Saturday, September 29, 2012

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Last Day in Yellowstone

It feels strange writing this last post as I'm home now. Internet was spotty through the trip, and though we were supposed to have it in the Billings hotel the night before we flew out, it wasn't working well. So, I enjoyed my evening, took some notes and promised to write when I arrived home!

We had breakfast at the Snow Lodge, and I learned that they had changed my friend's flight, but not mine! She had mentioned it, and I did receive a change so didn't give it any thought to double-check! I called the airline, and unfortunately the call was dropped right after I was told they would be right back with me to help. When I called again, I was told there was no availability! Of course, we had figured out transportation assuming we'd be together, so this posed a challenge!

We headed out, leaving Old Faithful and the extensive geyser basin surrounding her. On the way out of the park we headed towards Mammoth, the oldest established part. We missed the obsidian cliffs (though the sun wasn't shining enough to show the true beauty of these cliffs) and stopped at the 'Sheepeater's Cliffs' for a 'nature walk.' They were named after the Shoshone indians, who reportedly ate sheep.

We then stopped at the terraces overlooking Mammoth. These giant limestone terraces are made of travertine-despositing hot springs. They are white and look like rippling snow. I read that the Shoshone and Bannock people collected minerals from these terraces for their white paint. This area is pretty large and there's several sections to walk around. There is also a bacteria 'mat', a beautifully colorful area of orange, yellows and greens.

We drove down to Mammoth, which used to be a military installation. There are several really gorgeous places, and the inn was designed by Robert Reamer, the same designer of the Old Faithful inn. Inside the inn is a gorgeous map made of wood representing all 50 states. Driving through the town, we saw a large herd of elk, sleeping amongst the houses. It reminded me of Estes Park, CO, by Rocky Mountain National Park, where elk roam everywhere and it seemed a common occurrence to find elk in your front lawn!

We stopped at a small parking lot that didn't stand out in any way for a special surprise. This is the 45th parallel hot springs (at the 45th parallel, the halfway point between the equator and the north pole), pools set up in the boiling river, taking advantage of the hot springs cascading down the side of the river wall. You would never notice it if you didn't know it was here, so we were glad for our 'tour guide!' We walked a mile or so through a beautiful area along the river, and wound our way down. There were big rocks to navigate on, so we were glad for the suggestion of bringing water shoes!

What a fun time! It was funny as you hit hot spots that were almost scalding, then ice cold spots as you weave your way through the pools. We spoke with a guy from Kentucky who was taking his 14 year old son on a National Park adventure, and just enjoyed relaxing a bit in the soothing water.

But all good things come to an end! We picnicked in the parking lot and headed off to the north entrance of Yellowstone Park, flocked by an impressive stone archway. We passed Rescue Creek, where we heard a quote of the day: 'Why do you suppose they call it that?' Maybe you had to be there, but it was pretty funny!

As we left the park we saw lots of deer and antelope, but not the ever-elusive bear, unfortunately! The drive out was gorgeous, passing by lots of farms and ranches, through fields of gold grass looking up at the pine-covered mountains, all weaving around they Yellowstone River. It all is so huge and so beautiful, so I now know why they call Montana 'big sky country.'

We stopped at Chico, an old hotel in Pray, Montana known for it's hot spring pool (in a traditional pool this time!) The hotel was gorgeous and we went on a little tour through it and the gardens behind, ending at the pool. We were supposed to stay here, though when the airline changed flights on us, we were unable to unfortunately. The hotel boasts a five star restaurant, horseback riding, dogsledding, rafting, etc.

We got back into Billings and it was not so exciting after everything we had seen! I found myself looking around for buffalo still! The hotel was ok and in the downtown area, so convenient. Our 'tour guide' left to visit friends, since she used to live here, and the rest of us walked down the street to find a restaurant. We headed to where the hotel suggested, then saw a cute little wine bar/restaurant called Bin 112 and decided to go there instead. Yum! Excellent. And quite entertaining sitting outside listening to the clientelle. At one point when I was talking, I said that I'm not married... right then a guy walked by and was walking into the restaurant, stopped and said 'let's talk!' It was hilarious. Total small town and a fun night.

