Monday, July 27, 2015

July 2015: Yellowstone--Queen's Laundry Spring

Fringed Gentians near the trailhead
Yellowstone is a land of superlatives.  It's difficult to go there and not be awed and inspired, even after going there as many times and as often as I have.  There is literally something for everyone here.

Some People Come Here For The:

Hot Water
Yellowstone is home to the largest concentration of geysers, hot springs, fumaroles, mudpots and thermal kames in the world.  People come from all over the world to see and study them.  Not only does Yellowstone boast the most, but also most of the truly epic and grandiose thermal features anywhere in the world are found here.

Cold Water
Yellowstone has hundreds of miles of waterways, creeks, rivers, streams.  Hundreds of lakes, alpine and subalpine, including the granddaddy of them all, Yellowstone Lake which is the largest freshwater high altitude lake in the United States.  In addition to the lakes, rivers, marshes, bogs and other wetlands, Yellowstone also boasts over 300 significant waterfalls.  There are places in Yellowstone that allow boating, canoeing and kayaking.  Some people come just for that.

The Lamar Valley has been called "The Serengeti of America".  There is more diversity of animal life in the Lamar Valley than almost anywhere else on earth.  Yellowstone has major populations of many different ungulates including bison, elk, mule deer, white tail deer, bighorn sheep, mountain goats and pronghorns.  Yellowstone also boasts many wild predators including grizzly bear, black bear, wolves, coyotes, foxes, mountain lions, and bobcats.  Some people come here just to photograph the wildlife

Yellowstone boasts hundreds of bird species as well.  Not just your average, everyday thrushes either.  There are some very exotic birds that call Yellowstone home.  Eagles, osprey, herons, swans, ibis, cranes and many more.  Some people come here just for the birds.

Yellowstone is situated within the cone of a massive caldera.  In the greater Yellowstone ecosystem, there have been no less than three major caldera eruptions.  Some of these eruptions rank among the largest volcanic eruptions in the history of the earth.  In addition to the major eruptions, Yellowstone has hosted many minor eruptions as well.  Huge mountains of volcanic glass or obsidian.  Columnar jointed basalt flows are common.  In addition to the volcanics, Yellowstone has weathered ice age glaciation many times.  Yellowstone also boasts at least five fossil forests.  Some folks come here just for the geology.

Hundreds of varieties of wildflowers exist in Yellowstone including at least fifteen different orchids and the sand verbena which exists only in Yellowstone along the shores of Yellowstone Lake.  There are other verbenas in the world, but that variety is found only here.  Vast wildflower meadows dot the landscape.  Some people come here just for that.

There are almost 1000 miles of hiking trails in Yellowstone.  Those are official trails.  There are vast areas of Yellowstone that are still unexplored though and it is legal in many cases to hike there with permits.  There are easy trails, difficult trails and strenuous trails.  There are dozens of backcountry campsites for people who like to backpack as well.  In addition, some parts of Yellowstone allow horsepacking.  Some people come here just for that.

Archaeology (wait, what? archaeology?  Are you kidding me?)
There are many hidden archaeological treasures in Yellowstone.  Many of the regional tribes of Native Americans used Yellowstone as a pass through to get from one place to another.  At least one group of Shoshones lived in Yellowstone for at least part of the year.  Yellowstone has a significant obsidian feature called Obsidian Cliff which is closed to the public currently and probably because relic and treasure hunters have robbed it.  There are also many places in the backcountry where tepee rings and wikiup poles still exist.  The Park Service does not advertise where these are, for good reason.  They are sensitive archaeological sites they don't want disturbed.  Besides the Native American sites, Yellowstone's early history is still available to be seen.  The army first managed Yellowstone, then the National Park Service took it over.  In the late 1800's, hotels and inns sprang up all over Yellowstone.  Almost all of these early structures have been torn down.  There are still ruins and relics  of these early days in Yellowstone.  You just have to know where to find them.

Our Yellowstone Trip Last Weekend
I haven't been able to go to Yellowstone since July 3rd.  Too busy at work.  My semester ended on Thursday so naturally on Friday we headed up.  As I mentioned in a previous blog post, I recently purchased a book called The Guide to Yellowstone Waterfalls and their Discovery.  We've been on a kick lately to see as many waterfalls as possible.  I think we're up to forty or so.  I want to see at least a hundred Yellowstone waterfalls before I leave this planet.

