Monday, May 11, 2015

May 2015: Yellowstone With Friends

Lisa, Rob, The Hot Chick and Me at Lower Falls in the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone

First of all, about the picture.  We were at Lookout Point on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.  There was a group of people there, foreign tourists taking pictures of each other in front of the falls.  I asked them if they wanted me to take a picture of the whole group and I think one of the guys thought I was asking him to take a picture of us and he said, "Fifty Dollars."  I said, "Sure, I'll take fifty dollars to take your picture."  Laughs all around.  I took their picture.  Then the lady asked if I wanted her to take our picture.  I said, "Yes, please."  The guy said, "Fifty Dollars!"  I said, "I'll trade you."

It was fun.  Turns out they were from Iran.  We had a short but nice visit with them.  People are people.  Strangers are unmet friends.

By the way, I bought the black leather jacket for ten bucks at a thrift store a couple of weeks ago.  Score!

Our friends, Rob and Lisa were heading up to Yellowstone for only their second time.  The first time was over five years ago.  I had offered to tourguide them through Yellowstone anytime.  They took us up on the offer last Saturday.

I spent 23 summers in the town of West Yellowstone from 1964-1988 and spent a lot of time in Yellowstone during that period of my life.  We returned to the area in 2000 and have spent a great deal of time in the park since then.  We love Yellowstone.  It is my Zen.  Because of the time spent, we know Yellowstone pretty well, and we love to take our friends through the park and show them the things we love about it.

We left the town of Rexburg, Idaho at about 8:30 and headed up in two cars.  Our plan was to drop off their car at Norris and continue in one car and go over to Lake, through the Hayden Valley in an attempt to see bears.  Better to visit that way.

Leg #1:  Madison to Norris
Since they hadn't been to Yellowstone much, they said they wanted to see as much as possible.  I took them at their word.  The first stop was Terrace Spring.  There is a small thermal area about two miles north of Madison Junction called Terrace Spring.  This is also known as Bathtub.  I believe the name has been changed to discourage skinny-dippers.

Back in the old days, we loved to head into the park after the show and find a hot pot and have a soak.  There isn't much in the world that is finer than that.  For me, most of the time I stuck to Madison Junction which at the time the hot pot there was legal to soak in.  I don't know if it is still legal to do so.  Might be worth asking.

I never soaked in Bathtub, but I know plenty of people who have.  My brother said that back in the day, if the rangers were already in the hot pot no one got a ticket.  That has all changed now and the penalties are quite severe for hot potting.  As nice as it was, it just isn't worth it anymore.  None of my old hot potting buddies still do it.  Those days are over.  Besides, there are plenty of legal hot pots outside the park if one was interested in that kind of thing.

The weather was kind of cold and at times windy.  There were a few times that snow flurries were in the air.  I took them to Bathtub because it is a short boardwalk and I thought we would be able to gauge just how much walking about we were willing to do.

There are two major hot pots at Bathtub and then a very large hot lake with some major bubbling action at one end.  I think the hot lake is Terrace Spring.  I don't think they have names on the other pools.

After we walked around Bathtub, we all decided we could walk around and see as much as there was to see.  Mission accomplished.

Yellow Monkeyflowers at the edge of the first pool

Bathtub from one direction

Bathtub from the other direction

Random mini-hot spring

The bubbles at Terrace Spring

Our friends and the Hot Chick at Terrace Spring

I am in no way advocating any illegal activity when I talk about Hot Potting.  That was a bygone era.
Our next stop was Gibbon Falls.  I have shown many photos of Gibbon Falls on this blog.  I like Gibbon Falls in the spring for two reasons.  First there is more water running off the falls in the spring, and second there aren't many people there this time of year.  Later in the season, Gibbon Falls will have several hundred people at any given time.  Not how I want to enjoy Yellowstone.  So I hit that falls in the spring.  It's better that way.

Years ago, Gibbon Falls overlook was just a widespot in the road.  About three or four years ago the Park Service did some major work on the area and made a parking lot and a paved pathway for several hundred yards downstream from the falls.  There are several great photo ops along the path.  In addition, there are interpretive materials along the way.  I have been very impressed with the Park Service in recent years.  They have navigated the delicate balance between nature and tourists.  Areas that get alot of traffic have been improved and yet there is still so much of the park that is kept wild.  Kudos Park Service!

Gibbon Falls from the first good spot

Gibbon Falls from the second good spot

Next, we headed to the Artist Paint Pots nature trail.  It's about a mile round trip.  1/3 of a mile hike through a new dense forest, 1/3 of a mile hike around the thermal area and 1/3 of a mile back.  A pretty easy jaunt.

The thermal area has several colorful pools on the bottom level, but the trail goes up the side of the mountain for about a hundred feet or so in elevation gain and then there are mudpots up on top.  I used to take this trail quite often when I was a kid.  There isn't anything in Yellowstone that I get tired of, well besides the idiots.  More on that later.