I called the morning of our flights and was able to book myself on the earlier flight, so no exploring Billings! But after all the majesty of Yellowstone National Park, I can't imagine that Billings would have had anything nearly as impressive to offer!

Until the next trip...

Friday, September 21, 2012

Yellowstone- Old Faithful

We went to the Old Faithful Lodge for breakfast since we can’t get dinner reservations there, even with cancellations. I had corn cakes with huckleberry butter. I’m hooked on huckleberry!

As we were leaving the restaurant, we saw a group gathering in front of the giant fireplace, and it was a tour starting. So we jumped in and what a great decision! Ruth Quinn was our guide. She’s been working in Yellowstone for close to 20 years in the summers, and five at Old Faithful. She was a wealth of knowledge and actually wrote a book about Robert Reamer, the architect of the Old Faithful Inn.

Robert Reamer was only 29 years old when he worked on this project. He was unknown, but in the right place at the right time and quite lucky! He built it in a rustic style, and was the first to do so in a national park. He apprenticed at the age of 13 as an architect. The Inn is built with a large central structure, and additional were added on in the 20 years after it was built to add extra rooms. It was constructed in a year by 50 very busy carpenters. The additions were built to not detract from the central structure and seem to fade into the background.

The inn is built of lodge pole pine, and all of the materials were found in the park, within 20 miles. There are really interesting curved and knotty pines cut from diseased pines that were damaged or bacteria were impacting the growth, and it makes for an incredible view. I think it was built and opened in 1904. For $50, people could take a five-day stagecoach tour of the park, and it included food and lodging at the five major inns. Each stop was within 40 miles of the others. It was billed as a ‘Tour of Wonderland.’ The train companies funded construction and offered loans to the building company.

We got to see one of the rooms in the old section. The walls are lodge pole pines, and the rooms are adorable. Some have an old copper-topped table, and there’s a sink that was updated to porcelain 20 years after the rooms were built. Extensions added over another 200 rooms, and they are almost always full. All additions to the inn were done by Reamer, though his lifetime.

In 1959 there was a major earthquake, measuring 7.2 on the Richter Scale. It rotated the chimney, so it was unusable until it was fixed in a major renovation in 2004-2006. It also pulled the upper staircases from the wall, so people can not go above the third floor onto the roof. It’s since been fixed, however, due to fire codes and the fact that there is only one staircase to the upper floors, the levels are still closed. The renovation including some refurbishing, and updates to the heat and plumbing.

The inside of the inn is all wood, and it’s gorgeous. There was a blacksmith as well who did a lot of work, and he worked on the front doors, which are the originals, and many pieces around the inn. There is also a large, 25 lb popcorn popper to use in the fireplace! He also created the radiators, which are still used today. Some were replaced, and molded in the same fashion so you can’t tell the difference!

There’s also beautiful antique furnishings, and chairs and sofas of wood and leather. One of the companies that furnished the hotel is still in business, and it’s a relationship that has spanned 100 years and continues today.

We then went to the visitor’s center, which has a really interesting exhibit and watched a video about the creation of the park and the geysers. There was no sound, but thankfully it was close captioned so we could read all about it!

We got to see Old Faithful go off twice, and it was much nicer walking the boardwalk late morning once the frost melted! We walked up in the geyser basin around Old Faithful, and walked over to see Grand Geyser, a fountain geyser. They are usually in a pool of water and multi-dimensional. Unfortunately, it was much earlier than predicted and we arrived as it was ending! We did get to see a small geyser erupt. Old Faithful is a cone geyser, which shoots off in one direction.

We went back to our cabin to get our car and drove to the other geyser basins in the area. We went to the Great Fountain Geyser, another fountain-type geyser and missed that by minutes as well! We got to see a great cone geyser, which looked like the beehive Geyser we saw earlier in the day. It was a large cone built of deposits from the geyser water. We walked through the other geyser basins: Biscuit Basin, Black Sand Basin, Fountain Paint Pots, and Midway Geyser Basin. We saw a lot of beautifully-colored geysers, fumerols (steaming pots), mud pits and bacteria mats with amazing colors of orange, green and gold.

