Day 248 – Yellowstone’s Grand Loop, August 21, 2011
I started out today visiting Old Faithful. The geyser is well known because of its
consistency. It erupts every 40 to 126 minutes for a few minutes. While it
doesn’t spew as high as Grand Geyser, the world’s tallest predictable geyser,
it still puts on a good show. Old
Faithful is located in Upper Geyser Basin along with 125 other active geysers. In fact, Yellowstone is home to 200 of the
500 active geysers found in the world!
While waiting on Old Faithful to work its magic, I wandered
along the boardwalk past a variety of springs, pools, and geysers including
Chromatic Pool, which I found to be the one of the prettiest as I breathed the
rotten egg smell of sulphur. Chromatic
Pool’s colors are created by microscopic lifeforms. Incredibly, these organisms can survive
conditions that would be lethal to most other living creatures, including
From the Upper Geyser Basin we
headed north to the Midway Geyser Basin.
Here, Excelsior Crater, which last erupted in 1985, now shoots its
scalding fluids into the Yellowstone River.
Next to it is Grand Prismatic Spring, Yellowstone’s largest hot
spring. From afar, the steam radiating
from the spring glowed a shade of blue.
Up close, the brilliant blue spring more than 200 feet in diameter was
ringed in bands of yellow, green, and orange algae. The water, which is heated by magma beneath
the surface and seeps to the surface through fissures, has a temperature of 160
degrees. This spring pours 500 gallons of
hot water each minute into the Firehole River.
After visiting the Midway Geyser,
we took a one-way, three mile loop through the Lower Geyser Basin and then
another two mile drive through Firehole Canyon along Firehole River. The canyon walls tower 800 feet above the
river that got its name from naturally occurring Jacuzzi blasts below the
surface that keep the river from freezing in the cold Wyoming winter.
My final stop before exiting the
north entrance of the park was at the Mammoth Hot Springs Terraces. The terraces are formed from “calcium
carbonate that has been leached from limestone beneath the earth’s surface and
deposited above as a white travertine.”
The terraces grow, some as much as eight inches a year!
We exited the north entrance into
Montana heading north through Charlie Russell Country. We quickly ran into an intense thunder
storm. I had planned on making one stop
at Gallatin Petrified Forest, but I didn’t see any signs for the specific
location and opted out of a wild goose chase in a rainstorm. We ended the night at the Wal-Mart in Bozeman
with countless other campers! ETB
Day 246 – Yellowstone’s Grand Loop, August, 19, 2011
We entered Yellowstone National Park via the northeast
entrance and bison peppered the valley while spectators peppered the road. I’ve seen so many bison lately, I wondered if
they were waiting on a bear to run through the herd…it didn’t seem like a very
spectacular event to me especially since they were generally far away. Then I saw a line of them cross the
river. I guess people were waiting for
them to cross the water like people wait for wildebeest to cross the river in Africa.
Soda Butte, a travertine (calcium carbonate) mound, poked up
above the grassy valley. It was formed
more than a century ago by a hot spring.
Only small amounts of hydrothermal water and hydrogen sulfide gas flow
from what once was a prolific spring.
The road followed aside beautiful Soda Butte Creek before we
reached the Tower-Roosevelt Junction where we stopped nearby to see a petrified
tree. The petrified tree is a redwood indistinguishable
from the redwoods of California today. It’s
hard to believe Yellowstone was once home to a warmer, damper climate. The tree was swallowed by volcanic eruptions
and abundant silica in the volcanic flow plugged living cells before the tree
After visiting the tree, we arrived at Tower Fall a few
short miles away. Tower Fall began as a
low ledge at a junction of two different bedrocks. The rock at the brink of the fall is harder
than the rock downstream. At one time a
channel of soft rock around a streambed stood where the Tower Stream now
plummets to a pool below.
We left Tower Fall and took the loop 19 miles past Mt.
Washburn, through meadows and burnt forest, and by prime grizzly bear country
(although I didn’t see one) to Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone where the
Yellowstone River has carved a magnificent gorge. Trails along the rim lead to the brink of the
Lower Falls and the Upper Falls, two intense cascades. The force of the water pouring over the ledge
was dizzying. From afar, the view –
From the falls we cruised another 16 miles through the
meadows that are supposed to be home to moose and elk (didn’t see any). A bunch of people were pulled over to see an
immature bald eagle feasting on a bison carcass, though. It was so far away; however, even with a 300
zoom the bird was about a centimeter in my lens…I kept going. I moved onto LeHardy’s Rapids, spawning
grounds for the cutthroat trout.
By midday, we arrived at Grant Village to find a campsite…wanted
to make sure I secured one before the weekend.
