Tuesday, September 27, 2011

More of Fabulous Yellowstone & the Grand Tetons

On day three of our Yellowstone visit we awoke to cloudy skies and a bit of rain. We were not deterred and explored the Northern part of the park loop road passed Mount Washburn to Mammoth Hot Springs. We were rewarded with more spectacular scenes of nature.

We encountered our first wolf jam and got to see a large wolf far off in the distance. One of the watchers let all of us have a close up look with his spotter scope and I got this blurry picture as this lone wolf walked through the high meadow. This was an animal that was high on our must see list, as the last time we were here in 1977 there were no wolves. Their reintroduction in 1995 means that all animals that were here in 1872 when the park was establish are here today. This project was not without controversy, but from what we saw later it was the correct decision.
Buffalo Jam. Buffalo are the most seen large animal in the park and we encountered many buffalo during our stay often blocking the road as they meandered slowly along. This big guy and another one, after wallowing in the dust, made passing threats at each other before moving on. These huge animals appear to be very gentle but they cause more injuries to stupid tourists than any other in the park. They can run very fast and can jump most fences with ease.

The overcast skies added to the surreal look of the Mammoth Hot Springs. These massive springs of hot water and calcium carbonate have formed the ever changing colorful, steaming terraces.

While we did see some s**w this is a white terrace with a hot water falls. The sign warned "Danger Hot Water Will Scald" and even I did not want to test the waters as you could feel the heat just walking the paths through the springs.

This is one of the older formations at the top of the terraces. This is a really neat, beautiful area that should be on your must see list.

Norris Geyser Basin has many spouting geysers including the Steamboat geyser, the world's largest. This giant erupts at irregular intervals of days or years so we did not wait for the show. This is another place where the colors have changed because of the idiots who throw junk into the water. Go Figure!!!

That evening we enjoyed a wonderful meal at the Lake Yellowstone Hotel which has been renovated to its original 1891 grandeur. It was a great time with great friends. We do love having our friends visit us so we can share a bit of our wonderful lifestyle.

Driving back to the campground from dinner we had both a bear and buffalo jam. This mama grizzle and her cub were within about 25 feet of the car. She was standing to see what all the ruckus was about as all the cars in both directions were stopped on Fishing Bridge because a big herd of buffalo were stampeding around all the vehicles through traffic to cross the bridge. After she saw what was happening she and the cub ran up the hill and out of the way. The picture is not very good because it was dark and I was so excited that I failed to get any pictures of the buffalo. I think we have seen so many that at the moment I did not think I needed more buffalo pictures but it was quite a show.

The next day we traveled South out of Yellowstone down the John D. Rockefeller, Jr Memorial Parkway to Grand Teton National Park. The parkway includes 24,000 acres of land that was donated by Rockefeller to connect the one grand ecosystem of the Tetons and Yellowstone. The Grand Tetons offer the most beautiful mountain scene in the US with peaks that raise to 13,770 feet above Lake Jackson at 6,772 feet. Being face to face with 7000 feet of mountain is an experience that is only seen in a few places in the world.

Everywhere you look there is a spectacular view of these impressive mountains that are jutting out of the lake and valley to form the impressive chain.

The Chapel of Transfiguration an Episcopalian Church. The window behind the altar frames the beautiful view of the Tetons. The minister had better be great to get his flock to focus on his words and not the beautiful scene behind him. We had to wait to get inside as there was a wedding going on. What a wonderful place to start your married life.

Mike and Sherri left a day too soon. In Hayden Valley we had the chance to see one of natures great encounters. For almost 45 minutes we watched as a pack of four wolves tried to run down three elk cows. The chase ended at the banks of the Yellowstone River. Here the exhausted wolves get a drink as the last cow walks into the river. The large buck stood by and watched the whole event and was not bothered by the wolves.

After being threatened again the cow starts across the river to join the other two on the opposite bank. The wolves did not venture very far into the water.

Here they have given up the chase and start back through the meadow to the forest. Near the treeline they stopped and went nose to nose with a big bull buffalo but thought better than to take on that big guy. This was truly one of the most amazing natural events we have ever seen.

