Monday, June 15, 2015

June 2015: Cave Falls to Bechler Falls (and a little bit more)

The Hot Chick and I along with our son and his buddy at Cave Falls.  My son is the one that looks like a hippie

We live about an hour away from the southwest corner of Yellowstone National Park.  It goes by many names, most notably, Cascade Corner or Bechler Meadows.  This area is a favorite of local scout troops because of the hundred plus miles of trails and thirty plus backpacking campsites.  I would venture a guess that over the years hundreds if not thousands of scouts have earned their hiking and backpacking merit badges in the Bechler region of Yellowstone.

The Bechler area is not the most primitive area of Yellowstone, I'd have to say that designation belongs to the southeast corner, the Mirror Plateau.  Bechler comes in not far behind though.  There are no roads in Yellowstone in this area of the park besides about a quarter of a mile to Cave Falls or the Bechler Ranger Station.  Other than that all the access here is by foot or hoof.  Many of the trails in Bechler are suitable for horseback riding and that is allowed.

There are more waterfalls per square mile in Bechler than in any other area of the park, and since I love waterfalls, well, this is a natural for me.  There are a few waterfalls that are short hikes in Cascade Corner, but if you want to see the big ones, that takes planning and effort because some of the best waterfalls here are eight to ten miles one way.  I have been to Union Falls and I can tell you the sixteen mile round trip in one day was worth it for the view.  This year, I plan to hike to Dunanda Falls.  That one will be between eighteen and twenty miles round trip.  It will be worth it too.

Since you have to work so hard to see things in Bechler, most people don't hang out here.  They prefer to see Yellowstone by way of automobile.  They like to share the experience with 10,000 of their closest friends.  I tend to visit the "touristy" areas of Yellowstone in the early spring and late fall when the riff raff has left.  In the heat of summer I'm off to the backcountry.  I like to walk on a trail for a few miles without seeing other humans.  I don't dislike humans, it's just that they are not the mammals I go to Yellowstone to see.

I got off work on Saturday at about 2:00 PM which meant that a longer trip to Yellowstone would be out of the question.  Cave Falls is close so we decided to go there.  I took the Hot Chick and my youngest son and one of his friends.  It had been a few years since we had visited Cave Falls and Bechler Falls, so we decided to take that short hike and see some beautiful scenery.  Here is the photo essay of that trip.

Stop #1:  Warm River Fish Platform
Very near the turnoff to Cave Falls on the Mesa Falls Scenic Byway, in the bottom of Warm River Canyon is a platform built over the bank of the river.  This is a local hangout where fishing is not allowed and the fish know that.  People come from all over to feed the fish.  There are trout as long as my arm in there and it's quite exciting.  It's a lot of fun.  I never get tired of feeding the fish and taking pictures of it.  I got one really spectacular photo of a fish eating a piece of bread.  I don't know if I'll ever get a cooler picture of feeding fish than that one.  It was awesome.  Whenever we take friends to Yellowstone, we tend to stop here to feed the fish.  It adds about fifteen minutes to the trip but they are a good fifteen minutes.

That's one evil looking gull

Best fish pic ever

I love the ripples in the water and how they capture light

I will often see bald eagles and osprey fishing in this section of the river.  It's really fun to do and see.  You can buy a product called Purina Trout Chow.  Really.  I think I'll buy a big bag of that and keep it in the car for this event.  I did a little research between yesterday and today and found that bread isn't necessarily good for the trout.  I think it would be worth it to pick up something that was more beneficial to them.  Just saying.

Stop #2:  Cave Falls
The easiest way (and the only way I know to access Cave Falls is to take the Mesa Falls Scenic Byway from Ashton, Idaho (Highway 47) and just before the road descends into Warm River Canyon take a right at E 1400 N.  It is the Cave Falls Road and it is well marked.  It's a straight road for several miles over the hilly farmland near Ashton.  Four or five miles on, though the road enters the Targhee National Forest and turns to a dirt road shortly after.  It's a well maintained dirt road, but you are on it for at least a dozen miles, maybe more.  It's a very scenic drive with several National Forest Service roads here and there.  As you enter Wyoming, the dirt road switches back to pavement.  This road goes for a few more miles and then there will be a forest service campground called "Cave Falls Campground" on the right and the Bechler Ranger Station on the left.  Keep heading forward though and you will reach Cave Falls.  One of my sons stayed in the Cave Falls Campground and it was very nice.  I'll camp there one day.

Some of the best views of the Teton Range from the Idaho side can be had from the Cave Falls Road about a mile before the road ends up in the Targhee National Forest.  We had to have a photo op going in and coming out.

