Saturday, September 19, 2015

Now For Yellowstone!

Sunday, September 20, 2015

As you probably all realize by now, these posts are written several days later as time and energy permits. Yesterday I related the perilous event that unfolded with Biggie on our second night in West Yellowstone. Today I'll share the experiences of exploring this incredible park that was given to the people of our county and whose beauty and wilderness is preserved for all time by dint of that public ownership. It was never a given that a place as grand and awesomely beautiful as Yellowstone, or any of the other national parks, would or could be preserved. Huge battles were fought by a handful of men and women who realized toward the end of the 19th century, that the unrelenting expansion and desire to conquer the wilderness had come at a terrible cost - the destruction of vast forests accompanied by the demise of entire species of animals. This took place side by side with the expulsion and wholesale slaughter of the native population as settlers moved to take over their lands, their homes.

John Muir, the naturalist and a founder of the Sierra Club, stated his concern when he said the
"great wilds of our country, once held to be boundless and inexhaustible, are being rapidly invaded and overrun…and everything destructible in them is being destroyed."
And so the battle lines were drawn. Were it not for the foresight and determination of a handful of enlightened citizens we might never have been able to enjoy the wonders of these wild places today.

We wished we could have spent a week or two exploring this vast park. Two days is enough to sample just a tiny few of its points of interest, let alone explore its wilder parts.

On Sunday, September 13th, after breakfasting at our hotel and exploring the little town of West Yellowstone, we started into the park. It's not inexpensive to visit the national parks. Entry fees are $30 per car. Here's a tip: senior citizens can purchase a lifetime pass that allows free entrance to any of the national parks, forests and wilderness areas. Cost? Ten dollars!

Love the western motel signs in towns across the region.

Welcome, dude!

The town is in Montana, but a mile or so inside the park and you're in Wyoming.

Entering the park at its western gate, you are transported into a geological time warp. Steep canyons tower over you on either side of the road. Raging rivers and streams pour down from the mountains, cutting their way through rocky passes. Thousands of trees are strewn on the sides of the sheer cliffs, victims of what seems like an endless procession of rock slides. Then the vista suddenly opens into broad meadows with views of towering mountains in the distance and bison and elk roaming and grazing on grassy plains. A bit further and steam, gas and water are belching out of the earth - sulfurous pools of water leach the surrounding landscape and turn it a ghastly array of colors while killing any vegetation in the surrounding area. Trees are bare, their bases bleached white by the acidity of the effluence expelled by these geyers. It's an amazing sight and you wonder - why here? Why not outside the park just a few miles away? Yellowstone is described as a geological "hot spot" where evidence of earlier volcanic activity is still present. Here the earth's crust, I suppose, is thinner, giving the churning gases of our planet's interior access to the surface.

We entered the park and drove east about 11 miles to Madison Junction. Alongside us was a wide stream, the Madison River. At the junction, we turned south on the Grand Loop Road, heading toward Old Faithful. We took a short detour on Firehole Canyon Road. Now the raging Firehole River was our companion, It was roaring through Firehole Canyon which it had cut through over the millenia. Rockslides were evident just about everywhere, the result of the sheer cliffs that towered over the river below.

Firehole River cuts through the canyon of the same name.

Steep cliffs precipitate rockslides.
Trees are knocked down like toothpicks.

When we emerged from the short detour we were greeted by quite a surprise: a bumper-to-bumper traffic jam! We knew that Yellowstone is famous for these due to the huge crowds it attracts. Part of the balancing act that the National Park Service has to do is to provide access but also to preserve the wilderness - a difficult, maybe impossible, task it seems. This was post Labor Day but the crowds keep on coming and the traffic jams still impede your way forward.

Driving along, we finally got to see the reason for our delay: herds of buffalo, some on the road, others in an adjacent meadow. People left their cars to photograph the creatures who lethargically grazed or layed about totally ignoring the human hordes admiring them.

What is Biggie gawking at? A herd of bison in the meadow adjacent
to the road. Heavy winds are pushing his fur straight back!

Bison grazing on the grasslands of Yellowstone National Park.

After an hour of  impatiently waiting in this delay, we took another loop road and reversed direction, heading back to town. That loop allowed us a close up view of some of Yellowstone's geysers and pools.

Trees are dead and the bottom of their trunks bleached white from the acidity of the runoff.

A forest fire was raging in the northern part of the park, visible from many other areas of the park. Climate change has charred the West this summer as thousands of these fires have burned up millions of acres of bone dry, drought-stricken forests.

The geysers and hot pools stain the surrounding area with ghastly colors, leaving salt deposits behind.

