A few weeks ago we made our final Monopoly National Parks adventure to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park to complete a journey which began almost nine years ago. It’s hard to believe we were actually able to complete this goal of visiting 28 parks in that time frame.
On the road to this entrance sign it was difficult to pay attention to driving as I often caught myself reminiscing over past adventures that all began at Badlands National Park where our two girls first became Junior Rangers and we all began to see the luxury of our National Parks. Once the final signature had been obtained we were congratulated by those around us in the visitor’s center but the fact that this game was now completed didn’t really sink in at first. In fact I think there was probably more sadness than sense of accomplishment because we are now without plans for another family adventure. It’s a weird, empty feeling that I’m not sure how to grasp. There’s always been another place to plan and prepare for.
While our board of adventures was complete there was a small piece to add in order to make our journey full circle. That was to visit Pearl Harbor. More specifically to re-enter the gift shop there 15 years later with our children to the place where this whole thing actually began. It was in this very place that Karen and I first discovered the National Parks Monopoly board and this idea of visiting each place was conceived. Only this time there were four of us to complete this list of incredible adventures.
When visiting a number of the National Parks there are signs warning visitors of wild bears however it is not a common occurrence to actually see one. The first places we really began to hope for a bear spotting was while traveling in Alaska – Mendenhall Glacier, Glacier National Park, Skagway and the Chilkoot Trail, and Ketchikan. Being there during the salmon run seemed like it should almost guarantee a bear sighting yet we did not see any. This was disappointing as we could see where bear had been and in one case was told of a sighting mere minutes before we arrived to that area. Well, there were other parks in our travel plans with good opportunities as well. Maybe there will be better luck at those.
When planning for the Smoky Mountains and Shenandoah we read about high bear populations so hoped this would provide the much sought after encounter (from a distance of course). Keeping a watchful eye while driving and taking time to hike into the forests produced no success and once again left us wanting to see a wild bear. Now we are starting to wonder if we are bear repellent as we’ve been to some good areas to see them and nothing to show for it. It became kind of a joke for us and many friends of ours that seeing a bear is not in our future and if you want to go into bear territory, just ask us to join you and you won’t need to worry about encountering them.
As our Monopoly National Park travels near the end we had one last hope to see a wild bear a safe distance away – Yellowstone National Park. The first afternoon and evening in the park and no bears. Our first full day exploring this beautiful place – you guessed it, no bears. A second full day on which I got up early and went into areas with a higher probability of bears just hoping to come across one and still no bears. Giving up in the late morning I began my trip back to the hotel to pick up the rest of the family for more Yellowstone fun only to encounter a road block and not being able to get through. Losing a little hope at the sight of road construction equipment I eventually made it through the jam and began passing numerous people with cameras all pointed in the same direction.
Quickly pulling over hoping to finally see a bear I was confronted with park police told I couldn’t park there so I continued on and finally found a legitiment place to stop and walked quickly back to the place I saw all of these people expecting whatever wildlife to have moved on by now. Shocked there she was – a bear. Not only was there a bear but she was with a cub. Finally… a wild bear siting! After this bear and cub walked into a nearby forest I began my walk back to the car when another person pointed out another bear in a nearby field. This bear also was with a cub. That’s four bears in one area. By the time we left Yellowstone a few days later we had observed seven bears in total. The wait was over and well worth it. Bears are fun to watch at a safe distance for both the observer and the bear, especially the cubs as they play on trees or in a meadow.
On our recent adventure in Yellowstone, we were witness to a successful coyote hunt making for the end to a great day of exploring this incredible park. After a full day of taking in geysers, hot springs, and mud pots we traveled into the Hayden Valley in search of wildlife at the end of the day. This valley is well known for wolf and bear sightings because of all of the other wildlife that frequent the area so we thought a little time to stop and lookover this beautiful area would be a nice way to end a great day. There were buffalo, pronghorn deer, and elf to watch for awhile and then it was time to head back to our hotel for much needed rest. On our way I happen to spot something moving through the sagebrush right by a pullout so making a quick decision we pulled in. There was a coyote on the prowl less than fifty feet from our car.
