Saturday, July 19, 2014

July 2014: Yellowstone-Fairy Falls

The crew at Firehole Falls

The Sandwich:  We're the Bread
If you read my blog regularly, you'll know that my sister in law came to visit us for two weeks in June and July.  After her visit with us, she flew up to Seattle to see family and friends up there.  She also flew back to New York to pick up her two kids and brought them back to Seattle. Finally, she flew back to SLC where the Hot Chick picked her up.  Now they are back for another two weeks.  We are the bread of her sandwich vacation.  I'd have to say we're artisan bread, though.  We know how to show her a good time.

They arrived late Thursday night and I'm leaving for New York on Saturday.  I'll be gone for three weeks so I'll miss most of her stay.  It was important to me to take her and her boys on an excursion.  Our original plan was to go to the ghost town of Bannock, Montana, but the Hot Chick found out that they'd be setting up for Bannock Days today and we'd be in their way and they'd be in our way.  Bannock will have to wait.

I suggested Yellowstone since her youngest son has never been and her oldest was just three the last time he was here and has no recollection of visiting the park.  Because of a number of things, we decided to hit the southern portion of the park.  The pros for that part of the park today were:  1.  Her oldest son wanted to see Old Faithful.  2.  We were getting a late start and that part of the park is easy to get to.  3.  There is road construction between Norris and Mammoth with waits of up to half an hour.

The cons for that part of the park are and always will be:  1.  It's the heaviest used part of the park so there are a lot of people there.  2.  It's the heaviest used part of the park so there are a lot of people there.  I know I already said that, but it's okay because sometimes I repeat myself sometimes.

We planned to hike to Fairy Falls, one of our favorite hikes from years past, then see if there was time for another hike and ultimately end up in Old Faithful to see the geyser erupt and to eat Ice Cream.  Tradition being what it is and all.

Stage 1:  Getting There
I gave my sister in law the choice between possibly sitting for a half an hour in road construction or going the longer, slower scenic route.  I told her if we sat in road construction we'd probably arrive at Harriman State Park about the same time as we would if we went the pretty way.  We chose the pretty way.  Of course there are things to do on that road, so we stopped at Warm River to feed the fish.

There is a section of river at Warm River where the fish hang out for hand outs.  They grow extraordinarily large.  It also helps that this particular section of Warm River is off limits to fishing.  The fish seem to know that so they hang out there.  I've fed the fish at this spot for most of my life.  It's kind of fun.  We stopped in Ashton to get a loaf of bread to feed the fish.  I bought whole wheat so it would be better for them.  Actually I bought it because it was cheapest.  My intent was to give each person one slice of bread, let them break it up and throw it to the fish and then be on our way.  We'd have leftovers.  Problem was, the kids loved it so much that they kept asking for more bread until the loaf was exhausted.  It was a $2.65 well spent.  They had a blast.

Big fish in the shallows

Gull looking to steal some of that there bread

The boys having a good time

Big fish going after some bread


It was a sight to behold

After the fish, we decided on the spur of the moment to show the boys Lower Mesa Falls.  We've been to Mesa Falls several times already this year.  My sister in law and the Hot Chick wanted to show the boys where we climbed to back in June.

Lower Mesa Falls from the observation deck

The group, sans me

We stopped at Howard Springs because we always do and her kids had never seen it before.  There were some interesting butterflies hanging around there.  After the break, we headed into Yellowstone and had a picnic at 7 Mile Bridge picnic area.  When you travel with young kids, it takes awhile to get where you're going, and that's okay.  I'm much more of a journey traveler than a destination traveler I've discovered.

Cool butterfly at Howard Springs

Another cool butterfly at Howard Springs

Harebells at 7 Mile Bridge

Fire or beetle killed trees on the ridge at  7 Mile Bridge

The fam picnicking 

I believe this is either the Madison or the Firehole River at 7 Mile Bridge

We still weren't through getting there though.  For the first time this season, we drove around the Firehole Falls Drive.  We wanted to show the boys as much of the water effects in Yellowstone as we could in a short amount of time.  Those falls you can drive to.  We stopped for photos, and I photobombed some people and then they photobombed us.  Lots of fun.

We still had one stop to go before the hike.  Seems since we'd been seeing so much running and falling water, everyone needed to visit the 'room' before we hiked.  I found a place at Whiskey Flats picnic area and everyone took care of business.  There was a giant raven there so we had a photoshoot.  I like getting there as much as I like being there I've decided.

Firehole Falls

Getting photobombed


Very large raven

Stage 2:  The Hike to Fairy Falls (Finally)
Fairy Falls used to be one of our very favorite hikes when we lived in the area in the mid eighties.  It was one of those hikes we would take guests on whenever they would come to visit.  My sister in law is ten years younger than the Hot Chick, so when we were newlyweds, she was quite young and would come every summer to spend a week with us.  She remembered the hike and was excited to do it again with her boys.

Back then, it was a little known trail and maybe you'd share the experience with one or two strangers and maybe you wouldn't.  Somewhere along the line a tourbook published something about this once secret hike and now it's one of the most popular and one of the most busy hikes in the park.  This trail sees a lot of traffic.  Ironically, because of the fires of 1988, the falls aren't nearly as pretty as they were prior.  There was a forest of douglas fir and lodgepole pine trees all around the falls on both sides of the embankment.  There was a mature lodgepole pine forest all along the trailbed so the trail was shaded most of the way.

