Old Faithful and Uncle Tom

Exploring Yellowstone National Park, August 17, 2014.

Walking from the Old Faithful Inn parking lot towards Old Faithful, from the all the people crowding the benches, we could tell that it was get close to eruption time.

Crowds waiting for the eruption of Old Faithful Geyser, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, August 17, 3014

We didn’t even have time to look for someplace to sit before it went.  In all the many times we’ve seen Old Faithful, this was the first time we never had to wait.

Old Faithful Geyser, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, August 17, 3014

We had actually come to the Old Faithful area to try to get online using our phones’ mobile hotspot feature.  Unfortunately, we were just barely able to take care of what we needed to.  Cell phone service is very limited in Yellowstone and, overall, we had worse luck than we did in 2010 – which I wrote about in How we are posting in Yellowstone National Park, complete with photos.

Old Faithful Inn, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, August 17, 3014

After taking care of our online activities, our plan was to drive back over to the Canyon area of the park and take the Uncle Tom trail.

H.F. Richardson, affectionately called “Uncle Tom” by his contemporaries, engineered a trail and pioneered a guiding service in 1898 to lead Yellowstone visitors into the canyon.  Today’s modernized trail still bears Uncle Tom’s name.  (from trail sign)

The original trail had 528 steps and rope ladders and went almost to the canyon floor.  The modern trail is asphalt with switchbacks and steps, terminating in a metal staircase with 328 steps and a view platform about 3/4 if the way down into the canyon.

Uncle Tom's Trail to Lower Falls of the Yellowstone, Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, August 17, 3014

 

A Day of Adventure - Styles of the day did not prevent Uncle Tom Richardson's guests from a day of sheer adventure.  After rowing his clients across calm upstream waters, the canyon guide led the group through the woods to the canyon rim, then guided them down his trail of wooden ladders and rope handrails to the mist of the Lower Falls

Uncle Tom’s Trail was busy and, for some, its resting spots were a welcome relief.

Uncle Tom's Trail to Lower Falls of the Yellowstone, Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, August 17, 3014

The trail offers unique views of the canyon. The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone is about 24 miles (39 km) long, between 800 and 1,200 feet (240 and 370 m) deep and from .25 to .75 miles (0.40 to 1.21 km) wide.[

Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, August 17, 3014

Lower Yellowstone Falls drops 308 feet (94 m), almost twice as high as Niagara.  It is the largest volume major waterfall in the United States Rocky Mountains.

Lower Falls of the Yellowstone, Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, August 17, 3014

Lower Falls of the Yellowstone, Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, August 17, 3014

Uncle Tom's Trail to Lower Falls of the Yellowstone, Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, August 17, 3014

Uncle Tom's Trail to Lower Falls of the Yellowstone, Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, August 17, 3014

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Waiting for Old Faithful

This image was digitally rendered from a photo taken just before the 10:26 Old Faithful eruption on August 17, 2014.

At Old Faithful geyser, in Yellowstone National Park, benches are along the boardwalk in those areas with the best view of the geyser when it erupts.

Old Faithful is very predictable, to within ten minutes or so, most of the time.

If you haven’t had a chance to find out its predicted time, a full crowd on the benches is another good indicator that the geyser will be erupting soon.  We were walking over from Old Faithful Inn parking lot and hadn’t checked the prediction time, yet.

This image was digitally rendered from a photo taken just before the 10:26 Old Faithful eruption on August 17, 2014.

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Mistakes and “falls” along the way.

Yellowstone – and a detour into Idaho by way of West Yellowstone, Montana , August 16, 2014

It was still  chilly when we left the campground, having dropped to 39°F during the night.  On our drive over to Norris Geyser basin, we saw the usual buffalo in Hayden Valley along with some pelicans and other water fowl.

Pelicans, Yellowstone River, Hayden Valley, Yellowstone National Park, August 16, 2014

We took the 1.7 Back Basin loop trail.  While there are many thermal features along this trail, I didn’t get as many photos as I intended.  I did get a bit of video footage, which I’ll use later.