It is time to get on the road and head South as there is some fresh s**w in the higher elevations. We had a great week in Yellowstone and sharing it with Mike and Sherri made it even better. If you are keeping score the guys went 4-0 in the four euchre tournaments we played this visit. Yellowstone is the most spectacular and diverse natural environment in the national park system and is not possible to capture it in two blog posts so here is a web album with more pictures of this wonderful park. Click on slideshow to enlarge the pictures.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Fabulous Yellowstone

When it was established in 1872 Yellowstone National Park was the first national park in the world. A visit here makes you realize what a wonderful decision this was. The diverse, natural environment includes rivers, lakes, falls, mountains, forests, meadows, the largest geothermal hot spot in the world and many, many animals. The large, central part of the park sits inside the collapsed caldera of an ancient super volcano that last erupted 640,000 years ago with an explosion several hundred times more powerful than Mount St. Helens. This is why there are so many geysers, hot springs and mud volcanoes in the park. The Yellowstone ecosystem extends beyond the park making it the largest such area in the lower 48 states. We arrived at Fishing Bridge Campground with Mike and Sherri and immediately began exploring with a drive through Hayden Valley to the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.Our first stop was Mud Volcano, where boiling mud pots steam and smell of sulfur. It is so strange to see these large areas of earth that look like something out of a science fiction movie.

This is Dragon's Mouth Spring, a boiling, steaming, hissing and burping mud spring that really does make it seem like you are looking down the dragon's throat and smelling its bad breath.

A sure sign that animals are nearby is a traffic jam with many cars stopped on and along the road. They are commonly called buffalo jams because they are the most seen animal. I can't even imagine what it would be like during the summer months. Our first such stop was an osprey jam to see this huge bird. I also had my first case of lens envy as many of the photographers had big, big equipment.

This is the 109 foot Upper Falls at the entrance of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. The 1000 foot deep canyon was carved by ancient glacial floods.Looking down the canyon from Artist Point under the setting sun sure shows where the name Yellowstone comes from.

Even though it was cool enough for jackets, Nanc, Jim, Sherri and Mike are enjoying the warm sun at Artist Point.

Nanc and I returned to the Grand Canyon to hike the North Rim Trail and a couple of side trails into the canyon. It looks really different in a different light. Here is the view of the canyon, river and Lower Falls from Inspiration Point.

This is looking down the canyon from the same spot.

The hike down to the brink of the Lower Falls rewarded us with this great view and the rainbows in the mist.

This is the view of the Lower Falls from Red Rock Point. Look carefully and you can see the people on the brink of the falls where we took the above picture.

On day two we drove to Old Faithful then out of the park to Earthquake Lake in Montana. Here is a post of our earlier visit to Earthquake Lake. We also had dinner and did a little shopping in West Yellowstone.

Here is the first eruption of Old Faithful that was not very high and did not last very long. The duration can be from one and a half to five minutes and height can vary from 106 to 180 feet but this geyser still goes off within ten minutes of the predicted time. We don't think Sherri was too impressed.This is the second eruption that was higher and lasted longer than the first one. She liked this one much better.Two historic figures, Sherri and Mike, in front of one of the historic Yellowstone tour buses at historic Old Faithful Inn.

Morning Glory Spring is one of the most colorful and is located near Old Faithful. The color has changed over the years because idiots have thrown coins and other junk into the spring. It has to be cleaned out every year. There are several more similar springs in the area.

Another of the many geysers on Geyser Hill near Old Faithful. The eruption of most are not as often, as big, or as predictable as Old Faithful. Some show their stuff daily while others may not erupt for years. Much of this is affected by the thousands of small earthquakes that occur in Yellowstone each year. Old Faithful Inn is pictured in the background.

On our return from West Yellowstone we were stopped in an elk jam. This big racked buck was with a couple of cows and a young elk. All this is only a glimpse of a wonderful week in beautiful Wyoming. There will be more to follow.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Buffalo Bill & Cody

Our stay in Cody continued with a hike to the top of 8,123 foot Heart Mountain and a visit to the Japanese relocation center near the mountain. We also had visitors as Sherri & Mike, (aka Capt'n Catfish), arrived from WashPA for a week-long stay. The four of us explored a bit of Cody on the local trolley and toured The Buffalo Bill Historical Center.The view of Heart Mountain as we approached on the dirt road. The mountain is part of the Heart Mountain Ranch Preserve, 14,000 acres owned by the Nature Conservancy, that saved the land from development. The climb of 2500 feet over 3.6 miles was rather steep, but very scenic.

Here we are at the top. If you want a nice hike without many people, this is the place. We made the top late in the afternoon and were only the fifth and sixth people to sign the book that day

Part of the 360 degree view from the top. Once again it was smoky from the fires in Yellowstone but we could still see Pilot and Index Peaks in the distant Beartooth Mountains.

