Archives

Yellowstone Road Trip 2017: Springs and Falls

Day 7, Sunday, July 30, 2017

Sunday was our last full day in Yellowstone, so we tried to see some of the sights that we hadn’t yet made it to.  We started out by driving over the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, which is not far from the Canyon Campground where we were staying.  We stopped for a short hike at the Brink of the Upper Falls – you can hike down to the viewpoint and watch the waterfall cascade over the brink.

The Yellowstone River at the Brink of the Upper Falls

 

Me at the Brink of the Upper Falls

 

Our next stop was Artist Point.  Artist Point is just that – a viewpoint with amazing opportunities for beautiful paintings and photography of the Lower Falls.  Interestingly, its name was a mistake.  F. Jay Haynes, Yellowstone photographer in the 1890s, thought that this was the place where Thomas Moran painted his famous paintings of the Lower Falls in 1872.  It wasn’t – that distinction belongs to Moran Point on the north rim – which is now called Lookout Point.  Despite the confusion – go – it is beautiful!

Me with the Lower Falls

 

Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone

We stopped at the Gibbon Meadows picnic area for lunch.  It is right along the Gibbon River, which quietly meanders along at that point.  The kids played on the banks of the river for a little while we got lunch ready; peanut butter wrap sandwiches.  Super-FANCY!

Next up after lunch was the Midway Geyser Basin; we went to Grand Prismatic Spring.  I had been there the year before with my mom, so it was neat to go again!  I do have to admit that it was pretty nerve-wracking following my nieces and nephew around on that boardwalk crowded with people and the hot, hot, water right there!  It is probably not considered acceptable to have 10, 8 and 5 year olds on leashes?  There is a new trail that leads up to an overlook above Grand Prismatic Spring; it is about a mile long.  We were going to hike up that trail to get a different perspective, but we weren’t able to find it!  Granted, we didn’t look that hard either.  So the overlook above Grand Prismatic Spring remains on the list of things to do next time I am in Yellowstone!

Grand Prismatic Spring

We visited Gibbon Falls; the signs explain that Gibbon Falls in right on the edge of the caldera that was created with the volcanic eruption 640,000 years ago.  If you go south from Gibbon Falls, you travel into the caldera.  If you go north, you move out of the caldera.  Even though you can’t see the caldera, it was interesting to ponder driving through a giant volcanic crater.  I walked down to get a view of the falls, where it promptly started to hail!  Yep, that’s right, it seemed we weren’t going to get away from the terrible rain on this trip!  By the time we got back to the car, all of us were soaked – right down to sloshy shoes.  We all took our shoes and socks off even – except my poor brother, who was driving.

Gibbon Falls

On our drive back to camp, we went up north through the Mammoth Hot Springs and Tower areas of the park once again.  The wildlife spotting was amazing!  In just a short period of time, driving on the road, we saw two Sandhill cranes, a coyote, and believe or not, two mules.  Of course, the mules were obviously domestic animals who escaped, but they managed to get away without their halters. I can only hope that they were caught soon enough.

Back at camp, we saw a giant bull elk hanging out.  He was injured, so he likely sought refuge in the relative safety of a campground – wolves and bears likely stay further away than the middle of camp.  He was eating and relaxing, and hopefully it was just a temporary injury.

Dinner that evening was spaghetti and meatballs with my aunt and uncle, and my sister-in-law’s mom, sister, niece and nephew.  Why do we not have better familial names for our in-laws’ families? I digress. We hung out around the campfire, and had birthday donuts in honor of my niece’s birthday.  What a fun day!

 

Distance for the Day: Driving within park
Canyon Campground, Yellowstone National Park: $30 per night for a tent site

Advertisements

Yellowstone Road Trip 2017: Mammoth Hot Springs

Day 6, Saturday, July 29, 2017

After spending quite a bit of time at the Lamar Valley watching all of the wildlife, coffee was in order, so we headed over to the Tower area to see Tower Falls.  There is a small Ranger Station there too that has its own stamp!  It also had a nice visual of the wolf packs in the park, so you can tell which pack you are watching.  Outside there was a beautiful deer just begging to be photographed!

