Yellowstone, The Stinkiest Park

August 19 – 26, 2018

You really need smell-a-vision to appreciate this park. So if you can, just set a bowl of rotting eggs next to you as you read and you’ll get a much more accurate feel for our visit to our nation’s first national park. 

Day 1: After driving down the torn up road to arrive at the dismal campground (which I nicknamed the crumbling mud pit) we set up and ate some lunch.

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Every day they sprayed the road through the campground to keep it nice and muddy. Gee, thanks! 

Then we rode our bikes over to the nearby visitor’s center. There are six in Yellowstone and during our week we managed to visit them all. This small one, housed in a very cool log structure, focused on the birds of Yellowstone and had great views of Yellowstone Lake out it’s back porch. 

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Fishing Bridge Visitor Center was built in 1931. It’s “parkitecture” was the model for many park buildings around the country. The entrance doors frame the view of Yellowstone Lake.
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Inside Fishing Bridge Visitor Center. Those glass cases are full of stuffed birds.
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Just a small part of Yellowstone Lake’s 141 mile shoreline. This lake is so huge it can create it’s own weather! And at 7770′ elevation it’s the largest high elevation lake in North America.

Because the campground was so dismal we didn’t really want to spend a day hanging out there. Instead we headed out nearly every day to explore a region of the park. Long before our week was up we were exhausted. We liked the sights we were seeing but strangely we weren’t really enjoying the park. Here’s how our week went.

Day 2: 32 miles

The next day we decided to just start driving and see what we found. After making our way through the mess of roadwork near the campground, we headed north toward Canyon Village. It is only 16 miles, but with all the stops we made it took us over 4 hours to arrive. This should have been a sign of what was to come—long driving days.

We stopped first along the Yellowstone River.

Next up was the Mud Volcano Area, where we got an introduction to the thermal features of Yellowstone and their accompanying smells.

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Mud Volcano
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Dragon’s Breath
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Churning Caldron
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Sulpher Caldron 
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Sulpher Caldron has nearly the same pH as battery acid!

After walking on the mile long boardwalk and peering in pools of mud and steam and inhaling the pungent, rotten egg aroma we continued driving north. Somehow the smell stayed with us for quite a while.

We saw a bunch of cars stopped on the side of the road in the Hayden Valley so pulled over to watch the bison. To our delight they were running down the hill and then swimming across the river. Even the babies were swimming.

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Those little dots are bison heads in the water.

Some of the bulls were getting possessive of the females. We saw one that appeared to be keeping a female away from the group, heading off her attempts to run back by blocking her way, looking like a herd dog. I think it’s getting close to breeding season.

Next up was the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. Despite the back-up on the entrance road there was plenty of parking. I wasn’t prepared for this stunning view of a waterfall surrounded by the yellow-pink rock canyon walls. I guess it’s just not one of the views I associate with Yellowstone. However, this view helped make this the nation’s first national park. It was painted by Thomas Moran while on an expedition with Dr. Ferdinand Hayden in 1872 and taken back to Washington D.C.to show Congress proof of Yellowstone’s wonders. 

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Exhausted we ended up at the Canyon Visitor’s Center. This one had a good explanation of Yellowstone’s geology and status as a super volcano.

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Canyon Visitor Center
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Yellowstone National Park is an immense, active volcano–one of the largest and most violent on Earth.

After some refueling at the soda counter we headed back the way we had come, this time stopping at the north rim of the canyon for the views from Lookout Point and Grand View.

And then for the Bison back-up on the way back to the campground.

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It was a good day with a diverse view of Yellowstone.

Day 3: 92 miles, The Grand Loop

This time we headed south from our campground through what seemed like endless lodgepole pine forest, so when we spotted an overlook we stopped and found a waterfall.

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Next up we rolled into Old Faithful and had no trouble finding a parking spot. Since the next eruption was about 45 minutes off we explored the visitor’s center before securing a spot on the viewing benches. 

Afterwards we walked on the boardwalk. The sun was getting to me so we didn’t make it to all the features before heading to get ice cream. 🙂 

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Inside Old Faithful Inn
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The stairs lead up to a tiny viewing platform at the top (of course it’s closed to the public).