My first reaction, a wrong move, was to get out of the car with the camera and begin taking pictures of this coyote so close to us. Before getting the door fully open I remembered that this was a wild creature and the rule in Yellowstone was twenty-five yards away or more for safety and immediately shut the door again while photographing through window openings. We could tell the coyote was contemplating what to do next. We obviously intervened in its original plans and now it had to adapt to us being there. After a few moments it moved a little further from the car and then continued on its original path continuing to hunt for an evening meal. The coyote disappeared into some long grass along a small pond so I was putting my camera away when I heard a quick squeal and a snap. Seconds later the coyote appeared again with food in its mouth.
I couldn’t believe how fast this animal was able to snatch a muskrat from the edge of the pond. Now this effective predator was further than the recommended distance so I quickly got out of the car with a camera and began snapping pictures while it found a place to eat. Up until this point we were the first, and only, people there but now others were stopping to see what we were watching. The coyote stopped in a great place to photograph it while eating so I brought the camera up and kept my distance to allow it a comfortable distance to take in this necessary food. Others were not so inclined to do this. With cameras in hand other eager visitors decided to try to get closer for a better picture. That was all the coyote needed to decide this meal was better consumed in a different spot so it trotted away through the sagebrush keeping all of us bystanders out of sight.
It kind of felt like a missed opportunity which irritated me a little as I’ve seen over and over again people always pushing for a closer photo often scaring away the wildlife to end up with no good photo at all. I understand the desire to get closer pictures but if you don’t have the appropriate camera gear to take photos from a safe distance for you and the animal, accept this fact and take the pictures you can get safely. I also understand that reading the body language of an animal is a skill not often possessed by tourists so they don’t realize when that animal is not comfortable. I was grateful to be the first ones on this scene to be able to watch this coyote hunting and successfully capturing its prey. A fun experience at the end of our day only to be capped off by a beautiful sunset! Another great adventure in Yellowstone National Park.
At least that’s what they thought before people actually traveled to the moon. Craters of the Moon National Monument received it’s name from the volcanic rock and volcanic cones blanketing this area of Idaho appearing to look like what scientists believed the surface of the moon to look like. Because of this, lunar training took place at this place preparing for going to the moon’s surface. After landing on the moon it was realized how inaccurate that belief was.
This unique landscape in Eastern Idaho is a result of volcanic eruptions 2,000 and 4,000 years ago leading to the possibility that another eruption could occur at anytime again if the cycle were to continue. Nothing to worry about yet though as there will likely be signs of an eruption well before it actually occurs. These special rock formations can only be found here and in Hawaii within the United States with Idaho being the easier place to see such volcanic formations.
Probably the most amazing part is the vast tunnels called lave tubes created by lava flowing under hardened volcanic rock. Several are large enough for people to walk inside and feel like they’re in a huge cave similar to Mammoth or Wind caves but being just a short distance below the surface allowing natural light to illuminate much to the path. Another interesting piece to these lava tubes is the cold temperatures inside. While visiting the scorching heat outside was near 100 degrees F. Once submerged into these caves, the temperature dropped rapidly enough to maintain ice on the cave floor. A nice natural air conditioning as there are no trees to provide shade near these tubes.
Another fascinating feature of Craters of the Moon are being able to look inside these volcanic cones called cinder cones. To be able to see deep into these relatively small volcanoes is quite interesting. Even though they are capped after their eruptions you can still imagine lava surging out of them blanketing the surrounding landscape scorching what may have been their growing. Amazingly even though it has been 2,000 years since the last eruption there is little plant growth covering this lave. Of course receiving very little rain could have a lot to do with this characteristic preserving these formations. Still a few plants have been able to persevere in this harsh climate.
Night skies provide amazing views into the universe with this national monument, being an international dark sky park, if you’re able to remain awake for it to show it’s full splendor.
There are several reasons to visit Yellowstone National Park: The natural beauty of the landscape, geyser watching such as Old Faithful, Looking at colorful hot springs, and looking for wildlife. Most desired to see here are bears and wolves but they certainly require effort to find. Geysers and hot springs were something I was looking forward to seeing but the opportunity to see a bear and/or wolf was what I was most hoping to see. Everywhere else I’ve hoped to see a bear ended unsuccessfully and this was my last chance during our Monopoly travels.
