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Archive for June, 2015

Saturday was our last full day at Yellowstone. I had reached the coughing portion of my cold and didn’t want to go on a full-out hike but did want to see the more remote Geyser Basins and and the area farther from Old Faithful. We got out fairly early and went first to Biscuit Basin before the big crowds showed up. The Black Diamond Pool had some dead trees in front of it; as I said earlier, a nice foreground. 715MG0464BiscuitBasin 717MG0490BiscuitBasin 716MG0478BiscuitBasin 718MG0503BiscuitBasin On our way out of Biscuit Basin, I got a nice shot of a fisherman fly casting in the Firehole River. This place, being rich with shallow rivers, has fisherpeople all over the place. This guy is in a pink shirt – I like it. 719MG0517FireholeRiver When we got to Black Sand Basin, we recognized some of our favorite geysers from a previous trip. We also remembered seeing an egret, enjoying respite in some warm water. 720MG0547BlackSandBasin 722MG0559BlackSandBasin 724MG0577BlackSandBasin 725MG0573BlackSandBasin On the way back, we played “Catch a geyser spouting”. The object of the game is to catch the geyser spouting. Since this one blows often, we won. 727MG0587BlackSandBasin Our plan was to hike from Black Sand to the outer area of the Upper Basin. On our way out of the parking lot we passed one more beautiful but deadly body of water. Opalescent Pool had killed all the trees nearby. 728MG0594BlackSandBasin After a short hike through a scrubby wooded area, we reached Black Sand Pool. It looked pretty but unremarkable. We gazed at it a few moments then I felt a throbbing under my feet and heard a deep rumble. Was it a heavy truck going by somewhere? Nope, it was the pool, getting ready to rumble. It was a small geyser but we waited to see if the same thing would happen again. It did though the geyser bubbled in a different area of the pool. Interesting. 730MG0600UpperGeyserBasin Our next encounter was Punch Bowl Spring. This was an unusual formation that had built its own container and bubbled away like a Halloween drink for the Addam’s family. 731MG0610UpperGeyserBasin We continued on and passed Grotto Geyser. When we came back from Morning Glory, it was spouting generously. 733MG0653UpperGeyserBasin One of the featured pools in this are is Morning Glory Pool. It used to be more spectacular but people threw so much trash in it that it affected the heat generated and that affected the colors of the algae. It’s the only feature I’ve seen that has a sign warning that throwing coins into the pool violates federal law. The colors and depth of the pool are still amazing. 735MG0636UpperGeyserBasin 736MG0657UpperGeyserBasin 737MG0663UpperGeyserBasin Dave had spotted a spouting geyser quite a distance away. When we finally reached it, it had been erupting for around an hour. And it was quite dramatic, rising 60 or 70 feet high. And it just didn’t stop. It was Grand Geyser. 739MG0681UpperGeyserBasin 740MG0691UpperGeyserBasin My final gasp of creativity was noticing the pink flowers by the Firehole River. I trudged back to the car and thus ended our Yellowstone outings. 741MG0703UpperGeyserBasin We actually put the chairs out and sat outside at the campground. I think it was the second time in ten days. After dinner, we took a final walk to the enormous meadow near the campground; no bison lingering around.

Sunday was departure day; the beginning of the drive home. This time, I allocated 6 days to drive the roughly 1,000 miles from Yellowstone to San Francisco. Our first day was the longest drive: 214 miles from Yellowstone to Craters of the Moon National Monument in Idaho. I know 214 miles doesn’t sound like a lot but when towing we don’t drive faster than 55-60 mph.

We found a nice, quiet campsite at Craters. We didn’t have the energy to do the drive around the monument or the several nice hikes. We just put on our shorts, sat outside and enjoyed the sun, had dinner and relaxed. It’s definitely a place worth visiting if you are driving through that area of Idaho. The nearby town of Arco also has some interesting facets.

The next morning we went back on the road, sailed through the town of Jackpot, Nevada and into high desert sagebrush country. Went into Angel Lake RV Park in Wells on I-80. Nothing fancy and the dryers didn’t dry very well, but we were registered and entertained by an amusing old guy. It was pretty warm and we appreciated the air conditioning. Tuesday was another 200-mile day and we got as far as Winnemucca. I had originally wanted to go to Rye Patch Reservoir, a quiet site, but it was too hot to enjoy it. The Winnemucca RV Park became our home for the night and we were disappointed not to get assigned a space with a tree. It was 90 when we showed up around 2. The swimming pool looked good but only had one shady spot that was occupied. So we holed up again. I’ve begun interior cleaning; it’s easier to do a little bit every day instead of trying to do it all when we get home. They had a large “library” of take one-leave one books, but about 25% of them were by James Patterson. That guy must have written 100 books by now. I think I’ve read one by him; it’s not what I like. We watched the no-hitter by Chris Heston and that was fun to see. He seems like a nice kid.