Vixen Geyser, Norris Geyser Back Basin, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, August 16, 2014

After Norris we drove out along the Madison River hoping to spot some elk.  This was an area where, in previous visits, we had usually seen elk.  We ended up going out of the park into the town of West Yellowstone.

That was a mistake!

I had lost track of days and we found ourselves outside one of the most popular entrances to the park on a Saturday morning in August.  The traffic backup was huge.  We decided to take an alternate route – another mistake on my part.

Along the way, we visited a favorite scenic spot. Upper Mesa Falls are 114 feet high, dropping over a ledge of 1.3 million years old compressed volcanic ash. (see much more about this scenic area from our 2007 visit)

Upper Mesa Falls, Henry's Fork of the Snake River, near Ashton, Idaho,  August 16, 2014

Scotch (or Cotton) Thistle – an invasive species originally introduced in the late 19th century to many countries as an ornamental plant, and now considered a major agricultural and wildland noxious weed.

Wild flowers at Upper Mesa Falls, Henry's Fork of the Snake River, near Ashton, Idaho,  August 16, 2014

Purple Aster

Wild flowers at Upper Mesa Falls, Henry's Fork of the Snake River, near Ashton, Idaho,  August 16, 2014

Some kind of sunflower.

Wild flowers at Upper Mesa Falls, Henry's Fork of the Snake River, near Ashton, Idaho,  August 16, 2014

Cave Falls – I took the wrong road, thinking that I was on the road that went from Ashton, Idaho to Flagg Ranch, between Yellowstone National Park and Grand Teton National Park.  The road I took ended at these falls in the remote, extreme southwestern corner of Yellowstone National Park.

Cave Falls, Fall River, Yellowstone National Park, August 16, 2014

After backtracking, we found the road that I had intended to go on.  That was another mistake.  It was far longer, far rougher, and more convoluted than I remembered from having driven back in the late 1970s. Of course, we were in our late 20s and were driving a four-wheel drive vehicle with much higher clearance.

We should have gone back through West Yellowstone.

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Follow the Rules!

Danger - Keep off Thermal Area

We actually follow the rules in the parks we visit.

It shouldn’t, but it often surprises us when others don’t, like the fellow below.  The area he is standing in is a thermal area off the trail at Norris Geyser basin.

People have stepped and fallen through fragile surfaces that look very solid. Some have been injured by scalding hot liquids that may lie under any of the thermal areas off the designated trails.

Writing his 1995 book Death in Yellowstone, park historical archivist Lee H. Whittlesey sifted through National Park Service records to identify 19 human fatalities from falling into thermal features. – Geothermal Attractions Can Be Dangerous

Danger - Keep off Thermal Area

About 20 minutes after I shot the picture above, I spotted a hole in the surface of the thermal area about the same distance off the trail.

Danger - Keep off Thermal Area

The surface of these areas often looks perfectly safe, but looks can be very deceiving.

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That’s a bear!

Driving into Yellowstone, August 15, 2014

Leaving Fox Creek campground, the air was clear and the sky was beautiful.  This morning was the first time we’ve used the heat.  Karen’s quilts kept us snug and warm, with the outside temperature about 38°.  Out of bed at about 5:30, though, the temperature inside was 58°F, a bit chilly for sitting at the computer editing pictures and writing.

View from inside the camper, standing up, looking out through skylight:

View from inside the camper, standing up, looking out through skylight, Fox Creek Campground, Wyoming, August 15, 2014

The drive into Yellowstone took us through Lamar Valley, one of the places in the where buffalo (American bison) often congregate.

Buffalo (American bison), Lamar Valley, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, August 15, 2014

Turning onto Yellowstone’s Grand Loop Road at Tower Junction, our drive took us over Dunraven Pass near Mt. Washburn.

Dunraven Pass, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, August 15, 2014

Further down the road, we cam across the first of what we call “critter jams” – vehicles pulled over as well as slowed down because someone has spotted a wild animal, usually something large.

“That’s a bear!” and I pulled over and joined the critter jam.

