Thursday, July 31, 2014

Yellowstone NP - 'Do Ya Think I'm Sexy?'

We began the day at the ‘Lodge’, the Lake Lodge, having breakfast. It is one of the classic lodges of Yellowstone.
Pretty fancy, overlooking Yellowstone lake, white cloth napkins, with a waiter who had the personality of a zucchini. At one point, Gary, to try to open him up, asked him where he was from. He turned away and scraped the dishes off the next table. Later we saw him sitting at the bar nursing a drink. Hmmm. I think he’s in the wrong occupation.

But, breakfast was good and an excellent excuse to get to the Lodge where we heard that we might be able to get Verizon wi-fi coverage on our mi-fi gadget. We found the lounge and set up. Now, isn't this a nice place to spend a few hours? Note the ice water with fresh strawberries. My kind of place. 
Not really, we waited for our online service more than we used it. Finally, I got a few things done like paying bills, writing a thank-you e-mail, calling for our mail to be deliered to the next town we would be staying. But, the wi-fi was so slow, we gave up.

Our real goal was to get to the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, about 20 miles away. On the way, of course, we found a bison jam, or two. And, of course, we stopped and watched them. Mostly they just meander and circle around, posing for the tourists. This herd had a few young ones and some other males strutting their stuff. But, then, the big bull bison male strut through the herd and the younger males skulk away.

Then there’s the mating dance. So, trying to make this a clean blog: here’s the scene: a big bull bison pees into a sand pit, rolls around in it,
stands up all dusty and smelly and saunters over to a cow, a female bison. He smiles his best smile, doffs his hat, tosses his blond locks ala Rod Stewart and then breaks into a chorus of ‘Do Ya Think I’m Sexy?’ Enough to turn any female’s head and, true to form, I have yet to see any of the female bison do anything but turn away and in walk the opposite direction.
Oh, yeah, the Canyon. We wanted to hike the South Rim trail which was described as ‘Easy’ but 6 miles with a stop at Uncle Tom’s Trail and Artists Point on our way to Point Sublime. ‘Easy’ sounds ok to us. We parked our car, geared up and were on our way. Cool hike alongside the Yellowstone River, past the upper falls which we could hear aroaring before we ever hit the bend. Note the omnipresent rainbow in the lower right hand corner. 
We had some great views down the river towards the other end of the canyon and the colors were exquisite. The pinks, oranges, rusty reds and all hues in between with yellows on either side of them. A palette of color.
Then we hit Uncle Tom’s Trail, a stairs heading down into the canyon. Only 328 steel-meshed steps down and only 328 steps up (although one ranger described it as: ‘328 steps down and 2000 steps up.’ Uncle Tom was Tom Richardson who pioneered a trail down in 1898. With all the people coming to the first National Park, he wanted to give them a real sense of its majesty. He ferried customers across the river above the Upper Falls, helped them descend the 500’ into the canyon with the aid of rope ladders, plain ropes and ladders. He then fed them a picnic lunch while they viewed the falls from the depths of the canyon. Unfortunately, when the bridge across the river was completed and a trail was developed, he lost his permit to guide visitors on the trail. Today the trail is more secure but the descent and the stunning view of the falls from inside the canyon are still the same.
Oh, yeah, the ascent is still the same too - a real huffer. This is the kind of hike where I stop every now and then ‘to take in the gorgeous view.’ But we’re soon back on the trail around the South Rim and the views of the river and the sounds of the falls and rapids follow us. We reach Artists Point again and again take in the beauty of the Lower Falls. As we passed through, we had seen two large white buses in the parking lot and sure enough, there was a group of about 90 kids and chaperones sitting there having lunch.
(Funny thing, we saw this same group tomorrow at the Mammoth Entrance to the Park and found out that they are from Ottumwa, Iowa, our home state. They are on a 13-day Western trip hitting several national parks along the way. They are tenting at night to save money though they did stay in the Old Faithful Inn last night (probably to get some good showers). We spoke with one of the bus drivers and she told us that her company had a hard time finding bus drivers who wanted to ive in a tent but she volunteered thinking it would be nice to see the West.)