Perpetual spouter at the base of the thermal area

Thought this pool was pretty

Thought the twig in the bottom of this was cool

I loved the colors here

This was weird too

Mountains in the distance.  The view from the top of the trail was spectacular

I don't think you should drink this water

An extinct mudpot

And another

Bacteria colors the water.  There is a gauge to tell how hot the water is by the color of the bacteria.  Don't know what orange means

Mud bubble popping

same mud bubble popped

This was cool

I like how this one is popping

Getting ready to pop

Mud cracks

Life and death

This was really cool

So was this

I like the color of this water

This was pretty too

Leg #2:  Norris Geyser Basin
We walk around Norris Geyser Basin about once every three years now.  I used to go to Norris all the time when I was a kid.  The reason was Echinnus Geyser.  Echinnus was the coolest geyser in the park in those days.  There were benches all around it and you could watch all the stages of an eruption.  It was predictable and reliable.  It went off about every 70-90 minutes.

It started with a crater in the ground.  You'd watch the crater slowly fill with water, and then when the water got to a certain point, it would suddenly get very still.  Then bubbles would begin violently erupting to the surface.  At first the bubbles were about the size of a person's fist.  Then they got bigger and bigger until they were about three feet in diameter.  At that point, the major eruption would begin and jets of water would pinwheel out from the crater and splash the crowd.  This would go on for fifteen minutes or so and then it would stop.  The water would get very calm again and then in the center of the pool a little whirlpool would become visible.  It would get bigger and bigger as the water sucked down into the ground.  It was very impressive.  A few years ago, something happened, maybe an earthquake, I don't know, but something caused the plumbing of Echinnus to shift and it stopped erupting.  Today it's just a pool of water.  That geyser was the rockstar of Norris.  Don't get me wrong, Norris is still cool and worth seeing, but I do miss that geyser.

Norris is also home to the largest geyser in the world, Steamboat.  When it erupts, it shoots over 300 feet in the air.  It's intermittent though and the literature says it may go off as early as four years after the previous eruption or as late as fifty years.  Can't set your watch by that one.  I have never seen Steamboat erupt.  I think the plumbing of Steamboat was wrecked during the 1959 earthquake.

Norris is divided into two sections.  The Back Basin trail is 1.6 miles.  The Porcelain Basin is .6 miles.  Norris is the hottest geyser basin in the park.  It's also the youngest geyser basin.  That makes it the most other worldly landscape among the geyser basins.  Our friend was seeing scifi  movie locations the whole time we were walking about.

The Back Basin

Steamboat Geyser

Cistern Spring.  This pool is Steamboat's indicator.  Steamboat never erupts when this pool is full.  A day or two before Steamboat erupts, Cistern Spring will empty.  That's how you predict Steamboat

I always like reflections

Cool colored rocks here

This is a new feature near Echinnus.  My hope is that it will eventually start erupting as a geyser and take the place of Echinnus if that geyser won't erupt any longer.  The orange part has about a hundred tiny vents that each shoot water up a couple of inches constantly.

The once spectacular Echinnus

There was this kind of stuff everywhere

Some of this kind of stuff as well

Alien landscape

Grey mud spouter

Stalactites in a random hole in the ground

This is Vixen Geyser.  We did not see an eruption of this one

Rocks around Vixen Geyser

Stuff like this was everywhere as well

This was an unnamed Fumarole.  A Fumarole is a steamvent with no water.  Just hot air.  They named it after me.

The landscape from the Back Basin

The Porcelain Basin

The color and quality of this water is what gives the Porcelain Basin it's name

These concretions were cool

Another of those pools

And another

This was interesting.

Alien landscape

I believe this is a former geyser that had a catastrophic eruption that destroyed it's plumbing many years ago.  Before the discovery of Yellowstone by the early explorers

Remember those idiots I was talking about?  The Hot Chick told me not to take a picture of this, but I did it anyway.  I'm not very obedient.  First someone decided to scratch some Chinese characters into the bacterial mat.  Then someone had to comment on it.  Now, eventually, the bacterial mat will heal itself, but what makes people like that think any of the rest of us wants to see their vandalism?  It also says to me that vandalism isn't a uniquely American thing.  Looks like people from other countries do it to.  Idiots.

I don't know what this geyser is called.  I've seen it erupt before, but always from a distance.  It was impressive when I saw it, and I'd like to see it again, but closer next time.

Appears to be extinct

I like reflections

Very cool bacterial discolorations

Life beginning at the outskirts of Norris Geyser Basin

This was a weird feature.  I don't remember seeing it before

Norris Museum.  More of that great parkitecture

Leg #3:  Canyon
As planned, we left our friends' car at Norris and we all went together in our van.  By the time we got to Canyon we had been in the park for a few hours and still hadn't seen a bear.  Our friends had never seen the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, so since we were there and since they wanted to see as much as they could we decided to stop and show them the canyon.

