Sunday, May 17, 2015

May 2015: Yellowstone--The Honniversary

Part of Yellowstone's Golden Gate in golden hour light

The conundrum, what to call this blog post?  I could have gone all George R.R. Martin (y) on it and called it "Winter is Coming!"  and that would have worked but not for all of it.  I could have called it, "A First Time For Everything!"  but that would have only described some of it.  I could have called it, "Da Bears!" but that would only have described part of it.  So I made up a word.  I called this "The Honniversary" because we went to Yellowstone to celebrate our 31st wedding anniversary.  Since we didn't have a real honeymoon when we were first married, we decided to take one now.

Leg #1:  Getting There
We had reservations for dinner at the Old Faithful Inn at 7:15 PM and I had a class that didn't get out until four.  That didn't give us much time for sightseeing on the way up, so we just drove.  We also had a room reservation at the Old Faithful Inn.  It had been so enjoyable last year that we wanted to do it again.

We did stop by to see our friends, The Carters in West Yellowstone, and just as we pulled into their driveway, we got a text message from them that said, "We are just pulling into Rexburg."  Two ships that passed in the late afternoon.  I did stop to take a picture of a colossal raven perched on the railing of their motel (The Holiday Motel for anyone who wants a nice room for a reasonable price in West Yellowstone).

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I made the reservations for the honniversary over a month ago and there was no weather forecast available.  I checked the forecast a few days ago and it said there was a 50% chance of precipitation.  It suggested rain, but by the time we got to Madison Junction it was obvious it was going to be snow.  It was too late to turn back, I'd already plunked down the cash for the room.  I'm not afraid of a little snow or a lot of snow as the case may be.  Besides, I told the Hot Chick, "Any day with you in Yellowstone is a good day."

We checked into the hotel and had dinner.  We both had the wild caught Sockeye Salmon.  It was very good.  Great meal.  We polished it off with a gluten free cheesecake with huckleberry syrup drizzled on top and a halved giant strawberry garnish.  I couldn't eat the cheesecake with my eyes open, it was so good.

After dinner, we headed to the gift shop for awhile, then the Hot Chick retired to the room to read and I wandered about the Inn and experienced the first first.  For the first time ever, I watched an eruption of Old Faithful in the dark.  As part of that first, I met a family from Mumbai.  First time for that too.  Very nice people.

Joinery inside our room at the Old Faithful Inn

The ceiling in our room

This is a door to the adjoining room.  We were staying in what was probably a manservant room

Leg #2:  Never Underestimate the Power of Vanilla Ice

**DISCLAIMER**  This will probably not work for you.  It was a once in a lifetime deal.

After I was done exploring, I went back to the room and the Hot Chick asked me to acquire some ice.  I didn't know where the ice machine was, so I walked down the hall where the administrative offices were and went in the first open door I found.  There was a lady there who had just taken a bite of a pop tart and apologized profusely.  I said, "For what?  For eating a pop tart in your private office at your private desk?"  Then I held out the ice bucket and said, "I need some Ice, Ice, Baby."  She laughed and said, "You're fun."  She told me where to get the ice and I mentioned last year we had a room that faced the geyser and I asked her for a list of geyser facing rooms.  She gave me the list, then I said both my brother and one of my best friends had been up on the widows walk on top of the Inn but I never had and I didn't think that was quite right.  I asked what you had to do to get up there and she said the people who get to raise and lower the flags every day on the widows walk reserve that opportunity months in advance.  She did say that if the weather was good, though she might consider giving the Hot Chick and I a personal tour up to the widows walk because we seemed like such fun people.

I woke at first light and looked out the window.  Snow.  We saw the lady I talked to the night before and she said she couldn't get us all the way up to the widows walk, but she could get us up to the crows nest and the tree house.  The crows nest is an area at the top of the Old Faithful Inn that is only accessible by one set of stairs where an orchestra or band used to play for people staying at the inn.  They used to dance on the main floor to live music.  How cool is that?

The Tree House is a whimsy designed by Robert Reamer.  He had always wanted to have a tree house when he was a boy.  He did the next best thing, he built one at the tallest part of one of the most iconic buildings in the world.  More on Robert Reamer later.

We had breakfast first (I had an omelette that was very good) and then we went to find the lady.  I am purposely not identifying her because I don't want people to hassle her with requests to go up to the crows nest.

She said that what we were about to do, go on a personal guided tour of that part of the building was something that only happens about five times a year.  It is something that is done at the discretion of individual staff members and all the planets need to align and all the ducks need to be in a row, all the t's must be crossed and all the i's need to be dotted for it to happen.  What I'm trying to say is it probably won't happen if you try.  It's a pretty exclusive deal.

