My Travel Map

My Travel Map

28 February 2009

Yellowstone National Park: Part 1

Coming in from the South Entrance, we drove North, making our way through endless pine forest and the odd lake to the geyser basins near the famous Old Faithful. We planned on spending our first day taking in the Southwestern part of the park, where the majority of geysers and prismatic pools are found. Our first stop was just randomly along the side of the road in to check out this cascading river. It was quite a way down to it where we were standing and the water was no more than a foot deep and just streaming over the dark rock beneath it.

One of the smaller guys in the Upper Geyser Basin, with the Old Faithful Lodge in the background. This was one of the most built up places in the park since it is here that visitors get the regular showing from the Old Faithful geyser.

Some of these geysers were absolutely massive, and they can spray boiling hot mineral water hundreds of feet into the air.

The geyser basins are like alien landscapes... much unlike anything I've ever seen. Yellowstone is blessed with more geysers than any other geothermal area in the world. A couple other hotspots are Iceland and Rotorua, New Zealand.

Trees bleached white from the chemical steam.

The aptly named Firehole River.

The Morning Glory pool. I talk more about the colors in the next post, but this one isn't nearly as bright and vibrant as it used to be (the center used to be a bright, bright hue of electric blue) thanks to idiot tourists throwing garbage into the pool (which blocks up the vent at the bottom). Missy and I witnessed idiotic people doing a lot of stupid things in the park, like dipping hands into the mud and bright bacterial pools and acting like full-blown babbling morons at the sight of wildlife (running wildly, while drooling, flailing arms, and making weird grunts and squeals). It's people like that that I don't feel bad for when they are burnt horribly by the boiling steam of a geyser they got to close to or are horribly maimed by a wild animal to which they showed no respect. If people can't respect nature and what is there, if they do things to ruin it, then those people should never be allowed to go to such a wonderful place.

The geyser basin is just peppered with these venting white piles and swathed in massive open areas that are too unstable for trees to take root. This is the Old Faithful geyser before blowing its top....any second now...

There it goes...few minutes late....but it didn't fail to deliver.

Near-boiling hot mineral water streaming down into the Firehole River. Rudyard Kipling once visited Yellowstone and wrote about the immense courage it took to stick your head in one of the steaming vents along the Firehole. He said he never worked up enough courage to do it...which is why he was intelligent enough to be allowed in the park by my reckoning.

At most of the colorful pools, the steam was just too dense to see the full out beauty of the electrically bright colors. However, you do catch sudden glimpses through the shroud.

Once again...the landscape is so totally alien, yet here you find it in Wyoming of all places. If I didn't tell you, couldn't you mistake this for a picture taken from the air of the surface of some distant planet's icy moon? Meanwhile it was taken by me along one of the walkways in the Lower Geyser Basin. Amazing place!

Yellowstone National Park: Part 2

Along the Grand Prismatic Spring. I highly recommend you look up aerial shots of this massive color pool. The colors come from various types of bacteria that thrive in certain temperature waters... as the temperature gets hotter or cooler, the color of the bacteria changes. It is surreal that these are so natural and so vibrant. image: "Grand Prismatic Spring from the air" is incredible.

Unfortunately, the main part of the pool (with the crazy blues, yellows, and greens) is mostly shrouded by the clouds of steam, but you can catch the faint glimpse of intense color from time to time. Also, the parts that you can see from the walkway aren't too bad either!

I'm not going to write much about most of these pictures. As we traveled through the park, we were absolutely floored by the views and its enormous size. Hopefully these pictures do some justice for that.

A massive geyser along the Firehole Lake Drive...

And a little guy shooting off some steam.

More prismatic pools...

Missy and I loved how the steam would just rise out of random places throughout the park. If you had no idea where you were, you would think that you were surrounded by forest fires in several parts of the park.

Near Mammoth Hot Springs

Missy and I took a drive to the North Entrance. This is the Roosevelt Gate, named after the President who was so important to the National Park system in the US. It is also in southern Montana, which is a state I have always wanted to spend some time in.

The old post office at Mammoth village.

The Lamar Valley.... we saw wolves!!! The Lamar Valley pack was out and about, sitting up on a ridge line and looking down on the massive buffalo heard that makes the valley its home. We saw about ten wolves total and they were really far off (across the valley), but fortunately several others with telescopes and really nice binoculars were there and willing to let everyone take a gander. It was amazing seeing these predators in their natural habitat...wolves are by far one of my favorite animals.

Another dramatic vista...

Missy's entire trip was made when we saw this bull moose. Moose are dying out in the park mostly due to lack of water supposedly, which is hard to believe considering how much water there seems to be. However, the ranger that was overseeing the sighting was telling me about how few there are in recent years compared to before and how there is a direct correlation to the amount of water in the park.

This park is enormous. It is so spectacular seeing so much unspoiled wilderness. There should be many, many more reserves of land that are this large and off limits to human development.

In the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.... it's from here that the park derives its name.

Our last night camping in the park; it hailed and was very, very cold. Each night we camped in both Yellowstone and Grand Teton, I woke up in the middle of the night to howling wolves; I loved it! This last night was really, really cold though, but fortunately we were all pretty tired and went to bed shortly after dinner and sunset. We woke up to an ice covered tent (the condensation from our warmth inside had frozen into a thin sheet of ice all over the rain slick), but the weather seemed to have cleared, which was very promising for our last day.

