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West 2016: Yellowstone Wildlife

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

In my last post, I shared several photos of the gorgeous bison at Yellowstone.  Although bison are the most plentiful large mammals in the park, they are not the only wildlife, and I had the good fortune to see many others.

We saw about a half dozen elk, enjoying the “elk candy” grass at Mammoth Hot Springs.

We saw lots of birds, including Trumpeter Swans

 

Trumpeter Swans

Trumpeter Swans

 

Canada Geese

 

Canada Geese

 

Ravens

 

A raven just getting out of the bath…

 

And Osprey!

 

An osprey nest with young ones!

 

We saw some butterflies, but they mostly didn’t slow down enough for a photo…

 

I believe this is a Comstock’s Callippe Fritillary

 

We didn’t see any bears, but they are around!

We didn’t see any bears – just a few closures signs

 

And we were treated to the distant sighting of two Gray Wolves.  One was black (in the center of the photo) and the other gray.  This was the first time I have ever seen wolves in the wild – what an amazing experience!

 

We saw two wolves – they were very far away, so this is the best I could do in photos…

 

Yellowstone was an unforgettable experience for me, with my love of animals.  I am so excited for my next trip there!

 

 

West 2016: Yellowstone Bison

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

Yellowstone is well known for its wildlife – it would be nearly impossible to visit the park and not see at least several of the iconic Yellowstone bison.  But there are many other animals in the park as well; other large mammals, birds, fish and reptiles.

We were fortunate enough to see a lot of wildlife on our trip, and I want to share them with you!  Since bison were the most plentiful of the animals we saw – here’s a whole post of them.  Enjoy!

 

West 2016: Fort Yellowstone

Day 9, Saturday, August 13, 2016

Yellowstone National Park was the first National Park in the United States, created almost 45 years before the National Park Service was created.  In the early days of the park, poaching and vandalism were huge problems so the U.S. Army, most specifically Company M of the 1st U.S. Cavalry, was sent in to restore order and get things under control.  Between 1891 and the early 1900s, Fort Yellowstone was established and grew, with 35 buildings still surviving today.

The Fort is in the Mammoth Hot Springs area of the park, along with the Mammoth Hotel, which is one of the lodging options in the park (with hot springs!). The area also boasts the Mammoth Terraces, which are terraces created from travertine stone.  The stone is originally limestone, but becomes travertine due to the precipitation of calcium carbonate from the hot springs waters.  So in case you wondered where are those floors in public buildings came from, it wasn’t Yellowstone.  But the same kind of stone…

We visited in order to check out the terraces, as well as to see the historic buildings at the fort.  And, of course, to see elk.  Let me explain…  Back in the 1880s, the Army planted grass at the fort, to spruce things up and to cut down on the dust.  Well, as it turns out, the elk LOVE this grass! The ranger described it as ‘elk candy’.  You can’t beat elk candy!  We saw about a half dozen elk during the course of our visit, including a calf, and a couple of yearlings.  And, of course, we found tourists being dumb and getting way too close to the elk…

Mama elk with her baby! With spots!

 

Yearling Elk – with crazy Tourists (FYI – I was in a car, with a high zoom…)

Mom and I stopped in at the Visitor’s Center, which has a museum downstairs that has specimens of the animals found in the park, as well as an exhibit where you can compare the various types of horns and antlers of these animals.

We also toured around with a walking tour map and looked at the various historic buildings.  It was a cool place!

West 2016: Yellowstone Waterfalls

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

Yellowstone has a lot of waterfalls.  It makes sense; there are several rivers in Yellowstone, and they each have quite a few falls.  In total, 45 of the falls in Yellowstone are named, and there are hundreds more unnamed waterfalls within the park.  The tallest, Silver Cord Cascade, is 1,200 feet tall; it is a horsetail type waterfall.  The tallest plunge type waterfall is the Lower Falls of Yellowstone Falls, at 308 feet.

Lower Yellowstone Falls – 308 feet

Mom and I went to see the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone.  It certainly isn’t as spectacular as the actual Grand Canyon, but it is quite impressive in its own right.  It was well worth a visit.  The canyon begins at Yellowstone Falls, and extends 24 miles downstream.  It ranges between 800 and 1,200 feet deep, and is between 1/4 and 3/4 mile wide.  And to be honest, the actual Grand Canyon doesn’t have waterfalls like this!

Yellowstone Canyon – view from the Brink of the Lower Falls

There are hikes on both the North and South Rims of the Canyon, which can either be done as an out and back or as a thru-hike if you use two vehicles.  I didn’t do either of them on this trip, but they are definitely something I want to do when I go back!

The first written descriptions of the canyon came in 1869, but Native Americans had surely seen the canyon, as well as fur trappers traveling through the area.  The canyon contains two impressive waterfalls, the Upper Yellowstone Falls, at 109 feet, and the Lower Yellowstone Falls, at 308 feet.  There are numerous viewpoints to get a glimpse of both falls, and several hikes nearby.

Upper Yellowstone Falls – 109 feet

 

Me with Lower Yellowstone Falls

I did the Brink of the Lower Falls hike, which takes you down several switchbacks to the point where the Lower Falls begins its fall.  The trail is 0.9 miles round trip, with a descent on the way there, so obviously you have to climb back up on the way out.  It was worth the trip!  Mom wasn’t up for it, so a nice man took my picture when I got to the viewpoint.

The Brink of the Lower Falls Trail

 

The Brink of the Lower Falls

 

The bottom of the Lower Falls, from the Brink of the Lower Falls Viewpoint

 

Me at the Brink of the Lower Falls – Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone in the distance

Next time I am there, I would love to see more of the waterfalls and do more of the hikes to get a closer view!

West 2016: Yellowstone Mud Pots

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

Yellowstone’s most famous mud pots are probably the Fountain Paint Pots in the Lower Geyser Basin.  They are colored by the state of oxidation of the iron in the mud. When the weather is wetter and cooler the mud pot has a more soupy mud, which dries out over the summer as the weather gets hotter.

When I visited, the mud just seemed gray.  I don’t know that I noticed reds, browns and yellows in the mud there.  I did like watching the bubbling of the mud…

Fountain Paint Pots

 

Nearby though there is another mud pot with some red color.  Later in the summer as the water table goes down, Red Spouter becomes a fumarole, hissing steam.  In this picture, you can see that there is steam coming from it.

Red Spouter – another mud pot

When I went, Mom hung out in the car for this one, so I went to go see the mud pots by myself.  They were popular, and there were a ton of people there!

 

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!