Friday, July 31, 2015

Lamar Valley, lots of Buffalo

On Wednesday our goal was to drive through the Lamar Valley and see whatever wildlife we could, especially bison.

It was a long drive, all the way to the other side of the park, but the views along the way were fantastic. 

This land seems untouched and the view is the same for us as it was for others 100 years ago or 1000 years ago. This is what the Native Americans and the 1904 tourists saw. 

As great as the scenic drive was, my goal for the day was to see more buffalo. According to the web, in 2014, there were more than 4000 buffalo in Yellowstone National Park. So where are they? We had seen two small groups in Hayden Valley, and a few individuals over on the west side of the park, but I expected to see many more in the Lamar Valley.  I didn't really do a head count on the six or seven groups we did see, but the thousands I wanted to see were not there.  I remind myself that when you look at the map of the park, you see there are vast areas that are not visible from the roads. Perhaps thousands of buffalos are unseen beyond the hills.

In any event, if anyone had any doubts that the "Rut" has begun, evidence of the hormones in the air was evident. These adolescent animals, I think they were young bulls, were experimenting to see how this all worked.

The herds seemed very restless. There was a lot of movement in the fields as if they were just waiting for something to happen.

We watched as one male, we called him the "new bull" came across an open area away from the rest of the herd. He moved as if he had a purpose. He came in and carefully checked out several cows, moving on each time as if they were not for him. There were three or four other bulls at the far side of the herd and we noticed they started to move in his direction. No big fight, other than some pawing of the dust and perhaps a few loud grunts that sent him packing off to a field some distance from the cows.  He stood his ground as if waiting until one of the ladies was ready for some action. We also noticed some of the calves were staying well away from the adults. I guess the moms has other things on their minds.

At one point, a large group of buffalo caused a traffic stop when they decided to cross the road to a "greener pasture" near the river.

This is a classic example of how people get into trouble with wildlife. We were parked, staying well away from the traveling animals, when these two boys jumped out of an RV and ran towards them to snap pictures. Fortunately they did not get any closer, and the buffalo did not seem to notice them.  This time!

We watched as this cow and her calf carefully walked across the road,

followed by the biggest bull we had ever seen. Wonder if he is her mate this year.

Unfortunately we also saw the other end of this annual drama.

Old age. This poor critter was limping and emaciated. 

We wonder if he or she will make it through the summer, much less the upcoming winter months. 

Will the wolves come?

I think so.

I will probably remember this poor critter longer than any one of the fine fit bulls with their sleek hides and fat humps.

We drove on thru the valley and turned around at the northeast entrance of the park. We picnicked at a shaded place along one of the many rivers, and drove back through the areas where the buffalo were. We didn't stop again because by now there were many more cars than earlier in the day and we felt we had gotten enough pictures.

These are some of the other things we saw on this rather long drive:

We saw these rock formations at the Tower Falls overlook. Of course there was a falls too, but the pictures didn't "make the cut".

Both coming and going back we saw several views of this mountain formation. The broken texture of the rocks told a story of rapidly cooling lava in the past. From a distance it really looks like an Egyptian pyramid that wasn't quite right. You have to see it to know what I mean.

On the way back we stopped at Roosevelt Lodge and took a short hike. But I was not feeling up to scrambling up a dusty, slippery trail to the top of an overlook, so we turned back. I blamed it on the big lunch I had just eaten, but perhaps I was feeling tired from our early departure in the morning. 

Unless we were professional photographers, it would be hard to capture the feeling we had at this stop along the road home. We felt like we could see forever, from the top of the world.

And so our month near Yellowstone National Park has come to an end. We still have a few days, during which we plan on seeing a couple of non-Yellowstone places. I ask myself if a month was long enough? Was it too long? We are ready to move on, but we may surely come back to this area another year. There is so much to enjoy here, other than Yellowstone. 

The road goes on forever! And we will travel it as long as we can.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Henry's Lake State Park, Idaho, and Rapidly Changing Weather

The days are sure flying by. We will be leaving the Yellowstone area next Saturday, August 1. We still want to drive up to the Lamar Valley in the Park, but over the weekend we decided to take a look at Henry's Lake State Park, which is just on the other side of the road from Valley View RV, to see if there were any hiking trails to be explored.

