Friday, July 13, 2012

Glacier National Park, Day 9 - June 15, 2012

Blue tinged at the edges Avalanche Creek's water tumbles down the mountainside through the forest of huge cedar, larch, and hemlock trees.

This is our last day visiting National Parks. We decided that this last day would feature some gentle hikes and so we settled on a couple shorter treks with very limited elevation change. The weather was going to be quite fine from what we could tell. We had the overpriced, at least you never really feel as if you get your monies worth, buffet breakfast before heading back to really hike the Trail of the Cedars.

Last time we just walked a poriton of this 0.7 or so mile loop to reach the Avalanche Lake trail. Today we intended to really wallk the whole loop and see the forest properly. The red cedars, larch, and hemlock. The cedars are really what take your breath away. While it is true most of the trees in this forest are centuries old the cedars struck me as the most imposing with their massive trunks rising straight into the air. The forest has an open regal feel to it and a sense of quiet wonder is easy to imagine if you pause for a moment. Add to this the roaring Avalanche Creek with its frothing white yet slightly blue tinged water tearing down the mountainside and it is easy to see how people could see this area as sacred.

The glacial silt, sometimes called glacial flour, helps add color to the frothing water of McDonald Creek.

We drove down to Apgar Village to hike around the southern end of McDonald Lake. We toyed with the notion of hiking the western shore trail that runs some 7 miles along the shore of the lake but we were not about to do a 14 mile out-and-back hike (if only you could hike it one way and catch a shuttle back to your car). So we decided to do the 1.9 mile hike that would take us along the Rocky Point Nature Loop trail. What makes this collection of trail particularly interesting is that you find yourself hiking through burned and unburned areas. The Roberts fire of 2003 burned a substantial portion of the park and you can see some of the boundary lines where the fire stopped quite easily. Fish Creek marks one of those lines: on one side tall mature trees stand and on the other scores of denuded trunks remain pointing to the sky (most are lodgepole pine). It is a rather stark boundary. But it is important to remember that the fire helps promote new growth. As we walked the easy path through the now nine year old burn area we saw many wildflowers blooming as well as saplings of mountain maple. I expect new lodgepole pine were growing too. The amoount of low-growing plants in this area surpassed anything we had seen so far.

Looking out on the southern end of Lake McDonald from the western shore along Rocky Point Nature Trail. Here (top) the trees have mostly escaped the 2003 fire though if you turn a little bit (bottom) you can see the results of that fire.

We enjoyed our gentle hike along this nature trail wishing we knew a bit more about what we were seeing. A couple of signs provide some minimal information but that is all. We encountered a few other people enjoying what had turned into a very warm day including a hiking group from West Glacier that seems to focus on getting small children out into the wilderness. Great for them.

After the easy hike was done we had a fine lunch at Eddies in Apgar Village. Good burgers and sandwhiches and a superior huckleberry milkshake served in a classic metal milkshake glass and more than large enough to satisfy the three of us. Perosnally I think this little restaurant was definitely a step up from what we had in the lounge at McDonald Lodge. A damn fine milkshake indeed.

The view from the DeSmet. It really is a very pretty lake.

We tried to find one more hike but ended up bailing just a few tenths of a mile short of the northern terminus of the western shore Lake McDonald trail. The single lane dirt road just seemed to be getting to be a bit much for the car. We rounded out the afternoon with a boat tour on Lake McDonald. The 82 year old boat, the DeSmet, takes people on an hour-long tour that runs up and down the lake. A ranger gives a bit of commentary that really was nothing to special (I think she did better answering questions one-on-one). It was a nice way to see the landscape from the brilliant green waters of the lake. If you are looking for something relaxing to do this is certainly an option. Definitely better than sitting on the grounds outside the lodge wondering if the Columbian Ground Squirrels (whistlepigs) are going to assault you.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Glacier National Park, Day 8 - June 13, 2012

Just before reaching Snydet Lake we had to cross a couple sizable patches of snow. If you stepped into a hole you could expect to sink a couple of feet if not more. With the sun high and bright in the sky I found I had to squint as I crossed the snow.

We awoke to partly cloudy skies. What a wonderful change. Sunshine was shining through the windows our rooms and the day promised to be much more pleasant from the outset than the previous day had been. It is always easier to get moving and out and about when it is not grey and raining. Anyone who has had to do camp chores in the rain knows this to be true.