Yellowstone in the summer is not the place to look for solitude and Artists Point is one of the most popular stops.
We continued on, the trail had dips and hills along it but it followed the river. Finally, we decided that the trail could go on forever and it was time to turn around and head back, especially since the sky was starting to spit a bit. Yep, it’s about 4:00 and time for the rain.

Then we noticed this - looks like bear claws - they strip the bark to get at the under layer which is sweet.
We got back to the parking lot in a light rain, and, as we were getting into the car, we noticed this bull elk just grazing in the grasses beyond the parking lot. There were only about 6 people around to enjoy the sight and we all just stood around watching this magnificent animal doing what elk do: eat. Two hiking duos came by him but, except for raising his head and taking notice of them, he just kept on eating.
Now I’d like to find whoever called the trail ‘easy’ and tell them that any trail that is 7 miles round trip with an elevation change of 1200’ is probably not ‘easy.’ ‘Moderate’ is more like it.

Here’s a trail ride - yep, in the rain. They were just heading up the hill from the stables.
On the way back from Canyon, we saw at least 4 or 5 bison jams: cars parked at the side of the road and people standing on a hill looking at: one lone bison laying down in the grass, across the river, a mile away at least - a brown dot against the sea of green grass. On the road, others were stopping, grabbing their cameras and rushing up the hill to see what was going on. We actually asked someone who was getting back to her car about what there was to see and, when she sighed and said: ‘just one bison a long ways away,’ we decided not to stop. 2 miles down the road was a whole bison herd on this side of the river, about 50’ away and only 3 cars and 10 people were watching them. Then one lone bison strolled over to the road, turned down the middle and did his best John Travolta ‘Stayin’ Alive’ strut down the yellow line in the road.
Gary got a movie of it but flinched when the bison walked right by us. All we could think was that he would choose our Jeep to test his horns. But he strutted on by and we rolled on down the highway back to our RV.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Yellowstone NP - The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone

We moved on from Flagg Ranch in the Grand Tetons today up the road to Fishing Bridge Campground in Yellowstone, a grand total of 43 miles. We set up, had lunch and then made a few phone calls to catch up with some friends. Then headed on over to the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone to take the South Rim drive. We needed something that would fill half a day since that’s all we had today.

Nice drive but, we got caught in a bison jam when we drove through Hayden Valley, a prime spot to see bison. Now, it’s amazing, the prairie is hundreds of acres wide, is covered with lush grasses - just what bison love but - they seem to want to stand in the road. Of course, no one said they were the brightest bulb in the candelabra but, why choose a hard asphalt road over a lush soft prairie? Well, they do get lots more attention: cars screech to a halt, Rangers arrive in twos and threes, papparazzi cameras are popping - maybe the bison think this is a red carpet.
We stopped at the Mud Volcano and Sulphur Cauldron on our way to the Canyon. Ummm. Love the smell of sulphur and these two thermal features have the sulphur smell down pat. These two areas are not as pretty as some of the areas that we have seen but they more than make up for this in action. Before you even see this area you can hear it and smell it.

As Shakespeare put it:

Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn, and caldron bubble

Although I didn’t see any

Fillet of a fenny snake,
In the cauldron boil and bake.
Eye of newt and toe of frog,
Wool of bat and tongue of dog
Some of the features sizzle like water hitting a hot griddle.
Others bubble like my oatmeal in the morning.
Still others boil continuously like a grease filled frypan.
Others just burp and belch steam. Here’s one across the river just steaming to beat the band all by itself.
But they all smell like rotten eggs, feel like a hot blast furnace and steam is rising constantly.

Don’t let anyone tell you that the earth is static, that it is constant and unchanging. Yellowstone NP shows us that the earth is dynamic, alive, active and ever changing and this thermal feature is the epitome of this. Nathaniel Langford, who was the first Superintendent of Yellowstone when it was created as the first National Park, said:
When Jim Bridger, one of the most famous mountain men said that Yellowstone was a place where you could see ‘Hell bubbling up’ he might have been talking about this area. Other early explorers called this area the ‘most repulsive and terrifying sight.’ The first Superintendent of Yellowstone called it ‘a seething bubbling mass of mud.’ With such features as Black Dragon’s Cauldron, Mud Volcano, Sour Lake, Dragon’s Mouth Spring, it’s living up to its names.

