Monday, September 9, 2019

YNP: West Thumb Geyser Basin, Yellowstone Lake and Finally Bison

On our last day trip into Yellowstone National Park our destination was the southern West Thumb Geyser Basin, Yellowstone Lake and a drive through Hayden Valley. 

The West Thumb Geyser Basin, located on the western banks of Yellowstone Lake, is actually a volcanic caldera within a caldera.  It is estimated that about about 174,000 years ago a powerful volcanic eruption occurred here.  When the earth's crust collapsed, the depression later filled with water creating Yellowstone Lake and the many hot spots.  We enjoyed a beautiful day strolling the boardwalks as they meandered around hot springs, smaller erupting geysers and a clear blue Yellowstone Lake.   There are a number of hot springs in the photo below, of course each one has a specific name.

The water run off is cooler so the microbial mats are flourishing.

Black Pool Hot Springs
Given this name many years ago, it doesn't fit any more but the Park has still kept that name.  The color changed in 1991 from black to aquamarine because the water temperature got hotter and killed the special cyanobacteria living in it.

Black Pool's microbial mats.

The combination of a blue lake, whiteish ground and a boardwalk almost felt like a stroll at the beach.

Big Cone Geyser

Lake Shore Geyser
These geysers are underwater in the spring.  They haven't erupted since 2003 but today we saw them boiling.

Beautiful clear, blue water with mountain views in the distance.  Interestingly, there are hundreds of hydrothermal vents, craters and fissures under the water in Yellowstone Lake.

Fishing Cone Hot Spring
Mountain men legends described this hot spring as a pot of boiling water where you could catch a trout then swing it over into the hot water and cook your fish while it was still on the hook.

Seismograph and Bluebell Hot Springs

Ducks on Yellowstone Lake

Once we left the West Thumb area, we noticed the burned forest along the edge of Yellowstone Lake.

Afternoon winds had increased and the Lake became quite choppy.

This view is from the Fishing Bridge section of Yellowstone National Park.  The full hookup campground, roads and full service areas here are all undergoing extensive renovations now.  We pulled in for a minute to check out the Gift Shop but purchased nothing and continued northward on the main Park road.

We stopped at the LeHardy Rapids.  When we were here 29 years ago we could see the trout jumping the rapids to swim up stream to spawn.  We didn't see any trout today because it's after their spawning run.

Research has shown that these rapids have risen over the past 40 years indicating the volcanic activity occurring underground.  To read more about the US Geological Survey's discovery, click HERE.

One of our last stops in Yellowstone is the Mud Volcano thermal area.  This place really smelled!  That's because of the hydrogen sulfide gas being emitted from the many hot pools and fumaroles in the area.  The boardwalk safely took us by the Dragon's Mouth Spring.  Hot steam bellows and roars out continuously.

 This was a unique experience.  Listening to the roar of the steam, seeing bison all around and with the rotten egg smell we just knew we were in an active area.  In fact more small earthquakes happen here than other areas in Yellowstone.   Several faults converge in this section therefore scientists are always monitoring this active area.

The Dragon's Mouth Spring has dropped 10 degrees in temperature since 1999.  The water run off exhibited a green microbial mat.

This unusual hot spring is called the Mud Volcano.  It was constantly bubbling, boiling and steaming the entire time we were there.  It had a bad odor and a few people covered their faces when they walked by because of the hydrogen sulfide gas coming from it.

How was this bison was able to lay so close to the Mud Volcano??? 

The animal never moved in spite of the hot steam gases, hot sun and all of the tourists taking its picture.

When the Mud Volcano was first discovered in 1870, it had a tall cone from which the mud would erupt and also shake the ground.  It blew apart in 1872 leaving this hot caldron of steaming, boiling muddy water.

Mud Caldron

Across the road, we saw more bison relaxing along the Yellowstone River. 

As we continued our drive northward on the main Park road, we entered the Hayden Valley area.  This is where we had heard all of the bison were located.  The news was right, we saw many here.

Yellowstone is the only place in the United States where bison have lived continuously since prehistoric times.

There are two herds of bison in Yellowstone National Park.  This group is called the central herd of Hayden Valley.

This bison was close to a pull out when we drove by.  We didn't stop but Ronnie drove by it slowly so I could make this photograph using a telephoto lens.

A little farther up the road at a safer pull out, we stopped and enjoyed the pastoral scene. 

We're glad we missed this big fellow!  We can now see how the "bison traffic jams" occur.  You cannot go anywhere until that huge animal walks off the highway.

We really loved our visit here and could certainly stay longer but it's time to Eas-on Down The Road. So long Yellowstone, thanks for the wonderful memories.

More Later
from southern Colorado (Durango, Cortez and Dolores areas).

Saturday, September 7, 2019

YNP: Grand Canyon of Yellowstone and Mt. Washburn

This day's trip took us to the South Rim Drive of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone and towards the eastern side of Yellowstone National Park.  We first stopped to make our walk out to the Upper Falls Viewpoint of the Yellowstone River.  What you see here is a 109 feet drop over volcanic rock and upstream you can see in the photo the old Canyon Bridge.  We went with the intention of climbing down the 300 steps of Uncle Tom's Trail to another viewpoint..but the stairway trail was closed this day. 

A little further down the South Rim Drive, we came up to the Artist's Point Lookout.  This section of the Yellowstone River's lower falls drops more than 308 feet.

The Artist's Point gave us the whole view of the falls and most of the canyon.  In reading, we learn this is why it was given the name Artist's Point.

The views of the Yellowstone Canyon on the other side of Artist's Point were impressive too.
There are several hiking trails along the south rim but because we also want to travel to Mount Washburn and possibly make the drive on the Chittenden Road up towards its peak, we passed on these hikes and made our way northward on the main Park Highway.

Mount Washburn, 10234 feet, is one of the more prominent peaks in Yellowstone National Park. The Chittenden Road, found just off the main Park highway, makes a 5.6 mile drive up to a parking lot.  From there, a 6 mile round trip hike up to the fire lookout tower begins. 

We didn't make this strenuous hike up to the peak, where we read the views were amazing.   We thought the surrounding views from the parking lot were still quite nice.

Beautiful landscapes all around.

The small dot on top of that peak is the Mount Washburn fire tower. The road to the very top was closed for maintenance this day so the only way to get to the fire tower lookout was the 6 mile round trip hike.

I am not sure of the distant mountain range..possibly the Absaroka Range maybe?

We made our way down the Chittenden Road, continued northward on the main Park road to the Blacktail Plateau Drive.

The Blacktail Plateau Drive is a one way dirt path through the back country of Yellowstone National Park.  We hoped to see some animal life on this drive, but unfortunately we did not.  We had read that during the late summer, August mostly, animal movement can be minimal due to the warmer weather.  Most animals stay in the higher country to forage for food and seek cooler temperatures.  We did see one black bear off the Park's main highway but there were so many tourists taking photos, we just quickly looked and drove on.

The scenery on the Blacktail Plateau Drive was very nice.

We stopped to take a break..still no animal sightings.

A view of the Blacktail Plateau Drive winding down the mountainside.

Returning back on the National Park's main road to our home base, we were again amazed by the landscape around the Tower Falls area.

We pulled over to walk the short path to the Tower Falls overlook.  This interesting landmark is most noted by the tall rock spires that mark the brink of the 132 feet water fall.  Interestingly, it was this waterfall, painted by the artist Thomas Moran and photographed by Henry Jackson, both in 1871, that inspired the US Congress to create Yellowstone National Park, the world's first national park in 1872.

More Later
The last YNP post: our drive to Yellowstone Lake, West Thumb and the bison of Hayden Valley.