One of the basins had several buffalo incredibly close to the road. And just like in the warning videos, a family with young kids walked right up to a buffalo, within 50 feet, to take a picture! The recommendation is no closer than 75 feet, however, with young kids, even that seems foolish.

We headed back to the cabin, and went to sit on the porch of one of the Inns overlooking Old Faithful to have a drink and enjoy the late afternoon here. We’ve been walking all day and we’re pooped! I’m now officially geysered out!!!

We went for dinner at the Old Faithful Snow Lodge, the only Inn open through the winter. The others close in mid-October. This lodge does have internet, so I’ll likely post this after dinner! I’m not sure we’re doing anything else tonight, so probably won’t miss anything exciting!

Tomorrow we head to Mammoth, another part of the park towards the northwest. We’re going to soak in some hot springs, then head back to Billings to fly back home on Saturday. This week has flown by!

Grand Teton day 2

We headed to the cafeteria onsite at the Colter campground for breakfast. A girl from Bulgaria brought us coffee, so we talked to her for a little bit. She’s heading back home in two weeks. This place had gluten free bread, which was great, and scrambled tofu with curry. I’m tired of eggs and wanted protein, so it worked! And was very tasty, too.

We walked about the campground for a bit and over to the visitor’s center, which is also onsite, then over to the lake for a view. We decided to do a hike around Jenny Lake, as it’s so beautiful and we really enjoyed seeing it yesterday. It was such an amazing hike!! A surprising number of people for off-season. We kept stopping to take in the views and catch our breath. It was incredibly smoky today, and between that and the high altitude, it can be a little tough to breathe.

We circled the lake and every step offered a new glorious view. I forgot to mention that we saw a sign with a picture of a bear on it and a ‘beware of bears’ warning.

Quote of the day: ‘Is that an elephant?!’

We hiked for close to four hours, stopping for a fruit and nut snack. We met a wonderful ranger who told us a funny story about a bear that decided to visit the visitor’s center not long ago. He was hanging out around back, and climbed a tree. The rangers encouraged him to move on as there was a high volume of people, and when they did, the people followed him en masse! Then this tiny little ranger said she put her hands on her hips and yelled at the crowd ‘You are NOT following that bear!!!’ They stopped. Meanwhile, the bear went straight for the ranger’s station, and the head ranger was sitting there watching the bear walk right towards him. The bear detoured at the last minute and wandered off.

So far we haven’t had any bear sightings, but we’re optimistic! Hopefully it won’t be up close though. We also learning from this ranger that black bears can range in color from blonde to brown to black. The fox we saw last night was a red fox (as it’s the only kind in the park) but red foxes can also be blonde, brown or black. Interesting!

On the way back, there was a woman and her 7ish year old daughter, huffing and puffing and dragging her feet. It was so cute. ‘Must be hard to be so young and full of energy’ I said, and the mom laughed.

We went to Signal Mountain for a quick stop and to look for a picnic table for a late lunch. We drove around and found a boat dock with a table next to it and no one around. It was wonderful! We ate and enjoyed the views of Jackson Lake before heading back out. We headed north back to Yellowstone, and passed the Continental Divide again. We stopped at Isa Lake, which was covered by green and yellow lilly pads. Isa Lake is interesting as it flows in two directions: to the Pacific, and to the Atlantic!

We got to Old Faithful village at around 6:30 and stopped in the old lodge. It’s incredible, and made of different kinds of wood. We got there 15 minutes before Old Faithful was about to erupt, so we ran upstairs to a viewing place and sat down just in time! It was amazing to see, and the couple sitting next to me said that it was a big eruption, bigger than the other one they saw. I got some video and pictures, and was so excited to see it, I forgot to take a pic of it on my phone so I can text it to folks! Next time.