The campsite was right on Yellowstone Lake, the largest, highest
mountain lake in North America measuring 14 by 20 miles. A lovely, groomed path follows the perimeter
and it is within 100 feet of the pavement, so Petey got to enjoy the scenery
After Petey’s walk and dinner, we took an evening game drive
in hopes to spot a moose or a bear. On
the way, the bison interfered and boy was the big guy snarling…grunting at
VANilla, sticking out his tongue. I
started to wonder if he could tip VANilla over.
I was in a precarious position surrounded by cars and bison! It started to get a bit frustrating driving
the pace of a bison walk, but eventually they moved off the road, and I made a
short, stinky stop due to the sulphur at Mud Volcano and Dragon’s Mouth
Spring. A park visitor around 1912 named
Dragon’s Mouth Spring for the water that surges from the mouth of the cave like
lashing of a dragon’s tongue. The Mud
Volcano blew itself apart around 1872.
Now it is a pool of muddy, bubbling water.
We continued further north to the same area, Hayden Valley,
known for wildlife where I finally spotted, along with 100 other visitors, a
grizzly mama with two cubs across the river.
They moved quickly. I sped
VANilla up and squeezed in for a parking spot a handful of times, and I hardly
ever got a good shot from the front.
When I had the angle the sage brush or hills would be in the way. I did get a few of them in the clearing which
was very exciting. I only wish it were a
bit lighter outside and I was a bit closer…had to resort to Photoshop again. Regardless, I enjoyed watching them lope
through the meadow. ETB
Day 244 – Cody Country, August 17, 2011
So I camped with the truckers last night at the
Conoco…another first! By the time I
got up and going, most of them had left and only the two other camper folks
remained. Before I left the tiny town
for Cody Country, I stopped off at the Crook County Museum and Art Gallery to
see the exhibit on the Sundance Kid.
First, this town was so small, I would have never thought it
would have a museum, much less to stop at it (my book helped with that). Second, I found it humorous that it took me three
tries to find the place! I saw a giant
sign on an old high school building mentioning the museum, but then I realized
it said, “Future Home of the museum which is currently housed in the Court
House”. So I proceed to drive around the
three blocks looking for the Court House thinking it would be an old, ornate
building from 1915 like the bank. I
found the City Clerk’s office, stepped inside and asked where it was. “Just over there behind the trees,” answered
the local lady. I turn around to see the
flat roofed, bland brick building smack dab in between the old high school and
the City Clerk’s office…REALLY!! I drove
the block to the building as it was situated in a park with nice shade for
Petey. I knew the museum was in the
basement of the Court House. I followed
two hallways to dead ends and then stopped and asked an employee, “Where are
the stairs to the basement?” She pointed
to a grey door by the entrance 20 yards away.
The museum displayed much more than just history about the
Sundance Kid. Exhibits included gun
collections, old vacuums and filing cabinets, the life of pioneers, Indian
artifacts, and a poker table at which Al Capone played. The Sundance Kid, whose real name was Harry
Longabaugh, went to the Black Hills area near the Montana, Wyoming, South
Dakota border in 1887 looking for ranch work.
Only able to earn his room and board, he worked his way back to the VVV
Ranch in Sundance. The VVV Ranch was
under management by John Clay, a very influential local man. Harry stole a horse, revolver and saddle from
the ranch and headed toward Miles City.
Two weeks later, the ranch finally filed charges against
Harry with Sheriff James Ryan. Ryan
arrested Harry in Miles City three weeks after the charges were made. For reasons unknown, Ryan and Harry took the
Northern Pacific Railroad, a much longer route, back toward Sundance. Along the way, Harry and an accomplice thought to be Butch Cassidy picked the locks of his shackles and handcuffs and jumped off the moving train when Ryan was in the bathroom. Harry remained at large for another month,
but was caught by Deputy Sheriff Davis and Stock Inspector Smith when he
foolishly returned to Miles City.
Ryan retrieved the prisoner and traveled three days to
Sundance following the Miles City to Deadwood stage coach road. Harry was tried for Grand Larceny on August
4, 1887, six months after his crime. He
pleaded guilty to horse theft in exchange for dropping the other charges, and
was sentenced to 18 months in jail.
Because he was under 21, he was confined to the Sundance jail as opposed
to being transferred to the penitentiary in Laramie, Wyoming. He continued his escape attempts and nearly
succeeded in May of 1888, but was eventually granted full pardon one day before
his official release due to his young age and good behavior in prison.
In June of 1897, the Sundance Kid and his Hole-in-the-Wall
Gang robbed the bank in Belle Fourche, South Dakota. Due to poor planning, they rode off with on
$87. They were eventually caught, yet escaped
from jail and outran the law. They soon
joined up with Butch Cassidy and formed “The Wild Bunch” that consisted of 25
men who held up trains, robbed banks, and stole cows. It is said that Butch Cassidy vowed not to
kill anyone and that he never robbed from common people,
just banks and railroads. All the
members of the gang had amazing gun, horse riding, and hideout skills, though
Sundance was the best marksman. The
Sundance Kid and Butch Cassidy were the last two members of the gang until they
were supposedly killed in Bolivia by soldiers.