Wednesday was a short 150-mile drive. There was supposed to be really heavy rains in Nevada but they never transpired. I’m glad the trip was short because Dave now has the beginnings of the cold he undoubtedly caught from me. Too bad. Dave wanted to watch the International Space Station speed across the night sky and had an app that told him exactly when it could be sighted. It was warm and sunny when we pulled into the RV park and then it rained a good portion of the night. So much for our night sky hopes. Next morning, it was warm and sunny again.

We sailed over Donner Summit and had one more night out. I’ve been doing a little bit of cleaning each day for a while so I don’t have to do it all when I get home. That’s one of the lessons I’ve learned. Others are:

Don’t start home projects right before you go on the road.

Always physically check any work done on a vehicle.

Bad weather can still accommodate great images.

Appreciate all weather. San Francisco doesn’t have much weather.

Have adequate entertainment in the vehicle.

Go to fewer places and stay longer.

Take longer to go home. See more of Nevada if weather permits.

Gorp is still a good hike food.

Go back to Yellowstone.

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May 31 Sunday was moving day. We separately drove the 21 miles from Norris to Mammoth Hot Springs because there are a few very narrow, twisty areas. We also found out that 8 miles of the way wasn’t paved due to road work. We reached Mammoth Campground around 10:30, just when people were checking out, and found ourselves a nice space. The campground has two tiers on a steep hill and our upper-tier space had nice views of the valley. Unfortunately, the road into Gardiner, Montana wraps around the campground but you can’t win ‘em all.

Mammoth has no dump and has water at pumps around the campground. After obtaining our site, we drove the Lazy Daze into Gardiner to take on water, dump and shop for groceries. The rest of the day, we watched the weather change. It was warm and sunny when we set up camp, but showered later in the afternoon and when it showers here, there’s often hail.

June 1  We took our first real Yellowstone hike on Monday. The Beaver Ponds Trail is a gorgeous walk through meadows and forest. The sky was….wait for it…….cloudy! After about an hour of hiking, a couple in front of us heard a peal of thunder, saw the dark clouds and turned back. We intrepid adventurers continued on.

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The hills were covered with all kinds of wildflowers. The large, showy Arrowleaf Balsam Wood was the most obvious bloom, but there were at least 10 to 15 other types of wildflowers. It is closer to summer here because the elevation is 6,200 feet, lower than the other areas of Yellowstone.

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The beaver ponds were nothing to write home about (but good enough for my blog, I guess). They were scummy with no current evidence of beaver residents. We photographed some dried reeds and headed back.

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The clouds got darker, lighter, thicker, thinner. In a bit of forest, the light was wonderful on the thick green grass under the trees.

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As we neared the end of the trail, rain began to spatter down and quickly turned to pea-sized hail. It was amazing that it could be so temperate out and still cold enough in the clouds to produce hail. We retreated under a tree and waited about 5 minutes until it stopped.

The trail finishes right on the edge of Mammoth Hot Springs, where elk like to hang out. One elk was grazing when a bird flew onto her back. She looked backward to check out the bird and shook it off.

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We went home, showered, sat around, ate an early dinner and went on a tour of Mammoth’s Upper Terraces. The light was fairly dull but the clouds added interest and the colors in the formations are wonderful.

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The Orange Mound area has always been one of my favorites. The multicolored walls provide a good backdrop for dead trees and there’s always some water running to keep vibrant colors showing.

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Walk around the corner and then you find a formation that looks like a very fat man with a tiny head. Water burbles out in little spurts from the head. Amusing.

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Our final stop of the night was Angel Terrace, another favorite. Dead trees make great foregrounds!

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June 2 I woke up, feeling crummy, with a sore throat. That usually means a cold is on the way. Darn! We rose early and went out to the Lower Terraces to beat the crowds. The sky was blue for the time being which was a nice difference.

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The dry areas can be austere and barren but what a contrast to a deep blue sky.

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We spent more than half an hour photographing Mound Terrace. It was wonderful.

