October 10, 2017

GAZING INTO THE SOUL OF THE EARTH AT YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK, PART II

Mammoth Hot Springs Terrace

Yellowstone National Park





Carol writes:  With the threat of snow on the horizon, we knew we needed to press to see as much of Yellowstone as we could.  Geysers, hot springs, fumaroles, and mud pots would serve as our entertainment over the next three days as we ventured further into the park before those dark clouds on the horizon delivered the snow that was promised.










White Dome Geyser,













Fountain Paint Pots,













and the absolute glory of Grand Prismatic Spring














definitely delivered some of the highlights of Yellowstone that make it such a unique place on planet Earth.

Our life on the road living full-time in a motorhome is by no means as perfect as my travel blogs would indicate, for our modern big metal box is filled with technology that periodically provides challenges.  This time it was trouble with the Aqua-Hot, our coach’s heating system and hot water provider.  As bad luck would have it, the severity of our problem really became evident the morning we woke up to a dusting of snow in the campground.  We ended up driving 70 miles to tiny Ennis, Montana, to obtain more Aqua-Hot antifreeze solution.  It was our hope that simply topping off the Aqua-Hot antifreeze reservoir would solve our problem… And it did!

Our drive to Ennis took us past the Hebgen Lake area which was ground zero for the 7.3 magnitude earthquake that occurred on August 17, 1959.  The recent snowfall exposed most dramatically where the giant landslide broke off and slid across the canyon through which the Madison River flowed.




In a matter of seconds, 28 campers lost their lives and the canyon was totally blocked, creating a new lake upstream within a matter of days.

 
Gazing at what is now called Earthquake Lake, I stood beside a giant dolomite boulder that was hurled across the canyon in the landslide.  The steely gray skies above a dusting of snow painted a somber picture of the horrific events that happened at Hebgen Lake 58 years ago.


As often happens in the mountains after a dusting of snow, the next day’s skies were clear and blue, so we headed up to Mammoth Hot Springs for a visit that was sure to reawaken unforgettable memories of our family visit in 1989…   

September 21, 1989 Family Journal Entry: 

“… we had about an hour and a half of enjoyment watching the elk.  We observed the bull warn off other bulls and go from one female to another to get some action.  None of the females were interested and the bull would let off a huge bellow every time he was rejected.  I guess the females had a headache.  Jason said he hoped he wouldn’t have so much trouble getting a girlfriend.”

On another September day 28 years later, as we pulled into Mammoth Hot Springs, we were delighted to discover that the elk had once again taken over the village.  The bulls were bugling and were as fascinating and magnificent as ever!







Park rangers were doing a heroic job of protecting the bull, along with his harem of ladies, from the tourists.  Thanks to great telescopic sights on the cameras of today, we were able to take advantage of plenty of opportunities for superior pics of the bull


on the greens of the historic Army housing.


However, it was the constantly changing sculpture of the travertine-depositing hot springs that was the main event at Mammoth Hot Springs.









A complex series of boardwalks led all around Mammoth Hot Springs Terraces.  The view of the village and surrounding mountains from above was like a slice of Shangri-La.




Yet, the close-up lacework of crystal formation was likewise entrancing.


Minerva Terraces was certainly thought-provoking…


The heat-loving bacteria and algae at Orange Spring Mound revealed to us a canvas of living color.


The sensational drive back from Mammoth Hot Springs was filled with another bison sighting along the road,


in a snowy landscape that told the story of recovery from Yellowstone’s devastating 1988 fire that burned 36% of the park’s acreage.


We had planned our final stop of the day at the Mud Volcano Area.  A relatively steep climb to the top of the boardwalk brought us to Churning Caldron where we saw nonstop explosive action like nothing we had ever seen before.



To date, we had been in Yellowstone for almost 2 weeks; yet, in all that time we had not seen the elusive grizzly bear.  At the conclusion of our last few hours in the park, a large animal jam teeming with photographers and tripods 


suggested we might want to pull over and see what this gathering was all about.

Oh, my goodness!  Across the river was a grizzly chowing down on an elk carcass! 


That grizzly sighting was plainly animal life at its rawest in Yellowstone.  (In the future, we might want to think about a small portable tripod…) 

This visit to Yellowstone had certainly reawakened sweet memories of a family visit to Yellowstone a long time ago.  We were reassured to note that the Park Service has indeed been a good steward of this precious world marvel and has done its best to reconcile the desires of humans with the needs of animals.  

Even though we had to deal with late-summer snows, we were enthralled with the beauty of Yellowstone through the winter lens of our camera.  We were ever grateful that our visit had dovetailed nicely with the end of the tourist season and the bugling of the elk. 







September 19, 2017

GAZING INTO THE SOUL OF THE EARTH AT YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK, PART I


  

Carol writes:  Yellowstone National Park was established in 1872 as our first national park. Situated in a dramatic volcanic backdrop like something from another world, the park is located primarily in Wyoming but also extends into parts of Montana and Idaho. There is nothing commonplace in Yellowstone’s untamed landscape where there are over 300 active geysers that are still heated by a giant magma chamber that last erupted 640,000 years ago and covered approximately half of the continental United States with ash fall.