To our surprise we found a pleasant RV campground snuggled next to the lake.  Large level spaces with electric and water. A dump station is available.  I think the daily rate is in the $20 range, so it looks like a good option for anyone who wants to visit Yellowstone. Our current rate is lower than that because we are staying a month, and because we booked last fall, but the regular daily rate where we are staying is over $40. 

At Henry's Lake, we took a very nice 3+ mile walk that started along the lake and went past a marshy slough. 

 We saw this swan sitting in the grasses. We don't know if it was resting or nesting. 

We then went across a grassy sagebrush meadow. The trail was just a cut through the grass.

As we have driven mile after mile through this part of the country we have passed large areas like this. It was good to be at walking speed and see and smell it up close. We have learned that the sage is vital to the survival of many wild creatures including the large grazers and small mammals. It is pulled out and destroyed on farmed land.

The trail quickly led us into pine forest and aspen groves. 

We stopped to read each of the descriptions on our numbered flyer that the ranger had given us at the gate. 

We learned that a stand of aspen trees could all be the same tree, in that each is grown from a sprout off the roots from the original tree, or from the roots of a tree that sprouted from it. Thus a stand of aspen trees can be the largest organism in the world. 

The day was sunny and warm. Unfortunately we had forgotten to put on bug repellant and the mosquitos swarmed around us when we were in the cool still shade, so we had to hurry to get back out into the open where the sun and breeze kept them at bay.

Soon we were back out on the sagebrush meadow where we could see the lake once more.

We were back to the rig in a very short time, and Craig still had most of the afternoon to enjoy a baseball game on TV.

In my last post I mentioned what wonderful weather we had been having up here, just west of Yellowstone. I may have jinxed it, anyway it certainly changed on Monday! 

Although we woke to fairly clear skies with just a few fluffy clouds over the mountains, by mid-day a storm had rolled in and we were blasted by strong wind, small hail, and heavy rain. I felt a bit like we were inside a dishwasher or carwash as the water poured down the windows. So glad our Alfa doesn't leak!

When we went outside Tuesday morning we were surprised to see 
snow on the mountains!

  This is July!

Monday, July 27, 2015

Morning Glory Pool, one of the "Must See" features in Yellowstone

Paved path to Morning Glory Pool and beyond
We have been to the Old Faithful area several times this month, and on Friday our goal was to walk the 1.6 mile path to Morning Glory Pool. Craig has a theory that whenever the posted distance for a trail or path in Yellowstone is more than a mile, the crowds thin out. This was certainly true here.

The walk was worth it.

In the past, Morning Glory Pool was a brilliant turquoise blue like many of the other pools and springs, but over the years people tossed coins and other things into it, partially blocking the water flow, which caused the water to cool enough that different organisms began to thrive and the water color turned to the green it is today. I'm sure the people did not intend to harm the pool, but now there are signs requesting tourists not to toss anything into this pool or into any other.  They are not wishing wells!

Morning Glory Pool looks like a huge flower and is very deep.

We then returned to our Jeep along the boardwalk that borders quite a few pools and geysers as it winds back behind Old Faithful and to the parking area. Our total walking distance for the afternoon was about three miles.

Here are some of the other neat things we saw in the area:

The built-up cones of these two geysers were pretty big, attesting to their great age. The deposits build at a rate of about one inch per 100 years.

There were many pools, both large and small throughout the area. This one was beautiful in the delicacy of the color. 

The water levels change in the geysers. Sometimes it goes way down and they only emit steam. 

One of two Chromatic pools, deep in the middle.

Blog note: reader statistics kept by Blogger suggest that we should be more careful with our titles.  It seems that twice as many of you decided to read a post with "Grand Prismatic" in the title, compared to a post about "Mud Volcano".  Who’d’ve thought?  :-)

Finally, I have to mention how absolutely wonderful the weather has been for the last three weeks. I don't like hot or humid weather, and for me the day temperatures in the low 70s has been perfect. When it does get a bit warmer there has been a nice breeze. It has rained in the mid afternoon some days, but mostly the daily rain has been very late in the day or early in the evening. The mornings have been delightfully cool and fresh.