First of all, there is a great visitors center, made by the Park Service, at Canyon Village.  There's a giant topographical map of Yellowstone in the center of the room.  There are also interpretive materials describing the vulcanism that shaped Yellowstone National Park.  I wish I had taken some pictures in there.  There were three major caldera eruptions at this site.  Two that created Island Park and one that created Yellowstone.  There was a model that showed the scale of these three eruptions as compared to Mount St. Helens.  The eruption of Mount St. Helens, as catastrophic as it was, paled in comparison to any of the Caldera eruptions at Yellowstone.  It's like trying to compare a subway musician to a full on Rolling Stones show.  You get the picture.  The Park Service strikes again.  I've been really impressed with them as of late.

After the visitors center, we hit a few stops along the North Rim of the Canyon.  Normally we hit the south rim, so it was good to see it from the other side.  We hiked to the brink of Lower Falls first.  There were some pretty brutal switchbacks down to the brink, but the whole trail was paved.  They were brutal switchbacks because I determined that I am not yet in hiking shape this summer.

The brink of the falls was spectacular though.  Lower Falls drops 308 feet.  It's the tallest plunge waterfall in Yellowstone.  There are a few others that are taller, but none that are straight drops.  They're more like a really steep river.  We saw one adjacent to the falls that I believe is called Silver Chord Cascade.  Knock another one off my list.

After that we went to a place called Lookout Point for a more classic view of the falls.  That is where we got our picture taken by the Iranian lady.  They were all very nice.  I have heard that the people of Iran do not hate America or Americans.  It's just the government.  After meeting those nice folks I'm inclined to believe it.

While we were at Lookout Point, we saw a nest on top of one of the stone pillars in the canyon.  We thought an eagle was sitting on the nest, but when I looked closer at the photos today I think it is actually an osprey.

Upper Falls from the top of the trail

What I think to be the Silver Chord Cascade

I think I know why they call this place Yellowstone.  Call it a hunch

Snow and mist at the bottom of the falls

The brink of Lower Falls

Lower Falls from a distance

Osprey on a nest

Leg #4:  Hayden Valley to the Lake and Back Again
Time was getting away from us and we still hadn't seen a bear.  We headed south from Canyon toward Lake, hoping we would see a bear.  We saw some bison but no bears on the way down.  It's a pretty drive through the Hayden Valley, and it's one of my favorite places in the park.  It's another of the natural places for grazing animals to be found.  A wolf pack makes its' home there as well.  The Hot Chick and I saw a few bears there last year.

About halfway between Canyon and Lake is another thermal area called Mud Volcano.  It's another minor thermal area, but it's still pretty cool.  It had been years since I walked that boardwalk and we decided to see it.  There is a longer trail and a shorter one.  At this point, it was getting late and we opted for the short version.  My recollection is that the best stuff was on the shorter trail.

Dragons Cauldron

Primordial sludge?

This water was churning

Mud Volcano

This is another geyser that erupted too hard and blew itself out.  Hasn't erupted since the 1920's

I liked this too

We decided to turn around at Lake Village and head back.  No sense going that far without seeing the lake.

Yellowstone Lake

On the way back, we saw a traffic jam that hadn't been there when we passed before.  I looked for the telltale signs.

If there are a lot of people gawking and most of the license plates are from Tennessee, Kentucky, New York, Vermont, Wisconsin etc... it's probably bison or elk.

If you see a ranger's vehicle, most of the cars are from Idaho, Montana or Wyoming and the people have giant lenses on their cameras, it's probably a bear or wolves.

The first vehicle we saw was a ranger's.  The license plates were right and there were photographers with giant lenses on their cameras.  This had to be a bear.  Sure enough it was a large grizzly.  We stopped for a few photographs and watched it through the binoculars and then we saw another friend, Omar Hansen.  He had a giant lens on his camera.  I looked through his lens and immediately began to have lens envy.  I know what to save my money for now.  I have a good lens on my camera, and I love it, but I think I need a bigger one.

I saw Omar's pictures of this bear on Facebook and when I compare them to mine, I need a bigger lens.  His photos were spectacular.  The bear in mine looks like blobs.  Lens envy.

The grizzly bear

A second picture because this is my blog and I can

Mission accomplished, we saw a bear.  We headed back and dropped our friends off at their car in the Norris Geyser Basin parking lot and we headed home.  Our friends headed up to Gardiner to spend the night and then spend the next day in the Lamar Valley.  There were alot more bears up in that area of the park than where we were, I'm told.  I hope they saw some bears.  I'll find out tomorrow.  It was a wonderful day in Yellowstone, but then again, every day is a wonderful day in Yellowstone.

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