Saturday, August 8, 2015

August, 2015: Yellowstone--Eastside

Near Sylvan Pass

It had been about a week since I had been to Yellowstone and I was jonesing for it.  The weather had been bad and we had been trying to get to the park for a few days.  Finally, the weather forecast was for a non-rainy day in Yellowstone and we packed up the car and headed up.  We didn't have an agenda this time.  The only thing was knew for sure was that we wanted to see stuff we hadn't seen before.  I had done a bit of research and found there is a new terrace starting up at Mammoth.  That was a possibility.  There are a couple of waterfalls a couple of miles above Mystic Falls that we have never seen.  That was another possibility.  The geyser app on the phone suggested geyser gazing would be hit or miss, so we ruled that out.  I had read a few weeks ago about Isa Lake on Craig's Pass.  Isa Lake is unique because it sits on the continental divide and drains into both the Atlantic and the Pacific.  We had a winner.

We drove from West Yellowstone to the interchange where you have to decide between Old Faithful and West Thumb.  We were amazed at just how many humans there were in the park.  As far as large mammals go, humans outnumbered every other species last Thursday.  Fountain Paint Pots, Midway Geyser Basin and the Fairy Falls Trailhead were so busy that the cars overflowed the parking lots and spilled out on both sides of the road for at least a hundred yards at each site.  I am happy these people got to come to Yellowstone, and some of them for the first time, some of them for the only time in their lives, but I don't really want to share the experience with them.  August is typically the time of year when we avoid the main areas of the park and head to the trails.

I did more research on Isa Lake just before we left and realized it was only an 8000 square foot lake, and sits right on the road.  Once you've seen it, then what?  I had gone through the east entrance of Yellowstone only once before in my life and that was forty years ago.  Time to hit the east side again.  I consulted my waterfall book and found there were several roadside waterfalls along the Sylvan Pass.  Our plan was set.  We decided to drive to the east gate and see what there was to see along that road.  We were not disappointed.

First Stop:  Keppler Cascades
We have seen Keppler Cascades many times.  Our two youngest sons, who were traveling with us may not have ever seen them before.  The waterfall drops about 150 feet over multiple drops.  The largest drop is 50 feet.  There is a platform built out over the canyon to provide the clearest, most unobstructed view of the falls.  This had always been enough.

I was photographing the falls, and when I turned around, the Hot Chick was gone.  I looked around for her and noticed she was walking along the rim of the canyon heading upstream.  We had never done that at Keppler Cascades before.  Time for a new adventure.  I gathered my sons and we set out up the trail to find her.  There were a bunch of social trails along the canyon rim and we took the one closest to the edge, of course.

We eventually hooked back up with the Hot Chick and followed the river up above the waterfall.  There was a small drop that wouldn't qualify as a waterfall in the book (fifteen feet) but it was scenic and I wanted to see it.  We headed up that far then turned around and headed back to the car.  On the way to that drop, though we saw a big rock that needed climbing.

When we were climbing down, the Hot Chick informed me not to take a picture of her bum.  I waited til her head was turned away then I aimed the camera into the trees and snapped a picture.  When she turned back, I was aiming it at her.  Heh heh heh.  My youngest son was in on the joke.

Keppler Cascades, the traditional view

Hiking upstream

The brink of the largest plunge

Another section of the falls

This is not a true natural bridge, it's just a couple of large stones butted up against each other

Another section of the falls

Looking downstream

The rock that needed climbing

The boys found the route

View from the rock

Another view from the rock

My son, in on the joke

The "butt" picture

Upstream from the falls, there were several features like this.  Not sure if they are considered part of the waterfall or not

We hiked up to there

The brink

Closer view

Huckleberries not quite ripe

On the way back we hooked up to the Lonestar Geyser trail.  Had to cross this

And this

We found the Lonestar Geyser Trail on our way back to the parking lot.  We didn't hike to it on this day, but we banked it for a later time this summer or next.  We added Lonestar Geyser to our "someday" list.