In addition to geothermal features, Yellowstone is the habitat for an increasingly scarce population of large predator and prey mammals, such as 

 grizzly bear,


elk,


and our country’s largest free-roaming bison herd.







Our gourmet campground in West Yellowstone was conveniently located just outside the entry to the park.  We were happy to be joined for the first 4 days of our 2-week stay by Mississippi pals Mike and Mary, friends of ours from back in the days of our early married life when we lived in Slidell, Louisiana.  I must give a huge round of thanks to Mike, who shot several of the photos in this blog due to a fatal malfunction by Al's camera.


Blessed with sunny skies on the first day, we were all quite enthused as we headed out to the magical land of Norris Geyser Basin for a hike around Yellowstone’s hottest and most dynamic geyser basin.


Ribbons of color formed by microorganisms growing in waters of varying temperatures and pH streamed  throughout a primordial landscape.



Fondly, we remembered that Yellowstone was one of the stops we made in 1989 while our family of four was on a year of travel after Al retired from the Navy.  For some reason, tiny little Vixen Geyser in Norris Geyser Basin was a family favorite back then, as related in Al’s blog from exactly 28 years ago today  

Family Journal Entry from September 19, 1989:

“We were all treated to a special performance from the Vixen Geyser.  It is a small geyser about 10 feet from the trail and as soon as we walked up to it, the little girl showed us her stuff.  Vixen gave us a 4-5 minute show with spouts of water about 25 feet high and then sucked all the water back down her vent.”

It was with a touch of sentimentality that we observed that Little Vixen was still firing away!




















The next day it was on to the Old Faithful geyser basin 


for one of the Yellowstone “big shows.”  I guess you could say we were a bit excited about our first bison sighting along the road, 


and what else the day would bring,


as we spotted a Yellowstone shout-out to Mary beside the road.


After Mike and Al did a little strategizing and coordinating known geyser eruption times,











Old Faithful went off precisely as predicted.









We were fortunate to witness an even grander eruption than Old Faithful at Grand Geyser.















Grand’s eruption was a big hit with the crowd, as it seemed higher and more dramatic than Old Faithful’s and certainly lasted much longer.


Despite not being in the business of dramatic eruptions, Solitary Geyser gifted the four of us with our own private moment of reflection on the fortunate opportunity of being together amidst the marvels of Yellowstone.




A hike in the Old Faithful geyser basin displayed an array of colorful thermal features…
















and another bison sighting.


On the ride back to camp, we delighted in our first Yellowstone elk sighting along the Madison River.  Strange we haven’t heard any bugling from the bull elks yet, for it is the mating season…



The next day we traveled further into the park to see the most popularly photographed Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.  









For the hardy, there were excellent short hikes along boardwalks with lots of steps and several hundred feet of elevation change to viewpoints of the Lower Falls



























and the Upper Falls, where each couple took turns getting their vanity shot.













Mike's photo of an extraordinary rainbow effect looking down the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone with its honey-colored walls left little doubt why this area was named Yellowstone.








For our last day with Mike and Mary in Yellowstone, Mike proposed a couple of hikes for an off-the-road experience that a majority of park visitors are unable to undertake due to time constraints.  We were very thankful for the opportunity to see the “back side” of Yellowstone, for that is where the quiet spirit of the land revealed itself in all its splendor.

The ride to our trailhead went through spectacular Hayden Valley, the best area of the park for viewing large-animal wildlife.  Sure enough, in the grand vista of Hayden Valley in what was once an ancient lakebed, we spotted a sizable bison herd grazing on the yellow grasses of late summer.


all the while thankful for cameras with great zoom features…






For the first hike of the day, Mary headed out at a brisk pace to Storm Point along Yellowstone Lake to a place where there were few other hikers, leaving us all alone to soak up the beauty and serenity of the shoreline of this amazing lake.






The second hike to Riddle Lake was likewise quite deserted, thus providing us a golden opportunity to enjoy the silence of a mostly lodgepole pine forest interspersed with wet grassy meadows.


As we were resting lakeside preparing for the hike back, a brief fly-by and a honk from a resident trumpeter swan struck each of us as positively spiritual.


Having had a glimpse into the soul of Yellowstone at its geysers and thermal pools, we were thankful for the camaraderie of exploring along with friends.  So far, we had been blessed with fair skies and warm breezes, but we still had another week and a half in Yellowstone by ourselves—with a weather forecast that was turning positively wintery.  However, having last visited a frozen Yellowstone 

Upper Falls of the Yellowstone, January 2010

for a snowmobile adventure during the heart of winter in January 2010,

Snowmobile Trip to Yellowstone, January 2010

we knew we were about to have another memorable experience viewing Yellowstone’s untamed landscape through the winter lens of our camera.  How would that work out this time in a home on wheels?