Yellowstone National Park Tuesday, Aug 31 2010 

Nez Perce, Dead Indian Pass, WY

Nez Perce

The drive from Cody, Wyoming to the northeast entrance of Yellowstone National Park traversed the rugged Beartooth Highway.  On the steep incline to Dead Indian Pass, we passed a group of older adults on bicycles spread out over several miles.  A turnout at the top offered a magnificent vista that paid tribute to Chief Joseph & the Nez Perce who left an injured comrade here and were captured not too far away.  We stopped for lunch in Cooke City.  Once in Yellowstone National Park we passed three herds of bison.  At one turnout, while safely in our car, a single bison lumbered past us on the opposite side of the road, stopping periodically to scratch himself.  Later we saw a bison with a broken leg hobbling near Soda Butte Creek.  After stopping to see the 132 foot Tower Falls, we hiked down a steep path to get closer to the fast flowing Yellowstone River.  We made two more stops to see waterfalls, Wraith Falls and Undine Falls.  At Mammoth Hot Springs we walked around the lower terrace and visited the Visitor Center where we viewed two films and looked at art and animal exhibits.  As we left the park to spend the evening in Gardiner, 5 miles north of the entrance, several pronghorn were grazing on the side of a cliff.

Morning Glory Pool

Morning Glory Pool

Two young deer were near the parking lot of our motel when we departed Gardiner the next morning.  Pronghorn were close to the same spot in the park as the previous evening.  On a walk around the Park Headquarters housing originally used by the cavalry and now occupied by park employees, we were surprised to encounter a large number of elk.  We drove around the Mammoth Hot Springs Upper Terrace.  On our drive to Norris Geyser Basin, we spotted a large, black wolf on the edge of a meadow and the forest.  Bison were seen individually or in small groups throughout the day.  Steamboat Geyser, the world’s tallest geyser, erupts irregularly.  A park ranger stationed at this site informed visitors about this unique geyser which erupts irregularly.  Light rain and cool temperatures reduced our interest in walking all of the trails.  The Firehole Canyon Drive features Firehole Falls.  At Old Faithful I walked to the Morning Glory Pool.  Unfortunately, the distinctive colors of this feature are diminished each year because of visitors who throw coins and other objects into it.   Chromatic Pool had an interesting array of colors.  Blue Star Spring has a brilliant, deep blue color.  The Midway Geyser Basin has water leaving colorful remnants as it flows into the Firehole River.  As we exited the park for West Yellowstone, elk crossed the Madison River.  Another great day!

Lower Falls, Yellowstone NP

Lower Falls

On our last day in Yellowstone it snowed at the higher elevations.  Even with light rain and cold temperatures, we visited Artist Point to see the classic view of the Lower Falls.  Deer were feeding on this spur road as we headed back to Uncle Tom’s parking area where we walked to overviews of the Upper Falls and back toward Artist Point for close views of the Lower Falls.  We had a picnic lunch on the Yellowstone River.  When we drove to the Lake Lodge, we were again surprised.  A herd of bison was grazing at the entrance to the Lodge and surrounding it.  Another herd of bison moved through the Bridge Bay campground.  We enjoyed the Firehole Lake drive where we saw White Dome Geyser and the Pink Cone Geyser.  We completed our tour of Yellowstone with a tour of the Fountain Paint Pot area.  Yellowstone is a huge national park with constantly changing features.