It is easily a 40 mile drive from Kalispel to Lake McDonald. We arrived at the Sperry Trailhead which is across from the Lake McDoanld Lodge a little after 09:30 and were on the trail by 09:45. The temperature was probably right around 50F at this point but we expected to warm right up as the trail, a 4.4 mile hike to Snyder Lake (9.9 miles round trip) would ascend 2,147 feet. At first the trail is very wide, easily wide enough for a car to drive though it really is a trail and never was a road of any type. The climb is actually pretty steep probably gaining 600 feet in the first 0.6 miles before easing off and rising an additional 400 feet over the subsequent mile. You will find yourself striding through forest here but it has a different feel from the climax forest of hemlocks you find when walking a trail like the Johns Lake Loop. This forest has more variety of trees; it certainly has shrubs and such growing at ground level. In the background, sounding temptingly close but invisible, is the roar of Snyder Creek tumbling down into Lake McDonald. I don't think you ever actually see the creek. Now and then during the initial climb a view of Lake McDonald becomes visible but it never was much of a photographic moment. I'd say we had better views of Jenny Lake when we hiked up to Inspiration Point.

After we passed the intersection that heads one way to Snyder Lake and in the opposite direction to Fish Lake the climbing became much easier. But the trail grew considerably wetter. The word our guidebook uses to describe the trail conditions is "damp" and I think this is an understatement. The trail narrows from the very wide to traditional trail-width and begins heading north-northeast slowly gaining elevation over the next 2.8 miles. Numerous small streams, surely seasonal, flow from north to south draining into Snyder Creek. These streams turn many stretches of the trail, which you share with horse traffic (though we saw no horses) into muddy quagmires. I suppose it isn't practical to put puncheon over the worst stretches given that would probably make the trail tougher for the horses but it sure would make it easier to keep your feet dry without making slight detours off the trail to find a higher drier patch of ground. I suppose if you are wearing ankle-high shoes, espeically waterproof lined ones, this will not be a problem but if you are wearing low-cut shoes espeically trail runners expect to soak your feet in water and mud. I certainly did.

We found the ascent was slow going as we tried to avoid the worst of the muck but it wasn't a tough climb. As we ascended we noticed that the plants seemed to be changing somewhat. For example, we started to notice glacier lillies and bunches of bear grass and cow parsnip along the way. When we came to a scree field we started to hear the high piping squeaks of pika calling to each other. I suppose they were announcing our presence. They had to do that a lot as several small groups of people were on the trail at the same time we were. One duo were clearly doing trail maintenance: a two-man chainsaw crew whose work we encountered a couple of times. Thanks.

After leaving the scree field and the well defined rocky path we came to our last major obstacle: a large snow field. This snow patch was quite firm and probably close to 3 feet deep. Certainly the couple of holes I stepped into swallowed my leg up to my thigh. We carefully worked our way across the snow following the footsteps of those who had gone before and in due time came to the bridge that crosses the outlet for Snyder Lake.

While perhaps not quite as ete catching as Avalanche Lake Snyder Lake is still quite pretty.

Snyder Lake is a small lake. It sits in a basin that though nice didn't have quite the same wow factor we expereienced wtih Avalanche Lake. That isn't to say it wasn't nice; just not quite as eye catching. You can hike farther around to see additional views of the lake and we went a little ways around (nowhere near as far as some) before we turned back to return to the trailhead.

The flora changed as we climbed the 2,147 from the trailhead to Snyder Lake. That is one reason I enjoyed this hike even with its sometimes annoying muddy stretches.

The return trip went onsiderably more quickly than the ascent did. We managed to travel through the muddy stretches more quickly than we had on the outbound leg and the steep descent down the wide poriton of trail seemed to fly by. We probably descended the 4.4 miles at least 30 minutes more quickly than we had done the outbound journey.

The afternoon was spent in either our small rustic rooms or in the main lodge. The rooms aren't much. They're small and the furnishings are definitely nothing to write home about. In some ways they are a bit reminiscent of the rooms we had in Tortuguero, Costa Rica though those rooms were more airy. I know Dad was less than thrilled with our lodging.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Glacier National Park, Day 7 - June 13, 2012

Avalanche Lake sits some 500 feet above the main road at the end of a trail that is a bit more than 2 miles long. It felt like we climbed more than that but I suppose that could be in part due to the rainy conditions. It was a lovely lake and I can imagine people hanging out on the wide beach for a while.

Today was our first full day in Kalispel, MT which is a fairly sizeable though rather spread out town that lies several dozen miles outside of Glacier National Park. This means we will have some lengthy driving to do to get to our planned hikes. To get here we had a lengthy but uneventful travelling day. The travel took us through some fine national forests including much time spent driving along the Galetin River. We also lucked out in finding such pleasing little places like the Coffee Pot coffe/bakery/pottery crafts shop in Four Corners and the pleasant little bar Trixie some hours later where we had lunch.

Today when we got up we learned that the weather report we had read was accurate. It was cooler and raining on and off. The rain showers were never very hard but the rain was incessant and that definitely had an effect on the hiking. We decided that we would do a couple shorter hikes to get a sense of the area around Lake McDonald. We will be staying at the lodge by Lake McDonald for two nights which will shorten some of our travel time considerably. Our first hike was going to be a basic loop around Johns Lake. This is a gentle hike of a bit more than 3 miles.