There is new evidence, however, claiming the two outlaws survived and
lived with their families in America under different names.
From Sundance, we cruised across the highway to Cody Country
where we stopped at Medicine Wheel National Historic Monument. Shortly before reaching the monument, I
spotted a bull moose and passed through fields of wildflowers! I was so excited
and have to give thanks to another motorist who was pulled off the side of the
road or I might have missed it. I would
still like to get an entire body shot of a bull moose, but this beats the
antler poking out of the trees picture from Jackson!
The Medicine Wheel, located near the top of a mountain,
measures approximately 80 feet in diameter and has a circumference of
approximately 245 feet. The wheel, with
one central cairn and 28 spokes leading to the rim, was built between 1,200 and
1,700 A.D. In addition to the central
cairn, six smaller cairns are placed at varying intervals around the rim. Five of the cairns touch the rim while one is
located about ten feet outside the rim.
Of the six cairns, four face the center, one faces north, and one faces
east. No one knows for what reason the
wheel exists or who built it, though many Indians consider it sacred.
Petey and I took the mile and a half walk up the dirt road
to the barren mountain top to see the wheel and the many prayer flags and
offerings left at the site. The cool
breeze at 9,600 feet in the Big Horn Mountains was quite welcome. The sight of snow patches was also a
pleasant sight! Perhaps the rest of my
trip won’t be so bad without air conditioning.
After visiting the Medicine Wheel, we went in search of
Porcupine Falls in Big Horn National Forest.
This proved to be a difficult task.
After driving on three different dirt roads in the forest, I finally
found a sign to the falls which directed me over a poorly maintained road of
potholes and rocks. I practiced my
4-wheel drive skills for half a mile before I reached the trail. I brought Petey along on what turned out to
be an extremely steep hike of switch backs, first down to the falls and later
back up. On parts of the trail, it was
easier to run than walk down the steep grade.
After driving all over the place and then sliding down this path, I
thought to myself this better be one amazing waterfall. It was spectacular. Water plummeted 200 feet between two rocky
cliffs into a greenish, blue lagoon that made me wish I was in my bathing suit. I could have jumped right in. The falls were simply breathtaking. There were some more that tumbled 600 feet,
three miles up the road, but it was in disrepair and closed. This forest might make it onto my “revisit”
list. Camping was free, hiking trails
abound, and I even found another moose!
My final stop for the day was in Bighorn Canyon National
Recreation Area where a dam on the Bighorn River has formed a reservoir 70
miles long, lined with multicolored cliffs.
Passing through Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Range, home to 100 mustangs
hiding on the countryside, we crossed into Montana and reached Devil Canyon
Overlook, where the view looks down 1,000 feet to the waters below.
We eventually arrived in Lovell, stopped for gas and luckily
asked the attendant if she knew of any campgrounds with a shower. “Oh yes, just two blocks away”, she said, “and
it’s free.” Shocked, I asked again, “it has showers?” “Yes, I haven’t been there in a few years,
but I know someone was there last week and the showers worked,” she
replied. Wow, I don’t think I’ve stayed
at a campground for free that has unlimited, hot water showers. It was the greatest city park in the world…or
at least it was to me tonight! ETB
Day 210 – Devils Tower Loop, July 14, 2011
After a slow start to the morning, VANilla, Petey, and I
drove past miles of prairies and pasture lands before eventually arriving at
Devils Tower National Monument. The
towering rock formation stands 1,265 feet above the river level and dwarfs
everything around it including ponderosa pines that surround its base.
According to scientists, the tower was formed when a mass of
molten rock welled up within the earth’s crust, then cooled, and was later
exposed by erosion. The mass looks as
though it is made up of several columns.
The Kiowa Indians, however, explain its creation in a
different way. Legend has it that
several maidens were out picking flowers when they were approached by a large
bear. The bear chased them to a huge
tree stump where they cowered and prayed for help. Their god, heeding their call, struck the
stump with a lightning bolt causing it to rise toward heaven with them atop
it. The bear unsuccessfully clawed at
the stump creating the large grooves around it.
While some consider Devils Tower sacred, others consider it
a daunting task to climb. It was
initially scaled in 1893 with the help of wooden ladders. Now climbers have 200 routes to choose from
to reach the summit. Beneath the bright
sun, I took just over a one mile hike around the base of the tower and even
completed a virtual cache in the process.
