Saturday, June 5, 2010

YELLOWSTONE PART 4

1. After an enjoyable tour of Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, we continued our journey South. On the way, we made brief stops to see Mud Volcano and West Thumb, before exiting the Park through the South entrance. Must admit that we were already somewhat geyser-fatigue and I was reminded more than once to keep the visits short.

2. As it turned up, Mud Volcano was interestingly different. Unlike earlier clusters, this was more about mud pots and fumaroles (steam vents). Strewn across the area, along a 2/3 mile boardwalk, were turbulent pools of seething and bubbling mud. Bigger ones had colourful names like Dragon's Mouth Spring, Mud Caldron, Grizzly Fumarole and etc. Brochures explains that heat loving microorganisms feed on hydrogen sulfide gas from the ground produces sulfuric acid which then breaks down rock to wet clay.








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3. At West Thumb Geyser Basin, I was surprised to see the rich range of colours of the geysers and hot springs, not inferior to Artist Paint Pots.








4. The journey South took us passed Yellowstone Lake. In late May, it was still covered by a sheet of ice. I would not be surprised that ice-skating may be possible here in winter time.

5. After Grant Village it was a drive uphill to the Pitchstone Plateau before a descent to the South Entrance. It was white everywhere, like winter time. We had seen snow up the hills earlier but that did not prepare us for what we saw up the plateau. Anyway, it was a pleasant scenic drive, though I had to be careful with the wet road condition.

6. After Yellowstone, we entered Grand Teton National Park. Scenery was appealing but we were determined not to be distracted and headed straight for Jackson, a small town of about 6000 just South of the Park, to look for accommodation. After all, we had set aside time the next day to see Grand Teton. Quite quickly we found a motel with a kitchenette in Jackson. After settling in, we went marketing at Whole Grocers and bought the stuff to cook us a home-cooked meal. It was a nice change from eating out, especially when I always had to ask for no-cheese.

YELLOWSTONE PART 3

1. Our last day at Yellowstone, May 31 (Day 14) was spent visiting Canyon Village, Mud Volcano and West Thumb Geyser Basin, on the lower East loop of the Park's figure-of-8 circuit, before exiting the Park via the South Entrance. From there, we drove to Jackson, through Grand Teton National Park.

2. That day the sun was out but it was still cold. It was about an hour drive from West Yellowstone to Canyon Village; the stretch of road up to Madison we were now very familiar as we traveled it many times the last 3 days. Canyon Village was a pleasant change from the many geysers of the last 2 days.

3. Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone with Yellowstone River's 2 waterfalls was just stunning - huge, grand and beautiful. When we first saw it we were as excited as kids. We rushed forward to see more. The Canyon is 20 miles long, more than 1000 ft deep and 1,500-4000 ft wide. Height of the upper fall is 109 ft and the lower fall 308 ft.

3. We first explored the Northern rim, then the Southern rim. Our first stop to the Brink of the Lower Falls was the most challenging. It zig-zagged almost vertically down 500 ft to the lower fall. The magnificent view was worth the effort, though I was not sure all would agree with me. Even though its late May, snow still lined both sides of the walls of the fall. The other picture shows Weiping catching his breath after the climb back. Here is the video of the lower fall.
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4. Here are more pictures of the Canyon from the North Rim.







5. This picture on the left shows the upper fall, taken from a lookout point from the South rim. When enlarged, you could see many visitors on a platform overlooking the fall.
The mother and son picture was also taken at the South rim with the lower fall in the background.

6. To be continued in the next blog.

YELLOWSTONE PART 2

1. In all, Yellowstone has more than 300 geysers, more than any other location in the world. Located along a figure-of-8 circuit in an area of 30 by 40 miles, the main clusters are Old Faithful, Midway Geyser Basin, Fountain Paint Pot, Artist Paint Pot, Norris Geyser Basin, Mammoth Hot Springs, Mud Volcano and West Thumb Geyser Basin.

2. Our plan for the 2nd day at Yellowstone (May 30, Day 13) was to continue our exploration by taking the upper loop of the figure-of-8, starting from Madison to Mammoth Hot Springs in the North, traveling along the Northern route and down the Eastern loop , before returning to West Yellowstone.

3. We started the day at about 10 am. It was a chilly day. We made 3 stops to see more geysers, hot springs, steam vents and mud pots. They were:

(a) Artist Paint Pots, for its colours; varying
shades of blue, gray, yellow and brown; their colours depending on the type of mineral deposits and the texture on the amount subterranean water.









(b) Norris Geyser Basin -2.5 mile trail that include the world's tallest active geyser, Steamboat Geyser, which could shoot to height of 300 ft (trouble was you never know when it's going to erupt) and the Norris Museum. Video shows Arch Steam Vent.








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(c) Mammoth Hot Springs - The many tiers of limestone slopes where hot water seeped through the network of fractures and fissures and flowed down the rock surfaces, creating interesting textures and colours. Pictures here show Palette Spring. Near Palette Spring was this unusual rock formation called Liberty Cap.








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Unfortunately, many of the upper tiers have become largely "extinct" (maybe that's why this is called Mammoth Hot Springs, we were jokingly saying), as water was no longer flowing, possibly because the underground plumbing network was altered by volcanic activities.








4. Along the Northern loop, we made a detour to see a 50 mil years petrified tree. We were unimpressed though I am sure its a treasure to geologists and scientists. This explained why it was fenced up as it had been vandalised before.




