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West 2016: Yellowstone Geysers

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

Yellowstone has at least 1,283 geysers that have erupted in the park and approximately 465 of them are active in any given year. Geysers are characterized by the intermittent eruptions of super-heated water that ejects from them, with some of the water turning into steam as it hits the cooler air. They only occur where there is magma close to the surface of the earth, which is required to heat the water to the necessary temperature.

There are two types of geysers, a fountain geyser and a cone geyser. The fountain type is a geyser that erupts from a pool of water – Grand Geyser, the tallest predictable geyser on earth is a fountain geyser. A cone geyser erupts from cones or mounds of siliceous sinter – Old Faithful is a cone geyser.

Sponge Geyser – no excitement here.

 

Some of the geysers we saw were just bubbling quietly, not erupting.  Not nearly as exciting as an erupting geyser, but mesmerizing in their own right…

Aurum Geyser Bubbling

 

The Lion Geyser Group – with a mini-eruption…

 

Young Hopeful Geyser – doesn’t it look hopeful!?

 

Beehive Geyser – when erupting it sprays 200 feet in the air!

 

We also saw White Dome Geyser erupting. We were in the car driving toward it, and by the time we got there it was done. It erupts every 15 minutes to 3 hours, most commonly every 20 – 30 minutes, but we didn’t stick around to see the next one. There is only so much time in a day at such a big park!

White Dome Geyser, erupting!

 

White Dome Geyser, not erupting

We did see Old Faithful erupt twice while we were in Yellowstone. Old Faithful is located in the Upper Geyser Basin of the park and is one of the most predictable geysers there. It erupts approximately once every 65 and 91 minutes – the interval between eruptions depends on the length of the last eruption. It shoots high into the air, between 106 and 185 feet, and each eruption lasts between 90 seconds and five minutes.  What a sight to see!

Old Faithful Geyser

Interestingly, Old Faithful was once used as a laundry. In 1882, General Philip Sheridan’s men were stationed in Yellowstone and they used to throw their dirty clothes into the geyser, to be ejected clean with the next eruption (I am not sure what happened if you didn’t catch them before they fell to the ground though). Apparently linen and cotton clothes came out just fine, but wool clothing got ripped to shreds. Don’t try this when you go folks…  I have a feeling this type of behavior is frowned upon…

Next up – Mud Pots!

 

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!

 

Yellowstone NP History

Yellowstone National Park was the first National Park – it was established on March 1, 1872 by President Ulysses S. Grant.  Yellowstone is a unique environment, with features that are really rare in other areas of the United States.  Early advocates knew that it should be protected for generations to come.

Yellowstone is 2,219,789 acres, and about 96 percent of the land area of the park is within the state of Wyoming.  Three percent is within Montana and about one percent is in Idaho. The park is 63 miles from north to south, and 54 miles from west to east, as the crow flies.  In 2016, 4,257,177 people visited Yellowstone.  That’s a lot of people!  It is also designated as a Unesco World Heritage site, a designation by the United Nations for sites which have cultural, historical or scientific significance.

The park contains the Yellowstone Caldera, which is the largest volcanic system in America – it has been termed a “super-volcano” due to its size.  The current caldera was created by an eruption 640,000 years ago, and was 1,000 times larger than the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens in Washington State.  Which, if you were around for it, you know Mount St. Helens felt like a pretty big eruption.  That wasn’t the only eruption though, and each of the several that have occurred over millions of years at Yellowstone have created the rock formations, the depressions where the lakes sit and have coated large portions of the Americas with ash.  Thousands of small earthquakes occur each year within the park, most of which are unnoticed by human visitors.

Yellowstone is know for it’s thermals and geysers – hot springs of liquid that often contain brilliant colors due to the bacteria that make their home there, and erupting fountains of water.  The park contains over 10,000 geothermal features – and 1,283 of those are geysers that have erupted.  About 465 are active geysers on average in a given year.  Yellowstone is named for the Yellowstone River; the headwaters of the river are within the park, and the Continental Divide runs diagonally through the southwest section of the park.

Human habitation has existed in the park for approximately 11,000 years; evidence has shown that Native Americans began to hunt and fish in the area then.  Clovis points have been discovered in the area, and obsidian found in the park was used to make cutting tools and weapons.  Arrowheads from Yellowstone obsidian has been found as far away as the Mississippi Valley, indicating there was a rich trade among the Native Americans in this area with other tribes.

About 60 species of mammals make their home in the park, including bison, elk, moose, deer, mountain goats, pronghorn, bighorn sheep, gray wolf, coyote, lynx, and grizzly bears.  About 3,000 bison are in the park; their numbers fluctuate depending on how harsh the winter is.  Wolves thrive there now, after being hunted almost to extinction in the early 1900s and eliminated from the park.  However, since the next largest predator, the coyote, cannot bring down large mammals, there was a big increase in the number of lame bison and elk, as well as an overall increase in their numbers, which throws the ecosystem out of balance.  A healthy ecosystem needs the apex predator.  Wolves were reintroduced in the 1990s, and are estimated to number at slightly more than 100 animals within the park.

Me – Sign posing – As usual!

