Saturday, October 4, 2014

Rocky Mt. Fall: Part 6 - Yellowstone and Beartooth

PART 6 – Exploring Montana and Yellowstone NP
Thursday, October 2
Columbia Falls to White Sulphur Springs, MT
278 miles

            We finally left our comfortable little home at LaSalle RV Park today!  Turned in the cable TV box, said goodbye to Howard and Joanie, and were on our way by 9am.  Gas (at 3.43 we thanked the station for dropping over 15 cents in price while we were here!), coffee, and a stop at LesSchwab to have the trailer tires checked. 
Typical ranch along east side of
Flathead Valley
            What a day of variety!!  Trees, plains, sagebrush, sunshine, hail, snow, winds! (  I am typing Friday morning from White Sulphur Springs.  Temps in the trailer are 45 degrees – with the heater running full blast – and my fingers are very cold!!  Excuser all the mistakes I didn’t catch!)
Swan Mountain peaks
     We left Columbia Falls via the bypass road 206 down to BigFork for the Swan River valley on Highway 83 south out of Big Fork.  New highway!  Between CF and Big Fork we passed some gorgeous ranch spreads.  Then a turn at BigFork and into the valley of the Swan mountains. The clouds were scattered enough that we got some decent views, although for awhile I thought we wouldn’t see much because all the trees were in our way – a thick corridor of larch and fir.  This stretch of road is well known for the wildlife, but all we saw were a couple of deer crossing the road.  The valley widened toward the end and we got some great views of both the Mission Mts. to our west, and the peaks of the Swan Range to our east….lots of snow on the tops!!! 
The clouds were glorious! 
   As we left Seeley Lake – we stopped there for gas and coffee and restroom – the terrain changed suddenly.  Grassland and rolling hills.  All golden and dried.  This was typical for the next 40 miles or so as we turned easterly toward Helena.  Right before Helena we crossed the Continental Divide (NO SIGN!!) in the middle of a snowstorm!  The pass is only 6300’ and we figured we’ve come out of the snow soon on the other side.  No….there was still snow in Helena 2300’ lower!!  The east side of the mountains had been much colder, windier, and the snow dusting they got wasn’t leaving.  It wasn’t much and the road was ok, but it sure made all the trees look pretty!! 
Snow over the Continental Divide pass west of Helena
            We were in thick clouds leaving Helena and then just as suddenly in bright sunshgine as we near Canyon Ferry Lake to the east.  A huge reservoir on the Misdsouri River.  We had to go around the southern end to get to White Sulphur Springs.  We were following US Route 12 since 30 miles west of Helena.  We wound along a small creek and canyon and up over another pass and then had another broad view of the White Sulphur Springs area.  Golden grassland!  We had seen a couple herds of antelope, lots of Mother Goose style haystacks,

            We are spending two nights with some CAV friends we met down in Las Cruces last spring: Pam and Steve Sundstrom.  They are retired nurses and great people.  Rick got the trailer all set up in the yard with Steve’s help.  There was a dusting of snow, and the wind was COLD!!  We got our heater plugged in quickly, but it will drop below freezing for sure tonight. 
            Evening spent visiting (Rick and Steve went out to their 5th wheel to watch a football game and visit) with Pam and her mother Barbara, a good enchilada dinner,and scotcheroos!!!  I said, they are good people! 
            I’ll let my pictures and maps tell the rest of the story of what we saw and where we went today….

Dropping down off the pass between Helena and White Sulphur Springs
Second half of today...
First half of today's travels....

Another view of wide open spaces!

FRIDAY, October 3
Cruising Around White Sulphur Springs

            BRRRR!!!  A cool night and we had the heater on ALL night long I think.  The temp outside was 20 degrees this morning – 45 inside the trailer.  But overall we slept warm enough.  The sky was a brilliant blue and the sun was shining when I went inside around 8am.  I had arisen around 6:30a to finish up my prayer drawing and get yesterday’s blog written.  The good news is that it is the coldest predicted for the next week or so…even in Red Lodge and Mammoth!  
Enjoying time with Steve and Pam
            Coffee and a wonderful breakfast together.  Cherrie will be glad to know that Rick ran back out to the trailer to bring in her raspberry jam to share.  It was a big hit! 
            We lost the cover to our trailer battery during yesterday’s drive, so Steve and Rick ran down to the local auto store and found a replacement.  Had to make a couple adaptations to accommodate a smaller battery in a big case, but they made it work!  And the price was only $14!! 
Newlan Reservoir
            We took off around 11a for a drive around the city.  White Sulphur Springs sits at about 5000’ in elevation and has under a thousand people.  This is ranching land – the town is surrounded by large spreads of cattle, wheat farms, etc.  We drove east on Hwy 12 briefly then north toward Great Falls (which is 100 miles away)  We quickly turned off on the road to Newlan Reservoir, a small lake that holds irrigation water for the valley.  Lots of nice camping spots in the area.  We followed the creek outlet along another road and made a loop back into town from the west. 
The Castle
       Took some pictures of ‘The Castle’ – a home built by an easterner for his wife when she moved west.  Quite the fancy place, but since it has no heat, it is not open for public viewing after September.  Saw the little tiny house Pam’s folks moved into when they first moved west from Minnesota – only 2 bedrooms for a family of 6 children!  Fortunately they only had to live there for a few months! 
Big Belt Mountains from WSS
            We went to the Truck Stop Café – the kind with a sign that simply says EATS out front.  Today was the Friday Comfort Food buffet – we were just going to get a bowl of soup, etc. and Pam was going to cook some dinner.  No chance.  Everyone opted for the buffet and we would skip a formal dinner!  Meat loaf, meat balls, lasagna, spaghetti, mac and cheese, mashed taters, veggies, gravy, and rolls.  I also had a little salad and a bowl of broccoli cheese soup!  Oh, and a chocolate cupcake!  Not exactly WW fare, but it was comfort food! 
Castle Mts. 
     We took a bit more of a tour south of town after lunch, seeing the Castle Mts with their distinctive rocks, senior center housing, schools, etc.  The complete tour of WSS!! 
            Afternoon of good conversation, showers, wine, and snacks for supper.  Rick took a walk and Steve played a round of golf.  Back out to the trailer by 9:30. 
            More good news for the day – the Beartooth Highway has reopened!! 
Sunset in White Sulphur Springs