Whew, time for a beautiful viewpoint and Artists Point is just the place for this. A few miles north of the Cauldron area of Yellowstone is the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone and Artists Point overlooks the lower falls of the Canyon. As we were driving down the road to the Point, we saw this small black bear heading further into the woods - probably further away from the crowds with cameras.
Some think that this is the place where Thomas Moran composed his famous painting featuring the falls. His paintings were one of the pieces of evidence that Congress used to declare Yellowstone a National Park.
These are the lower falls and aren’t they gorgeous?
I especially like all the colors on the cliff sides surrounding it.
One of those places where you could just sit and watch the water coming over the steep falls. We did this for a while. Looking down the other direction is also beautiful.
Time to be getting back to the RV. But, even though it was a short day, Yellowstone gave us its all.

Of course, we had another bison jam on the way. At least these bison weren’t on the road - but people screech to a halt, run out of their car with cameras just the same. This mother might be nursing but it doesn’t prevent that large bull from trying to attract her.
Here are two younger males joustling with each other over who is going to get the next female who passes by.
Forget those two young bucks, I think this guy will get her. Look at those delts, that commanding presense. Yep, he’s the one.
As soon as he strolled onto the stage, they skulked off.

Sometimes, I think people get a bit too close to the bison. The guidelines are that you should get no closer than 25 yards from most wildlife and no closer than 100 yards from bears. Actually bison, though they look ungainly and slow, can run at 30 mph.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Grand Tetons NP - Back to Yellowstone

We decided to head up north to Yellowstone for the day. There are so many things to see and do in Yellowstone that we thought we’d take an extra day up there. We planned on visiting the thermal features in West Thumb and then heading over towards the Old Faithful area to see some of the things we missed when we were over there last week.

On the way up we saw stopped at the Lewis Falls. These falls are near Lewis Lake named for Merriweather Lewis though he never came closer than 50 miles of Yellowstone. It was named by the 1872 Hayden expedition ‘in memory of that gallant explorer.’

West Thumb overlooks Yellowstone Lake, the biggest lake at this high elevation in North America. We only saw the ‘tiny’ bay called West Thumb here. Wait until we actually see the Lake itself. But, don’t even think about swimming here - the water is about 45 degrees, enough to numb your toes. The bay itself was caused by a volcano about 174,000 years ago. When the volcano caused the earth’s crust to collapse, this bay was formed. Some of the thermal features are actually under water until the late summer and fall when the water level has fallen. But, the water is so clear that we had no trouble seeing them.
One of the more interesting geysers is called Fishing Cone, The tale that was told by the fur trappers and mountain men was that they could toss their fishing line into the waters of the lake, catch a cutthroat trout, swing the fish over to the geyser and cook it in the hot waters there, without having to leave the spot. Maybe or maybe not. But there have been many fishermen who have tried to duplicate this. It was called ‘hook ‘em’ and cook em’. Many even brought their own chef’s hats and aprons to be photographed doing this. Unfortunately, some of them got injured straddling the geyser and with all the tramping around the geyser edges got damaged and the Rangers had to call off the trick.

As we were standing there looking at it, the older gentleman next to us was reminiscing and told us that there used to be a long fishing pier here and that he used to bring his boat here, put it in and leave his truck and trailer on the parking lot right in back of us. Well, there is no long pier now and right in back of us is geyser territory. Although, we could see some piers that probably used to hold up the dock. But, one of the things we’ve heard about Yellowstone is that change is continual, one geyser might go dormant for years and then spout, that springs went dry but that other springs appeared, that nothing is guaranteed to stay the same. And, in this case, it didn’t.

