Sunday, July 28, 2013

Yellowstone - Part Ten - The Scenery!

Near the Petrified Tree
It's been quite awhile since my last post. I had run out of steam with all the Yellowstone posts, but I thought I should finish it up with a few more before I lose my memory.  A good reason for my posts is to preserve the memories.  Aside from the awesome animals, the scenery at Yellowstone is spectacular and majestic.  We didn't have the best weather for photos, but I tried to make do.  I also won't be able to tell what that mountain is in each photo.  The Yellowstone map only provides limited references and there are just too many peaks and hills.
A drive on a snowy morning.
Even while reviewing my photos, during and right after my trip, there are many shots where I couldn't tell you where I this above snowy shot. I couldn't even tell you if I shot that out of the window or if it was at a stop.
Slough Creek
When the sun did peek out, the results were great. I love shots with clouds where sunbeams highlight certain points on the landscape. The above shot is one of my favorite landscape shots from the trip.  The sun really helped amp up the color.

Little America
On our last few hours of the tour, we did a very short hike to a small lake.  It might be "Trout Lake," but I'm not 100% sure. It was in that general vicinity. 
Possible Trout Lake
Most of my landscape shots probably come from the Little America area. The locals have names for all the various unnamed spots on the map. It's pretty cool, but sure is difficult trying to remember them all.

Little America

Near Slough Creek with incoming rain storm.

The one area I wish I spent more time photographing was Gibbon Meadow.  There was a million people there photographing this one lone elk in front of this landscape. I really should have taken a photograph of that mess as well.  So that turned me off and that was right after my stupid bison incident where the car in front of my stopped in the middle of the road, got out, and was took photos of the crossing bison less than 5 feet away from them.  I, of course, yelled at them and followed them for quite a distance. They were also yelled at my a park tour guide in a nearby tour van.  

Gibbon Meadow

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Yellowstone - Part Nine - Yellowstone River

View from Artist Point
The Yellowstone River has its own Grand Canyon as it cuts through the valley.  There are the Upper and Lower Falls, but you can't see both at the same time unless you in a plane.  A bend in the river prevents the view. 
Artist Point looking downstream
This a major tourist trap full of tour buses and many people.  There are two dead end roads that lead to different viewpoints and trails. The most popular is Artist Point.  There even was an artist painting the view on my way out.  If the Falls weren't enough for you, the color on the cliffs and rocks were amazing. I really wish the camera could capture the brilliant red and golden tones, but it just doesn't do it justice on a cloudy day in the afternoon. 

I coincidentally met up with a couple from my now ended tour.  So I had a companion for the walk down to the Lower Falls. Only one of them could make it down and I don't blame her for turning back halfway.  The trail did include ten switchbacks.  Its not for the lazy, but I was determined to not miss out.  The destination is literally at the Lower Falls.  There were two large ice packs melting in the river on each side that produces their own waterfalls of melting water.

Across the valley you could see the lengthy staircase for the Uncle Tom's Trail. I was happier to be on the ten switchback side as that probably would have triggered my vertigo and they weren't even at the Falls.
Check out the crazy stairs on Uncle Tom's Trail

Just upstream of the Lower Falls

The Lower Falls!
When we got there, another photographer had camped out and was waiting for the right sun conditions to cast a rainbow over the Falls. So we waited and within a few minutes a rainbow did appear.  Perfecto!  Here you can also see the two ice packs on each side to give more perspective to the above photographs.  

My last stop on the Falls was Inspiration Point. It should be named "Trips and Falls Point" as the stairs are crumbling.  I successfully navigated the marginally difficult stairs and watched as person after person nearly bit it.  It's a park, not the mall. You have to watch your step.  Funding for the National Park Service has never been a top priority and things will suffer.  
Inspiration Point
Inspiration Point

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Yellowstone - Part Eight - Tiny Treasures

Hidden in plain sight are tiny treasures of wildflowers, lichens, and bacterial mats.  The wildflowers were just starting to bloom and you could see splashes of colors intermixed with the sagebrush.  Most prevalent were these brilliant yellow flowers that were scattered.  I think they are called Arnica, but I'm not too happy with this identification and I don't have any field guides so its tough for me to identify. 
More common was the tiny shooting star which seemed to like the edges of the road and parking area.  Tough life to live among the cars and mobs of people. 
Shooting Star
I believe this delicate and tiny flower is a type of phlox.  It also lives near the starflower and is constant danger of being trampled. 
There was a ton of cool and beautiful lichen growing on the trees and rocks everywhere. I wish I knew what they were called, but that doesn't subtract from its beauty.

Within the various geothermal features, brilliant bacterial mats were everywhere. I tried in vain to capture their color, but I really should have bought that polarizing filter to take better pictures looking into water. It just never even remotely did justice to the colors and patterns. 

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Yellowstone - Part Seven - Geothermal Delights

On my full solo day after my tour, I was determined to see "everything else."  That's impossible, but I had limited to things I was interested in.   One was the various hot springs, mud pots, and various other thermal features throughout the park.  What helped me time-wise was that a couple hot spring areas were closed due to bear emergence from their dens. I hope those bears are enjoying the hot springs without me and the mob scenes.

I set off at 6 am for what was to be a very full day.  My first mistake was viewing these thermal features during the cold morning.  It was a very foggy drive to the south part of the park and these features were steaming away in the cold.  At the top of my list was to visit the Grand Prismatic Spring , which is best viewed from above.  Well it was just too foggy to see anything and I wasn't even aware there was a mountain trail for viewing, but I was able to appreciate the micro terraces along the edge.  Next time!