Since 1988, the trees are gone so the cliff seems like a scar on the landscape and the site has become more and more popular.  Two strikes.  That being said, the waterfall is still beautiful and idyllic.  I just wish it was more like it used to be.  The problem is that the hike is too short and it's too easy.  If only it was a couple of miles longer and had five hundred feet of rigorous elevation gain it would be less popular.

We probably saw over thirty people enroute either to or from Fairy Falls on the trail today.  I imagine September would be a good month to take this hike again.  We live close enough to Yellowstone that we can be there in an hour and a half.  Most folks don't live that close.  September is a grand time to visit Yellowstone.  Less people and the weather is still nice.

Enough about that.  Let's talk about the trail.

The trail from the trailhead to the falls is 2.5 miles give or take a hundred yards or so.  The first mile is along the old stagecoach road that connected the inn at Fountain Flats with Old Faithful.  There is very little evidence anymore of the Inn at Fountain Flats.  Time has erased it pretty well.  There are still pot shards in the river though.

At about the one mile mark, the stagecoach road keeps on going toward Ojo Caliente spring and a spur trail to Fairy Falls breaks off to the left.  This part of the park was hit pretty hard by the North Fork Fire and there are precious few of the mature lodgepole pines left.  Instead, the fires re-seeded the forest and there are young trees everywhere.  There is also evidence of the fires all along the trail.  It's a sober reminder.  The trail is flat almost all the way except at the very end when it gains twenty or thirty feet of gentle elevation.

Fairy Falls is a combination falls.  For the first half it plunges off the cliff and the second half cascades down the face of the cliff.  It's quite a stunning waterfall, even without trees and with the extra bodies along the trail. I really enjoyed how we hiked to Osprey Falls.  I used the short lens that came with the camera for the way in and replaced it with the zoom for the way out.  General stuff first details second.  I think I may adopt this strategy.  It'll keep me from changing lenses every time I turn around.

The old stagecoach bridge that signals the start of the trail to Fairy Falls

Hot water running into the river.  This is why the river was named Firehole

One of many thermals that pour into the river

The old stagecoach road

We took a spur trail up to a vantage point to see Grand Prismatic Spring.  First time I've ever done this and the view was incredible.  Grand Prismatic Spring is the largest natural hot pool in the world.  You can't see it well enough from the boardwalk.  The only thing better would be a helicopter ride over it.

How steep and cumbersome the spur trail to the vantage point is.  Still pretty cool

The spur trail

The spur trail to Fairy Falls

The beginning of the trail

New forest replaces the old mature one

Dry crossing

Evidence of the fires of 1988 was everywhere

so were wildflowers

Boys on the trail

This used to be heavy forest

This used to be heavier forest

The white oxidization on the cliff face is the first indication of fairy Falls

My nephew

My two sons and other nephew

First look at Fairy Falls

Can't get enough of it

These two mountains are locally known as the Marilyn Monroe Mountains.  Well, that's what the trailguide said.

Looking up it seems mystic or fairylike

Dead trees, blue sky


More columbine

Boys will be boys

Fire evidence

Purple penstemon

May be a type of orchid.  Yellowstone has sixteen or seventeen native orchids.
Who knew?

Columbian Monkshood.  One of the most poisonous plants in the Rocky Mountains

Yellow monkeyflower 

Lightning damage on a charred tree.  This feature spiraled down the tree.  This is
possibly an ignition source for one of the fires of 1988

Elephant head orchids

Another variety of penstemon

I like stuff like this

Not sure what this is.  Don't believe it's part of the nightshade family even though it resembles it

The Firehole River

Stage 3:  Old Faithful
My older nephew said the day wouldn't be complete without seeing Old Faithful.  Of course he was right. We drove in from the Fairy Falls trailhead and found the doomsday clock first to tell us when it would erupt again.  We had an hour.  We got the ice cream first and kicked around the world's largest log structure for awhile, then we hit a gift store or two.  Finally it was time to see the big boy erupt.  We made it with about five minutes to spare and saw a pretty nice eruption at dusk.  Just as Old Faithful was finishing, we looked across the valley and saw Beehive Geyser begin an impressive eruption.  It was taller than Old Faithful and longer in duration.  Beehive sometimes only erupts once a day.  It's intermittent and I believe this is the first time I ever saw it erupt.  Seeing it this close to Old Faithful is a once in a lifetime thing for someone like me. Park employees may see it more often, but this is a first for me.  It was awesome.  After that all that was left was the drive home.

Part of the Old Faithful Inn I've never noticed before

Same with this

Love the stone foundation

It was dusk

The eruption begins

Gets impressive

Gets upstaged by a more aggressive eruption of Beehive Geyser

Sunset over the Upper Geyser Basin

Yellowstone is my Zen, my Nirvana, my happy place.  I never get tired of being there and I always seem to see something I've never seen before whenever I go.  I love to show the park to people who have never seen it before.  I love the look on their faces when they see something like this for the first time.  I am blessed.  Great day.