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West 2016: Yellowstone Hot Springs

Day 8, 9 & 10, August 12, 13 & 14, 2016

Mom and I spent three days in Yellowstone National Park, touring around and seeing geothermal features, wildlife, architecture, lakes, rivers and waterfalls.  Rather than trying to do them chronologically, I am going to just do posts for each area of interest within the park, plus some posts for specifics.  Who knows where this will lead! Hang on for the ride!

Geothermal feature is the name that encompasses all of the hot water ‘stuff’ in the park.  Within that large grouping, there are:

  • Geysers – They are the most famous features, because they erupt!  Some of them regularly, some rarely.  Water in a geyser reaches temperatures of over 400 degrees F!
  • Hot Springs – These are hot water pools where the water circulates to the surface, steams and cools down, and then sinks back down to the bottom to be replaced by new hot water.  This convection process never allows the water to get quite hot enough to erupt.
  • Fumaroles – These are the hottest features.  The water is so hot it flashes into steam before it has a chance to pool.  They make hissing noises from the steam and gases.
  • Mud Pots – These are hot springs that have a limited water supply and are very acidic.  The organisms that live in them create sulfuric acid which breaks down the rock into clay, giving the mud look.  These smell like sulfur.
  • Travertine Terraces – These are found at Mammoth Hot Springs.  Thermal waters travel through limestone, with lots of carbonate. Carbon dioxide is released at the surface and calcium carbonate creates travertine, which gives the terraces the chalky white rock look.  They are unstable and change frequently.

Hot springs are the most common features in the park and we found lots of them!  As we made our way around, many areas have boardwalks where you can get close to the springs in a safe environment.  People were respectful and careful, and fortunately in control of their children – I can only imagine a toddler running and tripping here!

There were lots of different colors – oranges and blues and more subdued grays – of course I loved the more colorful ones best!

 

A gorgeous blue spring – Blue Star Spring!

 

The water is so clear in some of them!

 

Several of the springs are located in close proximity to one another.  We found the “Land of Lost Hats” right near the Old Faithful Geyser.  Don’t try to go get it if it flies off your head!

The orange is caused by the micro-organisms that live in the hot springs

 

I call this the Land of Lost Hats. It is windy here, and if you lose your hat, you aren’t going to want to go in after it…

 

Me with one of the many hot springs near Old Faithful

 

Grand Prismatic Spring is one of the most famous springs in the park – it combines blues with bright oranges.  It is the largest hot spring in the United States and the third largest in the world!  The blue is caused by the reflection off of particles in the water.  The oranges are caused by microbial mats.  Interestingly, in winter the microbial mats are more dark green, as the ratio of chlorophyll to carotenoids changes with the seasons.

Grand Prismatic Spring

 

An unfortunate dragonfly in Grand Prismatic Spring

 

Me with Grand Prismatic Spring – one of Yellowstone’s most famous springs

Grand Prismatic Spring is a popular area – expect waits for parking in the summer.  You also get views of the river and several other springs, making it worthwhile to stop and wander around.

A hot spring near the river

 

Hot spring water flows into the river

 

I loved the gorgeous bright blues!

 

Firehole Spring is located off of Firehole Drive, a 3 mile detour from the main road that has a lake and several geysers and springs.  It also has the oranges and blues in abundance.

Me with Firehole Spring

You could probably spend years looking at all the springs and never see them all.  Not to mention you might not be able to identify them later when you look at your photos!  I was fascinated though – comparing all the shapes and colors, and watching the steam rise up from them.  What a sight!

 

West 2016: Devil’s Tower NM

Day 6, August 10, 2016

After Jewel Cave, we were on our way – our next destination was Devil’s Tower National Monument. Devil’s Tower is a laccolithic butte made up of igneous rock that rises 1,267 feet above the Belle Fourche River and 5,112 feet above sea level. If you are like me, you have no idea what that means.  Basically, it is where magma pushes up and creates a dome or mushroom shaped form on a flat base.  Scientists don’t know how it occurred but Devil’s Tower is a very distinct type of laccolith; the tower is made up of many columns that are all smooshed together into one big column.  Kind of like a whole collection of many sided pencils held together by a rubber band.

A view of the Tower in the distance.

The tower is part of the Native American creation story. According to the Kiowa and the Lakota, the tower was formed when a group of girls were chased by several giant bears. To escape, the girls climbed onto a rock and began praying to the Great Spirit. The Great Spirit lifted the rock from the ground and as the bears tried to climb the tower to get to the girls, their claws left the marks in the sides of the tower that are visible today. When the tower reached toward the sky, the girls became stars in the sky above.