We went to another lodge (there are four in this area) for dinner. I got the trout almondine (sp?) again, and it was good, much better than the last time. Trout is one of the local foods, and I enjoy trying local cuisine when I travel. We checked in and found out that we were in cabins with a shared bath. It’s fine for a couple of nights. Even when we booked in February/March, everything was all sold out and we had a hard time finding places. So we took what we could get. So a tip for you when you come here: book early. Really, really early.

We did get to watch Old Faithful erupt again (it does every hour and a half or so) but it was really dark so we only saw a faint outline of it. The cabins weren’t easy to find in the dark, but it worked out ok. The rooms are cute. There is a sink in the room, which is nice, and our cabins are in the back (there’s two to a building.) I suspect we’ll have a ‘scenic visit’ should there be a need. :o)

Tomorrow we’ll explore this area, as there is a really large geyser basin. We’ll check out the other lodges, including the Snow Lodge, the only lodge open in the winter, and the one that offers internet.  Hopefully I’ll get to post this tomorrow! I can’t believe we only have two more days! This trip is really flying by..

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Grand Teton

It was a long night last night, a very long night. I was up at regular intervals, and my morning didn’t start off well when I had two fresh spider sightings. I was very, very ready to go! We ate breakfast in the Lake Hotel and reported the spiders. Apparently they can’t spray in the national park so they are limited as to what they can do. Small comfort!!

We had a lovely breakfast overlooking the lake through large picture windows. I was tired of eggs and got steel cut oats and coffee. Lots of coffee.

We headed south, and around the area we were in yesterday with the old growth, a wolf ran across the road. It may have actually been a wolf I saw on the water yesterday, and not a coyote! It was in the same area. We drove past the West Thumb area we were at yesterday and crossed the Continental Divide. We drove by Lewis Lake and decided to stop for some pictures, both at the lake and at Lewis Falls.

We passed through the south entrance of Yellowstone and on to Grand Teton National Park. It got very smoky from the fires behind the Tetons and in Idaho. Unfortunately the rain didn’t reach this area so the smoke was still quite heavy.

We got to Coulter Village and checked in to the cabins. We have an adjoining cabin with a shared bath, and it’s very cute! We drove around to get the lay of the land, then headed over to Jackson Lake. The lake is huge and beautiful, and should offer a glorious view of the Tetons. However, the smoke was so thick, they were barely discernable. We were teasing our ‘tour guide’ that she went in the wrong direction as we must be in the wrong spot! We went to the Jackson Lake Lodge for lunch, overlooking a marshy area which is known for animal sightings. Nada.

We compared a post card of the view with what we saw, and got a few pictures from the dashboard with the two. As the time progressed, we were able to make out a faint outline of the mountain ridges, though they weren’t really showing up on film. We headed south to Jackson Hole, stopping a few times for pictures as the mountains came more into view. It almost feels like being in New England in some areas with the fall colors and pine trees. The aspens paint a silvery yellow that contrast with the vivid green of the pine and the gold of the plains.

We stopped in the Jenny Lake visitor’s center and got our first great view of the Tetons. The smoky haze was starting to lift, and though it didn’t still show well on film, it was amazing to see the jagged outline through the mist. The visitor’s center had a lot of great things, and a short video that demonstrated how Yellowstone and the Tetons were created through shifting plates, volcanic eruptions and glaciers. It was really interesting.

We headed into Jackson Hole through a National Elk Refuge, though we never saw any Elk in that area.

Quote of the day: ‘If I were an elk, I’d be right out there all day!’

We parked in the downtown area by the square, and went into the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar. The bar stools are saddles, so we took the obligatory pictures before settling down for a beverage. I got a huckleberry lemonade, which I think is my new favorite thing. Who knew huckleberries are so good? The place was interesting, with a lot of a really thick, knotty wood.

The square is flocked with four gates, one of each corner, of antler’s horns. It reminds me of Santa fe but is much more western, instead of southwestern. We walked around the square, window shopping a bit, then went to dinner at a restaurant called Thai Me Up. One cannot exist on buffalo alone, and we wanted something different. The food was great, service ok, and the bathroom was something to speak of! A rather talented artist painted giant elephants on the walls. The elephants were white and the walls were each a different bright color, so the contrast was striking. I didn’t take any pictures, but it would have been picture worthy.