The forest around Johns Lake is a lush one of hemlocks and cedars. Near the edges more ground over appears with patches of bear grass like this. Within the forest depths it is a different story. Not much light, and rain, gets down to ground level.

The forest here is lush. Hemlocks grow tall in the forest here and I think we walked by firs and cedars too. I'm sure we strolled by many other types of trees too but I don't think any of them were diciduous trees like maple, oak, or beech to name just three. The forest canopy was dense enough that we did not find much growing at ground level. Bear grass popped up now and then and you would think ferns would abound but we saw very few.The walking was easy and the rain barely reached us through the forest canopy. You could see the numerous raindrops rippling the green surface of the very small Johns Lake. The licheons that shroud much of the forest must love this amount of water.

Perhaps the highlight for this loop hike is the views you get of McDonald (?) Creek as it rushes headlong down into Lake McDonald. From the bridge you can see a waterfall upstream and torrents of water roiling below. A few whispy clouds cling to the side of the mountains in the dstance rising towards the completely overcast spitting sky. At this point we started to follow a somewhat more muddy horse trail. We missed our turning and ended up walking perhaps a half mile more down the horse trail before realizing our error. I think the horse trail popped out not that far west of where the proper loop trail pops out. Walking the proper trail just above the roaring creek was a very nice change from the horse trail. The last bit of the hike along the main road was a bit soggy and uninteresting but overall we enjoyed the loop and our first glimpse of this forest that reminded Mom and Dad somewhat of forests in the Pacific Northwest.

McDonald Creek is a fast flowing stream. Later on when crossing the second bridge we could see where the creek flowed into Lake McDonald looking rather like an ocean. But here what caught our attention were the wispy clouds rising against the mountains.

We did not want to eat our purchased sandwhiches standing in the rain. We went to the Lake McDonald Lodge and had lunch there and I must say the lodge seems like a wholly congenial place. Standing by the fireplace just before leaving was a real joy. It felt nice to soak up the heat and let it dry my pants. We intended to hike to Avalanche Lake which is a trail that starts just before the road is currently closed to through traffic. We parked by the start of the Trail of the Cedars and put on our rainwear.

The drizzle continued on and off as we walked the boardwalk and paved trail that leads to the start of the trail to Avalanche Lake. That trail is mostly a dirt trail though at the start you walk above the roaring, how else, Avalanche Creek atop red rocks. For anyone with good vision and normal balance this is not going to be a problem. I found the rocks a bit slippery and annoying to tread. But the rocky section did not last long and soon we were walking along a gently rising dirt trail.

The guidebook says the trail ascends 500 feet but I think this is actually a bit low. I In dry conditions I am sure it is an easy trail for anyone of decent fittness to walk. In the rain it is a bit more daunting though still hardly a strenuous workout (we did see some people on the trail that seemed woefully unprepared).

The forest again was rich and dense with tall trees. It really is a very nice forest trail. It just seemed to take us longer than I think we expected it would. The rain slowly wetted out my pants. I am pretty sure the clammy feeling I felt along my torso was sweat. Of all of us I think Mom was dealing with the rain the best in her Glacier Blue poncho and purple rain pants. But as I have already noted the rain really wasn't that bad and while under the cover of the trees not that many drops actually struck us.

We passed by what we had first thought was the lake but turned out to be simply an open space along Avalanche Creek. We still had perhaps a half mile of gentle ascent before we reached the goal: Avalanche Lake. This lake sits in a cirque that has several tall thin waterfalls pouring down into it. The snowfields of some of the mountains reflected wonderfully in the waters of Avalanche Lake. I suspect the water is both clear and quite cold. It's probably a wonderful emerald green when the skies aren't quite so overcast but I'm not sure of that. It is though, without doubt, a very pretty spot and well worth the 2.7 mile hike even though it is a popular hike. We were actually rahter surprised at how many people we passed heading in both directions on this wet afternoon. Many people were dressed in what seeemd to us as woefully inadequate clothing.

One last view of Avalanche Lake.

We made the descent back to the cars more quickly than I think we did the ascent. Some of that was my usual slowdown where descents are concerned but I also did not need to stop for a nature break. I think my particular problem, no reason to go into detail here, may be a bit worse of late. Maybe I will be able to do something about that in time but that has not proven to be the case so far.

We were all glad we had done this hike. The rain had subsided during our time at Avalanche Lake but that was really the only respite. We began the drive out of the park passing the large deep green Lake McDonald as we dropped elevation and left the park under the still overcast skies that were now showing a bit of brilliant sun peering through. By the time we reached Kalispel a lot of the clouds had dispersed and the sun was shining through a partly cloudy sky: figures - the hiking was done and the weather finally got really nice.