The Heart Mountain Relocation Center was used to house Japanese Americans, most of them US citizens, who were forced from their homes during WWII. This was one of the low points in the American history of civil liberties. It was as if the Japanese were less likely to be loyal to their chosen country then the millions of German and Italian Americans whose home countries we were also fighting. After they were allowed, these people showed their loyalty to the US when more than 400 from this camp enlisted and served in the military.

Here are Sherri and Mike at Buffalo Bill Dam. When completed in 1905 it was the highest dam in the world. In the 1980's it was raised 25 feet to increase the capacity of the reservoir by 50%. This is an interesting stop with a nice visitors center.

The Buffalo Bill Historical Center is named for William F. Cody who used his experience as a pony express rider, fur trapper and army scout, who also won the Congressional Medal of Honor, to create his Wild West show. This museum is often referred to as the Smithsonian of the West with its extensive collection of Western art and artifacts. There are five wings that feature Cody's life, Yellowstone natural history, a collection of 4000 firearms, Western art and the Plains Indian People.

Part of the exhibit about Buffalo Bill (center). On the left is Annie Oakley who was a featured performer in his show and on the right is Pawnee Bill one of the many Indians, including Sitting Bull, who were in the show that traveled throughout North America and Europe.

Some of the displays and artifacts in the Plains Indian Museum. There were several exhibits on their relationship with the buffalo.A few of the many pieces of art. For someone who dislikes snakes, the rattlesnake picture was very interesting as it was very, very large. Another is of Custer's Last Stand and a sculpture of Sacajawea. The historic center ticket is for two days and you really do need that much time to see all five wings. It is a must see stop if you get to Cody, a neat little town that is more than just a stop on the way to Yellowstone.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Wild Animals & Wild West High Ways

The plan when we left Gillette was to spend one night in the Bighorn Mountains on the way to Cody. We stayed at Sitting Bull Campground on the west side of 9,666 foot Powder River Pass and were rewarded with a great stay.

Yes that is s**w on the top of the Bighorns. One of our goals as fulltimers is to NEVER be in s**w so we approached the mountain with a great deal of apprehension.
Here was our first reward. We were walking to the check-in booth to pay when this big moose walked into the campground. We were standing behind the trees but Nanc had to step out for a closer look. This big guy must be used to people as he just turned around and went back to eating leaves along the stream.

This was the view from our site. We hiked across the meadow into the mountains and got to see a small herd of elk. It is bow hunting season and they were spooked so the only picture I got was of elk butts as they ran into the trees.

The next morning we continued down the 18 mile decent through Ten Sleep Canyon. This was our first mountain driving in quite a while so we took it real slow. There were a couple of 25 mph switchbacks that we approached so slowly we did not need to use the brakes at all.

The view looking down the beautiful canyon. This is the "easiest" of the three roads that cross the Bighorns.

The land changed again when we came out of the canyon on the west side of the mountains. It was dry prairie but with many ranches and farms that use irrigation. We did hit one stretch of road construction with five miles of gravel. Oh well, I guess it was practice for driving to Alaska next summer.

We arrived at Green Creek Inn and RV Park in Wapiti (Cree for elk) and were rewarded with the sight of this big herd of elk. We have seen them twice in three days.

We hook up with 07 mates Rick & Terry Traver are staying in Cody and drive a mountain loop out of Cody. Here they are at 8048 feet at Dead Indian Pass on the Chief Joseph High Way. We all loved the fabulous vistas along the way.

These are Pilot and Index Peaks that dominate the skyline where the Chief Joseph meets the Beartooth High Way. Some of the views were a bit limited because of the smoke from nearby forest fires but it was still spectacular.

Now you see why I don't want to be in the s**w. Nanc just can't be trusted. There were many patches of the white stuff left from last winter in the high Alpine meadows near the top of 10,947 foot Beartooth Pass. This is the highest road in Wyoming.

Our biggest reward on the drive was a herd of mountain goats that moved across the rocks and ended up very near us in the parking lot.

There were a dozen goats including two young ones. A couple of them were being a little feisty. The one, top right, rushed another goat and kicked up some dust when he put on the brakes. Seeing this herd was truly the High Spot of the drive.

The east side of the Beartooth High Way has many switchbacks heading into Red Lodge, Montana. Even though this road is not recommended for vehicles over 40 feet because of all the turns, you can see that our GPS Ditsy Dotty says the speed limit is 65mph. Yea Right!!!

Looking up the valley you can see a few of these turns. Charles Kuralt, a long ago TV commentator, called this the most beautiful highway in America and we sure agree that it ranks right up there and is a drive worth taking.