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.
Yellowstone National Park was one of the most eagerly anticipated parks on our National Parks Monopoly board from the beginning of our adventures and has definitely lived up to its name. We chose to stay in Gardiner near the North Entrance so our first experience in Yellowstone was to go through the symbolic Roosevelt Arch. The arch itself if beautiful but seems quite out of place now so it must be symbolic as it does not fit the surroundings very effectively. When it was built in 1903, according to a nearby sign, it must have been a grand entrance into this scenic and adventure filled land and now remains as a piece of history here.
This is a vast and continuously changing landscape and as such requires some time to drive through, when you can drive through it as half of the year snow covers many of the roads closing them to most vehicles. During the peak summer months of June, July, and August there is much to see and do but require some additional attributes for vacationers. First you need to bring a lot of patience as travel is relatively slow due to numerous other visitors all stopping along the road to see the incredible views and wildlife, many times without consideration to those behind them.
Secondly be able to accept many things that you can not control. Most of this is from people wanting to get a certain picture of wildlife, the numerous hydrothermal features, special group shot, or that all important selfie. Other times it can be from people trying to catch up to their group or kids being clueless to their surroundings. Relaxing and understanding other people have different priorities and schedules can help enjoy this beautiful time of year to explore Yellowstone. One tactic to get around some of these annoyances is to start really early in the morning and/or staying later in the park when most others are headed back to their residence for the day.
We had four days to explore this massive place and each day brought something new to see with some of these days packing in more than can be taken in for a single day. Fortunately that’s what pictures and maps are for, to recall what each day provided. Before heading to Gardiner I spent several hours doing some research of what makes this National Park special so that while driving around we wouldn’t miss these things. The most recognizable piece of Yellowstone National Park is the hydrothermal features created by molten lava a short distance under the Earth’s crust as a large portion of this area is basically inside a caldera of what is now a dormant volcano.
The next highlight is the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone which has the Yellowstone River rushing through it. This river falls over a 300 foot cliff resulting in a thunderous crash heard for miles as the water continues on into the canyon. With above normal snowfall this past winter melting at a fast pace, the flow over this waterfall is faster and louder than normal. Yellowstone Lake is another of the grand pieces to explore with many doing so either by fishing, kayaking, or boating. Be careful as the water is still cold even during the warmer summer months being able to cause hypothermia which occurred a week before our trip here. While these are destinations within the park, arguably the biggest highlight of Yellowstone National Park is the wildlife. Unfortunately, seeing many of the different wild animals residing here is unpredictable so the only way to have an opportunity to see it is to be on the lookout while driving from one location to another or hiking into some of the back country areas with safety precautions understood and accessible. I’ll continue to go into detail on many of these highlights in later posts.
Actually it’s both because this National Monument is located next to the Little Bighorn River which flows into the Bighorn River which hopefully makes more sense. This was one of the few remaining destinations on our National Parks Monopoly board which we visited recently. This is an interesting but solemn place memorializing a battle between Lt. Col. Custer with his Calvary and 5 different Indian tribes taking place over June 25th and 26th, 1976 as well as the location of Custer National Cemetery.
This battle was won by many different Indian tribes working together led by Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse to defeat the U.S. Army’s 7th Cavalry in a final victory before being forced onto reservations a few short years later. Photos above and below show a beautiful memorial to this battlefield where Indian tribes came together at this location for one cause – preserving and remembering their way of life. It’s sad and unfortunate that this battle had to take place due to the greed of those further east over control of the land and it’s resources, but if it hadn’t happened in 1876, I’m quite certain it would have happened at some point in a desire to possess land by those with wealth and power.
Little Bighorn is a popular National Monument with more people entering hear than I’ve seen at other National Monuments of this size.When asking about this popularity, as this was not the only battle between the U.S. Army and Indians, the response was increased attention due to the high profile people involved such as Custer, Sitting Bull, and Crazy Horse along with this is the only battle that has markers in the exact location where each person died during the battle. Additionally it is a National Cemetery so there are visitors seeking out those buried there.
After this battle was over, those who survived buried those who died where they were found a placed markers so each persons location which is unique. These people have since been moved to different burial locations but the markers have remained and been replaced with the inscribed stones seen in the photo above and below. Red are for Indians and white for U.S. Calvary. There are far more white markers throughout the park than red ones reinforcing how one sided this battle actually was. This gives historians and visitors a more detailed map of what took place on this battlefield over two days.
On our second Monopoly Adventure we traveled to the Southwestern United States to visit Petroglyph, Mesa Verde, Canyon de Chelly, and the Grand Canyon National Park. Grand Canyon was the last one of this trip arriving here the third week of March. As we first began planning this trip my expectation was that mid to late March would be great time to visit this area of the country as it is Arizona and should be a warm retreat from winter. Surprisingly that was a misconception as we saw snow in every park we visited.
Nearing the Grand Canyon you could already see portions of this formation before ever entering the park but not to the scale it is inside of Grand Canyon National Park. We arrived at the visitor center, parked the car and headed for our first view of this enormous canyon. Most of us have seen pictures of this place but those just cannot display the magnitude of the Grand Canyon. You can’t see how far down it is from the rim to the River or how wide it is from the South Rim to the North Rim.
Once you begin to grasp just how large this place is, the details of different layers of rock and plants growing on top of those rocks creating a green contrast to the red, orange, brown, and beige rock layers making up this canyon strike you. There are numerous layers of different colors and textures showing each natural event combining to create this Grand Canyon. Definitely a beautiful sight! Even from the top of the rim you can hear the Colorado River crashing over boulders creating the large white water rapids so many like to raft over. Amazing how far that sound travels.