All in all we probably hiked somewher around 9.0 to9.5 miles today. It was a very good day even though the weather wasn't what most would consider ideal. Sure we got a bit wet but that was alright.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Yellowstone National Park Day 5 - June 11, 2012

It is about 1.2 miles to the Monument Geyser Basin from the trailhead. The bulk of the 650 foot ascent is done on steep switchbacks like this one over 0.65 miles. You do get some nice views of the valley and Gibon River.

Today dawned with sunshine and pretty cloudless skies. The forecast was for a high temperature of around 61F and partly cloudy skies. That would be quite a change from the previous day if it came to pass. We decided we would again do a few shorter hikes to get a better sense of the geography and ecology in the area. The drive into the park this morning was not that bad - no real slowdowns for gawking as we drove towards Madison Junction and then along the Gibon River to the trailhead for Monument Geyser Basin Trail.

The trail to Monument Geyser travels along the narrow Gibon River for a short time and then quickly ascends to the top of the mountain where the geyser basin is located. At the outset you are walking through densely packed lodgepole pine forest. I believe this is young forest that has been growing since the 1988 forest fire. You can still see plenty of signs of that fire in the form of bare burnt tree trunks and downed logs. After about 0.7 miles the trail turns away from the river and road and begins its quick steep ascent along dirt switchbacks: gaining about 650 feet in about 0.65 miles. It is steep climbing but the footing is prety good. If the trail has a flaw it is the traffic sound you can hear as you climb (a problem anywhere really given how road-accessible the park is). We got some great views of the Gibon River winding its way across the valley as we continued the ascent. In due time we reached the summit. We could smell sulfur so we knew we were nearing the geyser basin. The sun warmed us but we also lost some of the shelter from the trees so the effects of the breeze were more pronounced. When the geyser basin came into view we saw a few places where steam was rising and water was bubbling. No doubt there are times when geysers erupt in a showy fashion but for us at this time their was not that much obvious activity.

The geysers here at Monument Basin did not put on much of a show for us but they are active.

Until we were nearing the end of the descent back down the switchbacks we had not encountered anyone on the trail. In the last third of the descent we passed three couples heading up. That seems to have been our pattern: seeing very few if any people on the outbound leg and then seeing many people heading outbound as we retrace our steps. Persoanlly, I am glad we pretty much had this trail to ourselves. It is nice to view even a less-active geyser basin that is a bit more remote and not mobbed by throngs of people.

Of course, some of the best geothermal areas of the park are mobbed by people. Our next stop was the Artist Paintpots basin whcih is full of mudpots, bubblers, and maybe a geyser or two. The minerals in the bubbling water have colored the immediate surroundings in reds, yellows, and even milky blues. If you pause to listen you can hear rushing boiling water sounds as well as the distinctive bubbling sound that escaping gas makes as it causes mud to bubble. Artist Paintpots is a popular place.

Artist Paintpots Basin has it all. From bubbling mud pots, colorful blue pools, to steaming geysers and not springs all surrounded by trees. The top photo looks from the trail junction of the loop and path to the parking lot. The bottom photo peers back towards the parking lot from one of the high overlooks.

Like many other geyser basins trees and the like grow right up to the point where they cannot do so. We strolled down the wide accessible path for about a third of a mile to the boardwalk and gravel paths that loop around the paintpots. If you trek the whole way around you will hike a little more than a mile: anyone can do this it is totally accessible except for a few steps. Although the parking lot was quite crowded once we began walking the loop it did not seem all that bad except at a couple of the grander viewpoints. I am sure during the high season things would be different but we did not feel overwhelmed.

After lunch at Madsion Junction where the chipmunks have definitely figured out that if they hang out by the picnic table they can fatten up on leftovers we set out for our final hike of the day. We had heard about Purple Mountain from a park ranger as an interesting place to explore so we decided to check it out.

Purple Mountain Trail runs from the road at Madison Junction to the top of Purple Mountain about 1,500 feet above the road. The trail is about 3.2 miles long. At first you gently wind your way, slowly ascending, through sub-alpine forests. In fact the trail made us think of hiking trails through forest back east. It was quite enjoyable hiking through the surprisingly quiet forest. The loudest sound, sadly, was the road but now and then you would catch the twitter of birdsong.

Perhaps a bit over 1.7 miles in the switchbacks really begin. At first you are switchbacking back and forth through the forest on a dirt trail but soon enough this changes. The trail become more sandy with small stone, a bit akin to scree slopes, and the forest begins to give way. Trees and shrubs cling to the edge of the mountain and you begin to get views out to the south. On a clear day we were told you can see all the way to the Tetons but I don't think we saw anywhere near that far this time. For the next mile or so the trail gains about 800 feet traversing rather long switchbacks. The footing is pretty good even though the trail is at times a bit narrow.