Grizzly Bear, Hayden Valley, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, August 15, 2014

The image resolution isn’t as good as I’d like, but, without a doubt, it was a grizzly.

We’ve visited Yellowstone a number of times over the years.  We’ve very seldom seen a bear and, though they were reintroduced into the park in the 90s, we hadn’t seen any wolves.

Grizzly Bear, Hayden Valley, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, August 15, 2014

Grizzly Bear and park ranger, Hayden Valley, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, August 15, 2014

Grizzly Bear, Hayden Valley, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, August 15, 2014

Our campsite for the next five days would be at Bridge Bay Campground, which is across the highway from the north shore of Yellowstone Lake.  We couldn’t see the lake from our campsite, but we could from a couple of points when we took a walk through the campground after supper.

Yellowstone Lake from Bridge Bay Campground, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, August 15, 2014

The next day, we took a drive to Norris Geyser Basin and more.

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Winter weather!

Currently blog posts are running about 4 weeks behind because of poor (or no) internet and/or cell connections.  This post is published out-of-order because of the adverse winter weather we are experiencing.  We are now just north of Casper, Wyoming, sitting out an unseasonably early snow storm.

Early winter storm in Bar Nunn, Wyoming (near Casper), September 11, 2014

After leaving Grand Teton National Park, our original plans were to spend last night at a public campground without hookups and travel into Nebraska today.  After Karen checked the forecast, we decided to drive further yesterday and camp in an RV park with hookups.  The original forecast had called for snow last night through tomorrow morning. It held off so we might have been okay with our original plans, but we had electric heat last night, as we will tonight, without using our propane. It’s supposed to warm up tomorrow, getting into the 70s on the weekend when we’ll be over in a national forest in Nebraska.

Early winter storm in Bar Nunn, Wyoming (near Casper), September 11, 2014

Early winter storm in Bar Nunn, Wyoming (near Casper), September 11, 2014

We’re not planning to get an early start tomorrow.  With the car and camper windows covered with wet snow and the temperature dropping to 27°F or lower, it may take a bit of effort to get cleared off.

Early winter storm in Bar Nunn, Wyoming (near Casper), September 11, 2014

Early winter storm in Bar Nunn, Wyoming (near Casper), September 11, 2014

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Beartooth!

Driving the Absaroka Range in Montana and Wyoming, August 14, 2014

With having to go to Cody for a water heater drain plug and inclement weather threatening, a drive over the Beartooth All-American Highway appeared doubtful early in the day.

Heading up toward Dead Indian Pass on Chief Joseph Highway, the tops of nearby mountains were hidden in the clouds.

Absaroka Range, Chief Joseph Highway near Dead Indian Pass, August 14, 2014

In Cody, we finally found an RV repair shop, which wasn’t where the GPS and iPhone Seri thought it should be.  The technician had a hot water heater plug that was a bit more in size and expense than we needed, but we needed the plug.

Broken plastic hot water heater plug from Atwood and water heater plug with zinc (not needed for Atwood heater)

The extra length of metal is a zinc anode.  It’s job is to corrode away in a tank instead of the iron of the tank corroding. It’s sometimes called a sacrificial anode, because it is sacrificed to protect the tank.  However, since our water heater is aluminum, the zinc is not necessary.  A cheap plastic plug would have worked just fine.   Oh, well.

After lunch at Pizza Hut,  we decided that the weather had cleared enough that we could go back to the campground by way of Red Lodge Montana, in red, and, then, Beartooth Highway, in blue.

Cody, Wyoming to Fox Creek Campground via Red Lodge Montana and the Beartooth Highway

The route to Red Lodge took us past the old Smith Mine, the site of the worst coal mining disaster in Montana – February 27, 1943. (Wikipedia)

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The Beartooth Highway was once called “the most beautiful drive in America,” by the late CBS correspondent Charles Kuralt. Because of heavy snowfall at the top, the pass is usually open each year only from mid May through mid October, weather conditions permitting.  (Wikipedia)

We travelled the Beartooth back in 2007, after which I wrote, “The drive from our campground to Cooke City was 125 miles. We’ll probably do it again someday, but we’ll be staying someplace closer — because it was also 125 miles back to Billings.”