On our third day in Yellowstone I woke up before sunrise and snuck out of our hotel in search of early morning wildlife. My plan was to enter from the Roosevelt entrance and drive to Lamar valley in hopes a wolf pack was on the move. On the way, as the sun was rising, I stopped to photograph the foggy valley as the sun rose above the horizon. Ready to continue to my destination I looked again and there in the shadows was a blacktail deer with her two fawns. What a great way to begin this morning! After watching for a few moments I moved on to get to the popular Lamar Valley
As I drove back and forth through the valley I only saw hundreds of Buffalo roaming and grazing along with the occasional Pronghorn Antelope. Some people next to me had spotted a grizzly bear but I could not see it as it was several miles away and they were using a spotting scope. A little disappointed after a couple of hours, I looked around and noticed that most of the people also in search of wolves had left so decided it was time to head back to the hotel and re-join the rest of the family. A short drive away I ran into a major road block with people all looking at a hillside miles away. Deciding to stop I found a place to park, got out, and began listening to others talk. Apparently wolves had been spotted in this area but where out of sight at the moment. After awhile of looking through the binoculars I did see one of the wolves but it was so far away it was difficult to positively identify for me. Others nearby did confirm it was a wolf though so I was lucky enough to see that.
Fortunately this was not the end of my luck in search of these great predators. On another day, driving back to our hotel from watching Old Faithful there was another encounter. We had an hour and half drive ahead and I was exhausted from the day so my wife was driving while I rested in the passenger seat. Night was falling fast so there wasn’t much to look at. About 30 minutes into our drive something was right there in the road in front of our car. Karen slammed on the brakes almost hitting a wolf staring briefly at us before moving on to the should near our car where it stopped to watch us before becoming a little uncomfortable with us still stopped. Still in disbelief we gazed at this wolf wondering if there were others nearby when another moved slighter higher up from the road. All we could really see was it’s outline and eyes as this was a black wolf blending in extremely well with the surroundings. All of us now on fully awake we continued on in complete amazement that we were that close to wild wolves which so many desire to see but don’t. Because it was so dark and all of this did happen relatively quickly I was unable to get the camera and snap a photograph. Only memories exist of this experience but one I’m sure we won’t forget.
Returning to my morning drive back towards the hotel, I drove around a corner after seeing the far off wolf and there was another traffic jam. Once again I decided to quickly find an available parking spot and see what was causing this temporary ruckus. Quickly I spotted a bear with its cub grazing near a creek below. Finally success! after all of these years hoping to see one here was a bear and cub. I watched as long as these bears remained in sight before returning again to my car. Just before getting in I heard someone say another bear was in a field nearby. After a few seconds I spotted that one and watched as long as I could photographing when ever the opportunity arose. Imagine that? Two bears! What luck. Ok now it really was time to get back with the family as the morning was nearing the end.
Continuing on there was yet another traffic jam although smaller than the previous two so I stopped to see what was there. Some of the other bystanders said it was a lone wolf. Curious I got out my camera and began scanning the area and found what they were pointing to. Unfortunately I had to inform them this was a coyote and not a wolf. They were somewhat disappointed but still enjoyed watching as it meandered among the sage brush. It was fun to see but I really needed to get back so off I went without further traffic jams. Add to this the elk from an earlier visit and plenty of bison and my thirst for seeing wildlife was temporarily filled. You can click on the links above to view those stories.
All in all I ended up seeing 7 bears during our brief time in Yellowstone over three different occasions. The top picture is from our morning driving one last time though Yellowstone National Park on the way to Grand Teton National Park. Another traffic jam alerted us to wildlife near the road so we stopped and ended up watching this bear graze for about 45 minutes. A lot of fun to see definitely making me want to return another time.
Yellowstone National Park is known for many things but after Old Faithful, probably the best known are the colorful hot springs scattered throughout this beautiful park. Most popular among these springs is Grand Prismatic but there are many others also displaying the amazing colors created by calcium and bacteria. I’m sure, like many others, that seeing photos of these pools of incredible shapes and colors seems a little too enhanced in this age of easy photo manipulation. I was certainly among those. There is no way these colors can be that vibrant. I was wrong. They are that colorful and vibrant. Of course this does depend on the time of year you visit as the bacteria responsible for some of these colors are not as vigorous during colder temperatures.