Word of caution when hiking in Bechler.  This is the wettest part of Yellowstone.  80 inches of annual precipitation.  It can be boggy and marshy and that usually means mosquitoes.  They were there in abundance on Saturday.  The Hot Chick must be sweeter than me because even though we both lathered up with bug juice, they decided she tasted good and I did not.

Our first stop was a view of the falls.  There is a lower parking area and an upper parking area.  The upper parking area is larger and more formal and has a vault toilet.  The lower parking area is meant to be a temporary place for a quick view of the falls.

We walked over the trail to the base of the falls and took the obligatory pictures then we headed up the trail to the brink of the falls.  Cave Falls is the widest waterfall in Yellowstone at 250 feet.  It only has a 20 foot drop, however.  It's not a tall waterfall but it's cool and powerful nevertheless.  There is a much shorter waterfall just downstream but I doubt it has much more than a ten foot drop.  Some people would call that a rapid instead.  I'm not sure what I'd call it, but it's pretty spectacular by itself.  We didn't stop at the lower falls right away, instead we waited until we had done the rest of the hiking to stop there.

Cave Falls was so named because of the large cave on the side of the cliff right at the falls.  Sadly, there is no cave at Cave Falls anymore because it collapsed several years ago.  I regret that I never got to see the cave.  It died of natural causes not vandalism, so I guess we can gain some solace from that.

Idaho side of the Teton Range

Cave Falls, complete with fisherman.  I digitally altered the fisherman out of this shot, then I deleted his reflection as well, but then I added both back in because I don't really like revisionism much.

First wild geranium of the season

Closer to the base of the falls

Detail of the power of Cave Falls

This tree will eventually fall into Falls River and may alter the river's course over time.  Such is the nature of nature.

Rustic steps to the overlook for the brink of the falls

Rainbow over Cave Falls

From the brink overlook


Former Cave, now a pile of rubble and haven for yellow bellied marmots

My son in his natural state

Stop #3:  Bechler Falls
We had hiked the trail to Bechler Falls once before, but that was several years ago.  We decided we needed to see this waterfall again.  I just acquired a book I have been looking for for a very long time.  It is called "The Guide to Yellowstone Waterfalls and their Discovery"  It is out of print and is trading for 50 bucks used.  I found a copy on Amazon for six dollars.  I snapped it up before the seller could have sellers remorse.  There are at least 300 known waterfalls in Yellowstone National Park.  I have seen at least forty of them.  My goal right now is to visit a minimum of 100 waterfalls in the park.  Now I have a resource and I can track them down.  Many of them involve multi day trips just to get to the falls.  Probably won't do many of them.  Not ruling it out though.  Cave Falls and Bechler Falls is a good starting point.

The trailhead to Bechler Falls is at the end of the upper parking lot.  The trail winds it's way through a lodgepole forest, never getting very far away from the river.  The river is almost always in sight and the few times it isn't, it can still be heard.  There is one spot where the trail skirts around some geology and the sounds of the river cannot be heard.  It's only for a moment though and then the trail moves back along the river.  There are several small rapids along this stretch.  When you reach the confluence of the Bechler and Falls rivers, you are about halfway to Bechler Falls.

Bechler Falls is a smaller waterfall of about fifteen feet in height.  It's a cascading type of waterfall rather than the plunge style of Cave Falls.  It's quite pretty and really becomes the jumping off point for several longer hikes in the area.  The last time we hiked here, we turned back after Bechler Falls.  I wanted to go on a little further this time, so after spending fifteen minutes or so enjoying Bechler Falls, we headed on up the trail.

Trailhead sign to Bechler Falls

Every trail begins

Detail of the water along the trail

A scenic rapid

Another scenic rapid or cascade, depending on who you ask

This stuff was everywhere

Boys love to climb on rocks

So do Hot Chicks

Confluence of the Bechler and Falls Rivers


Light through the trees and understory

When the trail goes away from the river, there is a short steep part.  Like about thirty feet is all.  This is an easy hike as hikes go

The understory makes this area look kind of like a rainforest 

First view of Bechler Falls


The rocks get mossy

Side view at the brink

Prettier view



Boys in their natural state

What the water looked like at the falls.

Stop #4:  Beyond
Before we went very far above the falls, we determined that no matter where we were at 6:30 PM we would turn back.  It's probably good we did that or I'd still be out there.  I love Yellowstone, every part of it.  The hike beyond the falls was not a destination hike for us, just an enjoyable stroll.

The river at and below the falls is noisy and animated.  Just above the falls it is placid and serene.  This goes on for at least half a mile, which is as far as we were able to hike.  First of all, 6:30 happened and second we saw some reasonably fresh bear tracks in the mud.  They were not adult tracks, they were juvenile and that meant mama was around.  Our bear radar went into overdrive.  I'm not afraid of bears but I am cautious.