Here’s Abyss Pool which at 53’ is the deepest hot springs in the park. It used to erupt up to 90’ high but has fallen silent until recently when it has begun to spout again.
We finished up at West Thumb and then decided to head on over to the Old Faithful area. On our way we passed Isa Lake which is on the Continental Divide and drains into both the Atlantic and the Pacific. Backwards. Because of its placement on the Continental Divide, its east side drains in to the Pacific and the west side into the Atlantic. Pretty cute trick but then Yellowstone is known for cute tricks.
Our plan was to eat our lunch and watch Old Faithful go off, if we were lucky in our timing and then head on over to some other features. As we walked over towards Old Faithful, we could see that an eruption was imminent - the crowds had formed. Sure enough, we were in time to watch Old Faithful again. While it was going off, the wind changed directions and the people in the front benches got an up close and personal experience with Old Faithful. Boy, did they move fast. Cute.

Then we were off for the Fountain Paint Pot region. Here you can see the ‘mud’ just a bubbling and a gurgling away. Plopping away like boiling oatmeal. Sometimes it is really soupy and sometimes it is more gummy.
On one of the signs by these mud pots was this recipe:
We also saw a fumarole: not as pretty as the pools but just a-growling and spouting off.

Next we headed over to the Midway Geyser Basin where some of the largest thermal features are: the Grand Prismatic Spring which is 370’ in diameter and over 121’ in depth. I could only get a small bit of this with my camera, even with its wide angle lens. But, take it from me, it is gorgeous.
The colors come from the microorganisms called thermophiles which live in the bubbling water called ‘Mats’. They are thick, a 3” section of this mat can have more microorganisms than the number of people on Earth. But they are so colorful.

The other large thermal feature at Midway is Excelsior Geyser which is pretty quiet these days but instead pumps out 4000 gallons per minute which then run down the bank into the Firehole River and raise the temperature of the river 3 - 4 degrees.
We finally checked out Black Sand Basin where we saw Cliff Geyser just a going to town. Continuously erupting for about 5 minutes.
I liked Opalescent Pool. The dead trees around it indicate that this pool used to be larger.
Yellowstone is truly a treat for our senses. You can hear the rush of water escaping from the geysers and can hear the gurgling and bubbling of the mud pots and pools surrounding you. You can see the spectrum of colors emanating from the pools and the vivid colors of the bacteria mats. You can feel the steam as it swirls about you as you walk among the pools and the droplets of water when a geyser erupts. You can smell the pungent aroma of the sulphur most of the time you are walking around the area. Maybe that’s not a ‘treat for the senses’ but it does add to the other worldly atmosphere of Yellowstone.

Beautiful sights and we’ve seen a lot. but it’s about 8:00, we’re hungry, tired and it’s about 40 minutes at the earliest that we’d be getting back to the RV - only to have to cook and eat. Hmmm - how about a hamburg in the Snow Lodge Grill, Gar? He didn’t have to be asked twice and we were in line. Believe me when I tell you, this was nothing special. The fries had been tanning under the heat lamp for a while, the bun had been drying on the counter and the meat had never seen a grill. Where is In ’N’ Out when we need it? But it was food and that was what we needed.

Time to head home. Oh, no. How did we get in back of the guy who wanted to drive only 35 mph in the 45 mph zone? To drive the last 35 miles will take us an hour. Oh, swell. Home by 10:00.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Grand Tetons NP - Day Off

Let’s see, it’s a day off: no adventuring, no hiking, no touring, just a relaxing day around the RV



Mop the floor

3 loads of laundry

Clean the RV front, especially the windshield

Clean the Jeep windshield

Dust the Jeep so we can find it in dusty parking lots

Launder the rags and cleaning cloths

Clean the air filter

Clean the hiking boots

Do 3 loads of laundry

Put recent pictures into the computer

Edit some pictures, delete others (lots of others)

Cut Gary’s hair. Well, he wants to look ‘dangerous’ (as if he could) but I want him to look ‘clean cut’ AND - I have the scissors and trimmer.

Write blog and insert pictures

Plan Yellowstone visit

Yep, just what the doctor ordered: a nice relaxing day in the RV. What is wrong with this picture?

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Grand Tetons NP - Mormons, Dudes and Scalawags


And, of course, another group that homesteaded in the Jackson Hole area were the Mormons who lived on what would later be known as Mormon Row. The Moulton family built a barns that are the objects of thousands of pictures.