When you get to the mountaintop you may be a bit dissapointed as there are no real views on the tree covered summitt. However, there are places to sit down and enjoy a snack on a warm afternoon and we did that before beginning our journey down the switchbacks. I am sure that a person with normal vision and balance could zip down the 9, I think that's right, switchback far more quickly than I did. It took me about 45 minutes to reach what I would call the non-switchback portion of the trail. For the next 25 minutes we worked our way down the forest path before crossing paths with the first other people we would see on the trail. Perhaps that small group is hoping to see a nice sunset from a switchback. We spent a bit more than 3.5 hours on the trail taking a few nice breaks along the way. We enjoyed the trail.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Yellowstone National Park, Day 4 - June 10, 2012

Walking back to the parking lot oon the South Rim Trail we found this marmot sitting on the end of this log. I didn't know they were so plump looking. This wasn't the first marmot we had seen on the trail, just the best poser.

Well the worrisome weather forecast did come to pass - sort of. When I got up I saw that it was totally overcast. Until I heard from Mom and Dad asking if I was ready for breakfast I did not notice that bits of snow were clinging to cars. It wasn't a lot of snow and as far as I could tell nothing was on the ground but heavy wet snow was laying on some cars. The temperature was hovering around freezing when we got our act together and headed out. We first visited the park visitor center located here in West Yellowstone and got some useful information from them about some possible hikes we could do given the poor weather conditions.

We had something like a 42 mile trip to get to the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. We first decided to drop in on the Canyon Village and see what we ould find. We found quite a bit including two Cloudveil Enclosure jackets. By the standards of lightweight backpacking this is a hefty jacket but it will also likley replace a winter jacket I wear around Ann Arbor. I had been planning to wear my trusty old Ibex Icefall and Paramo Quito (sp) in combination to ward off the high winds and graupel (small icy pellets usually round or conical in shape running 2-5mm in diameter.) that were affecting us at this point. But the Cloudveil took the place of both for me and my Dad did a similar thing. Perhaps if I had brought a light down jacket with me I'd not have boterhed buying this but I do think it will serve me well.

The temperature was still in the mid-30s and the wind was definitely blowing at a fair clip so when you got hit by the little ice pellets you really felt them. However we had decided to try hiking along the South Rim of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone and that trail was mostly in forest so we figured to be sheltered from the worst of the wind. The trail is hard packed dirt and you quickly begin to descend down closer to the Yellowstone River which roars on by below.The Upper Falls drops about 100 feet and the emerald green waters are churned into a white frenzy as they rush on by. It is quite an impresive sight. Walking through the pine forest we also spotted some small wildflowers and more importantly a couple marmots that stood still, probably sniffing the air and us - checking us out, long enough for us to get some fine photos. I don't think I have ever really seen one before and I was certainly surprised how puffy they seemed to be.

The Yellowstone River must have some glacial sediment or something similar in it to give it that green color (yes, I know not all green rivers do).

When we came to a bridge that gave us great views of the Upper Falls we found that the trail was closed. We aren't sure why the folks at the visitor center did not know about this but it clearly was not a trail you could walk beyond this point. We had to turn around. It was a shame because it sure was seeming like it would be a nice trail. We returned to the car and decided that we would try the North Rim trail.

That trail can be accessed from many parking lots along North RIm Drive and I am sure most people pick a parking lot that is closest to the lookout point they want to visit. We simply left the car where it ws and crossing the Chittedan Bridge along the old road that is blocked to traffic. It's a quiet road through more forest with the Yellowstone flowing below. We came to a parking lot and continued on the paved and dirt trail that wound up and down to a series of switchbacks that descend some 600 feet in half a mile down to some great viewpoints that afford you fine views of the 309 foot catract of plunging whitewater that composes the Lower Falls. You can still see hints of green water boiling by as they surge into tens of thousands of gallons of whitewater that surge past every second. Contrast this with the colorful rocks on either side and you have a brilliant scene even with the leaden grey skies spitting icy pellets at you.

This trail is popular, far more so, than the South Rim I think. We weren't that put out by the people though as their was enough room for everyone to get by. We saw that many people had worked their way down the steel steps of Uncle Tom's Cabin Trail to see the Lower Falls from the other side and I understand that view may be even better but we weren't keen to drive over there and walk down potentially slippery steps.

You can get a sense of the weather from these two photos.

Upon returning to our car after being regailed by some rather obnoxious noise pollution we went to Artist Point. The noise pollution ws from the park service. For reasons we don't understand an employee was wielding a gas-powered leaf blower and blowing clear either trail or other walking paths of pine needles. This struck us as a bit peculiar.

Artist Point is accessible to just about anyone. The views of the Yellowstone River are stunning. Here you are looking towards the Lower Falls cascading 309 vertical feet down.

Artist Point is a viewpoint that is accessible to pretty much anyone and it shows. Lots of people were scurrying around and dealing with the biting wind, temeprature was still in the mid to upper 30s or even low 40s, and milling about a viewpoint to see the length of the Yellowstone River gorge as it wound through the Lower Falls. The colors of the rocks and river were stunning. equally remarkable is how quickly foliage stops as it encrouches upon the various colored rocks. If the weather were decent and the light better I am sure places like this would be swarmed over.