A closer view of the Tower

The monument was designated by Theodore Roosevelt on September 24, 1906; it was the first monument designated under the recently passed Antiquities Act.

When we arrived, we discovered we had re-entered Sturgis biker heaven – the place was crawling with bikers. They did have parking attendants at the monument though, directing cars and bikes to two different parking areas.

We checked out the monument from the front, and I wanted to walk around it – it is a 1.3 mile walk and you can see the monument from many angles. My mom didn’t want to walk around it, so she settled in to listen to a ranger talk about the tower in Native American stories. Devil’s Tower is a sacred site for many tribes in the area, so there are beautiful prayer bundles tied in the trees around the base of the monument; it was powerful to reflect on the spirituality of the place.

Prayer bundles at the base of the Tower

Around the back of the monument, there is a historic ladder that ascends up the crevice between two of the columns. It was interesting, but unless there was a lot more to it back in the day, I wouldn’t have been willing to climb that ladder!  The backside of the monument was nice; there were hardly any people who walked around to the back, and I was also treated to views of climbers scaling the monument.

The historic ladder at Devil’s Tower. No Way…

 

Climbers on the back side of Devil’s Tower

I did enjoy the walk, even though it was pretty hot that day, and I got a few different ladies to take my photo with the tower. However, as I learned later, apparently I needed to clarify that I wanted the tower (or the WHOLE tower) in the photo as well. Live and Learn!

This lady took a picture of me AND the tower

When I got back from my walk, I was able to catch the last bit of the ranger talk. She shared many interesting stories, highlighting the importance and spiritual nature of the place from the Native American perspective.

Also of interest at Devil’s Tower National Monument is a – you might have already guessed – prairie dog town! You know how I feel about these adorable little critters! Of course we stopped to watch them and take photos. I really could not get enough of the prairie dogs on this trip, if that wasn’t already obvious. How can you resist those cute faces?! And the short little tails!

Prairie Dog! Look at those claws!

 

Look! They are kissing!

 

Prairie Dogs Playing

After Devil’s Tower, we made our way to our hotel for the evening a La Quinta in Gillette, Wyoming. Gillette was really a stopover town on our way to Yellowstone and Cody, but we did have a bit of time to explore the cute little downtown area.

Downtown Gillette, Wyoming. I would have liked to see this!

We had dinner at Fiesta Tequila Mexican restaurant and I had some of the best fajitas I have ever had! They were so delicious! Mom really loved her arroz con pollo too, so if you find yourself in Gillette, check out this restaurant!  We had some time to relax before bed too; we couldn’t stay up too late, we had another big day the next day!

 

Costs and Fees: $15 per car at Devil’s Tower National Monument; free with an annual pass.

Distance for the Day: Custer, SD – Jewel Cave National Monument, Custer, SD – Devil’s Tower National Monument, Devil’s Tower, WY – Gillette, WY (3 hrs, 172 miles)

Hotel for the night: La Quinta – Gillette, WY

West 2016: Badlands NP Scenery

Day 4: August 8, 2016

Badlands was one of the places I was most excited about on our trip.  I love desert landscapes, and was really looking forward to seeing the spectacular colors of the eroded buttes and the prairie grasses.  Badlands National Park did not disappoint.

Mom and me with the Badlands Sign! Can you tell by my hair that it was windy?

Mom and me with the Badlands Sign! Can you tell by my hair that it was windy?

After arriving at the park, and snapping the obligatory poses with the entrance sign, my mom and I stopped at the first viewpoint – the Big Badlands Overlook.  The views here were amazing, with the buttes showing all their beautiful colors and the grass down below (pictures don’t really do it justice).  We were able to get some great photos of the scenery and enjoy our first looks at the park.  But wow, was it hot!  It was hovering between 95 and 97 degrees!  Wow!  So of course, I have a very red face in all my photos that day, from the heat!

Mom and me - Selfies overlooking the buttes

Mom and me – Selfies overlooking the buttes

 

Piddles enjoying the view of the Badlands

Piddles enjoying the view of the Badlands

We stopped at the Ben Reifel Visitor’s Center and had a picnic lunch outside.  The picnic tables have space-agey sun covers over them to protect you from the heat – you do have to be careful about pinning your stuff down so it doesn’t blow away though!  There was a bit of a breeze the day we were there, which of course made the heat slightly more bearable.  Then we went inside and watched the park movie and checked out the exhibits in the Visitor’s Center.  They had a great exhibit on the pre-historic animals and fossil record within the park.

