Friday, July 31, 2009

Craters of the Moon

Day 8 - Friday July 31, 2009, continued.

Craters of the Moon National Monument was only a three hour drive west of Yellowstone and well worth the trip. I was happy to get some desert air before leaving the west. It was such a contrast in environment that it helped round out the entire trip. And it was nice to get away from the crowds.

From Craters of the Moon NM

The park is unique landscape of lava flows that occurred 15,000 to 2,000 years ago, a now dormant thermal feature before it "moved" on to the Yellowstone region.

From Craters of the Moon NM

Soon after arriving, we explored lava tubes, which are caves formed by lava flows. Some were three stories tall, and others were small and deep with ice and mineral deposits. Pete made sure we were well prepared, and told us to pack head lamps, helmets, and jeans. This made it much safer, because the rock was very sharp. These were "wild" caves: no paved floors or built-in lighting.

From Craters of the Moon NM

We stayed in tents at the park campground on the edge of the lava flow. Quite possibly the weirdest place I have ever slept.

From Craters of the Moon NM

Yellowstone to Craters of the Moon

Day 8 - Friday July 31, 2009

After several extensive searches of all three rental vehicles, I concluded that my brand new GPS was lost. I am notorious for misplacing things, so I did not panic when I could not find it the previous day. In my search and disarray, Tom called the park headquarters and found it. It turns out that I left it at the Old Faithful Visitor Center two nights ago, and they took it to the Park headquarters in Mammoth Springs. The only problem is that it was 35 miles out of the way (70 round trip) from the route to our next destination in Idaho. Luckily, everyone in our car was ok with this side trip down a road we had not traveled yet. We were rewarded with a grizzly bear sighting (in the distance) and a bald eagle near the road.

My Lonely Planet Guide turned out to be valuable this trip, but it too has its flaws. We decided to stop in West Yellowstone for lunch, and the recommended restaurant was closed, and replace by another. We decided to give it a try anyway, because of its name, "Kiwi." It turned out to be a New Zealand joint run by a native. We told her about our upcoming trip, and she gave us some tips about eating out in her country. The British style fish-and-chips were excellent.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Yellowstone, continued

Day 7

They say that you will see more wildlife driving the roads of Yellowstone than hiking the trails of Yellowstone. Well, this seemed to be true for us, especially early in the morning. On the way to Mammoth Springs in the north-west part of the park we saw a grey wolf near the road that was supposedly feeding on a carcass in a small hollow. The only way we knew it was there was the people pulled over with a ranger all pointing at the same spot in the distance. After several views through my binoculars (also necessary equipment in Yellowstone), I was able to catch a single shot of the wolf.

From Yellowstone NP

Mammoth Springs was a nice visit and less crowded because we were there early in the morning. These were different from the springs of the Old Faithful area because of the beautiful terraces.

From Yellowstone NP

The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone and it's waterfalls were beautiful, I just wish that we could have hiked the canyon instead of just driving around it and getting out of our cars to see it. Maybe next time :)

We found a herd of bison near the road, with some bulls surrounding a group of cows and calves. Two bulls had a fight, close enough that we could hear them grunting and their heads clanking together when they charged. Just like on the nature shows. A little too close actually, just enough to make my heart skip a beat.

Off to the side of the same field, I captured one of my favorite images of the Yellowstone portion of the trip. A solitary bull next to the Yellowstone River.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Day 6
A small group of us got up early to see the sun rise over Yellowstone Lake from a marina not far from our campsite. Not much of a show, but we discovered a nice cafe there that served a hot buffet breakfast.

Tom went with Pete and others to hike, including a climb of Mt. Washburn. I decided not to go with them because of my foot blisters and overall body fatigue.

From Yellowstone NP

Saw more thermals at West Thumb Basin, just up the road from our campsite. Springs were smaller here but different because of more unique vegetation and animals, and the pools drained into the lake.

From Yellowstone NP

After lunch we headed back to the Old Faithful area for more thermals, and for what turned out to be my favorite time at the park. We started at the Biscuit Basin and took a nature trail to the Upper Geyser Basin. This was a beautiful flat trail through a mostly open field (also cleared by fire recently, across creeks, and through a small grove of pines to more thermals. We had more good geyser luck, because the best one in the park, Riverside Geyser, that erupts every 6-8 hours, started just as we go there. And the lighting was perfect - evening sun at my back. The plume shot over the river with a lovely grassy hill and pines in the background. Ten times better than Old Faithful.

From Yellowstone NP

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

West, Phase 2 - Yellowstone

Day 5

Previous night was cold (lower 40s) and we had a heavy dew. We packed up our wet tents and headed to Yellowstone via Rockefeller Parkway. Lost of construction and considerable delays. The road is completely removed in some portions, down to the dirt. I am guessing the were re-grading the road (removing peaks and valleys). Recent wildfires made for a clear view from the car. Many standing and fallen dead trees in a sea of new pines and grasses was a unique environment to see.