Next we stopped at Black Sand Basin and Biscuit Basin. Because all these areas are similar, it’s hard for me to decide which photos came from where so here’s a sampling. My favorite were the clear, turquoise pools.

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Our last stop of the day was the Grand Prismatic Spring. I had read on Chapter3Travels.com that the trail up to the overlook was the best way to see the spring so we pulled off at the unmarked gravel lot filled with cars. By now we were tired but I decided that the trail couldn’t be that long so we trudged on and I’m glad we did. It was one of my favorite views in Yellowstone.

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The pictures don’t quite capture the awesome colors so you’ll just have to google it to see the brilliant rainbow of colors that come from the organisms that live in the differing temperatures of the water. We could have walked the boardwalk up close to the spring, but there was a waiting line of cars at the parking lot entrance so we decided to skip it and the other features we passed on our way around the rest of the loop. 

Day 4: 34 miles

We needed to recuperate so decided to stick close to the trailer. We headed to the Lake Lodge only a mile away because they had wi-fi. After paying $4.95 for an hour we discovered the speed was so dismally slow it wouldn’t load anything, much like our phones. So we ended up driving back up to Canyon Village for some shopping, stopping along the way in the Hayden Valley where we’d had the best luck getting internet access on our phones. 

We were a little puzzled by the Christmas music and Santa hats in the shops. Apparently once a huge snowstorm hit on August 25th stranding visitors at the lodge so they threw a giant Christmas party.

Day 5: 102 miles

We were still tired (and I’m getting tired just recalling it all) but it was time to finish the most important items on our list, so off we went again back past stinky Sulpher Caldron and the bison. Heading north from Canyon Village there were few viewpoints and the road was steep and winding.

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We crossed over Dunraven Pass at 8859 feet. As we descended back down we stopped to see Tower Falls…

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before ending up at our real destination, Mammoth Hot Springs, 6239 feet. Here we perused our third visitor’s center before heading off to walk the boardwalk.

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This visitor center recounts the history of the park.

This area was originally Fort Yellowstone, where soldiers were established to protect the park in it’s early days from poachers and squatters.

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I loved the baby bears that guarded the post office!

So as I’m getting tired and I’m sure you are too, so I’m going to just put some pictures of the Mammoth Springs area. There are no geysers here, but springs that gurgle up through the rock and cascade down the hillside creating travertine terraces.

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My only advice is to make sure you go all the way down the boardwalk to the viewpoint or you’ll miss this awesome view. 

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After fortifying ourselves with ice cream (do you see a theme here?) we left Mammoth. As we came around the west side of the loop to Norris we made a stop at the Museum of the National Park Ranger. It is staffed by retired rangers and was pretty interesting.

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Those burled posts are pretty cool. This was originally a stop-over cabin for early park rangers on their rounds of the park. They had these cabins about every 10 miles.

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Then because we were so close we pulled into the Norton Springs area.

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We didn’t walk the whole trail—it looked much like the springs we had seen before and after 74 miles so far we were tired. So we headed back toward the Hayden Valley (more bison sightings) and home. Whew what a drive!

Day 6: 42 miles

Decided to hit the last visitor center so I could get another stamp in my book. This one, Grant Village, had some interesting information about fire in Yellowstone. On the way we stopped at West Thumb to see the thermal pools along the shores of Lake Yellowstone. We didn’t find them any more exciting than those we had already seen, but it was cool to see the one named Fishing Pot (on the right in the photo below) because fisherman used to throw their catch in it to cook. 

I think I may have lost a day in there somewhere because we spent a week in Yellowstone. It was just such a blur of driving and sightseeing. I have a hard time with our final impressions of the park. We found awesome views and unusual sights that no other park has shown us so far. And overall, we didn’t find Yellowstone as crowded as it’s reputation. Most mornings we headed off around 10am and only a couple of times did we have to circle to find a parking spot. Our biggest let down was the campground. I think if that had been nicer we would have enjoyed our visit here more. Still I’m glad we finally made it here. 

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Thanks Yellowstone for being our 20th national park! 

 

Not So Grand Tetons

August 12 – 19, 2018

I’m beginning to call this the Summer of Smoke. Everywhere we go is covered in a haze, including the Grand Tetons. While the air quality wasn’t bad like Crater Lake, our views were obscured by a layer of gauzy smoke giving them a painterly, slightly out of focus quality and making the Grand Tetons a little disappointing.