Peering deep into many of these pools reminded me of the amazing turquoise Caribbean salt water. I kept waiting for fish to come from under a ledge or to see an urchin waving in the steam but no such thing happened. Still trying to find the source of water filling these pools kept me entertained. No matter how I turned and twisted I could not see far enough down to witness any sign of moving water filtering up through cracks continually maintaining the very warm temperatures causing steam to roll off the surface. I guess I’ll have to trust those experts where the information comes from which is scribed into permanent signs in different areas of Yellowstone.
One of the other challenges in viewing some of these colorful bodies of hot water is the steam rising into the air hiding their secrets only providing a quick glimpse into the pool for only a moment as a breeze uncovers its blue water. It almost became a game between me and the pool to capture a photo showing this amazing blue tinted liquid. Many attempts were won by the pool but eventually a stronger wind allowed for a relatively clear picture.
Many of the hot springs contained only the Caribbean turquoise waters but a few are surrounded by the vibrant oranges and organic browns contrasting incredibly with these blue pools seen in what appears as unrealistic photos. The Black Pool hot spring picture both above and below steals your attention all by itself but as you look out across it, Yellowstone lake with it’s deep blue water and mountain backdrop makes it an amazing landscape. It’s almost too much to take in with only a short time but that may be all there is as others are waiting to witness this same view so we must yield to those around and hope pictures will capture for the future.
After looking at the geothermal features of Yellowstone National Park for hours or even days, the smell of sulfur rising into the air can become a little overwhelming but there is still one spring that will cause you to forget the miles walked peering at pools of blue and the sulfur smell – Grand Prismatic Spring. There’s a reason this is one of the best known attractions of this large park. In order to enter the boardwalk built to view it you must first climb up a small hill. Along side this hill begins the contrasting orange and brown colors from water continually flowing towards a nearby river making you move more enthusiastically towards the source of this water. During the summer months there are constantly moving crowds of people blocking any early view of Grand Prismatic so you must weave back and forth around others stopping for a photo or waiting for someone else in order to move closer to that first look. Eventually there it is – a blue steam rising from a large pool making you more eager to see what can cause steam to appear this amazing turquoise color. Finally arriving within view of the entire hot spring it is still difficult to put together a full panoramic scene bringing it all together as found in some photos taking from higher vantage points such as an airplane or the summit of nearby mountains. Yet the sight does not disappoint to spite all of the built up expectations from pictures and stories shared by others. Well worth a trip!
In our quest to discover another piece of our National Parks Monopoly board we went on expedition to our 27th of 28 National Park units – Dinosaur National Monument. Located on the border of Utah and Colorado, this park provides many interesting and amazing sights to explore. The first, and most known for, is searching for dinosaur fossils.
An easy search due to a shuttle leaving from the Quarry Visitors Center which drives a short distance up the nearby hillside to the Quarry Exhibit Hall which was built around a dig sight exposing numerous fossils. This makes the idea of seeing dinosaur fossils almost unreal. You walk inside the building and there they are! All displayed in a hillside that seems like it was assembled for this display. Once your able to grasp the concept that dinosaurs did in fact roam here and were buried from several geological events it becomes really amazing to see with your own eyes.
Additionally, there are other displays to complement this preserved dig sight helping to explain all that you are seeing and some of the events that have happened in this very location. One very interesting display is a complete assembly of an Allosaurus skeleton giving you some idea what this dinosaur actually looked like and how big it was when roaming this part of the Earth.
After looking through the displays, where you can see different fossils and actually touch some, the quarry wall begins to make more sense as you can now start to recognize some of the fossils buried here. For a little help in that recognition there are touch screen computers labeling many of these pieces on the second floor of the Quarry Exhibit Hall. For those really interested in fossils and dinosaurs, hours can be spent here studying each piece amongst the hundreds partially unearthed here. For me, a shorter time is all that I needed before heading back outside to gaze over the landscape and wonder how many more fossils remain undiscovered in all that I could see.