I love this corner of Idaho-Montana-Wyoming in July (this year).

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Grand Prismatic Spring, Second Try

In general, Craig and I are very careful to stay on marked trails, not park in restricted or no-parking zones, and usually follow the guidelines that keep our parks in pristine condition.

We always put money in self pay envelopes, we don't pick wildflowers, and if we had a pet would certainly clean up after it.

But on this day we ignored this sign and went off the marked and maintained trail so that we, like many before us, could get a "from the top" view of the Grand Prismatic Hot Spring.

After reading my post about how we were disappointed by the steamy eye-level view we had gotten at Midway Geyser Basin, Donna sent me the URL of a post she had written about how she had gone up a trail that went up the hill from the Fairy Falls Trail to the rock overlook, from which the view of the Grand Prismatic is spectacular.  

Thank you Donna, especially for the advice about going on a warm afternoon when there was less steam.

We followed the cinder gravel Fairy Falls Trail for about  a half mile and then went up one of the many unauthorized paths.  Although it was not very far, I found it was a rather difficult climb, in part because since it was not a developed path, it was blocked by fallen trees and slippery rock falls. 

I was very excited to see the bright pool thru the trees as we climbed.

We could hear the voices of other climbers who were already at the rock overlook.

When we reached the top there was an Asian family just leaving. 

While we were there a few other people came and went. At one time there were only seven of us up there, but over a hundred people on the boardwalks around the spring below. I wondered if they could see the color since there still was a bit of steam rising.

I don't understand why the Park Service doesn't build a staircase and a viewing platform on the side of that hill. They built stairs down to the waterfalls, and up around some of the mud pots and geysers. This place is so fantastic and in the visitors center they show pictures from up high. But unless you get up to this point, you will never see it. People are going up any way they can, and in the process causing erosion and damage that could be prevented with a maintained trail.

The Grand Prismatic Spring viewed from the hill above the Fairy Falls Trail

I didn't realize we were wearing the colors of the Grand Prismatic until after we were there, but here we are, me in turquoise and Craig in rust-orange!

After scrambling back down the hill, we decided to hike the rest of the five mile (round trip) trail to Fairy Falls. 

Except for a few boggy spots, the path was very flat and free of obstacles like rocks and roots. There were no mosquitoes in the pine forest, but there were a few large deer flies.

The trail was not very crowded. Craig thinks that is because as soon as a hike gets longer than a mile, many people will pass.

But we walked it, and found the falls well worth the effort.

It appeared to us that the falls was a double.

The higher falls coming straight down from the cliff, and the second falls coming from a recessed shelf area just below the lighter colored overhanging rock. Which is to say, there seemed to be a lot more water coming down the lower part of the falls.  It was quite enchanting.

By the time we were almost back to the Jeep the shadows were getting long and we didn't have much energy left.

And as this perky fellow might say: "Thats all for now, catch you next time."

Friday, July 24, 2015

Mud Volcano and Yellowstone Lake

Mud-pot at Sulfur Spring
I don't know what it is about looking into stinky puddles of bubbling mud that fascinates us so much.

Maybe because it gives us a tiny glimpse into what lies below the surface of our earth.

Something is cooking down there! 
Maybe it is because these places are relatively rare, and although scientists know much about them, they still cannot map what lies below.

Mud Volcano
The Mud Volcano area was pretty active with mud pots, fumaroles, hot springs and inactive geysers. Like all of the Yellowstone hydrothermal areas, there were sturdy boardwalks to keep people from damaging the delicate landscape.

This area was interesting because living grasses and plants were growing in and among the bubbling water. We have learned that the bubbles are not always due to heat which would kill the plants, sometimes it is just gas which they can tolerate.