Stop #2:  Isa Lake
Isa Lake was okay, but maybe a little bit of a letdown.  First of all, it's very tiny, second there was road construction right at the lake, so we weren't really able to explore much of it.  I stopped for a couple of pictures then we moved on.

Here's the really cool thing about Isa Lake, though.  According to the source of all knowledge, Wikipedia claims Isa Lake to be the only natural lake on a continental divide that drains to both drainages backwards.  What that means, is the outlet that empties to the east ends up going to the west and the Pacific.  The outlet that empties to the west circles around and empties into the Atlantic via the Gulf of Mexico.  I suppose that fact is cool enough for Isa Lake.

Another piece of trivia about Isa Lake from Wikipedia is that Hiram Chittenden named the lake after a woman named Isabel Jelke from Cincinnatti.  The reason he named it for her remains a mystery to this day.

Isa Lake

The sign says it all

Lake with the mountain in the background

Self explanatory

Stop #3:  Natural Bridge
Since we were heading to the east entrance, we decided to stop at whatever seemed interesting at the time.  Inbetween West Thumb and Lake Village is a trail called "Natural Bridge".  We hadn't been on that trail for more than twenty-five years.  Back then you could drive right to the bridge.  Today the old road has been barricaded off and has become exclusively a hiking and biking trail.  This is the only known natural bridge in Yellowstone.

In the early days, Philetus W. Norris built a trail to the Natural Bridge.  My understanding is that the original trail went over the bridge.  It is said he also wished to make it a trail you could drive across.  The sign must have meant wagons or stagecoaches because he was the superintendent prior to the automobilization (I made that word up) of Yellowstone.

Luckily, the road never passed over the stone bridge.  Today, the trail goes up to the bridge but passes behind it so you can look at it from the front and look through it from the rear.  The trail to the bridge is mostly flat and for about a mile.  Once you get to the bridge, however, the trail ascends about a hundred feet in a series of switchbacks.

When we got to the top, we saw the trail go behind the bridge and around the other side.  Until that point, we had no idea it was a loop trail.  I much prefer a loop trail to an in and out trail.  I'm all for seeing new things and going back a different way than the way I went in.  On the other side of the bridge, there was a chipmunk who had lost all fear of humans.  Apparently it had only had "positive" dealings with people, in other words it was a panhandler.

I wonder what's behind that sign?

What the trail looked like most of the way

Customary pre-hike photo

First look at the natural bridge

At the first switchback

View from behind

Boys will be boys

Natural state

The Hot Chick was there

So was I

I think this is manmade...

These are the stairs to Mordor

The varmint

Switchbacks down

Boys will

be boys

Stop #4:  Fishing Bridge and the Lakeshore
We were going to just pass through Fishing Bridge, but at the last moment, I decided it would be the last chance for Ice Cream and that seems to be obligatory on our trips.  Then we headed toward the east entrance through Pelican Valley.  We told the boys about the lake and how cold it was and stopped long enough for them to play on the lakeshore and feel the water.  They both ended up with wet feet.  The Hot Chick mentioned that you know a lake is large when it has it's own tide and waves.  I think there were even tidal pools in places along the shore.  We also drove to an overlook.

Mirror selfie.  I really took this picture because i want to build a mirror like this so I can take selfies in the privacy of my own home.  Or not.  I just want to build a mirror like this

The tide coming in on Yellowstone Lake

Their feet are getting wet ...NOW


Dang peaceful

From the overlook

From the overlook.  May be the best pic of the day

Stop #5:  Sylvan Pass to the East Entrance and the Waterfalls
The rest of the day was about waterfalls.  We drove through the Sylvan Pass looking for three waterfalls that were mentioned in the book, The Guide to Yellowstone Waterfalls and Their Discovery.  We found way more than three.  Waterfalls were all over the place.  I believe many of the waterfalls along this stretch to be temporary and only active during spring runoff.  Either that or the authors believed it and that's why they weren't mentioned in the book.  It was the first week of August, though and the waterfalls were going strong.