Along the trail, we encountered several deer and a few of Yellowstone's native orchids.  The ever shy fairy slipper, or calypso orchid eluded me once again.

We reached a crossroads at the trail right at 6:29 and decided it was a convenient turnaround spot.  There was a log bridge right there, however and I decided I would get that extra minute so I crossed it.  Then we went back.

The hike back was beautiful but uneventful.  I used the short lens almost exclusively on the way in and used the zoom lens almost exclusively on the way out.

What the water looks like just above the falls.  Like fifty feet above the falls

The river was very placid upstream of the falls for the next half mile

Best pic of the day

Stared each other down for a bit,

Then she took off.  After she was well behind us, she stopped and watched us.  I told her she was magnificent and thanked her

Western Coralroot.  At first I thought it was the elusive Calypso orchid.  I was wrong

Bear tracks in the mud

More tracks in the mud

Deer tracks

Front bear paw print

Peaceful, easy feeling

Camas.  Blue camas good, white camas bad!

I actually like the out of focus deer in this shot.  Basically all the time I had to just get this one

Because it ran off right after

I'm not sure how far this river goes this placid but it was stunning.

Log bridge at 6:29 PM.  I crossed it and waited until 6:30 to turn back.  Gonna get every minute

Sign where we turned around

White geraniums

Bog orchid

Dense packed camas

Yellow arnica

Underwater reeds

More coralroot.  The blossoms are about the size of a US dime

More coralroot

Stones under the water

Light through the trees

Stop #5:  Lower Cave Falls and the Water Ouzel
Cave Falls has an upper and lower falls.  The lower falls only falls about ten feet, so it wouldn't qualify for a waterfall in the book.  Their minimum standard for inclusion is a fifteen foot fall.  There are some exceptions and because the lower falls is so close to the upper falls, I'll include it here.  When we got to the lower falls, I noticed a water ouzel (American dipper) bobbing at the side of the river, perched on the rocks right near a heavy rapid.

My son's friend had never seen one before and we watched it for about ten minutes.  They are a fascinating bird.  They live near fast moving water, hang out on the edge near waterfalls or rapids, spy food underwater and dive in.  Really cool birds.

Lower Cave Falls

Water detail

More detail

Water Ouzel

At the water's edge

As we continued along our way, I noticed the Tetons from a vantage point I had never seen before.  I have seen the Tetons from the Wyoming side and the Idaho side.  This was essentially on the border of Idaho and Wyoming so I declared it to be the Wyodahoming side.  Yeah, I made that up.  My blog, I can do what I want.  They were stunning from there though.

The Tetons from the Wyodahoming side

Stop #6:  Horseshoe Lake
As we were driving into Cave Falls, I noticed a spur road that said "Horseshoe Lake".  I didn't tell anyone in the car at the time that I wanted to take it, but I secretly plotted.  When we got to the turnoff, I announced I wanted to check it out and didn't get any real objections so we went.  There were wildflower meadows for the first couple of miles on the dirt road.  The road was pretty good at first but got progressively worse.  At no point, though was it terrible.  I'm not sure how many miles it was to Horseshoe Lake, but when we got there it was a small lake with lily pads and campsites around one half of it.  There was only one campsite taken when we were there.  It was quite pretty.

As soon as I got out of the car, I saw a bald eagle fly overhead.  I couldn't get the camera up in time to capture it's image, so I'll just have to remember it.  Always a good sign when an eagle flies overhead.

Lily pads on the lake

Horseshoe Lake

A magnificent mushroom.  The cap was the size of a salad plate

Wildflowers on steroids

Who doesn't love silvery lupine?

I think this is some kind of sunflower

Juxtaposition of colors

As with many of the trips we take locally, they tend to begin and end with a picture of the Tetons.  The Tetons are ever present here.  They dominate the horizon to the east.  I never tire of seeing them and always look for them when I'm out and about.  I have climbed in the Teton Range a little and enjoyed my time there.  I have a buddy on campus that has climbed all the Tetons multiple times.  The golden hour light was on the Tetons when we drove out.  I took the next shot from approximately the place where I took the earlier shot at the beginning of the trip.

Golden hour lighting on the Teton Range

It was a short Yellowstone day, but we got alot done.  Yellowstone is my nirvana.  My zen, my Utopia, my Shang-ri-la, my Valhalla.  I love it there, all parts of it.  It was a great day.

1 comment:

  1. I love this. There is so much personality in your nature blogs. I love the stuff that you've been able to capture that would so easily be missed and even more likely to never come across on film. Thank you!