There were a couple of waterfalls in the book above Mystic Falls that we had intended on seeing, but as we drove up to the park, I mentioned an archaeological site to my sons and said we could either go see a couple of new waterfalls or see the ruined bathhouse at Queen's Laundry Spring.  The boys voted to see the archaeology.

Queen's Laundry Spring is located along the Sentinel Meadows Trail.  It's a site I visited when I was about sixteen years old.  I hadn't been back to the bathhouse since.  A few years ago, the Hot Chick and I set out to find it again but failed.  Since that time, I did a little research and figured out where we went wrong.  I had always wanted to go back and photograph the ruined bathhouse.

The Sentinel Meadows Trailhead is just across the river from Ojo Caliente Spring, the hottest thermal pool in the park.  It is also along the Fountain Flats Drive, one of my favorite areas in Yellowstone.

Fountain Flats/Ojo Caliente
Speaking of archaeology, Fountain Flats is the site of two hotels in the early days of the park.  There was the Firehole Hotel and the Fountain Hotel.  I think the Fountain Hotel was swankier because when it was built, the Firehole Hotel was razed.  E. C. Culver was the proprietor of the Firehole Hotel, and his wife, Mattie passed away in March of 1889.  The ground was too frozen to bury her, so he put her body in two whiskey barrels, end to end and froze her until spring when he could dig a grave.  I'm thinking we have it pretty good these days.  Life on the frontier must have been hard.  Mattie's Grave is situated in the Nez Perce Creek picnic area.  It's one of my favorite picnic sites in Yellowstone.  I always pay my respects to Mattie when I go there.  Most people don't even know her grave is there when they picnic.

Mattie's Grave
The Nez Perce Creek picnic area has become very popular and there seems to always be a ton of people there these days, so we don't stop nearly as often.  I usually walk down to the Firehole River when I go there because there is an area at the bend in the river where the Culvers used to throw broken dishes and bent silverware in the river.  You can still find relics in the river from those days.  It's okay to look at them, but leave them there for future generations.  It's illegal to take anything from Yellowstone or any of the national parks.  While I was at the river, though I saw that the gentians are now in bloom.  The fringed gentian is a rockstar among the wildflowers in Yellowstone and it is the official flower of the park.  I saw tens of thousands of them on this trip.

Fringed gentians at the Firehole River near Mattie's Grave
We drove from the picnic area at Mattie's Grave to the parking area near Ojo Caliente spring.  We suited up for the hike and stopped first at Ojo Caliente so I could show my boys where I used to skinnydip when I was their age.  Ojo Caliente is the hottest pool in Yellowstone.  It averages one or two degrees below boiling.  I don't recommend skinnydipping in that pool.  Your skinnydip wouldn't last very long nor would it end well.  In fact, I wouldn't recommend swimming in any of the thermal pools in Yellowstone.  First of all, it's very illegal and you don't want those kind of complications in your life.  Second, it destroys the pristine nature of delicate features for future visitors.  Don't do it.  Visit the numerous local hot springs all around the park and support the local economies of the area instead.  We used to swim in the river just below the runoff of Ojo Caliente back in the seventies.  I'm not sure if it's legal now or illegal to swim there these days.  I haven't ever seen anyone since I did it last.

Ojo Caliente (someone told me once that it translates to "Hotter than Hell".  Dunno if I believe them)

Runoff channels of Ojo Caliente

Where it enters the Firehole River

Where I used to skinnydip (I'm going to ask my park ranger friend if this is legal now)
Sentinel Meadows Trail
Fountain Flats Drive is an old stagecoach/freight road from the early days of Yellowstone.  It supplied the Firehole Hotel and I believe it went all the way to Old Faithful.  The road is partially paved now.  When I was a boy, you could drive all the way along Fountain Flats Drive and connect back up to the highway.  Somewhere in the seventies, they closed the middle of the road to motor vehicles, and then more recently they have closed more of it so instead of parking right at Ojo Caliente, it's a quarter mile walk along the old roadbed.

There are a couple of old bridges on the road, one at the trailhead for Fairy Falls and the other at Ojo Caliente.  Just over the bridge of Ojo Caliente is the trailhead for the Sentinel Meadows Trail.