Some of the spires towering above the prairie grasses

Some of the spires towering above the prairie grasses

After the Visitor’s Center, we headed out to see more of the park.  We stopped at lots of the viewpoints and I did some short hikes.  I hiked up the hill at the Saddle Pass trail head while my mom waited at the car, doing some sketching and journaling.  It was a short but very steep uphill climb to some great views, made much more challenging by the fact that the terrain was loose scree, so I slid back down a little bit at several points.  I didn’t end up going all the way up the hill, but I managed to get high enough to enjoy the scenery, and for the car to look like a little dot in the distance below.

The view from near the top of Saddle Pass - our car a speck in the distance

The view from near the top of Saddle Pass – our car a speck in the distance

Mom and I also walked the 1/2 mile Fossil Walk.  It is a flat boardwalk trail that has interpretive plaques showing the types of fossils that have been found in the park.  It was neat seeing what is buried underneath the layers here, and getting a close up view of the colors in the landscape.  Fossils found here include dogs, alligators, rhinoceroses, and ammonites.  There were lots of kids climbing on the buttes here – they had a lot of energy for such a hot day!

Me on the Fossil Walk

Me on the Fossil Walk

The Yellow Mounds Overlook and the Pinnacles Overlook were fairly self-explanatory.  Although they did promise rattlesnakes, and the only one we saw all day was one that was dead and flat in the road (sorry I didn’t get a photo…).

The Yellow Mounds at Badlands - yellow indeed!

The Yellow Mounds at Badlands – yellow indeed!

 

They promised! But Badlands did not deliver

They promised! But Badlands did not deliver…

As sad as it was though that we didn’t see any rattlesnakes, we did see plenty of wildlife at Badlands – I’ll be posting about them next!

 

Badlands National Park History

Badlands National Park is a picture of contrasts.  While seemingly a harsh desolate environment made up of eroded buttes, spires and pinnacles, it also contains the largest undisturbed mixed grass prairie in the United States.  A prairie that teams with life.

Badlands began as Badlands National Monument on March 4, 1929 when it was authorized by Herbert Hoover, although it wasn’t established until January 25, 1939 (Franklin Roosevelt was President by then).  It was re-designated as a National Park on November 10, 1978.  The park protects 242,756 acres of land, of which 64,144 is designated wilderness.  The park had 966,263 visitors in 2016 – my mom and I were two of them!!

A stunning badlands view...

A stunning badlands view…

The park boundaries are brimming with fossils; it actually contains the richest deposits of Oligocene mammals known.  It sort of boggles the mind to imagine mammals roaming around on this land 33 million years ago, but there they were.  The fossil remains in the park include camels, three-toed horses, oreodonts, antelope-like animals, rhinoceroses, deer-like mammals, rabbits, beavers, creodonts, land turtles, rodents and birds.  There are also a fair number of marine animals in the fossil record here, including ammonites, nautiloids, fish, marine reptiles, and turtles.

Badlands has known human habitation for approximately 11,000 years.  The paleo-Indians, although little studied, are the inhabitants who arrived after crossing the ice bridge from Eurasia in the late Pleistocene period (“i” before “e” except after “c”, or in Pleistocene, apparently…).  Stone tools, including projectile points, have been found in the area, as well as charcoal from ancient campfires.  Later came the Arikara, and then the Lakota, who used the elevation of the Badlands Wall to scout for herds for hunting, as well as approaching enemies.

At the end of the 19th century, homesteaders and gold miners moved into the nearby area, and the U.S. government forced the tribes onto reservations, including one called the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.  Many of the Oglala Sioux in the area fought the orders to move to reservations, and instead chose to defy the order, following the prophet Wovoka.  From this movement, the Ghost Dance was born.  The Sioux believed that the Ghost Dance would restore their land and force the white settlers and government agents to leave, and that the Ghost Shirts that they wore would be impervious to bullets.  Well…  This didn’t end up panning out, and sadly the ghost dancers, being pursued by government troops in 1890, ended up seeking refuge on the Pine Ridge Reservation.

Gunfire erupted as the soldiers were attempting to disarm the group – as the story goes a deaf man named Black Coyote was reluctant to give up his rifle, since he had paid a lot for it.  On December 29, 1890, what became known as the Wounded Knee Massacre killed over 300 Native Americans and 30 soldiers.  It was the last big clash between Plains Indians and U.S. troops in the series of clashes that became known as the Indian Wars.  The Pine Ridge Reservation now contains the Stronghold Unit and the Pine Creek Unit of Badlands National Park within its boundaries.  Although the site of the Wounded Knee Massacre is not within the boundaries of the park, it is nearby and open to the public.