Mule Deer in the Tower Area

Tower Fall has a 132 foot drop, where it then joins with the confluence of the Yellowstone River.  It was named in 1928 for the large rock formations at the top of the fall that look like towers.  There is an overlook, or you can hike down a half mile to the base of the falls.  We didn’t hike down to it, but it is certainly on the to-do list; the view looks like it is fantastic!  Tower Fall has a General Store too, perfect for a coffee pick-me-up after an early morning!

Tower Fall

Did you know that Yellowstone National Park has petrified wood?  It even has a petrified tree – still standing!  We stopped for a look; it is just a short walk from the parking area.  While there we also saw a Uinta Ground Squirrel!  These little guys are so cute!  We also saw a group trail riding on horseback – that would be a fun way to see the park sometime.

 

Petrified Wood at Yellowstone

 

Uinta Ground Squirrel

 

Trail Riders

 

We were ready for lunch by the time we hit the Fort Yellowstone picnic area.  More Uinta Ground Squirrels were popping up out of their burrows on the lawn!

Uinta Ground Squirrel

A visit to Mammoth Hot Springs and a walk on the raised boardwalk was next – I was glad to give this area a bit more attention since my mom and I hadn’t stopped here on our previous trip the year before.  I loved the travertine terraces – they are stunning!  They have been formed over thousands of years, as heated spring water carries calcium carbonate and deposits it as it cools.  The travertine is white, but the algae in the thermal water creates brown, orange, red and green features.

The kids enjoyed wandering on the boardwalks, but I think they got a little bored by the terraces; I didn’t though – the view was gorgeous!  My one niece was a little grumpy, so we started pointing out poop piles to her – because there are few more effective ways to annoy a pre-teen girl…  The kids were troopers though and we went all the way to the top of the lower terraces, despite the heat.

 

Violet-Green Swallows at Mammoth Hot Springs

 

Our drive back to camp took us south, where we stopped at Sheepeater Cliff – a columnar formation. It is really cool to see!

Sheepeater Cliff

 

Ground Squirrel at Sheepeater Cliff

We wandered a little bit along the river there too.  We saw people swimming in the Firehole River on the drive back too; this is one of the few river areas where you are permitted to swim.

We got back to camp and I took a nap in my tent during yet another rainstorm.  There is something very peaceful about the patter of raindrops on the rain fly as you sleep…  It didn’t last all night though, and we had a campfire after dinner – the family hung out and roasted marshmallows.  Perfect!

Distance for the Day: Driving within park
Canyon Campground, Yellowstone National Park: $30 per night for a tent site

 

Yellowstone Road Trip 2017: Lamar Valley

Day 6, Saturday, July 29, 2017

We got up early – 5:30!  We bundled the kids in the car, still in their pajamas and were pulling away from camp at 6.  Our goal?  Wildlife in the Lamar Valley.

We drove up north, through Dunraven Pass and towards the valley.  We caught the sunrise, which was beautiful, even though it wasn’t particularly colorful.

Sunrise at Yellowstone

 

We spotted a small herd of elk on the hill and were able to get some photos – the first decent ones of the trip.

Elk, on our way to the Lamar Valley

 

Then, a truly spectacular sighting – a young black bear!  He was wandering alone next to the road, on his way somewhere.  Each car got a chance to pull up alongside him and watch for a little bit as he walked along – he wasn’t bothered in the least by the attention.  In general, he was moving behind the trees and bushes, so it was impossible to get a clear photo; here’s the best one I got.  But the experience of seeing him was amazing!

 

Black Bear!

We started seeing bison in large numbers – finally the herds we were looking for!  They are so massive and so beautiful!  In late July there are lots of calves too – at this point in the summer they have mostly lost their newborn red coats.