She took the Hot Chick and I up the gated stairs in the Inn and up to the Crows Nest and then into the Tree House.  Man that was cool.  Because of the snow, we weren't able to get to the widows walk, but that was okay.  It was really cool.  I think I already said that, but it's okay because sometimes I repeat myself sometimes.

The gated staircase up to the cupola and the treehouse

Balconies or catwalks, take your pick, very high above the floor of the Old Faithful Inn

The timbers of the Old Faithful Inn

Very cool staircase that very few people get to go on.  We went on it

Staircase up to the Tree House

The Hot Chick and I on the orchestra platform way above the floor of the Inn

Exterior of the Tree House from the orchestra platform

Lights in the Tree House

Actual working windows in the Tree House

The door was completely awesome too.

The Hot Chick and I inside the Tree House at the top of the Old Faithful Inn

Robert Reamer had five guys go out in the forest looking for odd logs and timbers for the Inn

The view of the floor from the highest point of the Old Faithful Inn


Beetle tracks in the wood.  The pine beetle lays eggs in lodgepole pines and the young tunnel by eating, their way out.  This incidentally kills the tree, but it makes a really cool texture to build with.

Rustic balusters made from beetle killed wood

Iron spike used to hold the stairs together

Quite possibly the coolest newel post ever.

This is where we were

I went outside and watched an eruption of Old Faithful in the snow from the balcony.  It really looked like a steam eruption, though because of the cold air and hot water mixing.  I knew it was an eruption though because I could hear it.

After that we went on the tour of the Old Faithful Inn.  It's a forty-five minute tour that is normally pretty good.  I'm sure it was good when we took it, but hey, we had just been in the Tree House, C'mon!

Robert Reamer was just a young man of 29 when he was commissioned to build the Old Faithful Inn.  He was a young, un-proven architect, but became friends with Harry D. Child of the Union Pacific Railroad that had the contracts for bringing people to Yellowstone.  Child commissioned the Inn.  Reamer was a contemporary of Frank Lloyd Wright and believed the architecture in the park should fit in with the surroundings, rather than do what had previously been done and build luxury hotels in the European style.

It was a big gamble, but then again, nothing really important ever comes from tentative people.  It was an instant hit and it inspired a whole genre of design called "Parkitecture."  Visionary!

Original writing desk from the Canyon Hotel which sadly does not exist anymore

Pillar on the porch

Table and chairs on the porch.  As you can see, it had been snowing in May

This is actually an eruption of Old Faithful, but you can't see the water for the steam

I love the iron work in this building

Detail of the lampshade on the writing desk

Leg #3:  Winter is Coming
I asked the Hot Chick what she wanted to see most in Yellowstone yesterday and she said, "Bears."  That meant only one thing.  North end of the park.  It had snowed through the night and continued to snow during the day.  There were between four and six inches of new snow in the southern part of Yellowstone yesterday morning.  Didn't bother me a bit.  We came prepared with warm clothes and jackets.  We were fine.  In fact it was better than fine.  It was beautiful.  It was neat to see the animals surviving and sometimes frolicking in the snow.  The only animals it seemed to bug were some of the humans, but even then most of them were having a good time too.

We had snow from Old Faithful to Madison Junction, then to Norris and most of the way to Mammoth.  By Sheepeater Cliff most of the snow was gone.  Mammoth has a lower elevation than the southern part of the park so the snow either didn't happen there or it didn't collect like it did elsewhere.  On the road, we saw a coyote stalking a flock of Canada geese, trumpeter swans, some bison and a grizzly sow and a cub.

We stopped at Gibbon Falls because I wanted a picture of it with snow all around.  With all the extra moisture, it was amazing to see erosion at work.  The normally white water of the falls was brown.

There was a traffic slowdown that lasted at least a mile.  What I mean by that is there was a line of cars at least a mile long.  There was no place to park along the road because of the proximity of the Gibbon River Canyon.  So, cars drove by very slowly.  We didn't know what it was and thought maybe it was because of the road construction or maybe a herd of bison were clogging up the road.  Bison think they own the place.  Several cars turned out of line and drove the other way.  I asked the Hot Chick if she wanted to go back and hang out around the geyser basins but she said, no.  She wanted to see bears.  Just then a motorist was driving the other way and telling everyone what it was.  He said, "Black bear."  We were in a good old fashioned bear jam like the old days.