We headed out to animal watch, and our timing was perfect! First we saw a half dozen elk, including a large male with full antlers, and a couple of young ones. They were bugling, which was amazing to hear. Then a minute later we saw a large male moose across the street, just standing there posing for photos.  We enjoyed some gorgeous views of the tetons, which were now more in view with the fading light. We headed to Jenny Lake, and a wolf ran across the road in front of us. Then we saw something by the side of the road and saw a fox. I tried to take a picture and succeeded in only getting a shot of glowing eyes. Apparently we were intruding as he started barking his displeasure.

We got to the Lake and got out to take some pictures. It’s gorgeous, and close to the base of the Tetons so very picture worthy. The sun was in its last pass before heading below the horizon and we enjoyed the colors etched as it floated down.

We pulled into our campground and got ready for bed. Two went to the office to use the internet, and we learned that there were TWO bear sightings right in our campground! We don’t even have to go far, and I think bears are the only animals we haven’t seen on this adventure. I suspect we’ll walk around the campground a bit tomorrow morning to see what we can find! 

Yellowstone Day 4

We woke to an incredibly cold room and fog so thick and collecting on the window that it reminded me of snowy winter days in Boston. We took our time making our way to the cafeteria for breakfast, and decided to sit by a fire on some plus leather chairs enjoying a cup of joe. We got breakfast then headed back to the cabins to pack up, grabbed our post cards and head out.

Yellowstone Lake facts:
·      The lake is 7753 feet above sea level
·      It covers 131.7 square miles
·      The shoreline is 141 miles
·      The deepest part is 410 feel
·      The average temperature is 45 degrees farenheit
·      There are many hydrothermal features on the bottom of the lake
·      Yellowstone Lake is the highest elevation lake in North America
·      It is constantly changing
·      3,000 gallons of hot water pours into the lake daily from the geyser basin

A couple of things from yesterday that I forgot to mention: first, we saw a rainbow after the storm. It was a beautiful rainbow that was sideways in the sky. The second was that I had this interesting salad dressing made of chokecherries. I’ve never had them before and I’m not totally sure what they are, but it was good.

We drove around Yellowstone lake to the West Thumb area. This is one of the two little fingers off Yellowstone Lake carved by the glaciers.  We spent much of the day going between Grant and West Thumb to listen to the ranger talks and walk around the area. We first heard a talk about the history of Yellowstone (which showcased three women and the first three female rangers in the park.) Horace Albright, the Director of Yellowstone was apparently a visionary at the time allowing women to work for the National Park Service and fighting for their ability to do so.  Apparently there’s a book called ‘Women in Wonderland’ that chronicles some of the stories of the time in the 20s.

We drove through the old growth pine forest, which has never had a fire or been logged.  We learned that the seeds in the lodge pole pinecones need fire to melt the resin and release the pods to start new growth. Later in the day, we walked in this pine forest for a bit. The trees are quite close together. It was along the water and I had walked off a little ways, and actually saw a coyote trotting on the beach not too far away under the short cliff I was standing on.

We watched a short video on the ten years after the fire. In 1988 over 30% of Yellowstone Park burned. It was the culmination of two factors: several years of drought and a change in National Park Service policy that they were not going to interfere with nature and if a fire started, they would let it burn. And they did, which caused major scandal and public uproar. It’s beautiful and quite amazing to see the renewal process at work, and how the natural systems in the park recover after such a large and devastating fire. One year after the fire swept through, fireweed, a bright lavender purple flowered plant was growing, and the plains, hills and mountains were covered with grasses. Scientists took the opportunity to research how nature responds to fire, and found many positive things for the animals and plants.

Flames give birth to new opportunities offering animals new plants grown in the nutrient-rich soil. The fifteen-year old lodge pole pine forests show the dead tall stalks of the trees impacted by the fire, then lots of new growth 6-10 feet high in the same area. Fire is a conservation tool allowing the rebirth of the forests. To be preserved, Yellowstone must change, and now fire is often seen as a natural cleansing process.