Badlands has lots to do – there are hikes of all levels, from a 0.25 mile flat traverse over a raised boardwalk to a 10 mile back-country hike.  The trails range from easy to strenous, but you do need to plan accordingly for extreme temperatures and weather (both in summer and winter).  You can back-country camp, cycle on the roads (paved, dirt or gravel), and there is a night sky program.  Wildlife viewing is also popular at the park, with prairie dogs, bison, deer, pronghorn, Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep, badgers, coyotes, bobcats, and black-footed ferrets being just some of the species found in the park.  67 species of birds are known to nest within the park and over 200 species have been documented there.  There are also reptiles, amphibians and butterflies present there.

I have been excited about visiting this park for a long time, and I was finally going to be able to visit!  Posts coming soon!

 

 

Theodore Roosevelt National Park History

In 1883, Theodore Roosevelt headed out to North Dakota to hunt bison, who were at that point close to extinction. He fell in love with the bison, hunting, and the rugged extremes of the area.  While there, he decided to purchase the Maltese Cross Ranch – a cattle ranch already being managed by two men, and he left it in their hands. He returned for the rugged solitude after his wife and mother both died on Valentine’s Day, 1884, and purchased and developed another ranch a bit further north. He credits his time in North Dakota as helping to get over the loss and his gut wrenching grief.

Both ranches operated for a couple of years, until a particularly harsh winter in 1886-1887 wiped out most of his cattle, who were unable to get down to the grasses beneath the snow. Although his ranches ultimately failed, his time in North Dakota and his experiences on his ranches guided his later conservation attitudes and policies during and after his Presidency.

After Roosevelt died in 1919, the government began exploring the Little Missouri Badlands to see if there were options for park sites. The CCC had camps in the park between 1934 and 1941, and they made roads and built some of the buildings still in use today. It was designated the Roosevelt Recreation Demonstration Area in 1935, although I have no idea what they were demonstrating.

In 1946 the designation was changed to the Theodore Roosevelt National Wildlife Refuge and the land was transferred to the US Department of Fish and Wildlife. But then President Truman stepped in and established the Theodore Roosevelt National Memorial Park on April 25, 1947. It was the only National Memorial Park ever established – somehow I guess the concept didn’t really take off. In 1978, more land was added to the park and the boundaries were changed, and it finally became Theodore Roosevelt National Park on November 10, 1978. Talk about a roundabout way to get to National Park status!

The West Entrance to the South Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park in Medora, North Dakota. And me!

The West Entrance to the South Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park in Medora, North Dakota. And me!

The park today consists of three units that are geographically separate from each other. The South Unit, near Medora, North Dakota is the most visited unit, and contains a wide variety of wildlife, including bison, prairie dogs, feral horses, coyotes, badgers, elk, bighorn sheep, cougars, white-tailed deer and mule deer, and more than 100 species of birds including golden eagles, sharp-tailed grouse, and wild turkeys. The North Unit is about 80 miles north of the South Unit, and the Elkhorn Ranch Unit, which contains the site of Roosevelt’s second ranch, is in between the two.

The climate is one of extremes; the prairie grasslands get very hot in the summer, and winter temperatures are very cold with lots of snow. The Little Missouri River flows through all three units of the park. Wildlife spotting is a popular activity, due to the abundance of large animals in the park.  There are over 100 miles of hiking trails, and visitors can also do back country horseback trips. They just need to be prepared for hot summer weather and little protection from the sun. There are three developed campgrounds in the park; two in the South Unit and one in the North Unit. The sky is known for its dark night skies, and the northern lights are even sometimes visible.

In total, there are 70,446 acres under the protection of the park, and in 2011, it received 563,407 visitors. It is certainly one of the lesser visited parks, due to its more remote location.  I was excited to visit again, because I had visited Theodore Roosevelt National Park in 1978, shortly before it gained National Park status.  I have the pictures to prove it!  More in my upcoming posts!

Hasta La Vista 2016!