Even though there was snow on the ground in places and it was cooler than we anticipated it still was a good time of year to visit as there were considerably fewer people allowing us to get around faster and see more of the canyon. There are several trails throughout the Grand Canyon which would have been interesting to explore but we had already traveled on miles of trails while exploring the South Rim and didn’t feel up to climbing down a portion of the canyon and then back up. This was before we had done any real hiking to know what our abilities are. If we visited the Grand Canyon now I would definitely take off on this trail to see these incredible rock layers close up. Maybe some day I will because I would also like to camp near Phantom Ranch and see the Colorado River up close.
In my previous post on ‘Planning for 2017’ I wrote briefly on going back to Isle Royale. I find this desire to backpack here very humorous because the last time I did this with the rest of my family I was adamant that backpacking was not for me and I would never do it again. I was glad to have experienced it once but that was enough. And now I can’t wait to return and hike further and for more days. What happened?
Either I’ve gone crazy or have gained more knowledge on backpacking. First lets figure out why there was no desire to backpack again. Most of this came from hiking with a lot of extra weight on my back causing pain in my shoulders and back every time my pack was hoisted back onto my shoulders. The second reason is that sleeping was cold and uncomfortable leaving me tired much of the time longing for a good nights sleep. Other than that, I enjoyed the time on the island.
So what’s different now? A number of things have changed my opinion of backpacking bringing on an excitement to do it again. First is all of the information and experience I’ve gained since then increasing the confidence to be able to hike with extra weight and actually enjoy it. I now have a good idea of what is involved in preparing for an extended hike which includes hiking locally with a heavy backpack for a couple of miles each time along with biking a couple of days a week for several miles putting me in better shape. Also I have a nicer camera that I really enjoy using and Isle Royale is a great place for beautiful photographs adding to my excitement to be there.
If I do this right the training backpack will be heavier than my actual pack making it seem like no big deal to carry all day long. Add to this increased muscle strength to be able to carry the weight while working around rocks and tree roots, using trekking poles to keep better balance and weight distribution, and bringing fewer items reducing my overall back pack weight should combine to make a fun hiking experience.
A few weeks after returning from Isle Royale the last time I began to go through our supplies and determined how I would pack differently another time to reduce the weight I was carrying. It was amazing how much different things felt for each pound we removed either in food or water weight making the pack lighter. We definitely brought too much food last time and heavy food at that. That is an easy place to reduce weight by several pounds. Also, sleeping gear last time was heavy lugging small air mattresses, cotton sheets, and blankets. This time a sleeping bag, light sleeping pad, and maybe a small pillow which should eliminate more weight. My only concern is increased weight in camera equipment so I will have to watch that part. As far as sleeping goes, I know there won’t be great sleep so I’m prepared for that so it should be less of a concern.
Training for hiking in the Rocky Mountains in 2016 and how successful it was and I was at completing a couple of 10 mile + hikes at higher elevations has proven to me that I can adequately train for this trip and go the distance with my backpack. In fact, at times I would even forget I was carrying my backpack loaded with clothing, food, and water all as a result of training before hand. The pack will be heavier this time as it will include more food, a tent, sleeping gear, and probably more clothing so I understand what I need to do to prepare. I’m so looking forward to this but there is much to do before then.
A good gage for me of if I liked an experience is would I do it again. Would I hike/climb Longs Peak again? It depends on when you asked me. For a couple of weeks following I would’ve told you I was glad I did it but probably would not do it again. Asking a couple of months later I would definitely consider doing it again if the opportunity arose in the next couple of years. Maybe that’s me just being stupid and forgetting how strenuous the hike is even before getting to the keyhole and how difficult the thinner air above 10,000 feet makes this hike. Being stupid or not I know now what to be prepared for.
For 2 days following the hike to Longs Peak I had difficulty walking because of pain in my legs. Getting up from sitting and sitting back down were functions I lacked without assistance. I credit this to going 6 miles downhill at a fast pace without taking breaks allowing my legs to gain adequate oxygen while trying to avoid the surrounding storms. The other piece that took away from the enjoyment of this hike was difficulty in breathing for much of it. It felt like I was always gasping for air whenever I wanted to climb after passing the Boulder Field Campground. It would not have been as demoralizing if there wasn’t a timeline due to storms and my ride at the trailhead pre-scheduled without a means of contacting my ride to re-schedule allowing for more enjoyment of a slower pace. I was unsure of my abilities in these conditions so I had to estimate a pick up time which turned out to be too early in the afternoon.
While on the mountain trying to decide if we should continue on from the Trough or not I kept trying to determine if I would regret not summiting if that was the decision we made. Well, it’s been a couple of months now and I do not regret our decision. For the conditions it was the right call for us. It likely would have taken us an additional 2 hours to summit and make it back to our position above the Trough. We would have gotten caught in increasingly difficult conditions due to storms in our descent increasing the risk of injury or worse. I wish the conditions would have allowed us to continue to summit but that just was not our situation. There is such a great respect for those that take on this climb after having done almost all of it.
Upon completing this adventure I could not figure out how I felt about it. Was it worth all of the effort required to do it? I now feel a huge sense of accomplishment and satisfaction tackling Longs Peak. It was completely worth the work, pain, and dedication to climb this mountain. What an unbelievable experience and to have been able to share it with my oldest daughter is priceless. It would have been great to also share it with my youngest daughter but that would have been more than I could handle on my own given the risks involved above the Keyhole. The scenery was so beautiful and peaceful both on the way up in the serenity of a moon lit landscape and the way back down as the mountain tops turned white from the snow while we got rained on. It must have been a great accomplishment as I’m considering a hike to the top of Mauna Loa on our final Monopoly adventure to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park which surprisingly tops out at over 13,600 feet. Additionally I monitor the Longs Peak trail conditions and webcam having a more intimate relationship with this mountain now. I love adventures and this was an amazing one!