One of the first things we saw on our drive back to the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone was this: two buffalo swimming across this misting river!

They got out, had a quick drink, and then just wandered around a bit, crossing the road and moving off into the woods. They were very close and it was pretty spectacular.

The Hayden Valley, we saw another pack of wolves here! The two big valleys in the park (Lamar and Hayden) are famous for their wolf packs, though we were extremely fortunate to see both packs within two days! The Hayden Pack was feasting on a kill from the night before; I wonder if it was the cold or the wolves that got whatever kind of animal it was. Once again they were in the distance, but there were others with telescopes and binoculars that were generous with their gear.

Further along the valley we came across a herd of buffalo.

Artist's Point and the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. We returned here because we really wanted to see this canyon in full was well worth the extra 40 minutes of driving!

Our last stop in Yellowstone brought us to the West Thumb thermal area.

After another drive through Grand Teton, we stopped and had a full lunch at the Snake River Brewery in Jackson Hole, WY. Jackson Hole is a pretty cool, though super touristy, western town. The drive back was long (~11.5 hrs), but the scenery was amazing. We came back along the west side of the continental divide, which runs diagonally up through Wyoming in a massive ridgeline of 12-13 thousand foot peaks that bee-lines from south-central WY right up to Teton and Yellowstone. There were some spectacular mountains in that range that I would love to spend some time on, especially considering how few people lived around them (and thus how few actually visit them to hike, climb, and camp).

27 February 2009

Grand Teton National Park

Missy, Bailey, and I woke up early to this sunrise at our campsite in Northwestern Wyoming. We were on our way to spend five days and nights driving, hiking, and camping through Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks over an extended Labor Day weekend (September 2008). We had left after work the day before and drove into the early morning to cover the huge distance between Boulder and the far corner of Wyoming.

Entering Grand Teton National Park from the Eastern, Moran Entrance. The Teton range bursts out of the valley running the length of its Eastern sides. Grand Teton itself (the tallest mountain in this picture) rises nearly 7,000 feet above the 6,800 foot base plain to an altitude of 13,770 ft. It is spectacular seeing these massive mountains towering so high above you and dominating the landscape for miles and miles around them.

Mt. Moran and its reflection on the way in.

As I mentioned above...the mountains dominate the landscape. These pictures do little justice to the real thing. I found it absolutely spectacular to have such a broad, flat valley (the Snake River valley) and this behemoth of a range right next to it that absolutely ignores the notion of foothills and gradual inclines.

Mt. Moran, from the side this time.

Yet another of the spectacular features of the valley is the series of lakes that run along the very feet of the mountains themselves. They are crystal clear, glacial lakes, carved out by the spectacular forces of those receding rivers of ice. I heard from a geologist once that the fault along which the Tetons lie is still very active (obviously when you look to the activity in Yellowstone to the North) and causing the Tetons to grow higher while the lakes get deeper. I haven't confirmed this, but if true, that is pretty cool.

Mt. Moran from the beautiful Jenny Lake and just a short hike from our campsite.

Grand Teton and Jenny Lake. I absolutely fell in love with the area around the Tetons. As for what I look for in nature, you can't get much better than this.

The Tetons. Their modern name derives from what some apparently sex-deprived French-Canadian fur traders called the three dominant peaks: Les Trois Tetons (Translation: The Three Breasts). Somehow, this perverse nickname stuck, and now the United States has a National Park named after a grand tit.

Menor's Ferry. This ferry is part of a historic area in the park, where settlers once made their livelihoods and homes. Menor's Ferry used to be one of the only places for miles to cross the formidable Snake River. The ferry itself is an ingenious design, the guide rope above it restricts its motion to basically one dimension (along the line), and due to the angle on the two pontoons in the water, the side-to-side (in the direction of the guide rope) component of the force moves the ferry. So with the set up in this picture (ferry angled left into the stream), the ferry wants to move left but is stopped by the wall; to move right, just angle the ferry the other way (right into the stream) and let the river do the work for you!

The old General Store at Menor's Ferry historic area. They still sell goods, and the interior is decked out with antique, settler-era furnature, stove, and memorabilia. It is definitely deserving of a walk around inside.

One of the barns along Mormon Row...and yes, that is a herd of buffalo behind it on the left! I can only immagine living in this area in the 1800' would have been amazing and terrifying at the same time being so secluded in such a beautiful part of the world. I was blown away to find that there are still private residences INSIDE the park limits! They are left over from before the area had national park status. Lucky, lucky (and probably filthy rich) owners.

The area around the Snake River is lush.

Another old settlement.

And more spectacular views. I found myself as I was in Australia at Uluru...I could not stop taking pictures of these massive peaks. Each new angle, setting, and lighting provided another opportunity I couldn't let pass by.

I was surprised and a little disappointed to find a full-out marina at Colter Bay Village along Jackson Lake, the biggest and least natural (it is pretty much a reservoir created by a massive man-made dam) of the lakes. Though taking a couple kayaks or a canoe out would be spectacular, I just don't enjoy the sound of gas motors so much when I'm in such a beautiful area....though I'm hypocritical now since we drove in a car to cover the parks large distances.

On our second morning in the park we woke up to find this thin blanket of cloud resting midway up the range. The picture does little justice to just how cool this looked, especially since the clouds morphed and evolved in real time, disappearing within about an hour of when we first noticed them.