SATURDAY, October 4
White Sulphur Springs to Gardiner, MT
127 miles

            What a beautiful drive today!!  Scattered clouds, but clear enough to see LOTS of mountain peaks! 
Crazy Mts. 
            We had a yummy oatmeal, fruit, and toast breakfast with the Sundstroms, packed up the trailer, and were on our way shortly after 10am.  Quick stop for gas and a coffee and we are headed south on Rte 89 toward Livingston, Montana.  We have the Crazy Mountains to the East (highest peak is around 9500’, the Big Belt Mts. to our west, and the Bridger Mts. to the southwest.  And then, as we near Livingston, we find the Absaroka-Beartooth Mts. to the south.  The dusting of snow from earlier in the week just makes the views even more spectacular.  Picture taking wasn’t always ideal, but hopefully they will be enough to remind us of just how pretty it was! 
Bridger Mountains
            This is Montana ranch country.  Huge spreads, cattle, hay, etc.  Tiny little villages nestled along the rivers at key crossings.  None of the ‘I’m feeling claustrophic because the trees are hemming in the road’ emotions I had last fall on the east coast.  Wide open spaces, rolling golden hills of grassland.  Wow. 
Absaroka Mountains, Yellowstone River in foreground.
       We stopped in Livingston for a few groceries and to top off the gas tank.  A quick call to Gardiner to confirm we would have no problem securing a camp spot at the RV park and a message left at the Inn of the Beartooth.
            The drive from Livingston south to the north entrance of Yellowstone is equally spectacular.  The Absarokas are right to the east, one jagged snowy peak after another.  The Yellowstone River winds through the broad valley marked by beautiful ranches and pricey homes.  As we neared Gardiner, the canyon narrows and the peaks of the Gallatin Mts. began to appear in the west. 
Yellowstone River views
Yellowstone River as we near Gardiner
Our RV park is right on the Yellowstone River just north of Gardiner.  We got set up, ate a little lunch, and then unhitched to drive into Yellowstone and check out the situation at Mammoth Campground. 
River is right behind the trailer.
            We found the main street through the center of Gardiner totally torn up and closed!  (Reminded us of the Resort Street mess!)  We were detoured onto a bumpy, potholed side street with a steep uphill climb, then back and through the Roosevelt Arch and into the park.  (On the way back we followed the truck detour which didn’t pan out, but we did find a route through the school parking lot that will be smoother!)
Part of the Upper Terrace formations
   You climb steeply along the Gardiner River up to the Mammoth complex – visitor center, hotels, gift shops, etc.  Many of the buildings are part of the original Fort Yellowstone that helped protect the park from poachers and others with profit on their minds in the early days. 
            Mammoth Campground is primitive with no hookups, although there are water spigots scattered throughout and enough restrooms to be convenient.  I checked with a ranger who assured me that sites would be available in the morning.  We found at least a dozen still open at 3pm today.  We should be in luck in the morning. 
Mammoth Hot Springs mound
            On up toward the hotsprings.  We took some quick looks, but then drove on up to the Drive Loop at the Upper Terrace.  A narrow little one-way lane but very pretty and we found some good views.  The sunlight was gorgeous in the park and it was a crowded place on a beautiful Saturday!   In the course of our drive we saw a buffalo, antelope, elk, and mule deer!  Not bad! 

            Back from our ‘scouting trip’ around 4 to clean house, shower, pack for our Beartooth trip, and then relax for the evening!  
Elk and antelope...two in one pix!

SUNDAY, October 5
Beartooth Highway: Mammoth Hot Springs to Red Lodge, MT
125 miles