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Back to the Smokey Northwest

July 14 – 31, 2018

Because we were having issues with our solar system, we needed to return to Oregon. So after our time at Bryce we hit pause on our Utah summer and headed north yet again. We opted for long driving days, heading first to North Salt Lake City and then to Boise. Hello again Mom and Dad! 🙂

After a couple of days rest we pushed on to Sisters, a small town outside Bend, OR. Here we found a dry, dusty camping spot (at least it was free) and spent a few days doing errands, exploring Sisters, and hitting up the farmer’s market.

 

The highlight was a short hike to Tumalo Falls. You can take a shot of the waterfall after a 1/2 mile walk to the viewpoint…

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or this one from above…

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or even walk another mile to a double falls…

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but the most impressive views are from below the Tumalo Falls on a not-quite official trail.

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From Sisters we drove early Monday morning for our appointment at AM Solar.

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While they didn’t do the original install of our system, those guys worked hard, treated us fairly, and made our system better than it’s ever been. A true work of art!

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Oh, and if you’re ever in Springfield be sure to stop at the Fisherman’s Market for some yummy eats. We ate there two days in a row! Fish n’ chips and fish tacos were excellent. You can also pick up fresh caught fish to grill at home.

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From Springfield we headed to Waldo Lake, touted as one of the best kayaking lakes in the Northwest. Waldo Lake sits in the Willamette National Forest, about midway between Springfield and Bend. Surprisingly the 14 mile forest service road into the North Waldo campground is paved. The campground itself isn’t much, but we found a spot with lake views from our front windows and a short walk to the water’s edge.

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The lake was an incredible blue color and so clear you could see bottom.

We kayaked two days in a row (the first time in a long, long time) and our arms were so sore we could barely lift them. I think it was mostly from carrying the kayak over the logs and down to the water and back, but if ever there was a lake that deserved kayaking this was it! If we had cell service we would have stayed a week and kayaked every day, but we needed to move on.

I was watching reports of the wildfires and smoke while we were in Springfield, but hadn’t been able to get any updates at Waldo. So we headed onto Crater Lake knowing that it might not be great, but we figured we were so close we might as well go.

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The view from our campsite.

We arrived to a smoky campground and the bizarre rule that you had to renew your first-come first-serve site daily. This was crazy since the campground was so sparsely occupied. The best chance for clear views seemed to be early in the day, so the next morning after stopping by the booth when they opened at 8am to renew we headed off for the drive around the lake. 

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Our first views weren’t too bad, especially since this is called Phantom Ship Island.
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There is a lake down there somewhere.
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So that’s what it’s supposed to look like…
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Originally I wanted to take the boat ride out to Wizard Island (seen faintly in the background), but there was no point.

The smoke didn’t obstruct the cool interior of the lodge…

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or the great park architecture…

or the interesting little hike we took behind this building to see this carving in a rock…

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or the pretty wildflowers.

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I think we could have loved this park and easily spent a week exploring if the smoke hadn’t been so bad. But two nights of smoke was about all we could handle.

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Goodbye Smoky Crater Lake…

Our original plan had been to head to Lassen National Park and possibly the Redwoods before making our way down 395 in CA and onto Zion in late September. Unfortunately that’s where the fires and the worst of the smoke were concentrated. Wanting to get out of the red zone (unhealthy smoke) and into at least the yellow zone (moderate) I scoured the smoke maps and forecasts. Since we have reservations in Zion at the end of September we didn’t want to head further north or west to the coast. It looked like heading back through Idaho (again? are you kidding me?!!!) was the best direction. So off to Grand Teton and Yellowstone we go!

Life Elevated

More Utah adventures in Bryce Canyon
July 5 – 14, 2018

These are the things they don’t tell you about Utah: it’s dry and dusty and windy and most of all the elevations are killer! I should have known something was up when the tagline on all the tourist brochures read Utah, Life Elevated, but I was too distracted by the spectacular pictures of the red rock vistas. 🙂

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Even with the high elevations you don’t get a break from the heat, many of our days were spent in the 90s and even 100s. The only saving grace is that it cools off at night. I didn’t realize how the heat combines with the elevation to totally wipe out your energy. You would think that since we’ve been at over 5000’ for the last month I’d be somewhat acclimated, but apparently not since my heart rate shot up and I was breathing hard with every little bit of exertion. Of course Bryce sits at 8000 feet so we had climbed even higher. Let’s blame it on that. 