The next portion of our drive took us through Black Hills
National Forest. During the summer of
1874, General Custer led the first official government expedition to the Black
Hills which the Sioux Indians claimed as their territory. The expedition’s discovery of gold drew
miners to the area ultimately opening northeast Wyoming Territory to
settlement. The encroachment of settlers
on Native American territory broke the terms of the Fort Laramie Treaty of
1868. In June, 1876, the Sioux defended their land by defeating General Custer at the Battle of Little Bighorn in Montana only to surrender four months later to General Terry. In 1877, the United States confiscated the
Black Hills, an action of which the legality is still being disputed in court
On the eastern side of Black Hills National Forest lies
Aladdin, a town with the population of 15 and a general store erected in
1890. According to my book, the sleepy
town comes alive in August for the Bronc Match and Horseshow. I suppose I arrived a month too soon! After a quick stop in the store, I spent the
next three hours driving to Medora, ND.
My route took me through South Dakota, so now I can officially say I
have been to the Dakotas. ETB
Day 209 – Cody Country, July 13, 2011
For a rainy day spent mostly in VANilla, I couldn’t have
wished for anything better. There had
been reports of a mama grizzly bear with two cubs roaming around the Jackson
Lake Lodge area. On our way to our hike
yesterday, a handful of cars and rangers were camped out alongside the road, so
this morning around 7:45 I ventured to the same general area along with several
others. I was willing to wait up to an
hour, but much to my pleasant surprise, I only had to wait about five
minutes. During the next 15 minutes, I
think I took 83 shots. Every now and
then, I just set the camera down and watched both the bears and the spectacle
The bears mostly rummaged around in the wild flowers that
seemed to be waist high on the cubs, though it could have been my angle and
while mostly oblivious to the line of parked cars, every once in a while a car
door closing or the blink of lights from the car alarm alerted them, one time
enough to send then romping through the field right past my line of sight!
There had to have been at least 50 cars with photographers
sporting tripods and three foot lenses while camped out on the roofs of their
SUVs. I felt like such an amateur,
wondering if some of these folks were freelancers that sold their photos to
Once the bears moved into the next clump of bushes, I moved
on. I suspect I could have stuck around
for some more photo opportunities, but there was more to see! I turned VANilla around, passed by the
campgrounds at Colter Bay and headed north to the southeastern corner of
Yellowstone on my way to Cody.
The burnt forest with substantial regrowth in the southern
section of Yellowstone was quickly overtaken by a deep gorge carved by the
Lewis River, sandy shore lakes, and steaming hot springs as the stench of
sulphur lingered in the air. On my way
to West Thumb, a village in the park, I noticed a white marmot on the side of
the road…or at least that is what it appeared to be. All the marmots I spotted previously had been
brown, so I was somewhat dismayed.
Instead of claiming I saw a white marmot when it was an opossum, I
decided to check with the rangers at the visitor center. They were intrigued by my discovery and
wanted to know where I saw it and asked if I would forward my pictures so they could
pass them along to their biologist. How
cool is that!! I was really looking for
a bull moose, but an unknown white marmot will suffice.
Upon reaching Lake Village, I turned east on Hwy 20 and just
after exiting through the east entrance station, I spotted (with the help of
ten other cars at a standstill in the road) another grizzly bear slumbering
through the woods in Shoshone National Forest.
Shortly thereafter, the cars in front of me stopped again as
we watched a bison leading a procession of cars in the opposing lane of
traffic. A few impatient westbound
travelers blew their horns unsuccessfully as the eastbound traffic stopped to
snap a few photos of the bison lead parade.
VANilla weaved along the hilly terrain, chugging up the
steep grades and speeding down them past numerous waterfalls where we reached
Pahaska Tepee, a hunting lodge built by William Cody, alias Buffalo Bill. We didn’t stop for a guided tour, but instead
continued past spires, pinnacles and other rock formations that were identified
by road signs including the time period in which they were formed. I felt like I was in Utah again. As we followed the Shoshone River through
meadows of wildflowers, we eventually reached the Buffalo Bill Dam. The dam was the tallest in the world without any steel reinforcement when it
was constructed in 1910.
After passing through Cody, the road led us by pastures of
farmland before we again climbed into Shell Canyon past pink granite and rosy
sandstone where we stopped to enjoy Shell Falls just as the sprinkles dropped
on VANilla’s windshield. The paved path
to the viewing platform was very short and dogs weren’t allowed, so Petey and I
continued along the undulating road in VANilla. As we reach one high point, a
white substance floated in gusting winds…at times it seemed like cottonwood and
at other times it seemed like snow, but it felt too hot outside.
Eventually the sprinkle turned into a drizzle with sporadic
moments of heavy rain which helped wash the red dirt from Utah off
VANilla. As we rounded the bend, we came
across a moose grazing by the roadside that jumped at each passing vehicle and
periodically shook the rain off its scruffy coat.
After a day of driving I reached the Wal-Mart in Sheridan
around 5 pm. I noticed I’ve been remiss
in mentioning deer, elk, and pronghorn…all wildlife I’ve spotted in the last
few days, though the grizzlies and moose have garnered my attention! ETB