5. Along the same route, we were fortunate to catch an elk grazing next to the road. First time we saw one at such close range.

6. A few miles South of Tower Junction was the 132 ft Tower Fall. We took a short walk to see this magnificent waterfall. There was a path that allowed visitors to descend to the bottom of the fall but we had little energy to climb back to the top. It's been a long day.






7. Traveling Westward from Canyon Village to Madison, on the way back to West Yellowstone, we were pleasantly surprised to see ground of the forested areas still covered with snow and we were approaching June. But, we shouldn't be surprised as Yellowstone is generally located between 7000-9000 ft.



Thursday, June 3, 2010

YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK, PART 1

1. After Glacier National Park, our next destination was Yellowstone National Park. Unfortunately it meant traveling there on 28 May, Day 11, the Friday of the Memorial Weekend. Internet searches showed that many hotels in and near the Park were fully booked for the weekend. We decided to proceed anyway. We reckoned the situation was not likely to be better elsewhere.

2. It was a long day of driving, leaving Whitefish on 28 May at about 9.30 am for Gardiner, a town just outside the North Entrance of Yellowstone National Park. At 400 miles away, this was one of our longer day drives. On the way just out of Whitefish I managed to take this rare picture - a snow-capped mountain range floating above the clouds. We were tired when we reached Gardiner at about 4.30 pm. Also, the rain did not help as it dampened our mood somewhat.

3. As Albright Visitor Centre at the North Entrance of Yellowstone National Park was a short drive away from Gardiner, we managed to rush there in time to pick up some maps and brochures. Across from the visitor centre was the beautiful Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel. It did have one room left but could only take 2 persons. Back in Gardiner, we were happy to accept the last available room at Absaroka Lodge at US$89. We passed it earlier and its signage showed no vacancy. Somebody must had just canceled the booking - our lucky day. We were happy to stay another night here but the Lodge was fully booked.

4. The next day, we had more anxious moments with our accommodation. After breakfast, we packed our bags and drove to West Yellowstone to find accommodation for the next 2 nights. It was a bigger town and we were glad to see many hotels there. After looking around, we found Yellowstone Country Inn with 2 rooms left. We decided to check out another 2-3 hotels before deciding. No luck, they were full. When we returned to Yellowstone Country Inn half an hour later, the cheaper of the 2 remaining rooms had just been taken up and we had no alternative but to take the bigger last available room at US$99 a night. After settling our accommodation, we proceeded back to Yellowstone National Park to begin our tour.

5. With its 2.4 mil acres of park land, Yellowstone National Park inspires awe in travelers from around the world. It has the world's largest concentration of geysers, more than Iceland and New Zealand. Its central portion is a caldera, 30 by 45 miles wide, formed some 640 000 years ago, the last of 3 major volcanic eruptions. The earth's magma, in some areas only 2-3 miles below the thin crust, powers the park's many geysers, hot springs, fumaroles and mud-pots. The presence of various minerals adds colours to these features. It is also home to many animals, like grizzly and black bears, bison, elks etc.

6. On the way back into the National Park, the traffic unexpectedly slowed to a halt. Cars were parked discriminately and people were rushing forward, some carrying their big cameras. As it turned out, they were all getting excited with the sighting of a black bear with its 2 cubs. I managed to capture them with my camera as they were about to disappear into the woods. Further on, a whole herd of bison was crossing the road, bringing traffic again to a stop.
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7. With the herd of bison among the cars, we could see a cow, still with its umbilical cord hanging out, trying to nudge its new born calf which was unable to stand properly, to move along with the herd. The mother instinct is all the same.
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8. Of the many attractions in Yellowstone, we decided to start with Old Faithful before moving Northwards. Old Faithful got its name because it could perform "faithfully". Unlike other geysers, its eruptions could be predicted fairly accurately. It also erupts more frequently than other big geysers. When we arrived, people were gathering to see the 3 pm eruption. It was wet and cold but it did not deter the large number of people who were there. It erupted on schedule. It was over fairly quickly, a few minutes, sort of anti-climax, after the wait.


9. Next to Old Faithful are 2 lovely hotels, Old Faithful Lodge Cabins and Old Faithful Inn. I like Old Faithful Inn better, especially its timber finishes and its architecture - its tall lobby and overhanging balconies. We checked and its full. We had a cup of coffee in hotel, to escape from the cold outside and to appreciate the beauty of this old hotel.

10. After the short rest, we decided to brave the cold and rain to walk the Old Faithful Geyser Loop and the Geyser Hill Loop to see more geysers and hot springs. There were many of them, big and small holes, with steam emanating from some, and others like boiling pots with water bubbling. The bigger ones have names like Spasmodic Geyser, Beehive Geyser, Sawmill Geyser (see video below) and etc. At one point, near the Castle Geyser, it started to snow. Snow in end May !!
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11. On the way North and back to the hotel, we stopped to look at another cluster of 4 main geysers - Midway Geyser Basin. Here's Turqoise and Grand Prismatic Geyser.



12. That evening, we had more challenges with our accommodation. At 9 pm, water started to drip from the ceiling. After exploring various alternatives, the hotel staff eventually moved us to a 2 room unit that was temporarily used by some workers. As it was an upgrading, we gladly accepted. We were only able to settle down at about 11 pm.