Yellowstone to Cody Monday, Aug 30 2010 

It was a cloudy, rainy morning when we drove out of Grand Teton National Park.  Cars jammed both sides of the road near Moose Junction.  We didn’t join the frenzy but could see a bull moose some distance from the road.  Forest fire damage greeted us as we entered the south entrance to Yellowstone National Park. The infamous 1988 fire burned 40% of the park.  Other fires such as the one in 2001 have also taken their toll, although the Park Service argues the merits of such fires on the forest and fauna.  We stopped at the West Thumb Geyser Basin for our first experience of hot springs.  Abyss and Black Pool displayed interesting colors.  Other thermal formations were evident near Yellowstone Lake, North America’s largest mountain lake at 20 miles long, 14 miles wide and more than 400 feet deep.  The Visitor Center at Fishing Bridge has a display identifying birds, including a magpie that we had been seeing.  Bison herds grazed in meadows as we drove to the east entrance.  Road construction is taking place in the park and we stopped for a picnic lunch at Eleanor Lake before one such area of construction.  Our 50 mile drive out of the park through the Absaroka Range was also scenic with chocolate colored rock formations.  The Buffalo Bill Reservoir near Cody featured a rugged mountain by the dam.

Buffalo Bill Historical Center

Buffalo Bill Historical Center

The Buffalo Bill Historical Center in Cody is identified as a AAA gem for good reason.  It has five galleries plus outdoor sculpture and buildings.  The Plains Indian Peoples exhibit showed how the people used dogs and later horses to travel and how tepees were constructed.  The elaborate bead work and artistry on clothing was displayed.  The Buffalo Bill and the American West gallery introduced this fascinating entertainer who had up to 600 performers traveling from stop to stop, a logistical tour de force.  The posters used to publicize his show were amazing works in their own right.  The Nature of Yellowstone gallery prepared us for our park experience by detailing life at various elevations.  The Western Art gallery features the best artists and their work.  A quick pass through the Firearms gallery overwhelmed us with 1,500 artifacts covering every aspect in the history of firearms, and another 1,200 examples were available in a study gallery.  This is a remarkable museum.

Grand Teton National Park Friday, Aug 27 2010 

Elkhorn Arch

Elkhorn Arch

When we exited Interstate 15 with its extensive road work projects, we traveled on lesser used roads, but some that had recently been tarred.  The most interesting site along the way was the elk horn arch in Afton, Wyoming.  After checking into our motel room with a fireplace and Jacuzzi in Jackson Wyoming, we visited the Craig Thomas Discovery & Visitor Center near the Park Headquarters in Moose, Wyoming where we saw a 24- minute orientation film.  We learned that the “Hole” in “Jackson Hole” refers to the valley between the mountains.  The National Elk Refuge had some 15 grazing elk.  We took a scenic drive, stopping at the Jenny Lake Lodge and additional short stops at various turnouts to view the Tetons from various perspectives.  After dinner at Signal Mountain Lodge, we walked  along the shore of Jackson Lake.  On driving back to Jackson, we saw one pronghorn near the road.

Tetons

Tetons

When we drove into Grand Teton National Park on Friday, we could see a herd of bison in the distance.  We took the boat from South Jenny Lake and hiked to Hidden Falls, Inspiration Point, and into the Cascade Canyon.  After enjoying the view of the Tetons from Signal Mountain and eating our picnic lunch, we saw a mule deer. The Colter Bay Visitor Center has an interesting and well presented display of Indian artifacts. The Lakeshore Trail was flat and gave us another perspective on the Tetons.  As we exited the Park a bull moose could be seen in the distance near the Snake River overpass by the Park Headquarters in Moose.  We did not join the throng of gawkers parking at odd angles on the roadway and seeking to approach this creature.  Dinner at the Gun Barrel with its many animal artifacts completed another great day..

Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument & Escalante Petrified Forest State Park Thursday, Aug 26 2010 

When we departed from Bryce Canyon National Park, we traveled east on Highway 12.through miles of ruggedly beautiful landscapes with several places displaying deep red colors.  Sedona beware.  The Bureau of Land Management administers the 1.9 million acre Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.

Petrified Wood

Petrified Wood

Escalante Petrified Forest State Park, located 44 miles east of Bryce Canyon National Park, was established in 1963 with land purchased from the Bureau of Land Management.  We climbed to the 200-foot high mesa top which was once the bottom of an ancient flood plain.  According to the nature trail brochure, about 135 to 155 million years ago, trees up to 100 feet tall were uprooted and buried in mud during periods of flooding.  Groundwater permeated the buried trees over millions of years.  Because they were in an oxygen-free environment, the trees did not decay.  Instead, through a complex process, silica solution in the groundwater replaced organic material in the tree, leaving the cell structure intact.  Some of the colors are quite distinctive.