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The boardwalk traversing the different terraces has many stairs, rises and falls. I began to be fatigued after a while and we quit. After lunch, we took off again on the road to Tower, the northeast section of Yellowstone. The road crosses grassy valleys and forested hills. At my insistence, we revisited an interpretive walk, originally talking about the environmental effects of the huge 1988 fire. When we first saw this spot, it was open space because all the trees had burned. Now it’s surrounded by young trees with a few old snags among them. And the interpretive material is about the forces of nature.

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My favorite part of this short walk is the boulder that had a bench right by it. Dave and I made joke shots on one of our earlier trips and I insist that we continue the tradition. Thus:

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We continued to Tower and pulled over to join a flock of cars. I saw a mother bear and three cubs dart across the road and head for the hills. Three cubs! Mom must have trouble feeding and controlling three.

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We continued on to Dunraven Pass where the light was very nice with clouds scudding across the landscape.

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On our way back, we stopped again to see what all the cars were seeing. We missed a black bear with cubs. But the blowdown of trees across the road looked good to us.

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June 3 Dave took off early and went on a solo hike to Hellroaring River. (Isn’t that a great name?) I slept in and didn’t do a heck of a lot all day except catch up with the blog. Rotten cold.

June 4 After finding that Madison Campground had no space available, we ended up back in Norris Campground. There is 7 miles of road construction going on between Mammoth and Norris so Dave and I drove separately. I managed to locate a decent site before Dave arrived and we were set for the next three days. In the afternoon, I felt good enough to check out Norris Basin, another thermal area filled with geysers, springs and mud pots. Porcelain Basin was the first part. The colors in this basin are so delicate, they blow me away.

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Because the sun was out for a change and it was warm and the clouds looked harmless, I just wore a light shirt over my tee. Wrong! We had been out half an hour before it began to sprinkle pretty good. We took refuge under some trees and waited 5 minutes or so until it stopped. When we started walking again we found that, magically, most everyone else had disappeared. Nice!

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After the rain, we retired to the Rav4, ate some peaches and returned to the Back Basin area of Norris. The keynote geyser here is Steamboat Geyser. The sign showed the last major eruption: September 3, 2014. So I wasn’t counting my chickens here. But it has a small eruption every couple of minutes; good enough for us.

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The sky got dark and raindrops threatened. We put on our rain jackets and soldiered on to Green Dragon Geyser, aptly named.

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We eventually reached Vixen Geyser. An Asian couple were also there. We stared at the quiescent geyser. All of a sudden, BOOM! Vixen began to erupt. All four of us cried out in surprise and smiled at each other. We had shared a geyser experience.

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June 6 My cold was getting a little better. I slept in while Dave went out to Firehole River again. By the time he got back, I was up and about. We drove out to the Yellowstone Falls area to take a hike. We parked at the Uncle Tom’s Viewpoint area and the first thing we saw was a grazing elk, one with a full rack right by the parking lot. Nice shot!

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We always tell each other we don’t care about seeing the same old falls we’ve seen before, especially when they are such a long distance away, but we always fall for them again. This time was no exception. The walls of the Yellowstone Canyon are so steep and colorful and each viewpoint provides a different view. So I took my requisite shot of the falls and then concentrated on the walls. But Artist’s Point was very crowded and we wanted to be away from there.

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We started in on the hike to Clear Lake and that meant following the edge of the Yellowstone Canyon for a while. What a revelation! The views of the canyon walls were so much better than from Artist’s Point.

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We walked past Lily Pad Lake but the bugs prevented us from spending much time there. Then it started to sprinkle and instead of fading away, the rain got heavier. We reached Clear Lake, put on our rain jackets and waited under a lodgepole pine for about 10 minutes or so. We snacked on gorp while we waited. (For those who don’t know, gorp is a mixture of raisins, peanuts and M&M’s.)

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The rain dissipated like it had never happened except that the trail was much muddier. But we went on for another half mile or so through some pretty meadows and eventually got back to the Uncle Tom parking lot. What a great hike!

 

 

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May 28  We took off from Cody under heavy clouds on Thursday. It sprinkled on and off as we entered Shoshone National Forest. Buffalo Bill State Park is just west of Cody and what a beautiful place it is. We will probably never camp there because it is one of the two doorways into Yellowstone from the east.

Eventually, we entered Yellowstone. My senior pass saved us the $25 entrance fee. As we rose up to Sylvan Pass (8541’) the rain showers turned to sleet, then snow. Dave, luckily for me, drives the hairier parts of our itinerary, so he occasionally misses out on photographical opportunities. As we got into the snowier areas, I pulled out my camera and started shooting from the passenger seat. It’s fun to see what you get. When I shoot out the side window, I can look at what’s coming up with my left eye and focus on what I’m currently seeing with my right eye. Then our first Yellowstone bison appeared, clumping up the side of the highway like a hiker with sore feet.