I visited Yellowstone as a child, but it had been a long, long time and I was so excited to go back!  Next up will be Yellowstone posts!

West 2016: Heart Mountain WRC

Day 7, August 11, 2016

As I am sure you all know, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, and changed the course of World War II for the United States.  Shortly after, President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066, which authorized military commanders to create zones from which “any or all persons may be excluded.”  Western Washington and Oregon, southern Arizona, and all of California were designated as Exclusion Zones in March 1942. The Executive Order defined Japanese Americans, Italian Americans and German Americans as peoples to be excluded from these areas. Interestingly enough, I am unaware that we ever actually relocated Italian or German Americans… Remember this readers, there will be a quiz…

After we toured the Eagle Butte coal mine, we headed west on our drive from Gillette to Cody, Wyoming.  We drove over the pass on Highway 14 Alternate, which was for me a beautiful, windy, curvy road with some steep grades on the way up and back down.  For my mom it was a terrifying, white-knuckle experience where she was afraid to look at the scenery and often sucked in her breath when she felt like I was driving too fast (which was basically the whole time)…  It’s all a matter of perspective…

The scenery on our Highway 14Alternate drive

 

You can’t beat that view!

Getting back to Roosevelt and Executive Order 9066 – we had a destination in mind before we reached Cody.  The Heart Mountain War Relocation Center, in Powell, Wyoming – although it was probably better known as the Heart Mountain Japanese Internment Camp.  We arrived at the Heart Mountain Interpretive Center about an hour before they closed, which ended up being plenty of time.  It is a modern museum, opened in 2011, with a great movie, showing interviews of many of the internees speaking about their experiences.  The oldest internee interviewed for the movie was 21 at the time; the youngest was 11.  So while it doesn’t offer the perspective of those who were older when they were interned, it does provide a lot of good (and often sad) information about the prisoner experience.

The actual Heart Mountain that the camp was named for – I don’t see it…

There are also exhibits depicting what a room in the camp, shared by an entirely family, would have looked like.  There were exhibits on work life, recreation, school for children, activities the internees participated in to protest their captivity, and service in the armed forces by the Nisei (Japanese American citizens who were born in the U.S. to Japanese immigrants), who felt that volunteering for service would be a way to prove they were loyal to the U.S.

A depiction of a family’s room in the barracks

We explored the museum, and I discovered that, rather surprisingly, the exhibit continued into the restroom.  I’m never one to turn away from an interesting bathroom!  The curators here designed bathroom stalls with mirrors on all sides – to simulate the lack of privacy that the internees experienced, sharing a restroom with hundreds of others without so much as a stall partition. Not my idea of a good time…

The mirrored bathroom stall

After taking our time at the Interpretive Center, we drove a short way to the site.  There isn’t a whole lot there now, but there are some hospital buildings and a guard tower remaining, and walkways and foundations of other buildings.  There is one area of the site where signs show visitors where various buildings once stood – the school, barracks, even a crudely dug swimming hole.  Wandering around Heart Mountain feels extremely lonely and desolate now, and it is difficult to imagine what it would have been like when thousands of Japanese were incarcerated there.  Many of these families lost everything during their internment; their property was sold on the cheap, their belongings were stolen, and their lives were completely uprooted.

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Heart Mountain isn’t for everybody; the site does require you to use your imagination to see what it “used to be” rather than what it is now, which is a large field with a few remaining buildings and a lot of concrete building foundations.  It is important to understand though, what we did to a whole group of our citizens under the guise of National Security.  It is perhaps more relevant lately than it has been in a long while.

After leaving Heart Mountain, we continued the rest of the way to Cody, where we had dinner at Bubba’s BBQ, sharing a meal of beef brisket, pulled pork, spare ribs, potato salad, new potatoes and the veggie mix.  Yum!

 

Costs and Fees: $7 per person at Heart Mountain War Relocation Center.

Distance for the Day: Gillette, WY – Heart Mountain War Relocation Center, Powell, WY – Cody, WY (4 hrs, 22 min, 248 miles)

Hotel for the night: Rodeway Inn – Cody, WY

 

 

West 2016: Eagle Butte Coal Mine Tour

Day 7, August 11, 2016

Our first activity of the day was to tour the Eagle Butte coal mine. The mine is an open pit/surface mining project and the mine is a small to medium sized mine in Gillette, Wyoming.  The Eagle Butte mine employs slightly less than 200 employees.

The tour we went on was a partnership between the mine and the tourism bureau – it was $5 per person and we met at the Visitor’s Center. We got on the bus with our guide, a local teacher who was off for the summer, and had previously worked some summers at the mine, and drove out to the site. On the way out, we saw land that had previously been mined.

The company basically removes the top 24″ of dirt from a section where they are mining, and they pile it off to the side (they cover up the piles to prevent the topsoil from blowing away). Then they dig out all the dirt below to find the coal seam, extract the coal and then put the dirt back on top. The coal seam in this area is about 120 feet thick, so when the dirt is put back after a section has been mined, the land is about 120 feet lower. Regulations require that the land must be replanted with native grasses and shrubs, and to be honest, I couldn’t tell that the areas that had already been mined had ever been disturbed. The only reason we knew was because our guide told us as were were driving by.  There were pronghorn out grazing on those areas of land.