The first one we stopped at is called Crecelius Cascade.  We knew we were at the correct location because it matched exactly from the book.  The picture in the book was of a much more robust waterfall than what we saw, however.  The Hot Chick suggested we come here again but in the spring next time so we can see the waterfall at it's most powerful.  She said that about most of the waterfalls along this road.

On the Sylvan Pass, there was a sign called Corkscrew Bridge Overlook.  We stopped and saw a weird little bridge with a circular road around it.  I looked it up when I got home and found it was a unique engineering solution to the problem of ascending a steep grade.  The original stagecoach road ascended the bottom of the canyon and at this particular spot, it was too steep so the engineers took the linear elevation gain and spread it out through the circular road.  The bridge was built so wagons and later cars could pass through.  The original wagon bridge was made of wood, not unlike a railroad trestle.  In about 1920, however it was replaced with the current bridge which is made of stone.  Cool little bit of archaeology I wasn't expecting.

The guidebook mentions only three waterfalls, Crecelius Cascade, Talus Falls and Sylvan Falls.  We believe we found Sylvan Falls and Talus falls is a temporary waterfall, so it was already dried up.  We're pretty sure we found where it was though.  The authors of the book only listed temporary waterfalls that they found in previous literature or documented on old maps.  I am not sure why they didn't list the other waterfalls along this road.

There was a steep canyon with two waterfalls running down it that wasn't listed.  I'm pretty sure they are known waterfalls because there is a culvert built under the highway to account for their runoff.  There is also a pullout on the road for them.  We climbed down to the base and I began to hike up the waterfall.  By this time of year, it is a small stream, but as we all climbed up we could tell it rages in the spring.

I climbed up and photographed it for several hundred feet.  The Hot Chick was concerned that we not climb all the way up because it would probably get dark before we could get back down.  I climbed up until it stopped being really pretty.  I'm sure the total height of this horsetail waterfall is around a thousand feet.  I stopped climbing at around 400 feet.

Of course, boys will be boys and they wanted to walk through the culvert.  This is not a small culvert.  It's at least seven feet in diameter.  I think this means it was meant for a creek that rages in the spring.

We came back down and headed toward Sylvan Falls.  We are pretty sure we found it, but we didn't climb it.  One day we will climb it.  The problem with Sylvan Falls is it's almost completely obscured by foliage.  That was the problem with the one we climbed as well.  There is no way on many of these waterfalls to photograph them in their entirety.  You have to piecemeal them together.

After Sylvan Falls, we headed to the East Gate and saw numerous waterfalls along the way.  Many of them were very small streams falling over a rock face.  A few of them were more established waterfalls.  None of these appear in the book.

Crecelius Cascade

Closeup.  In the spring it's much heavier

As evidenced by the dry creek bed below

I love when nature paints in Complementary colors

From the road

The Corkscrew Bridge

Unnamed waterfall to the right

Unnamed waterfall to the left.  This is the one we climbed

Small drops like this horsetailed down the canyon for hundreds of feet, maybe more

Downed timber made it even more interestine

The sights, sounds and smells of falling water are intoxicating

Variations between river worn rock and broken angular rock was really interesting

It just kept going

And going

An idea of how steep it is

Conglomerates along the canyon wall

pools and falls

and pools and falls

Harebells finding purchase in a crack in the rock

In the spring this would be engulfed

Very cool river worn log.  Must have been here for years

and years

Too cool to not photograph

What the gorge looks like

I'm pretty sure this was limestone

back at the base of the falls

At the culvert.  It has to be this big to accommodate the spring runoff

May be the coolest pic of the day

The other side

And the waterfall continues down the other side of the culvert

"my precious"  My son in his Gollum pose

It was like this clear to the East Gate

Sylvan Falls.  One day I'll climb it

The East Gate of Yellowstone National Park

Golden hour light

Here's another roadside, unnamed waterfall

Well established

This could be called a day of bridges.  The bridge at Isa Lake, Natural Bridge, Bridge Bay, Fishing Bridge and the Corkscrew Bridge.  It was quite a day and we saw a ton of stuff we'd never seen before.  Yellowstone is a park of superlatives.  It's much more than just hot water and bison.  We are blessed to live so close.