This map is the actual Beartooth portion from Cooke City
to Red Lodge, MT. 
            What a glorious day!!  We left Gardiner around 9:15, picked up ice and coffee (we are turning off the fridge and decided we would just put a block of ice in it – old fashion time!) Then through the arch and into the park.  We had plenty of spots to chose from at the campground, opting for #45 which gave us a view back down the Gardiner River valley toward the town.  Under a big pine tree.  Got the trailer set up, paid for three nights, and by 10:15 we were on our way toward the Beartooth! 
            Technically, the Beartooth Highway is specifically US Route 212 from Cooke City, MT to RedLodge, MT – a distance of about 65 miles.  First we had to travel about 65 more miles from Mammoth to the NE Entrance to the park.  This area of the park is wide open valleys, sagebrush and grassland hills, and pockets of trees amongst rocky buttes.  Eventually we crossed the Yellowstone River (it went east from Gardiner) for awhile.
One of hundreds!
            The Lamar Valley, just west of Tower Junction, is vast and broad with the Lamar River cutting through the heart of the wide channel.  Other river courses wind a different path.  This is prime wildlife viewing country.   Everywhere we saw buffalo!  We figured we probably saw nearly 500 head by day’s end!  Also saw a fair amount of pronghorn antelope, elk, and a few white-tail deer. 
Nearing the North Entrance
        The cottonwood trees in the Lamar Valley were turning golden.  On the high slopes, both cottonwood and aspen trees had shed their leaves, but there was still enough yellow to turn the vistas magic. 
Any takers?
            The NE entrance to the park is heavily wooded with nearby Silver Gate and Cooke City.  Both towns are rustic old mining communities, linked with several upscale log homes along the highway.  We stopped briefly next to a For Sale cabin in Cooke City to grab a bite to eat. 
Pilot and Index Peaks
            And then we officially began the Beartooth Highway.  The road is exceptional in terms of width and grade.  It has been well maintained.  October 14 it will close at 8am for the season.  As you leave Cooke City view back to the west of the Absarokas are stunning, especially Pilot and Index Peaks, both in the 11,000 foot range.  Pilot looks like the Matterhorn – a jagged finger in the sky.  Rick read an outstanding interpretive display that educated us as to the difference between the Absarokas and the Beartooth Range.  The first is volcanic in nature, then cut by the glaciers.  The Beartooth is a massive uplift, then cut by glaciers.  The Beartooth plateau is riddled with glacial lakes and tarns.  The Absarokas are deep cut valleys, waterfalls, rivers, and very few lakes. 
Northern range from the lookout butte
            We stopped and took the road up to the Clay Butte Lookout.  Unfortunately, the lookout is closed and the upper gate was also closed.  So we drove up about two miles and then had to turn around.  But in the meantime, we got some great view to the mountains just north of Pilot and Index Peaks – a whole range of them! 
Beartooth Lake
         Just past the lookout we came to Beartooth Lake.  It has a ‘mountain’ behind it of white, yellow, and red stone.  The wind was blowing fiercely and it was cool!  From Beartooth Lake we wound up and around, over and amongs the plateau lakes, climbing into the barren alpine tundra of timberline.  In places the hillsides were just covered with small rocks – almost a lunar scene.  Once we got to the pass, after a series of a dozen switchbacks, we stayed ‘on top’ for several miles, twisting along the summit area. 
Top of lift
            There is a late spring-summer use ski lift up on top.  We couldn’t figure out the access, etc. Apparently you arrive at the top and ski down.  Lift brings you back up to your car! 
Inn on the Beartooth
    The Inn on the Beartooth B&B is located about 2 miles south of RedLodge along Rock Creek.  It is a large log structure, built as a B&B.  All the rooms have log furniture.  It is decorated with a rustic feel, yet very comfortable.  This is our first B&B experience.  One other couple from Texas is here, and when we got back from dinner and our hosts had built a fire, we sat and visited for awhile with them.  Definite Texas accents!  They live near Dallas.   As we went to bed, we could see 4 places neatly set at the table for breakfast!
Our room
For Mark and Patty!  We didn't eat here, however;
too upscale prices for us! 
            We drove into RedLodge to walk around and grab a bite to eat.  A neat, but older downtown, restored in many places like Baker City by a historical district.  In its heyday, Redlodge numbered 6000, but now just 2000 residents.  The city had the typical western reputation of dozens of saloons, a rough coal mining crowd, etc.  The Beartooth Highway designation and the local ski area keep the town going. We finally ended up at Logan and Foster’s Pub and had a satisfying meal. 

            Chat with Luke later before bed.  We could finally give him a date of our return!  
Pano from top of pass area

I don't have alot of pictures edited yet, but will post a few that are ready.  We will be out of internet for the next week!!  
Summit area of pass
Official summit sign! 
One of the multiple lakes that dot the summit area
Alpine tundra area!  Lake in distance!

MONDAY, October 6
Return Beartooth:  Redlodge to Mammoth Hot Springs
Total Beartooth Trip: 248 miles

