left instead of right.  I followed them and they found a way down but I kept going.  I saw a feature that was interesting and I decided to find out what was there.  I was rewarded with one of the most stunningly beautiful little hidden areas in the park.  I am certain very few people ever see this.  I hesitate even posting it here for fear it will become overused.

It was a bowl shaped feature with columnar jointed basalt forming the circular wall on three sides.  The floor was almost perfectly flat and covered with soft grasses, wild strawberry plants in bloom and thousands of purple mountain violets.  I can imagine what it would have been like to camp there.  I imagine the Sheepeater Indians, who this feature is named after probably did that.  There is no campsite here though and it would be a shame to disturb the solitude of this little oasis.  I will come back here to meditate some day.

There are some fat chipmunks on the boulder field of Sheepeater Cliff now, they have become emboldened by tourists that feed them or leave scraps where they can be found.  For the record, when we visit Yellowstone we do not feed the animals and we try to leave no trace of our presence when we leave.  We love and respect the park too much to do anything else.

The boys at Sheepeater Cliff

More boys at Sheepeater Cliff

I don't know what this is, first time I've encountered it at least in this form

These boys enjoy Yellowstone

Oregon grapes in bloom

The boys at the edge of the oasis

The new oasis

Need to identify this plant

Sticky geranium

Another plant to identify

The oldest boy on Sheepeater Cliff

Pic for scale

Another view of the oasis

This one for scale

I was there too

This squirrel was not happy we were in his home.  He swore a blue streak at us in squirrel.  I don't speak squirrel but the message was quite clear

Fat emboldened chipmunk at Sheepeater Cliff

Stop #4:  Mammoth Hot Springs
The intent was to go soak in the Boiling River for an hour or so and then drive home, but once again, due to high water levels the feature was closed to the public.  So we had to come up with Plan B.  We walked along the boardwalks at Mammoth Hot Springs for almost an hour before we headed home.

Mammoth was supposed to be the main area of the park.  There is a big stone gate at the North Entrance at Gardiner, Montana.  Mammoth Hot Springs is the headquarters of the park and it is open year round.  Unfortunately for Gardiner, Montana, there is no convenient way to get to that part of Montana.  It's out of the way and basically is a destination town.  West Yellowstone was a much more convenient town and it became the main entrance to the park almost immediately.  I can't say for sure but I believe the entrance at West Yellowstone sees more traffic than the other four entrances put together.

Mammoth Hot Springs was a very awe inspiring place.  Huge mounds of travertine with colored water cascading down it's sides.  Sadly, the earthquake at nearby Hebgen Lake seems to have messed with the plumbing at Mammoth and now it is a shadow of it's former glory.  As you walk along the boardwalks, though you can imagine what it must have looked at by comparing the extinct features with those that are still active.  In it's heyday it must have been majestic.  It's still pretty spectacular even so.

While we were walking the boardwalk one of the boys noticed a killdeer wading in the runoff of the hot springs finding morsels to eat.  Killdeer always remind me of my Dad.  He loved killdeer and always pointed them out to me when he saw them.

Mammoth Hot Springs, I wonder how old these trees are.  They were living before the formation killed them.  The formation took a very long time to be built


Imagine what this would have looked like when it was all wet

Shadow of it's former self

This part is extinct.  Would have been very cool

Liberty Cap.  A dormant geyser (probably extinct)

This hillside is still fluid

Long dead

Random hole in the ground

Extinct terraces.  There are other parts of the park where these are being made

More extinct terraces

Imagine this with water, bacterial mats and steam

I wish I could have seen this in it's heyday

That mountain of travertine was once all fluid and dynamic

The killdeer

The killdeer.  There were actually several, this on just posed

These terraces are still active

As are these

Now this is a haven for birds


More active terraces

The view from Mammoth Hot Spring

Killdeer on the terraces

More terraces

Once the whole place looked like this

and this

Little steamy waterfalls everywhere


Purple martin

Broken part of the formation being assimilated into the new travertine


Bluebird of happiness

Liked this picture

I have not yet identified this plant

Or this one

I don't know what this is called

Things like this are all over the place in Yellowstone

Stop #4.5:  Involuntary stop for road construction
We were stopped for about twenty minutes inbetween Mammoth and Norris for road work.  I got out of the car with the camera and this is what I saw.

Yellow monkeyflower near a hot spring


Slimy stuff in the stream 

The stream

Stop #4.75:  The Tetons
So many of our trips begin or end with the Tetons.  This one ended with them.  As we came down the Ashton Hill, we saw a spectacular sunset on the Teton Range.  There is a pullout about five miles north of Ashton for the purpose of viewing the Tetons.  I pulled over there and got this shot.

Sunset on the Tetons
We got a late start, because we had to wait for boys to get out of band practice, but it was a full day and a fun day.  We got home just before dark and the Cat was waiting for us!  Great day.

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