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We finally reached Yellowstone Lake, so huge. We pulled over and made our first images. We could hear geese honking in the distance and I caught some Canadian Geese taking off. I think Canadian Geese should be the U.S. national bird; it’s hard to believe there are any left in Canada (assuming that’s where they originated).

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At the entrance station, we were told that we’d have a better chance of getting into Norris Campground than Mammoth. We checked out Norris and decided to stay there. Most sites have trees but several were more open. After dinner, we walked down to the huge meadow but nary a critter was to be seen. We called it a night.

May 29  The next morning we rose earlyish and took off for a couple of basins. Yellowstone has about five basins: areas that contain a lot of geysers, hot springs, fumaroles, mudpots and more. Before we reached the first one, we found bison very close to the road. We’ve seen this before, on previous trips, but in spring there are a lot of calves. It’s fun to watch them and their mothers.

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We turned off on Firehold Drive and began the familiar drive a few yards, get out, photograph, get in, drive pattern. Being a little fanatical about getting the names of all the geysers I’m photographing, I started writing down the names on a piece of paper, then metaphorically hit my forehead with the palm of my hand, and started photographing the names of the geysers as I approached them. (Of course, each of those establishing shots is 28 MB file.)

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We got to White Dome Geyser, exhaling a little smoke. No sooner had Dave said “I think this one erupts fairly often” than off it went. Already having my camera out with the proper lens on enabled me to capture shots of the 1- or 2-minute eruption. Neat!

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We saw another bison. They look so scraggly because they are shedding their winter coats. Since they can’t give their coats to a cold person, they rub against the bark of lodgepole pines to scrape it off. Nearly every tree next to a trail is missing bark from 3- to 4-feet off the ground. What’s weird is that we never see any hair. Maybe smaller critters take it away to line their nests.

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Our next excursion was to the Midway Basin. The first sign for us that this Yellowstone visit was going to be CROWDED was almost not being able to park in the parking lot. And this was Friday, not the weekend. Big tour buses kept arriving and disgorging hoardes of people. Dave finds it really distracting but sometimes I enjoy people-watching and eavesdropping. The boardwalk was crowded and at one point, a small elderly Asian woman slipped in front of Dave and I, under our cameras, on the narrow edge. One wrong move from us (unintentional, I mean) and she would have gone into the water.

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Midway Basin’s major attraction is the iconic Grand Prismatic Spring. The colorful images of this hot spring are on t-shirts, photo books, mouse pads, shot glasses, you name it. The catch is, all those images were taken from above. We peons can only walk a boardwalk that doesn’t go closer than 40 feet. It’s just not the same. Plus, there are almost always clouds of colored steam obscuring the spring. Nevertheless, it is beautiful.

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Despite the crowds, I had fun wandering among all the bodies of water. It’s a fascinating place.

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Although tired, we soldiered on to Upper Geyser Basin to see the Godzilla of Geysers, Old Faithful. For years, I wasn’t interested in visiting Yellowstone because I thought it didn’t have much besides the one big spouter. As one ranger said: “It isn’t the biggest geyser in the park, it’s just one of the most predictable geysers.” Despite its boring regularity, Old Faithful still is quite a site to see.

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We managed to do another circuit of geysers and pools. Each one is so different and some are just strange. I’m always sorry I can’t reference my older images (Kodak slides and digital files) to see how some of the formations have changed. By the time I get home, I usually forget.

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We were lured into one more spot for the final walk of the afternoon. It was Artist’s Paintpots and it wasn’t really worth the walk unless you really like mud. But I think we got in 3 or 4 miles of walking during the day although very little of it was cardio.

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May 30  We went to the east side of the park on Saturday, first checking out Dunraven Pass, that had just reopened. The pass road winds through a huge valley. Unfortunately, Chittenden Road, the dirt road up to a great viewpoint on Mt. Washburn, was closed. Dave and I have had spectacular photo sessions up there. Oh well, we photographed here and there for a while before turning around.

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Our hike of the day was to Storm Point on Yellowstone Lake. A nice flat hike along the edge of the lake. The hike began and ended with bison, grazing and laying around in the meadow. My question is: how the heck do these animals even lift their massive heads?

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After the hike, we returned to Dunraven Pass and photographed some bison dots. It’s nice to see them with calves, although many don’t have calves. Or maybe there are a lot of males hanging around. It’s hard to tell gender on these hairy creatures.

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