Trailhead sign

Log bridge over the creek at the trailhead

Creek to the south of the log bridge

To the north
The Sentinel Meadows Trail is a loop trail through the meadows and around a thermal kame.  Thermal Kames are small mountains or hills that were created during the last Ice Age.  There are fumaroles, which are superheated steam vents, then there are Kames which are hotspots with blowing air but no moisture, no steam.  When the glaciers pushed through this valley, they would end up over one of these hotspots and the superheated air would melt the ice and deposit any debris the glacier happened to be carrying.  Think of a really hot chimney in the earth, that's what a kame is.

When Philetus W. Norris was the superintendent of Yellowstone, he was riding along the Sentinel Meadows Trail when he noticed steam rising from the ground near the geyserite cones named the Sentinels.  He investigated and found a pool that was cool enough to bathe in.  In those days, in Yellowstone, bathing in hot pools wasn't illegal and in fact it was encouraged.  Norris commissioned a bathhouse to be built at the site of the pool and while the workers were building it, they would do their laundry in the hot spring.  Norris dubbed the spring, "Queen's Laundry Spring" in honor of the workers.

Over the years, the bathhouse has gone by many names.  When I was a boy, it was called the "Soldier's Bathhouse."  I am informed now that this name is wrong, the army wasn't in charge of the park when the bathhouse was built.  That is what the locals called it, though and it was a name that was in local use when I was a boy.  At my advancing age, it might be too late for me to use a different name for it, so I'll probably still call it Soldiers Bathhouse.  I have also read that this was the first permanent structure built in any national park but that is also wrong.  I have been informed it was the first building built for the public in any national park.  That's what happens when you have a ranger for a friend!

The trail is mostly open through the meadow.  This time of year there are many wildflowers in bloom.  Our friend, Jeff mentioned that the park is unusually green this year.  Typically toward the end of July the grasses have turned golden yellow.  There are sections of the trail with a small hill climb.  As I mentioned before, the trail skirts the edge of a thermal kame and each of the hill climbs on the first leg of the trail are outriggers of the kame.  The trail also crosses several log bridges over the occasional stream or bog or creek.

Rotted log footbridge over a bog

Small stream

Plank footbridge

Wildflowers in foreground, Sentinel Cones in the background

This is the view from the first hill

More of the view
As we descended from the first hillock, I spotted something in the distance that was moving.  There were three things and they were dark and moving fast.  There are only four things that are that dark and can move that fast in Yellowstone, bears, bison, sasquatches or moose.  I hurried and placed my zoom lens on the camera and zoomed in all the way and found a cow moose and two calves making their way very quickly across the valley.  That was cool.  Moose are some of the most elusive animals in Yellowstone and they actually exist.

We moved along the rest of the trail fairly quick because we wanted to see the moose for as long as we could.  The trail ascended to the second rise and we stopped there to get as good a view of the moose as we could.  While the Hot Chick and my boys were looking through the camera, I started thinking about what I'd read as to the location of Queen's Laundry Spring.  Norris had noticed steam rising from the ground near the Sentinels.  I started scanning the horizon for steam and there it was, in plain sight.  The Soldiers Bathhouse!  I don't know how the Hot Chick and I missed it the last time we hiked here.  If you didn't know it was there, I can see how you could pass over it.  But we had been looking for it.  Fortuitous moose I say.

From the top of that hill, the rest of the way to the bathhouse is a bushwhack through a marsh and a bog.  The NPS has stopped maintaining the spur trail from the Sentinel Meadows Trail to Queen's Laundry Spring.  We found it valuable to find animal trails to a degree, even so all of us ended up with wet feet and some of us even worse.  This was too cool to miss, though so we decided wet feet wasn't going to stop us from visiting an archaeological site.

Three moose with the zoom all the way zoomed to 250 mm and then cropped.  They were far away

First view of the bathhouse

The moose continued on through the valley and disappeared from view

Steep Cone (one of the sentinels)

This moose, elk or bison didn't make it

Before the meadow turned to bog


First view of the bathhouse once we got past the bog
The pool Norris saw has long since gone away or dried up or has shifted.  For one reason or another it no longer exists.  The bathhouse is slowly being covered with sinter and geyserite.  Eventually it will be completely engulfed.  Either that or Yellowstone will erupt, send the globe into a nuclear winter and consign the United States to third world nation status permanently.

