Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Yellowstone

After finishing up our backpacking trip in the Black Canyon of Yellowstone, we drove to the Mammoth Hot Springs area of the park. We ate lunch at a picnic table in the area and then did the scenic boardwalk tour of the area’s geothermal features.

This cone from a now-defunct hot spring was the first stop along the boardwalk. At the time, the name seemed like it would be easy to remember, but after seeing dozens of geothermal features all the names run together.

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Here, the hot, mineral-filled water runs down a hill.

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Further along, we saw Devil’s Thumb and Minerva Terrace. The white formations are formed by calcium left behind from water flow. The hot water flowing to the right of the photo is colored by thermophiles living in the water.

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Here are the views from the top of the boardwalk, looking out across the hot spring terraces.

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This is a close-up of the water and formations in an active spring.

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Continuing along the boardwalk, we got a view of the colorful Canary Springs.

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Back in the car, we continued around the main park loop down toward the Old Faithful area. Along the way, we stopped to see just a few of the numerous roadside sites.

This is Gibbon Falls and the view down the valley from the falls.

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Of course, we had to make some stops for wildlife jams as well. These elk were hanging out right beside the road and crossed just in front of us.

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Next, we detoured down the Firehole Canyon Road, hoping to have a dunk in one of the few legal swimming holes in Yellowstone. Sadly, it was closed due to high water. Even if we didn’t get to swim, we did get some good views along the drive.

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Our final stop before Old Faithful was the Fountain Paint Pots area. This area had no fewer than four tour buses and several dozen vehicles (which is actually nothing compared to Old Faithful Village). The up-close views of brilliantly colored thermal features made braving the crowds worthwhile though.

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The mud paint pots were especially cool.

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Here’s another bubbling mud geyser:

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The view across the geothermal flats:

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We also stood for a while watching Spasm Geyser shoot off.

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Next stop was Old Faithful. Unfortunately, when we arrived the geyser had just erupted. Since Old Faithful erupts approximately every 90 minutes, we had awhile to wait until the next eruption. Fortunately, the Old Faithful Lodge offered cheap showers (only $3.25 for an unlimited hot shower!), so we put that time to good use.

Freshly clean, we joined the hoards waiting patiently for Old Faithful.

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Old Faithful put on quite a show (the best one of the day, by several nearby watchers’ assessments):

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There are a number of other geothermal features within easy walking distance, but at this point it was after 6 pm and we still had a longish drive back to the campground, so we decided to call it a day for sightseeing. Yellowstone is so huge that unless you have an incredible amount of time to spend there, you’d never see it all anyway.

We set up camp for the night at Grant Village, a campground in the park run by the concessionaire Xanterra. In typical Xanterra fashion, nothing is fast and it took us seemingly forever to get through the line to get our campsite. We set up camp and made dinner before diving into the tent to avoid the mosquitoes.

The next morning, we planned a day hike to Heart Lake. First, we set up camp at nearby Lewis Lake so we’d be sure to have a place to stay when we returned from our 15-mile hike out to the lake and back.

When we arrived at the trailhead, we noticed this odd sign.

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This was something new. We weren’t sure if it was serious or someone playing a practical joke, but just to be safe, we removed our wiper blades anyway.

The Heart Lake trail is through an area of the park that burned during the infamous summer fires of 1988. The landscape is regenerating, but marks of the fire are still very visible.

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The hike turned out to be horrendously buggy, hot, and with relatively unchanging scenery. We hiked at a very fast clip, trying to outrace the bugs, for over an hour before we decided it just wasn’t worth it and turned around. We were very glad that the backcountry campsites had been full when we were planning our backcountry trip, so we didn’t get stuck overnight in the bugs. The lake may be beautiful, but it would take a lot to make up for the overwhelming number of mosquitoes and the unexciting trail there.

With our newfound free afternoon, we hung out and did a much-needed load of laundry at Grant Village. Then we started driving north, planning to see Yellowstone Falls and do some wildlife viewing at Hayden Valley.

Along the way, we stopped at the West Thumb Geyser Basin. The basin is gorgeously situated along Yellowstone Lake and has some of the most brightly colored thermal features we saw.

Here’s Bluebell Pool:

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Looking down Yellowstone Lake from the West Thumb Geyser Basin boardwalk:

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The Big Cone geyser (presumably, more impressive when the water levels are lower):

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Perhaps the most beautiful pool was the oddly named Black Pool, a sprawling expanse of brilliant blue:

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The Abyss Pool and its runoff were also stunning.

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Finally, a view of the whole geyser basin overlooking the lake:

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Back in the car, we didn’t get far before being stopped by a buffalo jam.

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These creatures are common throughout the park and are apparently the most common cause of wildlife-induced visitor injuries. Somehow, people think these enormous creatures are docile (though they weigh thousands of pounds and can run 30 mph) and thus do stupid things like trying to pose with them for photos.

Our next stop was the Mud Volcano.

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Also at that stop, we saw the Dragon’s Mouth.

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The site wasn’t as cool as the whomping sound emanating from the cavernous “mouth”.

Just a bit up the road, we stopped for the roadside viewing of the Sulpher Cauldron.

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From here, we entered the Hayden Valley area, which along with Lamar Valley (in the northeast corner of the park), is one of the premier wildlife viewing areas in the park. It was worth a drive for the landscape viewing alone.

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People set up high-powered scopes at the turnouts along this section of road and hang out for hours near dawn and dusk to catch a glimpse of wildlife in the distance. One nice family was set up on a hill and let us look at a grizzly sow and cub in the distance where the meadow met the treeline (i.e. four to five miles away).

Up closer to the road, we saw several herds of elk and more buffalo.

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When we finally got to Yellowstone Falls, it was getting late so we didn’t stay long. We did walk out to Artist Point for a quick view of the amazing canyon and Lower Yellowstone Falls.

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A steam vent was visible near the river.

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We also got a fellow tourist to take a rare photo of us together.

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And Brian got a photo of Sarah.

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It was getting closer to sunset, and we drove back down through Hayden Valley, hoping to see more wildlife.

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A herd of buffalo was not far from the road.

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And a couple of buffalo were very close to the road.

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There were also more beautiful vistas as the sun set.

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We also saw another grizzly bear in the distance, moving in and out of tree line.

We didn’t get back to our camp to cook dinner until nearly 11 pm. All in all, it was a rewarding night of scenic driving and wildlife viewing. Tomorrow, we’d drive south to Grand Teton.

2 comments:

AA said...

Having never been to Yellowstone, I really enjoyed this blog. Thanks for sharing the awesome pics of all the geysers!

twoinatent said...

Thanks -- glad you liked them!