Despite the extra mileage to Cody and then to Red Lodge, our 2014 driving day was much shorter than the 2007 visit.

Rock Creek Vista Point, Beartooth Highway, which travels the Absaroka Range in Wyoming and Montana, August 14, 2014

View from Rock Creek Vista Point, Beartooth Highway, which travels the Absaroka Range in Wyoming and Montana, August 14, 2014

View from Beartooth Highway, which travels the Absaroka Range in Wyoming and Montana, August 14, 2014

View from Beartooth Highway, which travels the Absaroka Range in Wyoming and Montana, August 14, 2014

View from Beartooth Highway, which travels the Absaroka Range in Wyoming and Montana, August 14, 2014

View from Beartooth Highway, which travels the Absaroka Range in Wyoming and Montana, August 14, 2014

View from Beartooth Highway, which travels the Absaroka Range in Wyoming and Montana, August 14, 2014

Not too far from the campground, we came across a beautiful waterfall I remembered from our drive across Beartooth in 2007.

 

Waterfall just off  Beartooth Highway, which travels the Absaroka Range in Wyoming and Montana, August 14, 2014

Next: We head into Yellowstone

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Bear Country.

Reflections on bear safety, Fox Creek Campground, August 13 &14, 2014

Grizzly Bear image form Wikipedia

On July 28, 2010, three bear attacks, two with injuries and one a fatality, occurred at Soda Butte campground,  just a few miles from our 2014 site at Fox Creek campground. The bears involved were a grizzly sow and her three cubs.

The next week, we camped a few days near Livingston, Montana and, after that, moved down into Yellowstone to the Fishing Bridge campground.  I wrote about the incident on August 2, 2010 in Grizzly Country.

Terror at Soda ButteWanting to know more about the event, I came across a couple of very good references.  The first is Terror at Soda Butte, by Scott McMillion.  The other, a bit dryer and quite repetitive, is the Investigation Team Report – Bear Attacks in the Soda Butte Campground on July 28, 2010.

The bear safety takeaway from both of these sources is.

  • the people who were attacked did everything right with regard to bear safety.
  • the mother grizzly’s behavior in attacking and killing was highly abnormal and authorities have been unable to identify any specific reason for it.
    • From the team report: “The summary morphological diagnosis was a bear with a thin body condition, moderate to numerous numbers of tapeworms and roundworms, and enteritis (inflammation) of the small intestine probably associated with the parasite load.“ The report declines to identify the bear’s physical condition as even a contributing cause.

Knowing that we were going to be in bear country and that this incident had occurred made little difference in our plans.  We always keep a clean campsite and try to be aware of our surrounding on the trails.

Next – I still need to replace that pesky heater plug.

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Into the Absarokas.

Travel Day – Wyoming, August 13, 2014

Our drive this day wasn’t all that far.  We were going from the Big Horn Mountains of north-central Wyoming to a campground in the Absaroka Range near the northeast entrance of Yellowstone National Park.  The route took us through a variety of countryside, some of it pretty desolate, with a beauty of it’s own.

Somewhere east of Cody, Wyoming, August 2014

After lunch in Cody and some shopping for groceries, we headed over more mountains on the Chief Joseph highway.  This road follows part of the route that the 1877 flight of the Nez Perce Indians took.

1877 flight of the Nez Perce Indians

Traditionally, Nez Perce lived in separate bands and were led by various warriors. This fluid social and political system allowed them to move in small groups during times of low resources (such as winter)and as large groups during times of abundance (such as summer). But this system—used by many tribes—also confused U.S. treaty negotiators who assumed the signature and agreement of one band bound the entire tribe. This confusion is part of what caused the troubles of 1877: several bands never sold their land to the federal government and never agreed to move to a reservation. The most famous leader of these bands, Joseph, was one of several who led their people on the journey of 1877. (Flight of the Nez Perce)

Chief Joseph led his band of Nez Perce Indians over a rugged pass in the Absaroka Range –  today known as “Dead Indian Pass” – as they were being pursued the U.S. military in 1877.  There are at least 3 different stories about the origin of the name, Dead Indian, which is also applied to several other features in the immediate area.