            Considering the weather a week ago, we decided well to wait in Columbia Falls for abit.  Today was originally forecast absolutely clear.  Well, that changed a little to partly to mostly cloudy, but the temps are in the low 60’s, and there is blue sky in places.  Beautiful outside!! 
Heading out of Red Lodge 
            We sleep in a little and then downstairs for breakfast.  Sarah has ham slices, scrambled eggs and cheese, French toast (coconut and regular), and a bowl of fresh fruit: bananas, strawberries and raspberries.  All that in addition to our orange juice and coffee.  Delicious.  We didn’t dawdle over the meal long, however, as John and Vickie were anxious to hit the road.  They are driving to beyond Denver today – a good 450-500 day for them compared to our 125 miles! 
View from Vista Rest Area
            On our way at 9, having seen Sarah’s jewelry making efforts and learning a little more of her background .  She grew up in Miami-Fort Lauderdale, but spent summers in Utah or Red Lodge.  Finally came out here permanently 6 years ago and bought the B&B.  She works as a waitress in the winter season up at the ski lodge.  Outgoing gal and very excited for her first hunting season!
            We tried to make stops today at the places we skipped yesterday, along with the rest-area viewpoint both times – the sun was different!   The wind was pretty fierce today.  I am going to cheat and include some of the write up for the Highway going in this direction from the National Geographic Guide to Scenic Highways and Bi-ways:
Beartooth Plateau
“The road follows Rock Creek, winding through grassy hills that soon give way to heavily forested mountains.  Rocky outcrops interrupt evergreen forests, and an occasional spire juts over the trees.  About 13 miles from Red Lodge the road climbs steeply away from the creek [in a series of tight switchbacks!] and suddenly the vista opens out toward the 1800’ cliffs that bend around the head of the valley in a tight semicircle.
            “After 5 miles of dramatic switchbacks, stop at the Vista Point scenic overlook.  Here, at 9200’, a shot path leads to the tip of a promontory with spectacular views across Rock Creek Canyon to the high rolling country of the Beartooth Plateau.
Flat summit plateau on left, canyon on right
  “As you continue on 212, the trees give out entirely and you begin crossing a landscape of low rounded hills covered with grasses, sedge, and lavish summer wildflowers. Soon the road cuts back to the rim of the canyon and from the narrow turnouts you can see a chain of glacial lakes, including Twin Lakes 1000’ below.  ….As you pass the ski lift, the Absaroka Range breaks over the southwest horizon in a row of jagged, volcanic peaks. Wildflower meadows lead to the west summit of Beartooth Pass, at an exalted 10,947’.
The 'beartooth' is the small jagged peak at right.
            “The brutal climate at this elevation – frigid, wind-hammered, dry – deters the growth of trees and shrubs, and the plants that do grow here have adapted in remarkable ways…..Only marmots, squirrels, pikas, and mountain goats live here year-round.
Island Lake
            “From the pass you descend to a landscape where scattered islands of pine and spruce eke out a living among knobs of granite and fields of wildflowers. Hundreds of tiny ponds and several small lakes shimmer in glaciated depressions.”
            That’s enough from National Geographic.  We went in to Island Lake Campground, thinking we were the only ones there and finding 5 trucks with boats following us in.  They must have come from the other direction!  All going out fishing together.  The wind was cold and strong.  It wasn’t a fishing trip I would have enjoyed today!  But the vistas were magnificent.  Two peaks of the Beartooth Range rise from the end of the lake in the distance.  The fall colors of the sedge and thick grasses were a blaze of gold and deep reds.  We wandered the closed campground for a few minutes and picked up a piece of firewood to take back to Mammoth.  (OK, it is a huge log and we HOPE to be able to split it!)
A stop at a waterfall along an old section of roadway
Lamar Valley
Buffalo wallow
            As we returned to the Lamar Valley, the skies were lightening and more blue was poking through.  We stopped first to look at the Soda Ash Butte, a mostly dormant hot spring formation along the road.  Right before the butte, a buffalo at the side of the road entertained us as he wallowed and then arose to stare at us.  The valley itself was still magnificent: broad, open, and covered with copses of aspen trees and herds of buffalo. 
   We also saw Rocky Mountain Sheep today, but didn’t recognize them because they were all females.  We didn’t realize just the males got the big horns.  Females and young have little spike horns that look very much like domestic goats.  But the coloring was totally right for sheep!  After passing a number on the hillside, we encountered a straggler group right on the road.  About a dozen moms and kids and they were spooked.  Plenty of places to veer off, but they kept running right in front of the truck down the highway.  I felt sorry for them.  Eventually cars came in the other direction and we were able to get passed. 
Buffalo butting heads!
Rocky Mt. sheep in roadway
            We will be traveling the Blacktail Deer Plateau portion of the loop from Mammoth to Roosevelt Tower Junction again later in the week, so no further stops.  Back to Mammoth around 1:30pm. 
            Now we set up ‘camp’ – not really much to set up as NOTHING can be kept outside the hardsided trailer except maybe your lawn chairs!  We even locked all the food baskets into the truck cab later after dinner just to be safe. 
            Phone calls with Moms and then a hike up the hill to the ‘city’ to visit the Visitor Center and pick up a few postcards to mail out in the morning along with Tommy’s birthday package.  A light dinner and an evening reading – I finished my book! Early to bed.  We have to conserve our battery in the trailer!   And then....the first of many moonrises over the ridge to the east. 