Grand Prismatic Spring

Turquoise Pool
Along the way to the various spots, you can see many dead trees with a white base.  This is called bobby-socked trees. These geothermal features are often on the move so they can move into a former forest and kill all the trees.
Bobby-socked trees
What you can't see in photographs is the bubbling activities that occur in many spots. Also missing are the crazy noises and smells (sulfur) that come along with it. Also missing is the bison scat that was just everywhere. 
Fountain Paint Pots
This one made some crazy noises that sounded like it belonged in some show that includes dragons. It would make a loud whooshing noise and then steam and a wave of water would come out.  This would happen over and over again.  I tried to find a good video to link to, but frankly they just don't do it justice. 
Dragon's Mouth Spring

Here's a couple shots of the overview of the landscape riddling with geothermal action at Norris Geyser Basin. I just couldn't capture the amazing colors of the pools, bacteria, and minerals. 

I would be incredibly remiss to not include Mammoth Hot Springs Terrace, which was within easy walking distance from my cabin. These terraces are not what they used to be.  They've been slowly drying and changing throughout the years, but still amazing to look at. 
You can just barely make out the small turquoise pool in the front left.

Camera just doesn't do it justice to the brilliant white color.
In my cabin, they had an old photograph of ladies in their Victorian garb sitting on these terraces.  I can't imagine how treacherous it was to get to that spot and find a good spot to sit. This is not the photograph, but the closest thing I could find on the web. 

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Yellowstone - Part Six - The Others

So the time we passed up joining the mob scene that was trying to catch fleeting glimpses of a fox, we pulled ahead to the next pull out.  Our tour guide hoped that the fox would come towards us. In the meantime, I noticed a battle between a raven and a red-tailed hawk for the red-tail's catch.  We rolled down the windows and sat for awhile watching the drama.  We could hear the young red-tail cries for food in the distance.  The raven would lunge towards the red-tail and they'd flap about on the ground.  If things got quiet, the red-tail would pick at its catch.  Before we saw that, it was hard for us to figure out what was going on.  Eventually the red-tail had enough and fly into a nearby tree and the raven followed.  Few more minutes later we see the raven fly off with a good portion of the catch so I'd say it was a draw. 

Pretty even match.
Another interesting sighting was while we were waiting for a wolf to run towards us.  This was my pre-Scarface the bear sighting.  We noticed a lone male pronghorn sitting. That's the photo below.  Then we noticed a badger scurrying about.  I snapped a million shots and 999,999 of them were butt shots  This is the only decent shot where you could tell it's a badger and not a groundhog.
Act fast.  Butt shot coming your way.
Where are my ladies at?
Pronghorns aka antelope are actually quite big and almost the size of white-tailed deer. When you see them, you think they'd be the size of goats.  At the visitor center, they had stuffed versions of all these animals so you really get a better sense of the size up close.  It's also the fastest land animal in the Western Hemisphere and often cited as the second fastest land animal after the cheetah.  Needless to say there's not many animals that much hunts pronghorn.  These pronghorn below were originally following that fox I found solo in the sagebrush.  You could tell that some of them were very pregnant and then they decided to make a beeline for me and the few observers at the road.  I didn't wait to see what would happen as I was dying of hunger and the sun was setting.
For whatever reason, I barely took any photographs of elk.  It's probably a combination of not seeing too many up close and easy access of taking photographs.  I take that back. We had numerous elk right outside the back of the main hotel.  Those "city" elk were feasting on the lawn between two buildings and its adjoining driveway and parking lot.  Not a pretty picture and they had security guards. I don't know if these guards stay with them all night, but I saw them before 6 am on multiple days.  That didn't stop the random stupid people who had to be lectured by the security guards.  Sure...go ahead take that picture 10 feet from a very pregnant elk....I'm sure nothing will happen.
Then there was the bighorn sheep who were looking pretty crazy.  They were shedding their winter coat so they were looking extremely mangy.  I never did see any proper males with the big horns.  Again, looks deceive you as they sheep are much much bigger than the average farm sheep.  I would not tangle with any of these guys. 

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Yellowstone - Part Five - Even more Bison

It was only when I was going to write a post about something else that I realized that I missed out on more bison photos and stories.  So here we are again.  One our first short hike, we stopped by a bison skeleton that was from last September.  I believe it was an older bison and as part of the wolf tracking program, the researchers take bone marrow samples of carcasses to determine the health of the now dead animal.  I don't envy the researchers as they have to visit the carcass as soon as two weeks after the kill.  Quite smelly and I'm sure still frequented by predators. 
A frequent site in Yellowstone is the ever present bison scat.  It's everywhere.  Similar to cow pies and these seem to persist for awhile.  This one was stamped with a bison print.  They should consider marketing this as a souvenir to tourists.
Stamp of approval
Once you learn what these black unvegetated marks are bison wallows, they too are everywhere.  Bison wallows are shallow depressions.  They roll in them and cover themselves in mud.  This helps with bugs, shedding, and cooling themselves.  I'm also told that the males pee in them and then roll and cover in mud and then they make a horrific noise that only be compared to something you'd see on WWE.  This is during the rut and I can't speak for the lady bison, but I very much doubt that they consider this as attractive. I can picture the eye rolling as this goes on.  

On the last day and hours of the tour, it seemed that the land was sending us off in full style.  The bison were much more numerous than I had ever seen in Lamar Valley and Soda Butte Creek.  For me it was a personal reminder of what it might have resembled during the glory days.  When you feel the thunder of the running bison before you'd see them.  When they would be as far as you could see.  Before 1492 and according to Wikipedia, they numbered 60,000,000 and in 2000 they numbered 360,000.  I don't know if I could even fathom what that would really look and feel like.  Keep in mind that the range of bison back then reached extreme western New Jersey and to mid-California and most everything in between.