My nephew checking out a bison

As we got closer to the valley there was a sighting of Pronghorn!  Now, Susanna had heard of Pronghorn before the trip, and I had told her how many I had seen on previous trips in the area, and had spent days pointing out the scrubby grasslands that Pronghorn seem to like so much, but we hadn’t actually SEEN any Pronghorn yet.  Susanna was starting to believe that I was telling tales about mythical creatures…  So it was good to finally see some!

Pronghorn in Lamar Valley

 

Finally in the Lamar Valley, we saw the big herds of bison that we had been waiting for.  They are so beautiful!  And the babies are so cute!  We also did some viewing of another wolf pack that lives in the Lamar Valley – probably the Junction Butte pack.  A couple of times they were hunting, and trying to separate a bison from the herd, but without much intention.  They also spent some time chasing a herd of pronghorn, without making a kill.  I don’t know how I would have felt if they were successful – I know, I know, the cycle of life…  It was very cool to watch though!

 

 

We were lucky enough to see one more black bear – he crossed the road right in front of us!  We weren’t expecting to see him though, so nobody was camera ready.  Some of those experiences just have to be captured in your mind!

Yellowstone Road Trip 2017: Old Faithful and West Thumb

Day 5, Friday, July 28, 2017

We planned to meet up with my aunt and uncle, who spent last summer working at the bookstore over at Old Faithful’s Visitor’s Center.   If you haven’t been to Yellowstone before, you may not realize that it is a huge park, so the driving distances can be long.  Heading over to that area of the park – we planned a whole day trip to hang out in that section.

On the way, we stopped at the Kepler Cascades; it is a waterfall on the Firehole River that drops approximately 150 feet over multiple drops – the longest one is 50 feet tall.  Kepler Cascades was first discovered on the 1870 expedition, but it wasn’t named until 1881.  It is named for the son, Kepler, of the Wyoming Territorial Governor, John Wesley Hoyt.  Kepler Cascades are just a short walk from the parking lot, so it is a popular waterfall in the park – plus it is beautiful!

Kepler Cascades

 

Me at Kepler Cascades

Once we got to Old Faithful, we found Donna and Greg and saw the eruption of Old Faithful.  It never gets old!

Old Faithful erupting

After that, we did the Ranger Talk with the kids on Growing Up In Yellowstone.  One of the rangers spent her childhood in Yellowstone, as the daughter of a Ranger, so she talked about what it was like to spend winters there, traveling on snowmobile, having to have all your supplies stocked for weeks at a time, and doing things like cross country skiing for fun.  She also talked about the school system that existing for the approximately 20 children that lived there with their Ranger parents.

We did a walk around the Upper Geyser Basin Loop and saw geysers and hot springs.  We waited a bit for Grand Geyser to erupt, mostly because there were a lot of people sitting there looking like something was going to happen.  We waited about 15 minutes and then got bored, so we left.  Of course it erupted when we got over to Castle Geyser, so I got some photos of Castle Geyser, with Grand Geyser erupting in the distance.

After our geyser tour, we went to the Old Faithful Lodge to look around, and I got some mango sorbet – others got ice cream!

 

Old Faithful Inn

We checked out the Visitor’s Center, which had a fantastic exhibit on geysers and how they work.  While we were looking, they announced that Beehive Geyser was going to erupt shortly, so Greg, my niece and I ran over there to catch it.  It is a cool geyser!

Beehive Geyser erupting

 

Beehive Geyser with another in the distance

We planned to head over to Donna and Greg’s campsite for dinner – so I biked over with Greg, while Donna took my seat in the van to show my brother where to go.  We worked on our Junior Ranger books and my niece did some whittling, until it was time for dinner.  It was a full spread of brats, corn dogs, potato salad, chips, and pickles and olives.  Yummy!  There’s just something about camping food that really hits the spot!

We were talking about where to see elk, and Greg mentioned that there were always elk in the evenings in the West Thumb area, near the thermals there.  After dinner, we drove over there and checked it out.  There was an impending thunder and lightning storm – because we just couldn’t get away from it!  But the recent (and current) rain made for a gorgeous rainbow over Lake Yellowstone!  There were, however, no elk to be found.  Not a one.

