Friday, May 29, 2015

Yellowstone, Part 2

We have spent a second week in Yellowstone, at the Mammoth campground. As I mentioned before, it stays a little warmer here, so the elk like to spend most of the year. They especially like the lush green lawns around the developed areas, and hang out by the park headquarters, hotel, etc., causing traffic jams. They also came browsing through our campground most evenings. We saw LOTS of elk, mostly very pregnant female ones. They were just starting to calve while we were there, but we did not see any of the babies - they hide them until they can keep up. We also saw a couple of large bulls with velvety antlers.

We also saw a bear. Actually, we first saw a traffic jam. When we were able to get off the road, there was a bear a long way off across a lake. We had binoculars, and there was a ranger with a telescope so we got a pretty good view. It was a large male black bear. He had found a dead elk that had been frozen in the lake, and was eating it. He was surrounded by lots of ravens and one bald eagle hoping to get some. There were a lot of bear sightings in the area, but this was the only one we have seen so far. A grizzly was spotted just behind the campground one morning.

We took some really enjoyable hikes. One went out to several beaver ponds, where we saw the beavers' lodge, the dam, and even one of the beavers. Another was to the top of Bunsen Peak, a 1300 foot climb with terrific views from the top (there was still some snow of the trail up there, too). And Mammoth has some hot springs, but they are very different from the ones in the southern part of the park. The hot water comes up through limestone, which is too soft to build up pressure for geysers. Instead, the limestone dissolves, and then is deposited as the spring comes to the surface, building up intricate terraces, with formations like cave stalactites, etc. They are very beautiful.


No, I didn't invent that word, I read it in a novel by Craig Johnson set in this area. But it fits. This is what we woke up to the third morning in Yellowstone (May 16, almost 2 weeks ago) - 6 inches at the campground and still coming down. There was less elsewhere. The daytime temps got up into the upper 40's or 50's, so not too bad to be out in. We deliberately came early in the season to miss the worst crowds, and are glad we did. One steep hike did climb up into heavy snow over slush and mud, pretty slippery and grueling, but we were rewarded with great views and a geyser basin all to ourselves.

Finally, yesterday, May 28, we were driving out of the park for a day of shopping and laundry in Cody, WY, when we came to a "Road Closed" barricade. Dunraven Pass, at over 8800 feet high, was closed because of blowing snow and heavy drifts. We had to take a two hour detour through unpaved, one-way construction zones to get out of the park. As we got into the eastern end of the park which is at higher elevation, there was quite a lot of new snow on the ground, but the roads were clear.

A hot spring in the snow - it has melted the snow right around it.

Geysers and Hot Springs

... are hard to really photograph! They are so much more impressive in person, with the boiling, hissing, steaming, and the smells of sulpher and hydrogen sulfide. I took all these pictures during our first week in the park, while we were down in the thermal areas.

The colors in this pool are produced by different species of thermophiles - microorganisms that thrive in very hot, mineral laden water. Different species grow at different temperatures, with the clear dark blue at the center being water too hot for anything to grow.

Look at the delicate structures built up around the edge of the pool as dissolved silica precipitates out of the water.

Boiling out of the ground.

Sometimes the thermophiles build up elaborate mats.

A mud pot.

Waterfall on the Gibbon River.

Grand Geyser erupting.

Lone Star Geyser erupting.

Riverside Geyser erupting.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Yellowstone, Part 1

Yellowstone was the one place I most wanted to see on this trip. So far, it has exceeded my expectations. We stayed at the Madison campground, on the western side of the park, giving us access to Norris geyser basin, the hottest thermal area, and the Old faithful area, with 1/4 of the world's geysers in 1 square mile. We saw several big geysers erupt: Old Faithful, Daisy, Riverside, Grand (which is!), and Lone Star, as well as quite a few smaller ones. We also saw hot springs, boiling mud pots, and fumaroles (steam vents).

We had to brake for bighorn sheep, mule deer, and often for bison. We saw elk, bald eagles, lots of osprey, great blue herons, and yellow-bellied marmots, which were very entertaining running around and tussling. We haven't seen any bears, but saw their tracks and scat. I woke up during the second night and heard a VERY large exhalation just outside the wall by my head. After a quick worry about bears I could hear several big animals moving around quietly, and realized it was a herd of bison! Right around us! We later found out it was a group of 11 that came through.

It's been a long, busy chore day, and I don't have any scenery or geyser photos ready to post yet, but here are a few animal shots. We're heading back in to the Mammoth area tomorrow. It's on the northern side, but since the elevation is lower, it's a bit warmer

Yellow-bellied marmot

Wednesday, May 13, 2015


We've spent the last week working our way up from Moab, UT, through western Colorado and eastern Utah and finally into Wyoming. We visited Dinosaur National Monument, which is an amazing museum built over the side of a hill with an amazing accumulation of partly excavated dinosaur bones still in place. Lots of fossils were removed from here in the early 1900's and sent to the Carnegie Museum in Pittsburgh, but what remains is really impressive.

Along the way we had to go over the Douglas Pass, a narrow, twisty, bumpy, hairpin filled road. The speed limit dropped to 15 mph, and it was hard to go even that fast, especially when it started snowing/sleeting near the summit at 8268 feet.

Finally we got to Wyoming. We drove some scenic roads over high, gently rolling plains of sagebrush, with views of even higher snow covered mountains around. We saw lots of pronghorn antelope, a herd of wild horses (and occasional herds of cattle). Tomorrow we are heading into Yellowstone! I'll be away from internet access for at least a week, hope to be back after that with some more photos.


As you can see, they're not kidding. We had to come almost to a complete stop for one cow. Note the cattle grate across the road.

At the Grand Canyon - it became a catchphrase for all our canyon hikes.

In the bathroom at the Needles campground.
Others seen but not photographed include elk crossing, prairie dog crossing, and my favorite, in New Mexico, the philosophical statement "Gusty winds may exist".

Goosenecks State Park

This was a really small park, but what a view! The river has cut an "entrenched meander" down through the rock layers. The park is three miles wide, but the river travels seven miles across it. I couldn't get it all in one photo, I had to stitch three together.

We were camped right by the edge.

On the way in, near the town of Mexican Hat, we passed the Mexican Hat rock.