Dragon's Mouth
Another interesting feature at the Mud Volcano area was called the Dragon's Mouth. The hot spring came up well under this cavelike rock overhang, and the sounds of the water splashing against the rocks and the gas eruptions sounded like a dragon breathing and grumbling about being trapped below.

As we drove the Loop Road we saw many beautiful vistas of the Yellowstone River. 

Merikay at Yellowstone River

Yellowstone River reflections

We usually try to stop and read any informational signs. I was amazed to learn the ten mile long, dome shaped, hill in the distance is caused by bulging magma coming up from below.  How scary-sounding is that!

When we got to the lake we stopped at Lake Village and walked through the lodge.

Lake Lodge

It was big and rustic, but not very busy. We decided this must be the less crowded part of the park. There is a large hotel and cabins  close by, so this must be one of the places non-RVers might stay. I think they were all out on the roads looking at buffalo and geysers when we were at the Lodge!

Yellowstone Lake looks much like many other larger lakes. None of our pictures were particularly remarkable.

This was the best view we had in the lake area: 

Our Jeep was the only vehicle in this lakeside parking lot! 

Peace does exist in Yellowstone. It was a long day, but a very pleasant one. I'm so glad we have allotted enough time to see the park at our leisure.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

The Rut is Beginning

I know I have several followers who have never been to Yellowstone National Park, and others who may not remember where certain features I have mentioned or will mention in my posts are. So I have added this map of the park for you.

We are staying about 13 miles southwest of the town of West Yellowstone. One of the entrances to the park is at the edge of town. The first link of park drive is to Madison Junction, 14 miles inside the park. The road goes mostly through new-growth forest and along the Madison River.

It is here we saw our very first buffalo walking down the road, on our first day in the park. We have seen single buffalo and a few elk along this road, but no large herds of either. Most of the elk have gone higher into the mountain meadows for the summer, and many of the buffalo have gone over to Hayden Valley (pink arrow) and Lamar Valley (blue arrow) to rut.

We heard the rut was beginning, and on Monday decided to drive the Grand Loop Road, going thru Hayden Valley, to see the herd. We also wanted to stop at the Mud Volcano area and see the lake before turning back north to get home. The Loop Road is 96 miles from Madison Junction to Madison Junction. We will probably go over to the Lamar Valley during our last week here, another long drive!

Clop, clop, "Off to the Rut I go."
As we entered Hayden Valley we were caught in the first traffic slowdown caused by this guy walking down the center of the oncoming lane. Notice the car behind him.  

Do you notice anything different about him?

Anybody got a comb?
Perhaps he was trying 
to attract the ladies with the  
"flowers-in-my-hair' look. 

Once we got into the valley, sure enough, the herd was there. We parked along the side of the road, with a few hundred other tourists and one park ranger, to gawk at the herd that was grazing about a  mile away. 

I got out and walked into the meadow as far as the ranger would allow. The herd was still very far away, and I could just barely hear the snorts and rumbles coming from the bulls. You could not hear them from the cars.

In the very center of this picture you can see one rolling in the dust. You can also see many calves. Even though they can be self-sufficient by midway through their first winter, a calf can continue nursing for 18 months if its mother does not become pregnant.

A young cow is mature enough to breed at three years of age, but a young bull might not mate until he is five or six.

Some distance from the main herd, and a little closer to where I was standing, I noticed a bull "tending" a cow. We remember this behavior from watching the buck deer in our yard in Santa Cruz. 

The bull will single out a female and follow her around until she is ready to mate. The ranger called them the "honeymoon couples." 

The ranger said that often younger bulls will spend time tending a cow, but when she is ready to breed, an older, bigger bull will take her as his own.  

Trophy Wife?

I think these two were just in the courting stage. 

But he must have turned her on, because when he stopped following her and turned to leave, she followed him. 

As the herd moved farther from the road, the people began returning to their cars. I was almost to the Jeep when the ranger started hustling people back into their cars quite quickly. Two big bulls had decided they wanted to walk along the edge of the road. 

When a big bull buffalo is coming towards you, even at a slow plodding pace, you are wise to give him plenty of room to pass.

Next post: the Mud Volcano area and our drive along Yellowstone Lake.