TUESDAY, October 7
Hiking Around Mammoth Hot Springs

View above Mammoth Hotel
            What a beautiful morning, the birds are singing in the trees, and the skies are lightly scattered with a few clouds.  The sun, however, does not rise until 8:40 from behind the ridge!  It was getting light enough at 7am, but no sunshine!  Trailer was a brisk 44 degrees when I got up, and the forecast is for slightly cooler nights (upper 30’s), but no freezing temps, so we will be good!
Rick starts up the trail
            We didn’t get moving too quickly today.  I made a cup of tea when I first got up to wait and try out our new French Press coffee maker when both of us could enjoy a cup from it.  It worked well!!  Thank you Steve and Genia for the good Montana Coffee!  Otherwise we wouldn’t have had any to try out!
Beart track in middle of trail!
   We hike up the hill again this morning, armed with postcards to mail and Tommy’s package to send back East.  Right near the amphitheater, we had to detour around a couple of cow elk who were sitting right in the trail in the cool of the trees.  Got everything mailed, then a quick stop at the VC to double check trails for the day.  We have information from Backpacker Magazine that we didn’t further research, as well as the park flyer.  We end up doing a slight combination of the two, and include as well all the boardwalks through the hot springs from the upper terrace down to the lower level. 
The 'Narrow Gauge' travertine formation - dormant.
            We had thought originally of doing the Beaver Pond Loop, but it would have been totally separate from the hot springs and a mama grizzly and her cub were roaming up in the area last week.  In fact, the trailhead had an area closed sign, but we went anyway because the park rangers at the VC didn’t say it was closed!  We took a different trail, however, just to be safe.  We were in the trees – a good smelling pine forest – do Rick had the bear spray out and available and we talked a lot!  Saw some unusual travertine formations that aren’t usually viewed because this is off the beaten path.  One called the Narrow Gauge looks just like a railroad bed. 
Orange Springs
    We were on a trail called the Howard Eaton, but at the upper end of the Upper Terrace Loop Road, we jumped on to the road to wind our way back down to the bottom.  We noted that there was NO traffic on the road this morning!  (When we got to the road entrance, we knew why – the loop was closed off!!  For the winter?  Who knows?  It made for a peaceful hike!  Went passed several formations we viewed the other day when we drove it. 
            Canary Hot Springs was a favorite.  We followed a long boardwalk out to the viewpoint.  This is a vent that has dried up twice over the years and just became active again recently.  The new formations are gorgeous and the amount they build up in a short time is amazing. 
Upper Terrace view from Canary Springs spur
Canary Springs and valley
       We wandered on down the various stairwalks and boardwalks, visiting most of the major formations along the way.  We were dazzled by the intricate detail and minute crystals that create the walls which hold in the various ponds. The colors are created by microscopic organisms – different colors for different organisms in different temperatures of water!   And today we were able to add a little blue from the reflections in the sky, although by the end of our hike/walk, a huge cloud had blotted out the sunshine for over an hour! 
Heading down the stairs
            As we came to the end of the walk, we noticed a herd of bull elk resting in the shade across the road.  And then I heard the bugle call – such a strange sound, high and piercing, to come from a big massive animal!  Pretty neat.  Rick heard them all night long in the trailer!  I think I bury my head too far down in the bed to hear much of anything!
Liberty Cap
Ginger in front of Devil's Thumb
            A visit to the gift shop for a few more postcards and some gifts, and then an ice cream cone for today’s treat!  Oh boy!  We walked with our ice cream the tour of Fort Yellowstone, noting the various barracks, officer quarters, hospital, guardhouse, etc. for the Army troops stationed here from the late 1800’s until 1918.  This permanent post allowed the park staff to protect and maintain the park from threats of exploitation, poaching, souvenir hunters, etc.  The buildings are well maintained and used for residences now by park employees. 
Officers Quarters from Old Fort Yellowstone
Mail courier's cabin - He had the 'run' from Mammoth to Cooke City
    Back to the trailer around 2:45pm.  Rick washed his hair and I gave him a much needed haircut.  Then an afternoon of leisurely reading!  A campfire at night and an AWESOME moonrise over the mountain!  Wow!
Tonight you get the sunset picture BEFORE the moonrise!

WEDNESDAY, October 8
Driving Loop Tower-Canyon-Norris-Mammoth
81 miles

Another friendly morning
buffalo picture!
            We took off around 9:30 this morning to make the drive down to Canyon for the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone experience. .A retracing of our Beartooth Route for the first 18 miles or so.    On this trip over the Blacktail Plateau, we didn’t see much wildlife.  A few buffalo maybe, but not much else.  Oh! Mule Deer – a rare sighting in the park or so it seems.   But the morning was beautiful, and the one herd of buffalo we passed were near a hot spring vent.  Several were enjoying the heat, another was wallowing on the other side of the road, and two ‘teens’ were engaging in a little mock fight.  Fun to watch. 
Tower Falls
           After the Roosevelt-Tower Junction,  we headed south toward Canyon and  stopped at Tower Falls.  Hard to see in the morning light, as the falls were in the shadows.  I am having trouble with my Canon camera (the other died at the Habitat build) as to focusing.  It seems to do its own thing at times and pictures end up our of focus OFTEN!  I am getting frustrated at times with it.  Anyway,  Tower Falls is neat because of all the limestone spires surrounding it, hence the name. 
Coyote on the road
     From Tower Falls, the road continues another 15 miles down to Canyon Village.  This section of the park is prime grizzly country as it travels through a barren section of hillsides climbing toward Dunraven Pass, just under Mt. Washburn.  The pass is nearly 9,000 feet.  We saw no grizzly, but we did find a coyote ambling down the road.  He didn’t appear to be too spooked by the cars.
Fire ravaged area across from
Dunraven Pass
Yellowstone River right above Upper Falls
       Once we got to Canyon Village, we head on down to the furthest viewpoints for the falls and canyon – Artist Point on the South Rim of the canyon.  This is the classic view of the canyon and the Lower Yellowstone Falls.  (Because of a bend in the river – Uncle Tom’s Point – you can’t see both the Upper and Lower Falls at the same time….anywhere!).  The north side of the canyon was bathed in sunlight, accentuating the myriad of colors.  The south side in dark shadows.  I’m not sure the sun ever hits the lower falls this time of year.  We were there around 11:30 and watched a  little bit, but it didn’t look overly possible.  
Pano of canyon wall at Artist's Point
Lower Yellowstone Falls and canyon
Explanation of Uncle Tom's
Upper Yellowstone Falls
(bridge in background)
Back up to another viewpoint for the Upper Falls, and then a visit to Uncle Tom’s Trail.  Uncle Tom Richardson was a guide in the late 1800’s who built a wooden stair and rope ladder access down the side of the
Rick heads down
the 300 steps!
canyon to a viewpoint of the Lower Falls about 2/3 of the way down, or about 500’ below the canyon lip.  Today a path and metal stairway takes you down to Uncle Tom’s location and viewpoint.  Over 300 steps!  It was a lung buster coming back up, but so much more exciting a spot to visit than the brink of the falls trail on the north side.  We could see steam vents all along the side of the river.  I was mostly enthralled with the rainbow which kept appearing on the north wall of the canyon in the mists floating off from the thunder of the water.  It was pretty awesome. 
Rainbow on canyon wall from Lower Falls