A short, warm bus ride (it was mid June in the Western United States) back to the visitors center and we were off exploring more of this beautiful landscape. Dinosaur National Monument is located in a mountainous region where two rivers converge providing for some incredible sights. There are many interesting rock formations throughout the park created from different geological events which also provide for multiple colors layered together with rivers cutting through them adding to the beauty of the area. Many people explore these rock formations from the comfort of a raft navigating the rapids of these two rivers for a great summer experience.
Going away from the main visitors center, there are more pieces to discover. One of these include petroglyphs from those who have traversed these mountains centuries before. It’s interesting to try and interpret these ancient drawings to figure out why they took the time to communicate with others on what they were seeing and doing here. Many different sights await being found throughout a day in Dinosaur National Monument however these do not end with daylight. Once the sun disappears a whole different landscape appears that so many miss. While heading back into the park near sunset, I encountered only one or two other people still there. They were either camping or managing the cattle which roam free here. Admittedly there are some added challenges while navigating at night such as animals near the road or even on the road so being alert and driving slowly is a requirement. On different occasions I thought I was going to hit a deer and elk with our car but fortunately managed to miss both leading to an increased heart rate. These increased challenges are well worth the views of the incredible night sky!
After a day filled with incredible views and geological wonders we were driving back towards our hotel for some much needed rest. Along the way we encountered several vehicles pulled over indicating an opportunity to see some of Yellowstone’s amazing wildlife so we found a spot in a nearby pull off and parked the car. After a short hike up the road we saw people watching a lone bison just lazily grazing nearby. Continuing to scan the landscape for bears or wolves I glanced towards this bison from time to time just watching and snapping a few pictures.
While watching this large animal for a couple of minutes I began to get lost behind my camera taking different pictures trying different compositions. It was getting better and better because I could get increasingly closer shots isolating this bison and highlighting its details until I briefly looked up from the camera only to realize this large, powerful animal was not within a few feet of me. The only thing between me and this bison was a low, wooden railing which would do nothing if it decided to charge me which I witnessed earlier in the day. That same morning I watched one bison charge after anther bison at full speed displaying just how fast and powerful they really are no matter how they may appear most other times.
Quickly I backed away seeking the cars behind me as a potential buffer between me and this bison. Fortunately it was more interesting in eating and continued walking away from my area. After a little more wildlife viewing we decided we were ready to get back in our car and continue towards the hotel only there was a little problem. This lone, powerful bison was walking along the roadside towards our car preventing us from leaving. Well, we might as well as relax for awhile until it passes our vehicle allowing us to drive away. Slowly we followed at a safe distance just watching as it walked among the many cars now stopped watching it. Do you think there is some amusement to the bison causing such an event? At one point it stopped and looked at our empty car. “Do you think it will find something irritating with the car and ram it?” I asked. How do you explain that to the insurance company? Glad we weren’t in the car at that point. Can you imagine how that would be? Finally it continued on down the road to meet up with a nearby heard allowing us to make it to the car.
Being one of the first cars into a pull off definitely has its advantages as you don’t have to worry about finding a place to park as within a few minutes the roadway fills with vehicles hoping to catch a glimpse and maybe a photo of nearby wildlife. Also you tend to have a front row seat for watching wildlife. Unfortunately if you decide it’s time to leave you may have to wait while the traffic jam caused by whatever wildlife you are watching has caused clears enough for you to get back onto the road and on your way to the next destination.
Once traffic began moving again we prepared to pull out just when that nearby bison heard arrived across the street from us once again stopping traffic. These are definitely not fast moving animals much of the time. This heard would walk a short distance, stop and scratch on the dirt or nearby trees, walk a few steps more, eat nearby leaves, and continue a little further. While it seemed like forever it was really only about 15 minutes before we were once again on the road heading to our hotel for the night. How frustrating must it be for those stuck in this traffic jam far enough down the road and not be able to see what was causing it? At least we got to enjoy it even though the bison were a little close for comfort at times.