We said our goodbyes and drove home to our campsite in the rain and a hail storm.  On the way, we did see three elk, but it was too dark for photos and one was tucked in the trees too.

Thankfully the storm had cleared when we made it back to camp – it was another cold night though!

Distance for the Day: Driving within park
Canyon Campground, Yellowstone National Park: $30 per night for a tent site

Yellowstone Road Trip 2017: Storm Running

Day 4, Thursday, July 27, 2017

This morning we got up, had breakfast, and piled in the van about 10 am.

Our first destination was the Hayden Valley, where it quickly became apparent that there wasn’t much wildlife to be spotted.  The kids wanted to see bison and there were very few!  We did stop for a bit to check out some distant wolves from Mollie’s Pack, who were hanging out in the same area where they were the previous summer, when I visited with my mom.  They were beautiful!

A wolf from Mollie’s Pack (Susanna’s Photo)

We stopped at Dragon’s Mouth Spring and the Mud Volcano, and did a short boardwalk walk to look at the thermal features.  The kids, as expected, were not impressed by the stinky, sulfur smelling thermals.  I have to admit, of all the geysers, mud-pots and other thermal features, these aren’t the most exciting.  But who could miss something called a Mud Volcano, or Dragon’s Mouth Spring?

Dragon’s Mouth Spring

 

The Mud Volcano – Yep, it’s muddy

We headed next to the Visitor’s Center at Fishing Bridge, and I got my passport stamps – and we found out there was a Ranger Talk later for the kids on river otters.  Next up Pelican Valley and a short hike – where it promptly starting pouring rain – with thunder and lightning!  Lightning in these areas makes me nervous, but the kids were whining because it was pouring and my brother made us all stop so we could “enjoy the experience.”  Sorry bro, I gotta say, I am with the kids on this one!  I was glad when we got back to the car after our one mile hike – we were soaked!

 

 

We had originally packed a picnic lunch, but we ended up eating in the van because of the rain.  You win some, you lose some!

We tried to find another hike called Storm Point (ironic given the day), at Indian Pond, but we weren’t successful, and there was more thunder and lightning so we decided to scrap that idea and try to get out of the immediate path of the storm.  We headed out towards the East Entrance and found our first close up bison.  The kids loved it, so we all piled out of the car to take a look.

Our first look at a bison up close!

We also checked out a viewpoint that gave a fantastic view of Lake Yellowstone, as well as the damage caused by the the fires several years ago.  Of course, as we were up there, we heard the thunder start to roll in.  The weather changes so quickly!  Seemed like a good time to get off the mountain – so we headed down to lower elevations.

The view of Yellowstone Lake

Next up we found the LeHardy Rapids.  My mom and I had wanted to see it on our trip the year before, but it had been closed because there was a grizzly hanging out there!  The rapids are seen from a gentle walk along the Yellowstone River, with boardwalks in many places.  A man showed us where Cutthroat Trout hide in the calmer waters along the side of the river.  They jump the rapids to get to their spawning sites.

Lake Trout were introduced to Lake Yellowstone, likely in the 1980s, and are decimating the Cutthroat Trout population.  Lake Trout are bigger, swim deeper, and eat Cutthroat Trout.  Unfortunately, animals like otters and osprey don’t prey on Lake Trout much because they are too deep in the water. It was a nice walk and the kids enjoyed looking for the fish.

 

We went back to the Fishing Bridge Visitor’s Center to see the Ranger Talk on river otters.  River otters weigh between 10 and 30 pounds, and eat primarily fish, but also young beavers and frogs.  They have about 50 layers of fur to keep them insulated!  They steal dens from beavers, and can hear fish in the water when they are on shore.  What fantastically adapted animals!

There was another thunderstorm with hail when we were driving back to camp, so we went to the Canyon Visitor’s Center to wait it out.  I watched the movie they have there and we learned a lot about the park.

We got a few groceries and went back to camp when the sun came back out – what a crazy day for weather!  Dinner was a noodle box, with sausages, cucumber slices and canned corn.  Not fancy but still delicious!