Classic pose in front of Lower Falls from Uncle Tom's Trail
Lower Falls
We drove back up along the North Rim Road, a narrow one way path with several viewpoints.  The most well known, Inspiration Point, no longer affords a view of the Lower Falls.  Over 100’ of the viewpoint collapsed during an earthquake in the past 10 years or so.  You can barely see the top of the falls from a point just before the end now.  Disappointing, but geology in action! 
Construction along Norris road
           At this point, Rick suggested that maybe it would be a good idea to head back to Mammoth via Norris and check out the road construction issue for ourselves.  There is a 7 miles stretch just north of Norris that is undergoing major construction.  Park Service advise is high clearance only.  We want to see if we can do it with the trailer, or if we should take the long way around tomorrow in getting to Madison. 
Broad valley between Norris and Mammoth - Mt. Benson
  Well, long story short.  We’ll take the long way tomorrow.  We could do it, but with the possible half hour delay as well, there is no reason to subject the trailer to the conditions.  So I am glad we did the drive today, to see a few more hot spring formations, a wide wide valley, and most spectacular, the drop down the Gardiner River into the Mamoth Basin.  Awesome. 
Drop down into Mammoth
Gardiner River below Mammoth
Back to trailer.  I had wanted to hike up to the top of the knoll opposite the entrance to the campground, so I took off on a short little stroll.  Great views down on the cottonwood colored community for the year round residents and the little school.  The surprise was the lush green field and pristine tennis courts and basketball court below me!  Wow. 
Back down the hill, I ambled through the campground looking for letters and patterns to photograph.  I found U’s!!!  Rick helped me wash my hair and after dinner we had another campfire.  Another beautiful moonrise, but this time we were already inside the trailer, as it didn’t come up until 8:30pm.  I heard an owl hooting much of the night. 
See the speck of white in center?  That's our trailer at Mammoth Campground!
Another Sunset before the Moonrise

THURSDAY, October 9
Mammoth Hot Springs to Madison (via Canyon Village)  63 miles
Norris Geyser Basin – 29 miles
Same herd of buffalo each day near Tower Junction!

            An early morning!  But then again, when you crawl into bed at 9pm, read until 9:45 and then go to sleep, it isn’t any surprise that you are ready to get up early!!  I crawled out of bed at 6:15, made a cup of instant coffee, and worked on a prayer drawing for awhile while bundled up.  The temperature in the trailer was 39 degrees when I got up.    Rick was up at 7am, and by 8 we were pulling out of the campground, trailer in tow. 
Sunlight on new lodgepole forest near Dunraven Pass
  Our drive to Madison was smooth AND we were rewarded with a glimpse of a grizzly bear.  It was a distance out in a field, but…we saw it!!  Other than that, we saw a number of buffalo again as we cruised our way on now familiar road!  We arrived in Madison around 9:30am and were assigned site #C-77.  The pull throughs are fairly short, but we got situated in a nice site among the trees.  This campground takes reservations, but there are plenty of empty spaces.  Of course, there are over 400 sites here!  The water has been turned off at the spigots, but all the bathrooms have washing sinks available. 
All cozy at Madison Campground
The frost on trees was
awesome driving down. 
            Rick messed around with the furnace for awhile.  We haven’t used it since our initial shake-down cruise 2 ½ years ago!  He FINALLY got it working!  Not sure we will use it or not, but at least it is available.  The forecast low for tonight is around 35 degrees. 
Gibbon Falls
   We grabbed a slight snack and then took off to drive BACK up the highway to Norris again.  This time I drove while Rick could look for animals.  Our goal was to explore the Norris Geyser Basin.  We stopped first at Gibbon Falls – a beautiful umbrella shaped waterfall.  Plenty of water still flowing this time of year!  The Gibbon Valley is broad and beautiful as the river meanders through it.  Prime wildlife area.  Right now the grasses are all golden colored and the ribbon of blue water through it is striking. 
Clydesdale Forest!

        We stopped at Artist’s Paint Pots and took the ¾ mile loop trail to view the various thermal features there.  The trail cuts near a previous thermal area where the trees are all dead and rimmed with white ‘feet’ at the bottom – the calcite deposits.  Rick said they looked like the feet of Clydesdale horses!  How true! 
            Paint pots are so named due to several features that had blues and greens, reds and yellows.  No geysers, just a lot of bubbling, steam vents, and fissures.  I especially like the mud pots.  And it is a little unnerving to be walking across ground that you can hear water moving around under you.  In one place it sounded like the bathtub drain suddenly coming unplugged.
Paint Pots area
Deep blue paint pots!