Bryce Canyon National Park Wednesday, Aug 25 2010 

Mossy Cave Trail

Mossy Cave Trail

After checking into our motel and stopping at the Bryce Canyon National Park Visitor Center for a 20 minute orientation film, we stretched our legs on the half mile walk to Mossy Cave. The trail is located off Highway 12 and proceeds along red rocks and pines.  Distinctive holes in rocks are found near the trail intersection for the waterfall and Mossy Cave.  The waterfall is part of a water flow built over a two year period by early settlers.  Dark green moss grows wherever water drips at Mossy Cave.

Bryce Point Sunrise

Bryce Point Sunrise

We arose Tuesday to drive to Bryce Point for the sunrise.  The early morning temperature was colder than anticipated but it was interesting first to see the full moon and then to observe the changing light on the unique landscape features.  On our drive back to the motel for breakfast and later in the day we observed deer feeding in the meadows near the Visitor Center.  We drove 18 miles to the southern most point in the park, Rainbow Point (elevation 9,115 feet), for expansive views of southern Utah with a foreground awash in color. We walked the mile long Bristlecone Loop Trail.  We stopped at most of the overlooks on our return trip.  Each one offers a different stunning geological panorama.  Black Birch Canyon (elevation 8,750 feet) has distinctive hoodoos, pillars of rock with unique shapes.  Ponderosa Point (elevation 8,904 feet) shows off its multicolored hoodoos framed by pine-covered foothills.  Agua Canyon (elevation 8,800 feet) has distinctive contrasts of light and color and large standalone hoodoos.  Natural Bridge (elevation 8,627 feet) is really described as an arch carved by rain and frost erosion.  Farview Point (elevation 8,819 feet) offers views of plateaus and mountains as far as the Grand Canyon’s North Rim.

chipmunk

chipmunk

A chipmunk willingly ate nuts from a visitor’s hand even though signs throughout the park forcefully discourage feeding wildlife.  Inspiration Point (elevation 8,100 feet) has many unique vistas with vast panoramas.  We climbed to one viewpoint I nicknamed “perspiration point.”  On the way we could see in the distance the smoke of a prescribed burn.  After dinner at the Bryce Canyon Lodge we walked the half mile between Sunset and Sunrise Points.  It is great that more than 1.5 million people, including many speaking foreign languages, visit this park each year and take advantage of sightseeing, hiking, and photography.

Cedar Breaks & Red Canyon Tuesday, Aug 24 2010 

Cedar Breaks

Cedar Breaks

Cedar Breaks National Monument, located 43 miles from the Kolob Canyons Visitor Center in Zion National Park, served as an appetizer for our upcoming visit to Bryce National Park.  As we approached the entrance to this National Monument, a field of summer wildflowers, cinquefoil, filled a hillside with a backdrop of evergreens and sapphire sky.  Unfortunately, many of the trees have been killed by a beetle.  A short walk from the Visitor Center to Point Supreme, elevation 10,350 feet, provided a commanding view of this park’s amphitheater, extraordinary forms wrapped in bold and brilliant colors, three miles in diameter and 2,000 feet deep.  The five-mile road through the high country of subalpine meadows and spruce-fir forest is a gentle and glorious expression of wild America.

Red Canyon Tunnel

Red Canyon Tunnel

Red Canyon in the Dixie National Forest surprised us with its unusual sandstone formations in bright orange red colors as we drove on Highway 12 toward Bryce National Park.  Scenic viewpoints pullouts were spaced every quarter of a mile.  The road also passed through two unique stone arches.  Southern Utah is one of the West’s best kept secrets.

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