Monday, May 4, 2015

Yellowstone While The Cat's Away #2

Open your eyes, Boy!  My sons at Sheepeater Cliff

So, the Hot Chick had a convention to go to last week which meant the three of us were going to be bachelors for a day.  So we did the most natural thing in the world, we went to Yellowstone.  I had picked up an app for my phone that predicts several of the geysers in the Upper Geyser Basin.  We decided we'd give it a try.  We had to be home early, though because there was a wedding reception we needed to attend.

Leg #1:  Mesa Falls
There are two ways to get up to Yellowstone from where we live.  One way is about fifteen minutes faster and it goes up the Ashton Hill.  The Ashton Hill is the flanks of the largest volcanic caldera in the world.  The second way is to go on Scenic Route 47 down through Bear Gulch and past Upper and Lower Mesa Falls.  Both ways are pretty, but the Bear Gulch way is much prettier.  When we aren't in a hurry, I almost always default to that route even if we aren't stopping at the falls.  Typically, we see Mesa Falls in the evening.  Last time we went the Hot Chick said we ought to see it in the morning sometime.  Challenge accepted.

The boys and I left our home at about eight o'clock, and headed up to Yellowstone by way of Mesa Falls.  We wanted to see it with morning sun.  Mesa Falls did not disappoint.  There is a turnout for Lower Mesa Falls that is perched on the canyon rim and the falls are about a quarter mile away.  It's a great photo op.  Upper Falls has a trail and a boardwalk down to the brink of the falls.  The early morning sun was just hitting Upper Mesa Falls when we arrived and it did not disappoint.  There was a rainbow over the falls.  Stunning.

First pic of the day.  This guy was completely unconcerned by us

Lower Mesa Falls from the vantage point

Rainbow at the brink of Upper Mesa Falls

Open your eyes Boy!

Rainbow over Upper Mesa Falls

Upper Mesa Falls

Open your eyes Boy!

Boys always see stumps, have to stand on them

Leg #2:  Upper Geyser Basin
We drove on into Yellowstone and headed for the Upper Geyser Basin.  As we passed Seven Mile Bridge, there was a traffic stop.  Cars lined up on both sides of the road.  I thought, "Bison." and was prepared to drive on by.  Then I noticed the majority of the license plates were from Montana, Idaho and Wyoming and the people were out with big lenses and spotting scopes.  This was bigger than a bison.  People from Idaho, Montana and Wyoming don't often stop for bison.  Too common.  This had to be a wolf or a bear.  Turns out it was a large grizzly bear.  It has been decades since I saw a bear in between West Yellowstone and Madison Junction.  Three decades or more.  It just doesn't happen.  But there it was.  Very cool.  Someone said it was a black bear.  I beg to differ.  Hump, longer neck, ridge over the nose.  This was a grizz.

Grizzly bear just after Seven Mile Bridge

We continued on our way and saw a couple of trumpeter swans on an island in the Firehole River.  They were preening.  Most of the time, people want to get pictures of the swan with it's head high because that's when it's at it's most elegant.  I had never seen the preening behavior beyond an occasional peck or two.  These swans spent a very long time just preening.  Later, when we passed by again, they were in the river with their heads held high in the classic position.  The preening was much more interesting to me.

Swans preening

A more classic look

More preening because it was cool.  One of them has a tag

So, the purpose for this trip was to go to the Upper Geyser Basin to watch geysers go off.  I got a free app for my phone that predicts the next eruption of six different geysers in the Upper and Lower Geyser Basins.  I wanted to use it.  It has dawned on me that in all the years I lived in West Yellowstone and the last fifteen years I've lived in Idaho, I have really only spent time with two geysers in Yellowstone.  Sure, I've seen a stray eruption here and there by chance, but for the most part I've seen Old Faithful in the Upper Geyser Basin and Echinnus in the Norris Geyser Basin.  It's time for me to see more geysers.  For the last several years, we've been more interested in the cold water of Yellowstone, namely waterfalls than we have the hot water.  I want that to change.  The app can be found here.