More colors in Artists Paint Pots
           The Norris Geyser Basin is large, with two trails making a figure 8 through it.  We opted to take the longer Back Basin loop at about 1.6 miles.  It took us past a variety of steam holes, hot springs gurgling and bubbling, a few mud pots, and several geysers.  None of these geysers erupt on a regular basis, but Steamboat Geyser, located here, is the world’s tallest, with eruptions reaching 300’ in height.  The last major eruption of
Vixen erupts right in front of us!
Steamboat occurred on September 3 of this year.  Too bad.  We missed it.  Steamboat did treat us to a constant spatter of water 5-10’ in height, however.  AND a lot of steam!  The treat of the day was Vixen Geyser, which doesn’t even warrant a spot on some of the main geyser lists.  Just as we rounded the corner of the boardwalk, Vixen started to spout water.  It continued for over 10 minutes (I don’t really know how long, because we didn’t stay more than 5-6 minutes watching it!)  The water probably reached 20-30’ at times, and a couple big bursts sprayed water over the boardwalk area.  Fun to watch.  I thought it was stopping several times and then it would pick up again. 
Pools at Norris Basin
Deep colors of hot springs waters
Views to the mountains north of us were wonderful from the basin.  The trail wandered on and off boardwalks throughout.  At one point in 2003 the basin was closed to foot traffic in places because the surface temperatures were reaching 200 degrees and the boardwalk was heating up and people were getting hot feet!  The biggest thing we probably learned about all the thermal features is that they are EVER changing.  What erupts today may never erupt again.  What bubbles today may blow up tomorrow.  Who knows! 
            We arrived back at Madison around 3pm and spent a leisurely afternoon reading, etc.  Dinner and early to bed again!  Tomorrow?  OLD FAITHFUL AREA! 
Ginger and Steamboat Geyser
Panorama of Porcelin Basin at Norris

FRIDAY, October 10
Old Faithful Geyser Region
37 miles

Firehole Falls
            Brrrr!!  We put both sleeping bags on top of us last night - probably a good thing because it was 33 degrees in the trailer this morning when I got up.  I had been reading in bed for about a half hour and waited uintil Rick stirred and rose to use the bathroom.  He was going to turn the furnace on for me.  It had still been fussy last night.  Well, it was still fussy this morning!  We never did really get it to work right.  Ended up running the propane stove a little to warm things up, which actually worked just as well as the furnace! 
            We made it a leisurely morning wrapped up in our blankets and heavy shirets, reading, working puzzles, etc.  Finally some breakfast (two pots of French press coffee!) and around 11:30 we are ready to head south toward Old Faithful and the geyser basins.
The swimming hole on Firehole River
     How fortunate and blessed we have been this week in terms of weather.  Yes, it is cold at night, but it is mid-October at 7,000 elevation!  What do we expect?  But the days have been sunshine and temps in the mid 60’s or so.  Indian summer at its best. 
            Our first excursion is the Firehole Canyon Road which winds through a narrow canyon, walled with volcanic rock, through which the Firehold River tumbles and falls.  The FireholeFalls are a torrent of water through a wide drop in the river bed.  I can’t believe how much water there is for late in the year.  Where IS the source for all this water?  The river is a favorite of fly fishermen and we pass dozens on our journey to Old Faithful area.  Still within the canyon we stopped again at the ‘Swimming Hole’ – a calm spot in the river where the NPS allows swimming.  It was a pristine spot. 
Giant Prism Pool at Mid-Geyser Basin
Fire on the river!
            Back on the ‘main road’ – we pass through some broad valleys, again marked with the winding river and acres of golden grasses.  With the blue sky and puffy white clouds, the colors are beautiful.  The river is dotted with steam vents  - it truly looks like a river on fire in many places. 
Awesome colors at Mid-Geyser Basin
            We stop at Midway Geyser Basin and walk the half mile loop to get a look at Giant Prismatic Spring – it is over 200’ wide.  You really can’t get a sense of the deep turquoise color in the center and the orange micro-organisms growing outward from the edge like tendrails unless you can see it from the air.  I was enchanted with the reflections of the sky in the surface.  Also at Midway we saw Excelsior Geyser – but it is in a dormant state.  Huge and bubbles gallons of water and steam that roll down the bank and into the Firehole River. 
Another reflected pool at Mid-Geyser Basin
Old Faithful blows
  On up to Old Faithful, marveling at the ‘smoking’ landscape as we drive up.  There are vents everywhere!  Buffalo roam and fisherman fly!  We grab a quick bite of lunch from the truck and head toward the Visitor Center.  The next two hours are magical moments of timing:  Old Faithful is due to erupt in 10 minutes.  We take the 3 mile loop hike past geysers that normally erupt every 14 hours or 7 hours.  We saw them both ‘blow’.  Incredible timing.  Thank you God. 
Calm behind Old Faithful geyser - Firehole River
            Our goal was to take the boardwalk path about 1.5 miles down to Morning Glory Spring – one of the most photographed ‘holes’ in the park.  We then followed the old road, now a bike path, back up to the Visitor Center.  We
Heart Springs with Castle Geyser erupting in distance.
saw dozens of deep springs, often bubbling lightly, some fiercely.  Vents with steam.  We saw the Castle Geyser erupt from across the river, and then were able to view it up close bubbling away.  We saw
Riverside Geyser erupt, as well as Beehive and Grand.  The grand geyser is the tallest predictable in the world.  It didn’t shot that high was us, but the eruption lasted over 10 minutes.   Formations of cinter created Mammoth Hot Spring like terraces, in other places cone shaped geysers.  Grotto Geyser was a favorite with its myriad of holes, out of which the water gurgled.  It erupts unpredictably, but froths a lot.  Riverside Geyser sits right down along the river’s edge (duh!) and shoots a fan of water across the river.  It has a well developed cone base and often had a tinge of a rainbow forming in the shifting sun/cloud patterns.  Many of the geysers were surrounded by the dead trees shrouded in white, or at least with the white shoes of the Clydesdales.  It was an awesome hike! 
Grand Geyser blows
            Back at the complex, we wandered into Old Faithful Inn, a National Historic Site (gosh, I could have gotten a stamp there too!) What a marvel of construction and design.  Four stories high in the main lobby, all open balconies and stairwells, laced with a tree-like structure.  Tours were being given.  We stopped in the gift shop briefly to pick up a few postcards. 
Awesome pool colors
Riverside Geyser blows
The white skeleton forest behind Grand Geyser
Grotto Geyser bubbles and vents
Morning Glory Pool
            Enroute home we took Firehole Lake Drive, another 3 mile one lane road.  It went past a couple other major geyser and hot spring formations, wound through a broad plateau laced with hot springs, and then passed Firehole Lake.  One part of the lake looked like a typical mountain lake.  The other end was steaming from a dozen various vents! 
Castle Geyser after it finished erupting
Massive clock in
Old Faithful Inn
            Back to the trailer to enjoy soup for dinner and a quiet evening.  Rick has promised me breakfast out tomorrow morning in West Yellowstone if we get up and moving a little faster!  We can do that!  Tonight is our last night of ‘boondocking’ – I can’t say I will be disappointed to be able to connect to internet, power up my devices, and enjoy the microwave and electric heater again!! 