While I can’t say that 2016 has been the best year, it has become a tradition to do the annual year in review.  Although in some ways, I won’t be sorry to see 2016 go, I still have to remember that even with its ups and downs, I do live a truly blessed life.  So without further ado…

  1. My beloved grandmother passed away in February at the age of 98.  She lived a long, blessed life, filled with God, family and good friends, and she was ready to go be with my grandfather again.  I was lucky to have her for the first 40 years of my life, but I will miss her always.
  2. I took a wonderful girls trip to San Diego in April, full of bonding with friends and relaxing in the California sunshine.  We celebrated Allysa’s 50th birthday and saw the sights.  I tried SUP-ping for the first time too!
  3. I did quite a bit of local hiking this year.  I hiked Fragrance Lake twice, the Ozette Triangle at Olympic National Park, and the Chain Lakes loop at Mount Baker.  There is a peace found on the trail that is unmatched elsewhere.
  4. I took a long weekend to visit my aunt, uncle and cousins in Oregon and Southern Washington.  We went to a small town rodeo and went white water rafting on the stunning White Salmon River.
  5. My mom and I took a 10 day road trip through Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming in August.  It was wonderful to spend so much time with my amazing mother, seeing the sights and laughing throughout our adventure.  More posts coming soon!
  6. I completed my 8th half marathon, the Woodinville Wine Country Half Marathon, in September with my dear friend Katie, with our friend Shelley providing support.  Even though the weather sucked, my 13.1 mile slog through rain and wind ended with a new personal record and a definite feeling of accomplishment!  And wine!
  7. My horse and the kitties are all happy and healthy.  Biz is down to just three old man teeth, and gave me a scare recently when he suddenly lost a ton of weight, but he is now on the mend and making me feel more comfortable about him weathering the winter.  At the ripe old age of 29, I am keenly aware that time with him is getting short, but the memories I have with him will last a lifetime.
  8. In November I took a long weekend trip to revisit Astoria, Oregon.  I went to see some old sights and some new, and relaxed over a beer at some of the town’s best breweries.  Even though the forecast called for a weekend of rain, I walked everywhere and stayed completely dry!  The rain began as I got into the car to head home.
  9. I am close to the two year anniversary at my job, and continue to enjoy the challenges and successes.  My staff are second to none.  And the vacation accrual is wonderful, as is the summer schedule!

I didn’t post as much in 2016 as I had hoped to, but still have many posts coming about my West trip, the half-marathon and Astoria.  I am hopeful that 2017 will have me back on a more regular posting schedule, as well as experiencing many new adventures.

Know that I am eternally grateful for all of you that I count as readers, family and friends.  Here’s to peace and happiness in the New Year.  Cheers!

Planning for The West 2016

In August 2016, my mom and I decided to do a road trip of the west. There are a number of National Parks in North and South Dakota that I have been interested in seeing for some time, and it was time to knock some off of my bucket list!  I am so glad that my mom was game to do this trip with me!

I looked into flying into Rapid City, South Dakota and was surprised to find that plane tickets from Washington State were going to be almost $1,000 each! Ditto with Bismarck, North Dakota. It was time to change the Plan of Action. Fortunately, I found flights for just over $200 per person to Billings, Montana. A bit more driving, but we were on our way!

The second hurdle was hotel prices. I was kind of surprised by the cost of hotels; I get that it was summer, but they still seemed really high for parts of small town North and South Dakota. Once I discovered that our trip coincided with the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in South Dakota, it all made more sense… I did ultimately find some reasonable prices for hotel rooms, but it took more research – and we didn’t stay at luxury accommodations…  Good thing my mama is flexible…

The car was another matter. For 12 days, our car ended up costing $497; which, with the exception of Colorado, is much higher than I have seen for my other long trips. Peak summer period, plus I think some of the higher price was due to the fact that the Takata airbag recall had taken so many rental cars off the road – car manufacturers were telling people not to drive their cars and were giving owners loaner rentals at no cost.  That would do it…  We booked a car originally at $525, then rebooked when the price went down to the $497 that we ended up with.  Ouch…

With our flight schedule set, I planned a loop that would begin in Montana and go through North and South Dakota, before moving into Wyoming and finally ending up back in Montana to fly home. I had an ambitious itinerary (don’t I always!) – Theodore Roosevelt National Park, Wind Cave National Park, Mount Rushmore, Badlands National Park and Devil’s Tower National Monument to start. With the extra loop in Montana for flights, I expanded the itinerary to include Little Bighorn Battlefield, Yellowstone National Park, and Grand Teton National Park. Since we were going to be so close, I also put Jewel Cave National Monument and the Crazy Horse Memorial on the list!

west-trip-map

Our route wasn’t quite what appears in the map above, as Google Maps was not cooperating as I tried to drag its little points around to where I wanted them.  Technology… Sheesh… It is close though, and you get the gist…

I planned a crazy-busy trip, and I was excited to get started!