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We were worried this would be another very crowded national park campground, especially since it was a holiday week. So we got up super early for the drive from Escalante and ended up arriving too early. We found a good site at 9am, but by noon most of the other campers had left and we could have had our pick.

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That’s ok we enjoyed watching the park police pull folks over (I presume for speeding) and some sort of propane leak scare involving the fire department in the day-use parking lot below us. And we were just a short walk from the visitor’s center, shuttle bus, and right on the bike path which we rode up to the lodge one afternoon.

We saw the old service station that used to serve the park before private businesses set up shop just outside the park.

The lodge and cabins had cool log cabin architecture.

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One evening we went to the rim to watch the fading light play across the hoodoos.

Nearly every hike in Bryce starts with a descent into the canyon, a bunch of little hills and the promise of a steep climb back up at the end. That combined with the elevation factor meant our hikes here required a lot more stops and a slower pace plus a day off to recuperate. Still we managed to get out quite a bit.

For our first foray, I decided to avoid the steep climb with a hike along the rim. This gave us a good overview of the canyon that we’d later explore. We started by boarding the free park shuttle near the campground and riding to it’s furthest stop, Inspiration Point. From there it was about a 2.5 mile, mostly downhill trek back with every little turn giving a different view of the canyon. Because you can see so far and with the way the light falls on the hoodoos, sometimes it’s hard to have any depth perception when looking into the canyon. 

Next up was the Navajo-Peekaboo Loop Trail, our most ambitious hike at 5 miles with 1500’ of elevation gain. We had everything packed and ready the night before so we could get an early start to avoid the parking crowds and beat the heat. We started with the steep downhill through the Wall Street area and into the canyon.

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Those are the steep switchbacks which later in the day will be filled with ant-like people marching up and down.

Then the Peekaboo Loop took us up close with some of the hoodoos. It was a lot of up and down and since it is also used by the horse tours, parts were pretty smelly.

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On this hike we earned our “I Hiked the Hoodoos” status by collecting selfies with various markers in the canyon.

The last leg came back up past Thor’s Hammer.

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It was a trek, but well-worth it!

Over the weekend we took the 18 mile drive to Rainbow Point. Since most folks stay in the Bryce Amphitheater area which is accessible via the shuttle, this drive further into Bryce Canyon is less crowded. I had read somewhere to drive all the way to the end and then stop at the viewpoints on the way back. This turned out to be good advice since the pullouts were then on the right hand side and easier to enter and exit. Also by the time we finished at Rainbow Point the parking lot was overfilled. Be sure to visit both the Rainbow and Yovimpa viewpoints while you’re parked there. Many folks missed the second as it isn’t well marked. 

We originally paid for a week at our campsite, but decided to extend a few more days and take one more hike into the canyon. The views were just too amazing to miss. This time we did the Queen’s-Navajo Loop. It started with a gentler descent into the canyon ending up at a hoodoo named for it’s resemblance to Queen Victoria.

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Then instead of heading back the way we came we figured we’d go up the Navajo trail through Wall Street since it had looked so cool the day we hiked down it. We were glad to be finished up by early afternoon as thunderstorms moved in. 

The views here never grow old. Every time we ventured to the rim, we were in awe.

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And so we spent our entire stay in the park even though there are many other things to see in the area. Guess we’ll just save those other places for next time. 

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Another spectacular Utah park!

To Utah!

Mid-July 2018

When we left on this adventure, at the very top of our list were the Utah parks. Two years later we’ve finally made it to our first one and I have to admit I’m having a hard time writing this post because we have so many awesome pictures, yet they don’t quite capture the wonder of Capitol Reef.

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Capitol Reef National Park is one of the lesser known Utah parks. It straddles the highway so most folks just drive through on their way from Zion and Bryce up to Arches and Canyonlands but boy are they missing out. With it’s campground set among the orchards and the spectacular geology all around, Capitol Reef is an amazing park! It may well turn out to be my favorite in Utah, but I guess I should reserve judgement until I’ve seen the other four. 🙂  Continue reading “To Utah!”