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.
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