That evening, after dinner, several of us headed over to the Visitor’s Center nearby for a Ranger Talk with Ranger Cass Hennings on the history of Yellowstone, called “What’s in a Name?”  She engaged us with tales of the first explorers, and how the various places in Yellowstone got their names.  Places like Dunraven Pass, Sheepeater Cliff and even how the Yellowstone River came to be named Yellowstone! She told us the story of Truman Everts, who got lost for 37 days during an 1870 expedition, getting frostbite, scalding himself with hot thermal water and setting his hair of fire and starting a small forest fire.  Oops…  Ranger Hennings also shared information on the Native Americans and how they used the park too.  It was really interesting!  They normally do the evening Ranger talks outside in the amphitheater, but it was really cold and threatening to rain and thunderstorm – again!

After the talk, we head back to our pitch black campsite and headed to bed – it was very cold, but finally clear!

Distance for the Day: Driving within park
Canyon Campground, Yellowstone National Park: $30 per night for a tent site

 

Yellowstone Road Trip 2017: Yellowstone Arrival

Day 3, Wednesday, July 26, 2017

I woke up to a breeze at our campground in Arco, Idaho, and knew that it would start raining soon.  And it did – pretty much immediately after I had that first thought about it.  I got up and got going quickly, tearing down my tent and getting it all packed up and ready to go before the rain got too heavy.  I went and showered, since the kids were not as motivated to get moving!  After that, I took them for waffles at the breakfast bar at the campground, while Michael and Susanna packed up their stuff.  YUM!

We finally got everything and everyone in the van and hit the road; we decided to stop at Cabela’s for rain jackets for the kids.  Note: some kids HATE rain jackets – they feel “funny,” so you can imagine how this trip went!  We also got a pop-up rain/shade tent thing for any rainy days along the way.  Then we were all set!  Today was the day we were getting to Yellowstone!

There is a lot of driving on the way to Wyoming, by the way, but soon we made it!  We got into the park through the West Entrance and fairly soon we saw our first wildlife – a couple of elk!  The kids were fascinated.  We also saw a few bison and some pelicans and geese.

Elk Butt!

 

White Pelicans and Canada Geese

 

We didn’t want to do too much sightseeing though, because we needed to get our campsite set up and ready for our five nights there!  We checked in, got firewood, got our campsite number, and headed over to see where we would be!  Our site was in the trees and on a small slope, so we really had to scope out our spots for two tents.  We got tents up, got our shade/rain tent up and got settled in.  My tent was only about 20 feet from my brother’s, but at night, was I far enough away that I would get eaten by bears!?

Our tents at camp

 

We had a fire, and turned in relatively early, and of course it rained… Hard!  But my little tent stayed dry!

Distance for the Day: 2 hours, 53 minutes; 167 miles
Yellowstone Entrance Fee: $30 per vehicle for 7 days, free with a National Parks Pass
Canyon Campground, Yellowstone National Park: $30 per night for a tent site

Yellowstone Road Trip 2017: World Center for Birds of Prey

Day 2, Tuesday, July 25, 2017

We woke up in Farewell Bend State Park on a cooler, but still hot, and still breezy morning.  I took a shower – the water took a long time to warm up so most of it was cold… Then we had omelettes and chocolate muffins for breakfast.  We live such a rough camping life! Tear down and packing the car took a bit of time, as it was our first attempt at re-Tetrising on the road.  I had my stuff packed and ready to go long before the kids, so I helped their parents try to wrangle them and we got on the road at 9:30.

Our next stop was at the World Center for Birds of Prey.  I had been there once before, in 2013 and loved it! The World Center for Birds of Prey was founded by the Peregrine Fund, as a conservation and education center. They are a group dedicated to the ancient sport of falconry.  Peregrines have been used in falconry for over 3,000 years, and the group wanted to save them for the sport.  Peregrines are the fastest animal on earth, diving at speeds more than 200 mph while hunting.