Dead Indian Pass in the Absaroka Range on Chief Joseph Highway, Wyoming, August 13, 2014

The Chief Joseph Highway has multiple switchbacks on both sides of Dead Indian Pass.

Dead Indian Pass in the Absaroka Range on Chief Joseph Highway, Wyoming, August 13, 2014

Our campground for the next 2 days was Fox Creek campground, in northwestern Wyoming, just a few miles from Cooke City, Montana. We picked it because it was on the western side of the Beartooth Highway, a very scenic high mountain road we wanted to visit the next day – without driving the RV over it.  Beartooth is very curvy and not recommended for RVs.  We were a little concerned about the weather as the forecast was not looking favorable for our planned drive.

Fox Creek Campground, Absaroka Range, Wyoming, August 13, 2014

After getting to the campground and setting up the camper, we decided to take a short drive to the nearby town.

Cooke City General Store, Absaroka Range, Montana, August 13, 2014

Cooke City, Montana, is a small mountain town that lies near the northeast entrance to Yellowstone National Park. There are three main routes to the town, Beartooth, Chief Joseph and Yellowstone Park’s northeast entrance road.  During the winter, the only road that is kept open is the road through the park.

Unlike many mountain towns, I wouldn’t say that Cooke City is a tourist trap.  Instead, I think, it caters more to visitors looking for mountain and forest experience and adventure.  There are, of course, a couple of touristy type stores.  One interesting establishment is the Cooke City General Store, a general merchandise store in business since 1886.

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Cooke City General Store, Absaroka Range, Montana, August 13, 2014

We often take notice of colorful flower baskets and displays when we travel to cooler areas and Cooke City certainly had its share.

Cooke City, Absaroka Range, Montana, August 13, 2014

Cooke City, Absaroka Range, Montana, August 13, 2014

Of course, since we were so close, we just couldn’t resist driving into Yellowstone and a ways up the Lamar Valley, even though we has reservations for 5 nights in the park coming up soon.

Back at the campground, I noticed that the camper water pump was cycling occasionally without any faucets being open.  I looked around a bit to see if I could find a cause.  It looked like the drain plug on the water heater was leaking, so I decided to tighten it.

It was already tight.  When I tightened the plastic drain plug more, it broke and water started pouring out.  It wasn’t hot as we had not yet turned the water heater on.

Atwood RV hotwater heater plug

I managed to get the rest of the plug out.  However, without a plug in the water heater, we couldn’t use the water in the camper.  If we turned the pump on it would try to fill the water heater.  Fortunately, we carry extra water in gallon jugs and we were near a campground faucet, so we had water for drinking, cleaning and flushing.

I figured the nearest place I could get a replacement part was back at Cody – which meant that the Beartooth Highway drive might be out of the question.

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On to Wyoming

Travel Day – August 11, 2014

After a week since leaving home, we were ready to move on from South Dakota to Wyoming.  Driving west along I90, we were ready for lunch by the time we got to the Powder River Rest Area.

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We’ve stopped here at least three times in the past – and it seems as though each time has been hot!

Sure enough, this time it was, too – hot enough that we started the generator in the camper to power the air conditioner and had our lunch in the cool instead of the hot outside.

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At the end of the travel day, though, we camped in the kind of campground that we really like – South Fork Campground in Bighorn National Forest.  It’s rustic camping– no hook ups for electricity, water, or waste. You fill your water tank and dump your other tanks (shower and sink drains and sewage) before you get there.

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Rules and notices are usually posted near the entrance of campgrounds on public lands.  At this campground, we saw, for the first time this trip, a notice that was to become very familiar in the days and weeks to come.

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The campground is along the South Fork Clear Creek at an elevation of 7,800 feet in a dense lodgepole pine forest.

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Next stop – deeper into bear country.

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