SATURDAY, October 11
Madison CG to Bozeman, MT
105 miles

            I think we are getting out of Yellowstone just in time.  It was COLD again last night!  When I got up this morning at 6:30a, the trailer registered an even 32 degrees.  I put the water going on the stove and headed down to the bathroom, hoping I wouldn’t encounter an bears or such at that early hour in the dark.  The campground was VERY quiet!  I left the stove going for about a half hour and it warmed things up to 45 degrees.  But….we hear the forecast is for storms coming in and possibly snow!
            We were hitched up and on our way shortly after 8am.  Due to the cold, we couldn’t use the dump station (it doesn’t open until temps are well above freezing!), but Rick had emptied the rest of the water tank.  Not much was left. 
Madison River Valley to West Yellowstone
            The drive into West Yellowstone was beautiful with the rising sun behind us.  It is more of a valley than I anticipated.  The Madison River winds along under some steep rock cliffs – one almost looked El Capitanish!  Lots of fishermen were out braving the cold weather to wade in the river – pretty dedicated since most of it is catch and release!  I kept my eyes sharp trying to find the elusive moose since that is the only LARGE mammal we have failed to see.  No such luck.  
            We gas up in West Yellowstone and then find the HomeTown Café for breakfast.  A good basic meal.  Highlight was the interest in our trailer given by a gentleman from California who is up installing modular buildings in the park.  He was interested enough for Rick to give him a quick tour as we were leaving the restaurant. 
Gallatin River Canyon
   The drive on up to Bozeman was beautiful.  Mostly cloudy overcast skies, so I didn’t take very many pictures.  Thick forests, windy rivers, and a slight pass as we shifted from the Grayling River to the Gallatin River valley.  Plenty of wide valleys marked by golden grasses, red willows, and a yellow-orange shrub we couldn’t identify.  An occasional cottonwood still in color, but most of the aspens were white and leafless. We didn’t pass under jagged snowy peaks, but rather followed the Gallatin down a deep canyon marked by convoluted canyon walls, spires of erosion, and castle like formations. 
            We followed Route 191 right through Main Street of Bozeman and to the junction with I-90.  Sunrise Campground is right at that exit on the Frontage Road.  We found it without problem, checked in, paid NOTHING as he said the bill was going to the Habitat office.  We will make a donation to the Affiliate.  It was interesting as the guy said one of his family members (I can’t remember who) was the recipient of one of the first Habitat houses built in Bozeman years ago.  Perhaps it made him very receptive to our stay – I don’t know!  But he was certainly helpful. 
Hills just south of Bozeman
            First things first: a shower!!!  Boy did that feel good!  Then we did a little grocery shopping at Wal-Mart, got the oil changed in the truck.  We picked up a rotisserie chicken for dinner and enjoyed that while we did two loads of laundry.  I finished reading my book and got caught up with pictures and blogs, although had trouble getting connected to the internet for awhile.  (Fixed….just rebooted the computer!)

            Around 7 the wind started to blow and then the rain came.  The forecast is for nearly an inch of rain in the Bozeman area.  Oh boy!  I am so glad we are cozy in our trailer with electricity!!!  

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