On our first trip into Yellowstone National Park, we were less than five miles from the North Entrance when the first encounter with wildlife began. I call these our park greeters welcoming us to Yellowstone. For me it is a truly great way to start a national park adventure and a good sign of what is to come. While driving a short distance I happened to glance to my left and caught a glimpse of a fawn through trees and brush. Fortunately this occurred near a pull off designed to allow people to stop along side the road to take in the sights of that area so I quickly decided to turn in and see if I could spot that fawn again.
Within a minute or two the Elk fawn and its mother appeared coming closer to us. And then there was another fawn in sight. Within a few minutes five Elk fawns and their mothers were grazing within sight and coming closer. By this time the pull off was full of other people all trying to photograph these animals as is typical in Yellowstone. Fortunately this occurred just after 6pm and many people had already left the park allowing for better traffic flow. Not that I really noticed the traffic because these Elk and their fawns were so much fun to watch.
Eventually the mothers all decided they wanted to cross the Gardner River coming closer towards all of us set up to capture this event. They slowly coaxed the fawns to wade through this rushing water towards greener pastures. Because of larger amounts of snow this past winter, the river was flowing faster than normal from more melting snow making it increasingly difficult to ford.
After a few attempts the fawns decided this was a bad idea with conditions too dangerous for them to safely make it across. They found a spot on the river bank and stood their ground. I wonder if having an audience for this helped deter them from trying to make it through this swiftly moving water? As I looked over this pull off full of cars carrying many people with large cameras all looking for a photograph of these Elk fawns crossing a river for the first time, I could see some disappointment as the realizations they were not going to cross the river. Understandable as how often do you get on opportunity to witness such an event right in front of you?
The next twenty minutes or so these fawns would call over to their mothers with these mothers responding attempting to convince the other to get on the other side of the river. After several attempts the mothers all crossed back over the Gardner River to be reunited with their fawns. Several days later we drove by these same Elk and saw that the fawns had successfully crossed the swift river in a different location.
With just on hour of daylight left on our first evening in Yellowstone National Park, we took off exploring the several walkways built around Mammoth Hot Spring Terraces. During research ahead of this trip these hot spring terraces weren’t an exciting feature that I was in a hurry to see so this seemed like the right amount of time to quickly explore the area. Upon first viewing these formations I was surprised at how white they were and the formations creating all of these little, unique pools. Something I’ve never seen anywhere before.
Apparently this extreme white comes from calcium being brought up with the springs and deposited as water from these springs cools which means these terraces continually change. This means that the terraces viewed last summer are not the exact same as the ones I saw this summer which will be unique next summer for different visitors. That’s kind of fun. Still, after walking around these features for a little while I felt I’d seen enough to call it a night and return to the hotel for much needed sleep. That’s when the photographer inside of me kicked in.
Shapes, textures, colors, and living and dead trees creating interesting objects began to appear. Yes, they were there the whole time but I didn’t really see them individually. Algae and bacteria living in this hot water add colors to the pure white calcium deposits creating amazing patterns in the terraces. Add to that trees which have been overtaken by these mineral deposits provide another layer of texture to this scene. Soon I realized I could spend a lot of time here catching these items as the light continues to change highlighting different features of each terrace formation ending in beautiful photographs.
Now there wasn’t enough daylight left to capture the Mammoth Hot Springs the way I would like to. As we continued to explore different areas, the springs became more and more fascinating with their little calcium ridges flowing over past living trees turned into decaying artwork and colored different shades of orange and brown as light continued to fade from the almost clear sky. Other areas provided trees a place to grow as a hot spring would become dormant providing more interesting features. With renewed energy it was off to see more areas and discover more of these steam filled deposits creating calm pools of water waiting to cool as they seep from one to another.
Eventually the sky became dark enough to prevent further photographs highlighting these great colors and textures so we returned to our car for the trip to the hotel before crashing into bed for some much desired rest. These Mammoth Hot Springs became more interesting than I would have imagined and every time we passed them on the way to see another location there was a temptation to stop and get more photographs in better light. However that would come at the cost of seeing more of Yellowstone. One advantage to visiting the terraces later in the evening is we really didn’t have to deal with crowds. With this being our first night here it was a false sense of navigating through Yellowstone in mid June. The next day would quickly change this with vastly larger numbers of vehicles and people.