Peregrine Falcon

Their first conservation mission began in 1970, to save the Peregrine Falcon from extinction – the Peregrines and other birds of prey had become threatened due to the agricultural pesticide DDT, which causes birds to lay eggs with thin shells.  The breeding program and legislation to ban DDT were so successful that the Peregrine Falcon was removed from the Endangered Species list in 1999.  They are doing so well now that the Center no longer breeds them for release into the wild; they are focusing their efforts on other, still endangered, species.

While we were there, we saw a demonstration on a Lanner Falcon, which is native to the Mediterranean area.  He was beautiful, and we all loved seeing him up close.  We learned about the malar stripes, which reduce glare on the bird’s eyes as they hunt.  It’s where football players got the idea.

Lanner Falcon

We watched the movie on the work of the center, and I also loved seeing the success story of the Peregrine Falcon (removed from the endangered species list in 1999), as well as the California Condor, which in great part is due to the efforts of the World Center for Birds of Prey has gone from only 22 individuals remaining in the world to 446 in captivity and in the wild as of the end of 2016.  We also checked out the birds on display inside.

When we went back outside after touring the indoor exhibits, we split up and I was lucky enough to find two bird handlers with a male and female American Kestrel.  They look so different from each other – it was very cool to see them up close!  They are very small falcons, and the females are larger than the males, which is common among birds of prey.  Also very interesting is that Kestrels can hover, in order to ambush and swoop down on their prey!

American Kestrel Male

 

American Kestrel Female

The center also has several birds on exhibit outdoors, including a Bald Eagle, a Turkey Vulture, a Peregrine and my favorites, the Bataleur Eagles.  These eagles were 45 and 47 years old when I visited in 2013, so now they are 50 and 52 years old!  They were hatched in 1966 and 1968.  The birds here are not able to be released in the wild, either due to the fact that they were imprinted on humans when they were young or due to an injury they suffered previously.  The Center uses them as education birds, teaching students and community members about the species and their conservation efforts.

 

I was sure they wouldn’t be interested, but after we told them about it, the kids really wanted to do the tour of the archive.  The archive, of course has books and information on the history of falconry, but it also has exhibits and artifacts related to falconry.  There are falconry hoods and perches, radio and early GPS tracking systems, and artwork related to falconry.  There is also a 20 x 12 foot traditional goat-hair hunting tent from Syria.  The archive was made possible in large part from a donation from Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, son of Sheikh Zayed, the Founding President of the United Arab Emirates and a falconer himself.  I guess it goes to show that it pays to know people…  I was surprised to see how much the kids enjoyed seeing it, especially the hunting tent, and they listened attentively to the guide during the tour.

 

After the archive, we had a snack and got on the road again.  Our plan had been to head over to Craters of the Moon National Monument, not thinking we were going to be at the World Center for Birds of Prey for so long.  What an issue to have!  So sadly, by the time we got to Craters, there weren’t any campsites available – they are first-come first-served.  After a bit of discussion, we decided that we would do Craters on the way home.  So that evening we really just breezed through…

At this point, it was getting late and starting to get dark and we still didn’t have a campsite…  A call to a KOA RV Park in Arco, Idaho and we had a site!  We got checked in and my brother took the kids over to the pool while Susanna and I got tents up and dinners started.  Cooking dinner over a camp stove in the dark with a headlamp is always interesting!  We had noodle pasta with hamburger and salad.  Not gourmet, but it hit the spot!  We had picked up a bottle of wine on our travels that day, and Susanna and I enjoyed some wine while cooking and during dinner too.

After dinner, and after booting the kids to bed, Michael, Susanna and I stayed up talking and enjoying our bevvies – wine for the girls and a bit of whisky for my brother, before turning in for the night.  Another great day…

 

Distance for the Day: 4 hours, 58 minutes; 282 miles
World Center for Birds of Prey: $10.00 adults, $8 seniors, $5  youth ages 4 to 16. 
Craters of the Moon KOA, Arco, Idaho: $30 for a tent site (if I remember correctly)