Wednesday, December 9, 2015

September 2015: Water in Yellowstone

Natural Spring just outside of Yellowstone

In September we decided to take my daughter and her boyfriend to Yellowstone.  She couldn't remember ever doing Canyon and she wanted to see it so that is where we headed off to.  Canyon is the Hot Chick's favorite locale in Yellowstone and we have been hitting it pretty hard of late.

Our route was to enter the park through West Yellowstone, drive to Madison Junction, then head north to Norris, then east to Canyon.  I'm one of those guys that doesn't like to go home the way he went, so instead of going back through Norris, we added an hour or so and headed down to Lake and West Thumb then headed home that way.

As I thumbed through the photos, preparing for this post, I realized that this was almost exclusively a water day.  We saw origins of water, running water, falling water, static water and boiling water.  In addition we saw animals and birds near water.  It was a water day all around.

First Stop:  Black Sands
The Hot Chick and my daughter had never seen Black Sands, which is a natural spring just outside of West Yellowstone.  Back in the day, Black Sands was a big party place for summer residents of West Yellowstone.  I only ever went out there in the daytime, I never attended any of the nighttime parties.  That was never my scene.  In the daytime it was always pretty and idyllic.  I never wanted to ruin that by being there with a bunch of loud, drunk, half naked people.

Black Sands is one of the tributaries to the Madison River which empties into the Jefferson River.  The Jefferson is one of the three main tributaries to the Missouri River.  The Missouri dumps into the Mississippi which then terminates in the Gulf of Mexico.  My buddy, Jeff said that the water here was covered by a volcanic eruption 60,000 years ago and the water at Black Sands hasn't seen the light of day in all that time.  I don't know how he knows that, but I typically never bet against him.

I had never been to Black Sands in the fall before.  It's prettier in mid-summer.

Black Sands at the source
Another view
Heading downstream

Second Stop:  Virginia Cascades
Last year, in the spring, the Hot Chick and I stopped at Virginia Cascades.  We found a trail along the river which looked like it would go all the way to the base of the falls.  We said, "Someday we'd like to hike that."

It was chilly in September in Yellowstone, so when we got to the Virginia Cascades, I showed them the trailhead (it's not an official trailhead, more like a fisherman's trail or a social trail) and suggested we hike to the base of the falls.

On the scenic drive, there's one really good view of the falls from a distance, then you can park at the brink of the falls and check that out.  There is no real good view of the falls from close up.  Because the weather was chilly and we were planning to hike around Canyon, the girls opted not to hike to the base of the falls.  I drove to the brink of the falls and looked over the guard rail and saw several social trails to the bottom of the canyon.  I have an online friend who is a park ranger and I asked him about the legality of off-trail travel in Yellowstone.  He said so long as there is not a sign that says keep off, anywhere in the park is fair game.  I felt empowered.  I climbed over the guard rail and began my descent.  My daughter's boyfriend wasn't going to be left out and he climbed down with me.

I'm so glad we did!

I'll never go to the Virginia Cascades without climbing down again.  It was spectacular, absolutely stunning at the base of the falls.  It wasn't a difficult descent either.  At the base of the falls there was a bonus Water Ouzel to boot.

Cool view

View from the base of the falls
Another view, not much different, but I liked it here

Bonus Water Ouzel

Third Stop:  Canyon
We kicked around Canyon for a couple of hours or so and visited the Upper Falls and the Lower Falls.  I don't remember all of the hikes or trails we went on, but we were there for a few hours.  There are many vantage points to view the falls from along both rims of the canyon.  Each view is slightly different.  One day I may see them all.

As I was looking through the photos of this trip, it dawned on me that I did not take a single picture of the members of our party that day.  The Hot Chick always gets after me if I don't take pictures of people.  Think I'm in trouble now.

Upper Falls from the trail


View down the canyon

Micro-climate at the base of the falls

Pretty sure this is a condensation waterfall.  Okay I think I made that term up, but I believe this waterfall originates because of the water vapor here.  As the vapor contacts the rock, the water condenses and begins to run down the canyon wall.  I think this is happening here.

Down the canyon from a different spot

Classic view of the falls from the south rim

Must be some iron oxide in those rocks

Cool rapids down below

Mini waterfall near Red Rock Point

I think this is upstream of Upper Falls

The brink of Lower Falls I believe

Another classic view

Hoodoos are everywhere on this stretch of the canyon

Mystery solved.  I know why they call this place Yellowstone now

This is truly a magnificent canyon

Trees grow where they aren't disturbed.  Everywhere else there are rock falls every year.
This is a dynamic and ever changing environment

Rocky outcropping 

Just another nice pic

The side of the canyon

Classic view from the North rim

More hoodoos

Fourth Stop:  Sulphur Cauldron/Mud Volcano
As far as thermal areas go in Yellowstone, Sulphur Cauldron and Mud Volcano are pretty tame.  But in this portion of the park, thermal areas are not as abundant as they are in other areas, so it's a nice diversion to stop and see some hot, stinky water here.

Hot, Stinky water

This type of thermal feature is called a frying pan

This appears to have had a violent past

Wouldn't swim in it, wouldn't drink it.  Jes' sayin'


Dirty, hot, stinky water, but cool nevertheless

Significant mud crackage 

I think they call this the Dragon's Cauldron

Mud Volcano

An idiot tried to get in this last summer

Still wouldn't drink it

This was the site of a violent eruption about a hundred years ago.  It killed the plumbing when it went off, so now it's just a hot spring

More coolness

Fifth Stop:  Lake at Sunset
Lake was the last stop on our trip.  The sun was beginning to go down and we headed home.  Lately I've enjoyed Gull Point Drive, which is a scenic drive along the west side of Yellowstone Lake near Bridge Bay.  It's especially nice at sunset.  Lately I've been seeing bull elk on the lakeshore here.

Lake at dusk

Bull elk at the waterfront

I see a little silhouetteo of a bird, Scaramouch Scaramouch will you do the fandango 

Sunset over the lake.  I call this a stunset

Every day in Yellowstone is a good day.  I have truly enjoyed my explorations of this grand old lady.  No matter how much you have seen, there is always more to be discovered.  Can't wait for next hiking season!

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