They dug irrigation ditches some of which are still visible today. They mostly raised hay and cattle along with produce, eggs and milk. Many of their homes, barns and out buildings remain on their homesteads as historic sites. Here’s my favorite quote: from Ida Chambers, a Mormon mother of 7 children:

‘The last time I ever wash a diaper, I’m going to raise it on a flagpole and let it fly until it turns to shreds.’

We went to the Moulton farm to see the barn. I wanted to add my picture to those thousands who have already been taken. As we approached the barn, we noticed a herd of bison off in the distance.
And, plodding over to join the rest of the herd was one lone bison crossing the road
lost in the grasses around the homestead.


Farming and ranching in this area were rough, the soil was poor, the water was scarce, the summer was way too short and the winter was way too long and cold. Some ranchers began to take in paying borders, you know, dudes, to help with the ranch, to give them a taste of western life. Soon they realized that wrangling dudes paid lots more than wrangling cows and dude ranching became a way of life. Easterners wanted to come out west not only to experience western life but to see the incredible scenery and the amazing wildlife. They were willing to pay, pay good money, to come out here and soon the dude ranchers became the most vocal voices in keeping the land the way it was. They wanted to keep it from rampant development and the dudes themselves wanted others to see and experience what they had.


Or course, not everyone was on the up and up. There was ‘Teton’ Jackson who stole horses in Idaho, drove them through Jackson Hole and sold them in Central Wyoming. Then he stole horses from Central Wyoming, drove them through Jackson Hole and sold them in Idaho. He lived in Jackson Hole, was a family man and never stole from the locals.

Then there was Ed Trafton who never saw something that he didn’t want to steal: horses, wagons, his father’s life insurance money from his mother. You name it, he wanted his hands on it. He once robber 16 tourists wagons at Yellowstone NP in one day. Busy boy.

Here’s a picture of one of those tourist wagons that was used in Yellowstone National Park in 1916. Later, two dude ranches in the Tetons purchased this wagon to use on their ranches to transport their guests.
This was tough territory. Here’s the first car coming over the pass in the spring. The pass had to be hand-dug each spring unless the spring melt came early.

Tetons NP

If the Tetons had been more hospitable, it the land had been more fertile and the water more plentiful, the area would have filled in and it would be developed today. However, its very remoteness and its in hospitality saved it until a new national interest in conservation rose in the early 1900’s. American already had several national parks and people saw an opportunity to create more land to be set aside for everyone to enjoy in its natural state.

As far back as 1923 several Jackson citizens met in Maud Noble’s cabin to plan how they could save the land from development and commercialization. One of the people at the meeting was Horace Albright, the Superintendent of Yellowstone NP, who worked with these citizens and introduced John D. Rockefeller Jr. to the Tetons. Rockefeller, who described the Tetons as

        ‘quite the grandest and most spectacular mountains I have ever seen, a picture of ever changing         beauty which is to me beyond compare’

He organized and funded a land company which began to buy up land in the area eventually amassing 32,000 acres.

Meanwhile Congress created the Grand Tetons NP in 1929 and President Roosevelt issued a proclamation creating the Jackson Hole NM. Ansel Adam’s photographs also helped people see the tremendous natural beauty of this area that should be preserved for all.

In 1949, Congress created the National Park which included the original 1929 park, the NM and Rockefeller’s land.

But, in the end, it was not the soil that was the areas main cash crop, it was the sheer beauty of the area. It drew dude ranchers in the early 1900’s and it draws people still today. To hike in its canyons, to float down the Snake River, to fish in its waters, to boat in its lakes, to see its wildlife, to drive along its roads and to gaze up at the sheer beauty of its craggy mountains outlined against the blue skies. It is a park for everyone and we thank these people from the past who had the foresight to set it aside for us.

But it is time to head back to the RV. Along the way we saw what looked like a jam. Sure enough, a bear jam. That’s not just a big brown rock on the hillside, it is a grizzly bear. Note the the cute little rounded ears, the hump on the shoulders and the caved in face. All indications that this is a grizzly, a small grizzly but a grizzly none the less. Usually, in jams, people are getting out of their cars to get better closer shots. Not here. Everyone stayed in their car. Of course we got the usual butt shot.