Our final place to visit was Norris Geyser Basin. It is worth noting that you have to spend a fair bit of time driving to get from place to place. Traffic can be a bit slow especially when people decide to gawk at some large wildlife. You can't blame them for that but sometime people do seem to drive unreasonably slowly. When we got to Norris Geyser Basin we found that the temeprature was still about the same but the wind was really whipping about now and that meant the wind chill was quite something and the stinging ice pellets were sometimes rather annoying. But we wanted to see the geysers here so we knuckled down and began wandering along the boardwalks and gravel paths that loop through the basin. Steamboat Geyser was actually making sounds as it emitted bursts of steam. It wasn't going to erupt hundreds of feet in the air but it was still impressive.

Cistern Spring in the Norris Geyser Basin.

Wandering down to the Cistern Spring we stood for a few moments in the warmth of the sulfurous steam that was being blown out at us. Now and then the pale blue of the waters of the spring would appear. The Norris basin has many geysers and springs but their is also quite a bit of forest here. None of the trees are all that large either because their proximity to the geysers and springs makes for a tough life or because of forest fire destruction is unclear. But I think it is quite something that stands of trees can grow and seemingly thrive so near what surely is a hostile environment.

The high winds really diud force us to move more quickly then we might have otherwise done. If the winds had not been so fierce it would not have been all that bad given what we were all wearing but the wind combined with the icy precipitation did make things unpleassant.

We made the slow drive back to West Yellowstone after finsihing up with Norris Geyser Basin. People were driving slower than seemed reasonable but I suppose we just have to deal with that. As we drove back into town we noticed that the sun was trying to finally peak out. By the time we again left the hotel to go to dinner around 18:00 (we had spent the bulk of the day in the park) the sky had cleared considerably and the temperature had warmed up somewhat too. Go figure. We couldn't find the resturaunt we wanted to try so ended up eating at the same place we had last night and were happy to go there again. We ended the evening by going to the town's single-screen movie theatre and watching Dark Shadows which I must saay is time that we will never get back (not a good movie) - oh well.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Yellowstone National Park, Day 3 - June 9, 2012

A view from Observation Point looking out on the Upper Geyser Basin. While the park service says this is a strenuous hike I think that is a bit extreme even when you consider that most people probably never walk far from their vehicles. The footing is excellent and though you do climb a couple hundred feet in a half mile it is a gentle climb. Calling this a strenuous hike means that a trek to a place like Monument Geyser Basin (which you'll read about in an upcoming post) would have to be out of this world tough. Perhaps it isn't an easy hike as you do have the climbing but calling it moderate is not unreasonable.

It looked like the weather was going to get a bit iffy or at least we had been given to believe that it was going to be a somewht less than ideal hiking day the day before. We had tentatively decided to turn the day into the travel day to Yellowstone leaving a day early. We hadn't confirmed we would do this but it became a fete acompli when we found our hotel bills slipped under our doors in the morning (we had asked if their would be a cancellation fee). Had that not happened I think we would have stayed and done one last hike in Grand Teton Natinal Park area. Instead we packed up and began the ddrive to Yellowstone.

If you do visit Grand Teton National Park spending a bit of time in the new visitor center by Jackson Lake is worth it. This large open building welcomes you in with huge wooden beams, former trees cut into huge logs, and a very nice airy feel. Within you will find many very well put together displays that describe all sorts of things about the park. It was worth a bit of time to explore in there and we even managed to get a bit more information about Yellowstone in the process. When we left it was mid-morning and still chilly with the sky somewhat full of not terribly threatening clouds. It felt like an early spring day.

When we entered Yellowstone, it is an easy if not terribly fast, drive through Grand Teton National Park to the south entrance of Yellowstone we found a fair bit of snow. As we gazed down into chasms from around 7,700 feet above sea level we could see the Snake River below and clinging to the sides of the canyons was a good bit of snow. It was not on the road or really impeding much of anything but snow was clearly around as we approached the Continental Divide. It was still partly cloudy out and the temperature was still only in the mid-40s with a fair bit of wind. Chilly but not awful especially if you are hiking in the woods. We stopped once more at the park "village" for a bite to eat and quick look around before really starting to explore what I expect is pretty much every visitors premire destination: Upper Geyser Basin and Old Faithful.