We got to the Upper Geyser Basin and I checked the app.  Daisy Geyser was set to go off in the next couple of minutes so we hurried and headed down a trail to the geyser.  The trail was too long and we missed the eruption.  We had to avoid a big bison on the trail back to the car.  The app said the next geyser to go would be Old Faithful, but we've seen that one alot of times.  After that, the next scheduled eruption was going to be hours away, it was going to go off at about the time we should be leaving the park to get home.  Time to change our plans.  Next time, I'll check the app before I leave the house.  I'm not deterred, I will see these great geysers erupt.

Bison on the trail

I asked the boys what they would prefer to do, stick around the Upper Geyser Basin and wait for hours to see something or head to the north and look for animals.  They chose animals.

On our way back to Madison Junction, we saw a majestic sandhill crane.  Then, on the road, we were stopped several times by bison who think they own the place.  They sauntered down the road, not noticing or caring that there were some of us that had places to be.  It's always cool, though when a herd of bison walk past the car within arms reach.  Makes us remember our place in the world.  I love bison.  I think they are the coolest of the ungulates in Yellowstone.

Sandhill crane


by my presence


think they own the place

Leg #3:  The North End
We were headed up to Mammoth to get a burger and noticed Sheepeater Cliff was open.  The boys opted to go climb the cliff.  One of their favorite things to do.  I like it too.

We went on to Mammoth and had a less than exciting meal at the grill there.  The boys said their burgers were just so-so, and my bison bratwurst was about the same.  Protein, that's basically all though.  Edible, just not spectacular.  It fulfilled the measure of it's creation, though so no big deal.

One of the boys on the cliff

The other boy on the cliff.  Can't tell if his eyes are open or closed here

Some violets in bloom at Sheepeater Cliff

My favorite feature of Sheepeater cliff

We were behind a very slow moving vehicle with nowhere to pass, and that always annoys me, so I pulled over to see Undine Falls.  It's one of our favorites and we've hiked over to the brink of the falls.  It's a three tiered waterfall that drops about a hundred feet in total.  Pretty spectacular.  I also wanted to stop because last year I "discovered" pasqueflowers there for the first time.  I wanted to see if they were there again.  I was not disappointed.

Undine Falls

Cluster of pasqueflowers

Closed bud


All the way

As you can tell, I like pasqueflowers

a lot

Open your eyes Boy! For crying out loud

I was there too

Next we headed over to Petrified Tree because we often see bears there.  We didn't see any bears, but we did see a couple of blacktail deer.  A doe and a buck.  The buck's antlers were growing and still covered with velvet.  It was pretty cool.

Blacktail doe aka Mule Deer

Blacktail buck

We headed over to Tower, but the road was closed.  I asked a ranger if it was closed for bear activity and he said yes.  Bummer.  After that we headed to the Lamar Valley but time was drawing to a close and we didn't have much time after that.  Had to get back for a wedding reception.  We did see some baby bison, though.  On the way back we stopped for another bear jam.  This time it was a sow black bear and two cubs.  We didn't see the cubs but we saw the sow.  She was not very cooperative though.  Every time I got in position to photograph her, she moved or turned her back to the camera.  I didn't get any shots of her.

Bison cow and calf

Bison calf

I have seen ten hundred million billion bison in my life, so I usually don't seek them out for photo ops, but I'll stop for baby bison.  We really like them.  The boys call a big bull bison "BOB" which stands for "Big Ole Bison."  They call babies "IBB" which stand for "Itty Bitty Bison."  Otherwise, I take pictures of bison when they are in my path, on a trail or when they block the road.  I still think they are cool.

Even though our day did not go as planned, we still had a great time together.  It was fun to just hang out with my boys in Yellowstone.  We drove home without incident and got home in time to see the Hot Chick home from her convention.  We went to the wedding reception and saw alot of old friends.  It was a good day.

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