When we got closer, I grabbed the camera and told the Hot Chick to drive and I walked up to the head of the line.  It wasn't a black bear.  It was a sow grizzly and a cub playing in the snow!  I took about fifty pictures then headed back to the car and switched with her so she could go check out the bears.  Mission accomplished.  We saw bears.

Geese in the snow, being stalked by....

Wile E. Coyote

Trumpeter Swans in Nez Perce Creek

Bison making a living in the snow at Madison Junction

More of the herd

Looks pretty in the snow

National Park Mountain with snow

Gibbon Falls in the snow

Base of the falls.  See how muddy the water is.  Wasn't that way last week

Gibbon River Canyon

Liked the snow on the mountain

The sow

Looking at us

She had been hiding her cub

Posting alot of pics of these bears because it's my blog and I can

Momma and baby

Leg #4:  Sheepeater Cliff
Sheepeater Cliff has become one of our favorite places in the park.  It's a cliff of columnar jointed basalt that has partially collapsed.  There are several routes to the top.  We climb it several times a year.  It has been a long time since the Hot Chick climbed it though.  I'm not sure I've ever seen her climb it.  I climbed it first and she took pictures, then she climbed partway and handed up the camera to me and I took some of her.

If you follow the river downstream from Sheepeater Cliff you will come to a pretty unnamed waterfall.  If you bear to the left and follow a trail out of the picnic area, though you come to the beautiful little cove we discovered last year.  I decided I wanted to see that with snow.  Last year I posted pictures of the cove with the lush grass covering the ground.  This spring I posted a picture of that same grass, but dead brown and matted.  Yesterday I got a pic of it with snow on the ground.

I believe the Sheepeater Band of the Shoshone Tribe must have camped here.  I can't imagine a more idyllic campsite in any season.  I'd be willing to be that rangers camp there during the off-season.  I understand they get away with stuff us regular folks don't...

As we were leaving, there was a healthy looking chipmunk that wanted to pose for a picture.  He was a bold little rascal and I got pretty close to him.

Me climbing Sheepeater Cliff

Me and my skull belt buckle on Sheepeater Cliff

This is a view from the cliff

The Hot Chick climbing Sheepeater Cliff

The cove

Another view.  Imagine camping in here

Oregon Grapes in bloom amidst the snow

The bold chipmunk

I'd snap a picture, then take a step closer.  Repeat again and again.  Then he started posing.

He said, "I'm too sexy for this rock."

Leg #5:  Mammoth to Tower
We headed to Mammoth and stopped to see Rustic Falls with the new runoff.  It was spectacular.  It's a roadside attraction that doesn't get near enough notoriety in my opinion.  We headed from Mammoth to Tower in hopes of seeing more bears.  About halfway there, traffic slowed way down.  We were driving about three miles an hour and coming to a complete halt frequently.  Traffic was backed up quite a bit and as we came around a corner, we discovered it was a small herd of bison ambling down the road with no consideration to the drivers trying to be somewhere.  Rude.  But then there was a silver compact car at the head of the line.  I think they were at least half of the problem.  They were from somewhere that has blue license plates.  More than once, all the bison left the road and the silver car waited for them to come back on the road so he could follow them some more.  That was pretty selfish.  One car held up forty-five cars.  We were irritated.  We finally got around and headed on our way.

Next stop, Petrified Tree.  For the last several years, we have seen bears at that stop.  Pretty good odds we'd see a bear there this year.  There was a black bear in the canyon, but he was hidden pretty good behind some trees.  We waited him out for awhile but then decided to go on our way and come back later for a better shot.  Besides, we had heard there was a sow black bear with two cubs over by Tower.

When we got to Tower, there was nothing going on.  We drove all the way in and turned around.  I noticed for the first time some turnouts on the road.  One of them was suspiciously close to where I believed the brink of Tower Falls was.  Had to stop, naturally.  I also came across a varmint there.  Ended up being the best pic of the day.

Lucky that we did stop, because going from where the bears usually were to tower and back, plus stopping was enough time for the bears to come out.  It was a sow black bear with two cubs.  One of them black and the other cinnamon in color.  The cubs played around a bit but the mother seemed to be a little nervous.  Maybe because of the hundred people with cameras that were hanging around.

After awhile, the momma bear sat up on her haunches and the two cubs ran to her and sat in her lap and began to nurse.  That was another first for me.  I had struck up a conversation with a professional photographer while I was there.  When we were ready to leave, I wished him well and told him I hoped he got a great shot.  Then I mentioned that there were a few dozen other who were all getting the same shot.  He said that was part of the problem.