Bubble, bubble. Toil and trouble. This is a fountain geiser that erupts every few hours.
The rest of the time it bubbles and burps. A sulphuric smoke is emitted. Other worldly.

The National Park Service has done an ourstanding job with these boardwalks that provide close up access.

A sign warning visitors that drones are banned from the park.
Would that they would be banned as a weapon of war being
that they have killed so many innocents in areas where our wars are waged.

Smoke rising from hot springs.

Stacey views a bubbling pool from the vantage of a National Park Service boardwalk.

On our way back to the hotel, this critter was taking a break on the side of the road. Though they look lethargic and peaceful, they are quite dangerous and visitors are warned to keep their distance. A bison can spring to its feet in a split second and charge at up to 30 miles per hour. It is not uncommon that people are injured and occasionally killed by bison in the park.

Taking a break from his grazing.

A minute later, his nap over, the bison rose to his feet. Evolution has provided
a large hump to house powerful muscles. During harsh winters the bison
will use his massive head, moving it side to side to push deep snow aside so it can reach grass and plants
buried deep below.

Given the slow going due to Yellowstone's traffic jams, we would try again, later that evening, to reach Old Faithful, starting out at 6:00 pm. We were right - it was a breeze. But we had no luck in seeing the famous geyser actually perform. Our timing was off and it wouldn't gush forth again until close to 9:00. We did, however get to visit the historic Old Faithful Inn, one of those early 20th century grand wood hotels. Beautifully preserved, it was an anachronism in this day of modern, upscale hotels.

An amazing and grand old lodge - Old Faithful Inn. This is the lobby
Rustic and woody, staircases ascend to multiple levels.

Stacey admires the lobby of the Old Faithful Inn.

Something to gawk at for sure!

Old Faithful is right outside the inn's door. We didn't get to see it gush.
Our timing was off and , you know, it doesn't just spout on command.

A beautiful old inn with eccentric architecture I thought.'
Guests can ascend to the viewing platform on the roof fo a better view of Old Faithful.

We left the inn as the sun was setting. A lone bison grazed in the meadow just outside the hotel.

Yellowstone sunset. 
It was the end of a beautiful day as we headed bsack to town and our hotel. Little did we know what was in store for us. This would be the night of Little Biggie's seizures and our late night trek on mountain roads to the emergency clinic in Bozeman, Montana, some 93 miles away.

Tomorrow, returning from our overnight stay in Bozeman, we would hang out at the hotel, giving Biggie and us a day of rest and relaxation. On Tuesday, we'd start off for Washington, travelling through the width of Idaho - another amazing place to see and wonder in these United States.

See you there! - Matt


  1. Hope Biggie's doing better! What beautiful country you are seeing!

  2. I just wrote a long comment and then to publish it said sign in which I did, and by the time I got back to review it, it was blank- very frustrating! Anyway the first time I was in Yellowstone was when I was 2 years old (1953) in our car from NY to CA to see the cousins you will be seeing soon; we had a mattress in the back for me and my sister, no seat belts back then... and then we went across country again when I was 7! We stayed at that very Inn! My dad made arrangements early on and we also had a lifetime pass that allowed us to visit the National Parks for free- too bad my mom doesn't have it now. My dad also researched and then made really good itineraries. On the way back he bought a bigger new car in San Bernadino, apparently it was a good deal. Mom got a calendar from the car dealership that had a recipe for the very best chocolate cake, which we still use today! She has a great memory of details and I only have images in my mind of all the places we'd been (north, Midwest, northwest, south and Canada). You on the other had have this wonderful blog option to preserve your memories and photos- the beauty of technology.

    1. How lucky you were, Kathy, to have made those 2 cross country trips, and remember them! This has been a memorable trip for us. I'm looking forward to the next leg.

  3. Nice photos and story.....any bears??

    1. No bears. Just the bison and some elk.

  4. In the parks, those traffic delays are known as "animal jams." On my last trip in Jasper National Park, we saw a bull elk, surrounded by his harem, charge a car that was too close for comfort. You don't want to get between a guy and his girl!

  5. In the parks, those traffic delays are known as "animal jams." On my last trip in Jasper National Park, we saw a bull elk, surrounded by his harem, charge a car that was too close for comfort. You don't want to get between a guy and his girl!

  6. Matt and Stacey,
    Thanks again for letting us piggy-back on your wonderful voyage. Almost like being stowaways, but with better food.

  7. Thank God for our National Parks they are a wonder to behold. I know the pictures do not do it justice. Hope the puppy is ok, safe travels.