 We then went to the Grant Geyser Basin and walked along the wooden boardwalk through the geysers and hot pools. We listened to another talk and learned that if a pool ever erupts, it’s called a geyser forever. She was a good speaker and used the acronym P3HEW to teach us about the geyser basin.
P= pipes, pressure (and I forget the third P!)
E= earthquake(s)
W= water

There are 3-6,000 earthquakes in Yellowstone Park a year, usually 1-2 on the Richter Scale. Heat from the magma is around 2 miles beneath the surface in Yellowstone, compared to most part of the United States where it’s 10 miles or more deep.

Grant Geyser Basin overlooks the lake, and offers some truly incredible views of the bright blue and orange pools draining into the dark blue of the lake. There are also some interesting pots by the water, and we were told that people used to fish in the lake, then put the fish into these boiling cauldrons to cook the fish!! The area is pretty barren right around the geysers, similar to the other areas we saw. It’s flocked with dead pine trees, and further off are some live ones, not yet killed by the heat of the area. As we were leaving, I saw a complete idiot walking on the boardwalk carrying his dog!! I told him dogs aren’t allowed in the area for safety and that there are signs at the start of the boardwalk in both directions. He just said ‘oh really?’ Shrugged, and kept walking! Poor dog. I told one of the rangers as the guy didn’t even have a leash on it either!

We picnicked in the woods by the basin and a little grey bird came diving at a grape I accidentally dropped on the ground. I know, I shouldn’t feed them, but I had a case of dropsy apparently. :o) They came right up close and were quite assertive.

We went to a third talk and learned that it’s now elk and moose rutting season, and to be careful not to get too close as the males can be a bit aggressive. The ranger had a horn from a sheep that was surprisingly heavy, as well as an elk’s antlers. She gave us some places in Grand Teton park that are typically good for animal sightings.

We drove back and grabbed some drinks and headed to the beach by our hotel for a drink before dinner. It was so nice listening to the sound of the waves crashing up on the shore. The beach has black sand in parts, which is beautiful. We saw some tracks and speculated what they are.

Dinner was much better this evening in the lake hotel. We decided to head out to go searching for animals in the Hayden Valley. We saw a huge heard of buffalo, and watched them for a little while. They had walked across the road (evidenced by the fresh ‘piles’ left behind). They were making these interesting mewling noises, and we listened for a bit. Across the road there was a buffalo carcass and two wolves feeding on it, a black wolf and a grey. They were far off so looks like specs, but someone with a really strong telescope let us look. There were also a couple of buffalo nearby and some elk. We have yet to see a bear now, and are likely to see moose in Grand Teton where there are around 600 (in comparison to the 100 or so in Yellowstone.) We saw several squirrels, chipmunks, tons of buffalo, elk and gazelles.

We got back and the others decided to run an errand while I wanted to go back to the room. Boy, was I sorry I did! I saw one of the HUGEST spiders I’ve ever seen right on the door frame to the bathroom. I am PETRIFIED of spiders. I jumped up and down, squealed and shrieked, but nothing worked and the spider didn’t do me the courtesy of dropping dead. So, I grabbed my friend’s shoe (mine were on my feet, and I was too petrified to think of taking it off) and threw it at it. It bounced off! I smacked that thing five times before it succumbed, and by then I was too freaked out to go closer and left it on the floor. Then I look up, and see his friend over my friend’s bed towards the ceiling.  I was incapable of processing this, and quietly sat in my bed trying to distract myself until my friend arrived.

When she did, I told her about our problem. She muttered under her breath and went to work. My hero! She confirmed the death of the first evil being, and then went to work on the second. I had to go outside and hear her thumping something on the wall trying to get it. I could swear I heard screaming, but it might have been my imagination. After a last thump I asked if she got it, and was told she’s not sure. ‘WHAT!?!?’ After some more scurrying she said she was successful and flushed both. Well, now I’m even more freaked out, because what if they have more friends!?!? It may be a long night…