Hello! While I am now back at home in San Diego relaxing on my couch in preparation for tomorrow’s 4th of July festivities, I spent the majority of the time since my last blog entry up in Yellowstone, our first National Park. Yellowstone is similar to Grand Teton in many ways – they are both at high elevation with rivers, lakes, lodgepole pine forests, sagebrush flats, and similar wildlife. However, while Grand Teton’s main geological feature is the Teton Mountain Range, Yellowstone is known for its thermal features – hot springs, vents, and geysers. A huge portion of the park is the remains of a giant caldera (the depression at the top of a volcano) resulting from a gigantic volcanic explosion some 640,000 years ago. There is still magma relatively close to the earth’s surface here (as close as 3 miles compared to the normal 38 miles) and Yellowstone is considered to be an active volcano. There are more thermal features in Yellowstone than in the rest of the world combined.
I saw a few geysers erupt, including Old Faithful (their most famous geyser), Riverside, Pink Cone, White Cone, and several that spurt almost continuously. I spent a lot of time walking around and viewing the various hot springs as well which can be quite breathtaking. Depending on temperature, they come in a variety of colors, from oranges and yellows to greens and blues. Think of a swimming pool, but clearer and much more brilliant. I found it hard to do justice to the hot springs with my camera, but here is a shot of Emerald Pool that should give you an idea of what some of them look like:
Emerald Pool, Black Sand Basin, Yellowstone NP, WY
The colors of the hot springs, except for the sparkling blue ones, are created by bacteria called thermophiles which thrive at high temperatures. All around the geysers and hot springs, where the piping hot water has leaked and seeped over and across the ground, there is more color and interesting patterns to be found in what are called “bacterial mats”. Here, a photo is probably worth a thousand words:
Bacterial Mat Detail, Black Sand Basin, Yellowstone NP, WY
The geysers also produce travertine deposits (a type of limestone) which can form cones (so some geysers look like mini volcanoes), terraces, and other formations. The Great Fountain Geyser has terraces which are filled with calm, glassy water which reflects the sunset beautifully:
Great Fountain Geyser, Firehole Lake Drive, Yellowstone NP, WY
Here is another shot that I took one evening in the Midway Geyser Basin of Yellowstone:
Lodgepole Pine Graveyard, Midway Geyser Basin, Yellowstone NP, WY
After I finished exploring the geyser basins, I headed toward the Canyon area of Yellowstone where the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone is found. The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone is a deep canyon that the Yellowstone River cut along with the help of many thermal features (they make the rock more brittle and susceptible to erosion), which color the canyon walls and can still be seen spouting steam from various places. There are two large waterfalls in the canyon. Here are the Lower Falls as seen from Artists Point on the canyon’s south rim:
Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone Upper Falls from Artists Point, Yellowstone NP, WY
Also in this area of the park is the Hayden Valley, where bison herds can be found and I saw white pelicans, a coyote, and some sort of egret, not to mention hundreds of geese. It wasn’t until I headed north toward Tower-Roosevelt that I had some great bear sightings though. On the road to Tower-Roosevelt from Canyon Village is a huge meadow where Antelope Creek is, and people crowd the turnouts every morning and evening with spotting scopes, binoculars, and large telephoto lenses looking for bear, wolf, and anything else of interest. The first morning I passed through there I saw a grizzly with her two cubs down the hillside a couple of hundred yards, and my last morning there I saw her again, but about 50 yards up the hillside from the road where I watched her for about 20 minutes before she came down and crossed the road right between all the cars and people! Some people aren’t very bright and crowded her as she came through, staying within about a dozen feet of her! Grizzlies with cubs are notoriously protective and you are required by park regulations to keep at least 100 yards from bears, so these folks were being quite risky, but this bear seems to have grown accustomed to the routine as it had apparently been happening almost daily!
I also got the chance to watch, through binoculars, as a wolf taunted a young grizzly who would chase the wolf around until it tired, at which point the wolf would come back and nip at it again to elicit another chase! This went on for about 15 minutes too! Anyway, I don’t have any fantastic shots of wildlife that I feel like sharing, so instead I’ll share with you a photo of the Madison Arm Wildland Fire. It had just started earlier in the day when I took this shot, over in the Gallatin National Forest west of Yellowstone, so I was able to get a close view before they shut down the highway there. It burned about 3,600 acres and is now 90% contained:
Madison Arm Wildland Fire, Gallatin National Forest, MT
Overall, Yellowstone was great. I think the wildlife viewing is a bit better than Grand Teton, and the thermal features are definitely worth exploring if you are in the area. I have to say that Grand Teton has been my favorite place of the trip though because of the strikingly beautiful, picturesque views that the Tetons provide, and the nearly-as-good-as-Yellowstone wildlife encounters.
In the end though, nearly three weeks on the road camping turned out to be enough, and I decided to make my way home. So that is all for now :) I’ll post here again when I have new photos of interest! Till then, Happy Fourth of July and have a great summer!