The tour showed us the pit, with trucks and equipment that looked pretty small from far away but are actually huge. The truck tires are 12 feet tall! You can only tell how large they are when looking at the trucks next to normal sized pickups; otherwise it is hard to tell when you are watching them from far away as you have nothing to compare to for scale.

A close up of a dump truck loaded with coal

 

One of the dump trucks, with a regular full size pickup truck for scale. They are huge!

 

A 12 foot tire at the Eagle Butte Mine.

Our tour stopped at an area where we could stand in a bucket for an excavator and next to one of the big equipment tires. The bucket there is actually a very small one, holding only 23 yeards of dirt.  The smallest bucket the mine now uses holds 52 yards, but typically they use 70-90 yard buckets.  I suppose they no longer have much use for the 23 yard bucket that was on display! But it seemed pretty big to me.

Mom and me, standing in a 23 yard bucket. The mine uses buckets that hold 70-90 yards now…

Then we headed over to the area where the coal is loaded onto trains. Our guide explained the loading process, and the shape of the coal on the coal car – it is very specifically shaped to limit blow-off of coal dust. She also explained that the company sprays sealant on the coal, depending on where the coal is being shipped. Our guide asserted that that sealant basically does nothing, because the coal does not blow off train cars, but they put the sealant on in order to make people feel better. You, dear readers, can debate that last point amongst yourselves; I wasn’t quite sure what to believe.  Depending on where the train is going – each train has between 110 and 140 cars.

This contraption loads the coal in the coal cars and shapes it to limit blow-off

 

The car’s coal is being coated with a sealant. Our guide told us it really does nothing, as the coal dust does not blow off, but eases people’s minds.

 

A close picture of the loaded coal train.

 

I loved this pretty landscape picture with the coal train.

I know a coal mine tour isn’t going to be on everybody’s bucket list (see that pun I did there…?), and I wasn’t sure how much I would get out of it to be honest.  But all in all, I did find it to be really interesting.  Living in the Pacific Northwest, where there is a lot of anti-coal sentiment, it was good to get another perspective.  I thought it was well worth the price and a couple of hours of time.

If you are interested, you can find more information about it here – they only do it during the summer.

 

 

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: Jewel Cave NM

Day 6: August 10, 2016

On the sixth day of our vacation, we went to Jewel Cave National Monument. It is only a few miles away from Wind Cave National Park, and some researchers actually believe that the two cave systems are connected.

Jewel Cave was discovered by local prospectors Frank and Albert Michaud in 1900. The entrance wasn’t large enough to accommodate a person, so they blasted it with dynamite! Theodore Roosevelt designated it as a National Monument on February 7, 1908. The Civilian Conservation Corps developed the natural entrance in the 1930s and after it was taken over by the National Park Service, tours were begun in 1939.

Jewel Cave National Monument

In 1959, only about two miles had been mapped, then rock climbers and cave explorers Herb and Jan Conn began exploring the cave (they mapped a lot of Wind Cave too). The National Park Service created an elevator shaft eventually in order to access a part of the cave that was previously remote, and then began the Scenic Tour in 1972. Today, there are over 181 miles of mapped passageways. Based on research of air flow, it is estimated that only 3-5% of the cave is currently mapped.  If you consider Jewel Cave and Wind Cave as two separate caves, Jewel Cave is actually much larger. It also has much different formations.

Jewel cave contains all of the common types of cave formations, including stalactites, stalagmites, flowstone and draperies.

Popcorn and draperies

Draperies in Jewel Cave

I went on the Scenic Tour of Jewel Cave; mom decided to sit this one out so I was on my own.  My tour was 90 minutes, and had 723 steps.  It descends, through an elevator and walking, to a depth of 370 feet into the cave.  I didn’t find it particularly difficult, but again my Fitbit didn’t record my steps since we were underground.  Jewel Cave is a much different cave than Wind Cave; I thought it was much prettier. Jewel Cave is aptly named, in that it is very sparkly and glittery – this comes from lots and lots of cave popcorn, which is made from calcite and is very, very sparkly.  One of the most intriguing formations is called Cave Bacon, and it really does look like bacon!

Some of the walkways on the tour

 

So many pretty sparkles

 

All that sparkles

 

Do you see the cave bacon? It was easier to see in real life. Pictures don’t do it justice.

Back on the surface after the tour, I found my mom, who had done the 20 minute Discovery Talk, which just goes into the first large room of the cave but does not require a lot of walking or stairs. We checked out the little exhibit, and then headed outside into another sunny, gorgeous day. There we watched a group getting ready to go on the Wild Caving Tour, and the ranger was making sure they could all fit through the tightest spaces. I would like to do that tour one day, and it made me glad to be little! It was certainly a tight squeeze between those cinder blocks!

Could you get through there?

We couldn’t spend too much time dawdling though, as we still have plenty to do for the day!

Costs and Fees: No charge to visit Jewel Cave National Monument itself, there are fees for the tours.  The Scenic Tour is $12 per adult; the Discovery Talk is $4, or free with a Senior National Park Pass.