Our timing had not been that good. Old Faithful erupts on average every 90 minutes and we had just missed it. We decided to do the hike that would take us up to Observation Point and around to Solitary Geyser. That's a little more than 2 miles with a couple hundred feet of elevation change that all happens when you leave the bsain and climb up to Observation Point within the first half mile. The trail, when not on boardwalk, is dirt and well maintained. The park service call it strenuous and I suppose for the vast majority of walkers who barely leave their cars it might be but I think that does a bit of dis-service to the word "strenuous" by expanding it too much - after all what do you really call a much more difficult hike. With the wind whipping about us we climbed toObservation Point and looked out on the steaming basin below. At the time not much was really happening but if you are lucky the eruptions must be quite soemthing when seen from above. I also think it is rather interesting seeing how quickly the land changes from immediately around geysers and hot pots to the rich forests once you are away from the sulfurous geological features.

We watched this lone geyser steam and bubble for several minutes. You can walk to this geyser from the geyser basin and bypass Observation Point shaving off some climbing but even doing that I think this geyser sees relatively few visitors.

When we reached Solitary Geyser it was steaming and the colors of yellow sulfur and blue from who knows what stood out under the rising steam. But either we did not wait long enough or that geyser just did not have much eupting to do. We saw some bubbling but certainly not the 6 foot bursts we were expecting. Still being there by ourselves was rather nice and we hung out there until another group of people showed up. Clearly most visitors do not make it beyond the boardwalks.

Mom pulled ahead of Dad and I and as we neared the geyser basin she called out to us to hurry. Old Faithful was bursting forth. It was our bad luck that when we caught up it was all but done. I never really did see the tall column of boiling water spewing out but Mom and (I think) Dad did. We continued our circuit of the geyser basin enjoying looking at the various hot pots, bulbbing pools, and steaming vents. The only real downside was that now we were out of the shelter of the forest and the wind was really whipping about us now. The clouds looked more threatening too and you definitely could feel the bite of cold in the air from wind chill. We finished our circuit by entering Old Faithful Inn.

One of the many hot pools in the geyser basins.

This building is remarkable. The lobby is not very bright with , it seems to me, most of the light coming from seemingly tiny windows high in the walls. The lights hanging from the massive wooden beams surely aren't adding much illumination. It is the numerous huge wooden beams that rise into the distance cris-crosing the very high rceiling that make this place special. Special at least to look at - I'm not sure how great it is to stay. The rooms almost certainly have a very rustic feel about them and many are just rooms without en suite bathrooms. Granted the bathrooms are very nice but if you need your creature comforts right at hand you are either going to pay a stagering sum or stay elsewhere. I am glad we visited the place but I am also rather doubtful I'd stay there even if it wasn't expensive - it sure seemed like that bulk of visitors were tromping on thorugh: very crowded.

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The drive to our hotel in West Yellowstone was interrupted several times by stops to view bison herds. Some times they were fairly far away (top photo and video where they are beyond a river) and sometimes they were right by the road we were driving down (bottom photo).

When we returned to our car, now mid-afternoon, to continue on our way to West Yellowstone though clouds had darkeened considerably. A grotto of blue sky was still hovering, more or less, over us, but it was definitely not as nice as before. We drove on pausing a couple times to admire herds of bison. One was far away across a small river and the other was right by the edge of the road and included nursing calves. A park ranger was making sure traffic did not come to a complete standstill chivvying people along giving us just enough time to snap quick photos. We did just that and in time arrived in West Yellowstone.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Grand Tetons Day 2 - June 8, 2012

Much of the walk heads westward into Cascade Canyon. Gazing across the rushing Cascade Creek you see snow clad mountains like these.
We got an early start today hoping to catch as early a ferry across Jenny Lake as we reasonably could. After a very mediocre breakfast at the hotel we drove out to the ferry dock arriving a little after 038:30. To our chagrin we learned that the boats did not start running until 09:00 and so we could either wait 25 minutes or start walking around Jenny Lake adding a good 2 miles to our planned hike. Dad wasn't too keen on this idea so we waited with everyone else. A little before 09:00 a largre group lead by a park ranger showed up. These were the folks we thought would have caught the 08:30 boat but obviously since the boats don't start that early they were catching, like us, the earliest one they could. That sizeable group was going to do a hike to Inspiration Point (about a mile). Our plan we to hike to the fork that joins the Cascade Canyon Trail to the Death Canyon Shelf trail (about 5 miles one way). The boat ride across the lake went quickly and suurprisingly quietly. I know these boats are gas-powered but the engines are remarkably quiet. I think that is a very nice touch given that the ferries ply this crossing dozens of times each day.
It was partly cloudy and at the moment we began our hike, call it 09:10, maybe it was a tad cooler than yesterday. But we had no worries about the weather. We began the steady climb to the roaring Cascade Creek on well made very wide trail. The climb is steady and the footing excellent as you make your way to the base of the waterfall. It is a big wterfall and from the best vantage point you will catch a bit of spray and a chill wind as you try to snap the necessary photos. After leaving the waterfall you begin to climb more steeply and the trail becomes somewhat more rocky underfoot. It is a steady climb and soon you pop out on a ledge that affords you a fine view of Jenny Lake below. People can be forgiven for thinking that this first view is Inspiration Point. But the trail keeps ascending and the rocks grow a bit more intense. If you are prone to vertigo this is not going to be a path you will cheerish even though it is wide and the rocks are stable. You hike up switchbacks and after a mile you reach the top and a chipmunk infested flatter area that is, in fact, Inspiration Point. The view of Jenny Lake is quite nice though it really wasn't photogenic given the light. You get a fine sense of the size of Jenny Lake.
Of course, this was only the first mile of the hike. We had about four to go. We had heard from the folks at the ferry that patches of snow crossed the trail but they were easily navigable. The snow it would turn out first appeared within perhaps a third of a mile of departing Inspiration Point. The first patch, a couple dozen yards wide, was soft and white except where people had been walking upon it. There it was rotten and slippery. Little puddles marked the edges of the snow patches and I expect I am not the only one who got his feet a bit wet. I think crossing the patches without poles to aid balance would have been a chore but they were not really treacherous. Most of the patches would appear within the first mile or so after leaving Inspiration Point as we walked thorugh pine forest with the roar of Cascade Creek in our ears.