When I downloaded the pictures onto my computer, I learned something about my camera.  If you shoot during a hailstorm, which I did, the lens doesn't know if it's supposed to focus on the bear or the hail.  Next time I'm in that situation, I'll manually focus.

Rustic Falls

From the front

Black bear at Petrified Tree.  This is why I need a bigger lens

Tower Creek

More Tower Creek

Tower Creek to the brink of the falls

The stone towers that give Tower Falls and Tower Creek their names

The brink of the falls between the towers

The huge ox-bow bend just before the falls

The varmint

The sow black bear

and her young 'uns

Climbing a tree


Leg #6:  The Lamar Valley to Cooke City and Back Again
We headed through the Lamar Valley and stopped wherever there were people with spotting scopes to see what they were seeing.  I saw another grizzly in that way.  In fact I saw two but the other one was on the way home.  They were so far away that my camera registers them as little dots.  The spotting scopes were of a much higher power though and I saw that they were in fact grizzlies.

We have been up in the Lamar Valley many times over the last few years but have always stopped at Soda Butte and turned around.  This time, since we had time, we decided to go all the way to Cooke City.  We were not disappointed.  As you drive out of the Lamar Valley and into the mountains, the scenery begins looking very much like the scenery in Grand Teton National Park.  It was stunning.

We drove into Cooke City and discovered that there is only one public restroom in the entire town, and that was at the visitors center.  Apparently the whole town is on septic systems and no one had the foresight to put in a septic large enough to handle the needs of their customers.  I can tell you that it didn't make me feel like spending any money in Cooke City.  Even the porta-potties had padlocks on them.

On our way out, we saw a black bear at the side of the road.  He (or she, I didn't get close enough to tell) was on the side of the roadcut and started ambling up.  I got a bunch of photos and moved ahead to get even more.  It was a real treat.

After that black bear, we headed back into Yellowstone National Park.  It dawned on me that I had now been in and out of every entrance to Yellowstone National Park.  Finally.  Another first.  As we headed down the road, just after Baronette Peak, we saw a couple parked at the side of the road with binoculars.  I stopped and asked what they were viewing.  They said it was mountain goats.  I asked to look through their binoculars and finally saw them.  This was another first for me.  Mountain goats were the only ungulate that I had never seen in Yellowstone National Park.  I had never seen them in the wild either.  It was a thrill.  Even so, with the nice lens I have they still only look like little yellow snow dots.  This is why I need a bigger lens!

We stopped back at Petrified Tree, hoping to get a better view of the black bear there, and we did, but just barely.

after that, we drove toward Mammoth and a small herd of bison decided to cross the road in front of us.  One of them stopped immediately in front of our car and waited.  And waited, and waited.  There was a baby bison in the group and the one that waited appeared to be the sentry.  Once the baby was safely across, the sentry moved and allowed us to pass.  I think they think they own the place.

It was getting late and it was time for us to go home.  The return trip, while beautiful was uneventful.

Black bear outside of Cooke City

Same bear, same place, my blog, my rules

Eating grass.  I think it was supposed to be the salad course.  Wondered if I was supposed to be the main course...

I was about twenty yards from this bear.  He didn't eat me.  There was a pretty steep incline he'd have to get down first though

The Northeast Entrance of Yellowstone National Park

Don't know the name of this mountain but I like it

The two yellowish, white dots that look like yellow snow in the middle of this picture are the mountain goats.  I definitely need a bigger lens!

Ninth bear of the day.  Another grizz in the Lamar Valley

Pronghorns.  Contrary to popular belief, these are not antelope.  They are a unique species and are the fastest land animal in the western hemisphere

These are the kind of views I have to put up with by living here!

Pronghorn buck

The bear at Petrified Tree,  Better, but not enough

The Calf

The Sentry

A ragged elk

Mammoth Village at the golden hour

The Hot Chick is my best friend.  I love to spend time with her.  Our anniversary has become more and more important to us as the years have gone on.  More important than birthdays and many other holidays.  It's been thirty-one great years.  I love the Hot Chick.  I have a wonderful life.


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  2. Incredible pictures! I didn't realize they let guests up to the top of the Inn... Well, sounds like they don't, usually. Good job getting up there! And, of course, loved seeing all the baby animals. :)

  3. It's good to be me! She said it's an exclusive thing. Because it was early in the season and early in the morning and she had a few minutes we were able to go somewhere most folks don't get to. Thank you Vanilla Ice