While we were at the bathhouse, we wandered around the rise and viewed the thermal features and saw wolf tracks.  There were precious few human tracks at the site and I believe very few people ever visit here.  I don't mind that.  We tried to be careful to leave no traces of our visit.

The Fam at Soldier's Bathhouse

Log detail

Another view

What's left of Red Terrace Spring

another view

Another corner

I'm not hiking all this way to take one picture

Different angle


Oh, look another view

Front door

Hot spring runoff

Wolf track


Very hot pool with bathhouse in background

Pretty sure these were not the pools they were swimming in.  Way too hot.  You could tell from the steam blowing off

Pretty pool though.

Lodgpole pines don't survive superheated earth very well


Moose or bison (rock paper scissors)

We looked for a skull to solve the mystery but to no avail

Primordial sludge

Place where a large mammal bedded down

At this point, we were faced with a choice.  Go back the way we came or continue through the Sentinel Meadows loop trail.  Typically we would rather hike loop trails than in and out trails, so we decided to hike the rest of the loop.  It probably only added a mile to our route, so no big deal.  Except for Queen's Laundry Spring and the Soldier's Bathhouse, I would characterize Sentinel Meadows Trail as a journey hike rather than a destination hike.  The trail is mostly flat and is well worn until about half a mile before it would intersect with the road.  Then it peters out.  After that, it's a bushwhack to get back.  The good news, though is the power lines and road are visible so it would be almost impossible to get lost.

There is a section where the trail splits and one side skirts the forest and the other bushwhacks across the meadow and connects with the Fairy Falls Trail.  In fact, Fairy Falls is visible from this trail.

Relic of the fires of 1988

Picture frame, courtesy of the fires of 1988

The trail cuts back toward the road

Buffalo wallow.  I almost never use the term "buffalo".  I prefer the proper name of bison.  I use buffalo in two instances though.  Wallows and chips.

I was on this hike too

For some reason, these Kames have been locally referred to as the Marilyn Monroe Mountains

My son on yet another plank bridge

The bluebird of happiness

More gentians

As you can see, they are all over the place

Rocky outcrop

A different kind of gentian.  This one is a Parry's gentian I believe

and it's brothers

Fairy Falls from the trail

Ladies Tresses, a native orchid in Yellowstone

We couldn't allow the rocky outcropping to go without climbing it, so we did.  The Hot Chick wanted pictures of the view from the top.  The valley and it's meadows are very scenic and beautiful.  We never get tired of this place.  I believe the hill is a thermal kame, and it appears the boulders are loose on top of it, even though they are pretty big.  They look as if they were placed.

View of the sentinels from the rocky outcropping

Boys will be boys

Doubly so

Another view

And another

It just keeps going

I think this was once molten foam which hardened to tuff.  That's my take on it.

At the base of the hill, there is a perpetual spouter geyser called Boulder Spring.  It has two vents that erupt almost continuously within a pool.  I watched it for quite awhile and it would alternate between  minor bubbling to gushes of about two feet.  The literature says it will sometimes erupt up to six feet but I didn't witness anything that large.

Boulder Spring

From the other direction

Sinter deposits in the runoff channel.  That appears to be obsidian sand


Boulder Spring at the base of the hill

Fireweed growing in the corpse of a lodgepole

The Road Home
We made our way back to the road and then the car.  After that, the obligatory ice cream at Old Faithful.  We noticed a guy taking pictures from the stock bridge at Biscuit Basin as we drove by.  I thought about stopping to see what he was doing, but we drove on instead.  We watched Old Faithful erupt from the observation deck on the front of the Inn, but I didn't take any pictures of it.  I already have hundreds of photos of Old Faithful, and I'm sure I'll take hundreds more in the years to come.  I decided to just enjoy it this time.

When we came back from Old Faithful forty minutes later, the photographer was still on the stock bridge so I stopped to investigate.  It was a small coyote.  It sat and yapped for a very long time, finally he left to pursue the geese in the river.

At Seven Mile Bridge I stopped for baby elk.  I typically don't stop for elk unless they are being chased by wolves or sasquatches or have great big antlers, but I'll stop for babies.  They are shy and don't come out much.  It was the end of a great day with my family in Yellowstone National Park.

Coyote at Biscuit Basin

Spies the geese

Baby elk with spots

Can't wait to get back!