From Grand Tetons NP

The group set up camp at Grant Village near Thumb Bay and went straight to Old Faithful. We could not find a parking spot so we headed north so visit the other geyser basins. Everything was beautiful and felt like a different world. Spasm Gyser was just starting to erupt we go there (lucky!) - huge, wide, and we could get very close, feel the seam and spitting spray. My favorite was the Grand Prismatic Poll - the largest and deepest, with a lot of bacteria mats in every direction.

From Yellowstone NP

Then we head backed to Old Faithful which erupted within 10 minutes of arrival (lucky again!). I was not as impressed with it as I was of Spasm Geyser because we could not get as close and it was over in just a few minutes (Spasm was still erupting when we left). But it was nice to sit in the bleachers and talk with others while we waited. A guy was telling us about his troubles with his RV (I am glad we did not have to deal with one).

From Yellowstone NP

After the eruption we visited the Old Faithful Inn, a beautiful old log lodge. We did not have much time to look around, but we did make dinner reservations for the next day.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Grand Tetons, continued

Day 4

Hike around Jenny Lake and visit Jackson Hole, WY

Tom, Clement and I get up early to take Dan to his climbing class. We received a great reward of morning sunlight hitting the Tetons with a beautiful ribbon of clouds. Plus some elk.

From Grand Tetons NP

It was a beautiful start to our hike around Jenny Lake, but within an hour, a total downpoor plus lightening and thunder.

From Grand Tetons NP
Our group is prepared, so we hike on. The lake is smaller than Jackson, but the vegetation is completely different. Much more green. We see fern, columbine and lots of other wildflowers.

From Grand Tetons NP

From Grand Tetons NP

There are few people until we pass the side trail from the ferry. Turns out this is the most popular hike in park. It's funny to watch all the people in tank tops, shorts, flip-flops, and NO rain gear try to navigate the slippery rocks as the temperature drops. The rain helps only somewhat to alleviate the crowds. Cascade Falls are beautiful but crowded.

From Grand Tetons NP

Tom and Jere decide to walk back, the rest of us take the ferry across the lake to avoid the second wave of thunderstorms.

Dinner at Snake River Brewery in Jackson is good and fun. The group has fun exploring the town and many shops.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Day 3

A full day of hiking the Hermitage Point Trail around Colter Bay and Jackson Lake. About nine miles, very little elevation change. We see and/or heard blue herons, geese, ducks, osprey, bald eagles, cormorants, sea gulls, Clarks' nutcracker, juncos, kinglets, and a beaver or muskrat. Lots of chickmonks and ground squirells. Amaizing scenery of the bay, boats, lakes, ponds, rivers, creeks, forest, meadows, wildflowers, and the Grand Teton Montains. The air is clear, the sky is blue with a few fluffy white clouds. Some of the peaks still have snow on them.

The trail is not crowded, but we see plenty of motor boats so we don't even get a hint of back country feel. At least this sculler made for a nice picture.

From Grand Tetons NP

The campground is nice but a little noisy. Motorcycles head in and out at all hours. We get rain almost every evening and the temperatures dip into the 30s every night, but we are prepared. Tom and I have a leak-free tent, warm sleeping bags, and earplugs. It's a nice respite from the sweltering heat and humidity back east.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Day 2
Some of our group arrives late due to delayed flights. Most have been up since 4am eastern, and some have not slept at all. I am just grateful that Tom and I were able to take an extra day from work to arrive the day before and meet the group refreshed and ready to go. Jere stays behind to meet Joe and the other late ones. The rest of us climb into the other two rental vehicles and head the our campsite at Coulter Village in Grand Teton NP. Along the way we stop for groceries.

Our first view of the Tetons. From Grand Tetons NP

After talking to my parents on the phone, I decide to attempt to fix my camera. So I borrow a needle-nose plyer multi-tool from Clement and while waiting for lunch, I bend it back. Not too hard. And the exposure seems correct. Crisis averted.

Friday, July 24, 2009

West, Phase 1 - Grand Tetons

We traveled with a nice group of 12 people from the Outdoor Adventure Social Club of Charlottesville. Pete was our leader and did a great job planning. We visited Grand Teton National Park, Yellowstone National Park, and Craters of the Moon National Monument in Idaho.

Day 1 - Friday July 24, 2009
Drive to Richmond. Fly to Salt Lake City via Houston. No delays, but does not matter too much because we arrive a day early before the rest of the group. Spend the night in a nice hotel.

While taking pictures out the window of the plane, I discover that my camera is not working. I must have put my new heavy lens on wrong because the aperture lever on the body is not working. I try to bend it back by hand but nothing is working. I don't have a multi-tool with pliers, but even if I did I am too afraid to attempt self-repair that I might inflict irreparable damage. I am thinking that I need to send it back to Nikon, which would mean I have 10 pounds of dead weight to carry around for 10 days of travel. Luckily I have a back-up point-and-shoot camera, but it is just not the same.