The few patches of snow never took long to cross. Even the widest was probably just a couple dozen yards across - maybe a bit more. These patches were clustered not that far beyond a inspiration Point probably at about 7,300 feet. I figure they're holding on because they were surrounded by dense evergreen forest.
In time our trail would enter a slightly more rocky bit; a section full of low-contrast rocks designed to trip me up but probably not bother anyone with normal vision. That section really marks what I think of as Cascade Canyon. With the roaring stream (OK, not always frothing with whitewater, sometimes it was wide gentle and deep green) on our left we slowly worked our way into the canyon. The views of the snow-clad mountains to our left with high cirrus clouds zipping by was really quite nice. But that was nothing comapred to the wildlife we spied. Mom saw a small yellow and black bird (and another yellow and red), Dad seemed to be a landing spot for many butterflies, and we all got to see moose and black bear.
I think the large animal sightings probably all happened along a stretch of the stream around the the 2 to 2.5 mile mark. First we saw a lone moose off by the river edge on the near side; rather close to us if you ask me. Then just before entering a stand of pines we spotted a mother moose and her calf on the far side of the river I believe. Finally a black bear on our side of the river but down by the water was spotted by Mom and Dad and maybe glimpsed by me. Mom also saw another bear earlier and we saw two more moose on the return journey (maybe the same adults, but they count as sightings). So those animal sightings were a real treat for everyone.

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I know it is tough to see but we saw a couple moose on the far side of the water.

Somewhere around the 3.5 mile mark we hit our first blowdown. It was a massive affair requiring us to detour off the trail down to the left. Within a half mile or so we had to negotiate 3 more blowdowns of significant size. I guess trail maintenance crews have not gotten this far yet. At about 12:15 we came to a bridge where two fast flowing streams merge and decided that this was as good as any place to stop and have lunch before turning back. we were probably within a third of a mile of the offidical fork but we were fine with what we had done (call it about 7.5km or 4.7 miles). By now it was well into the 70s and we figured since it took us about 3 hours to get here it would take a similar amount of time to get back. At 12:40 we shouldered our packs and began the gentle descent back.
It is a pretty easy walk most of the time. For those of you not bothered by low-contrast rocks it is an easy walk the entire time. As we walked we started to encounter people heading up-canyon. Up until this point we had only seen a handful of folks after leaving Inspiration Point. In the space of a couple miles we easily saw a dozen heading the other way. As we closed in on Inspiration Point that number rose considerably. It felt like a highway of foot traffic especially within the last couple of miles of the hike. Hordes of people were climbing the rocky ascending trail to the point. A smaller portion of them would continue on into Cascade Canyon. If you plan to do this hike I strongly suggest starting early to avoid the throngs as best as you can.
I knew I would not relish the descent from Inspiration Point. At the top it is rocky and so I slow down considerably. Even after the worst of the rocks fade, after about 8 minutes and a handful of switchbacks, it is still slower going for me. I guessed it would take close on 40 minutes and that is what it took. Maybe a couple minutes could have been shaved off if I had not had to pause to let so many other people pass in either direction but that is just a small difference. We arrived at the now quite crowded dock at 15:30. The first boat to fetch people filled up just before we could board so we had to wait a few more minutes for the next one which filled up completely too. I reckon that is the typical state of the boats in the afternoon. Ten minutes later we were all walking back to our cars in the parking lot. All tolled we hiked about 15km (9.4 miles) with a total ascent of somewhere around 400 meters I think (call it 1,200 feet) a good bit of which surely happens in the climb up to Inspiration Point. Our feet are all a bit tired but we are also quite happy we did this hike.
NOTE: the two yellow flowers we saw the first day were Arrowleaf Balsamroot and Heartleafed Arnica. The ladyslippers may have been a fairyslipper.