Denise Goldberg's blog

Monday, August 20, 2012

almost around

Another nonstop day, full of explorations...

I headed out a 7 this morning considering a big loop - from Old Faithful north through Norris to Mammoth Hot Springs, east to Tower, south to Yellowstone Lake, west and north through West Thumb and back to Old Faithful. I didn't have enough hours or enough energy so today I headed north, looped the upper part of the circle on top of circle, then headed back to Old Faithful.

There were two places just a bit north of Old Faithful that I tried to visit yesterday. Mid-day wasn't a good place to look for a parking spot in either location so I passed them by yesterday. That meant I was able to visit both spots early in the morning today, during the magic hour.

Midway Geyser Basin was my first stop. I noticed it yesterday when I saw bright rust and yellow strands of color against white, water flowing through the colors. I saw steam rising from the geyser basin before I arrived; it continued to billow across the geyser basin the entire time I was there. This place was pure magic. The steam obscured the color of Grand Prismatic Spring - which I understand is supposed to be a beautiful blue - but it moved enough for me to see the color of other bits of water. There were wonderful splashes of bright rust and yellow across pure white, with patterns drawn through each color.

Next stop was the Fountain Paint Pot trail. My first view was of skeletons of trees standing in a pool of water, the bottoms of the trunks covered in white. When I asked about the white yesterday I was told that it's silica that leaches out of the water. It makes for a very interesting look.

As I started around the boardwalk I heard what I thought was a very loud engine. Nope, no engine - that sound was a feature named the Red Spouter. It originated with the Hebgen Lake Earthquake, and according to the Fountain Paint Pot Area Trail Guide it

...exhibits the behavior of all four thermal features. in the spring and early summer it is a muddy hot spring that may seem like a geyser as it splashes reddish water several feet high. As the water table lowers in late summer and fall, Red Spouter seems more like a big mudpot, and then a hissing fumarole.

I'd say it was acting more like a fumarole today. Blasts of steam issued from it, accompanied by its odd motor-like noise.

Back to driving for a bit... I headed further north, to Mammoth Hot Springs. I stopped at the parking lot near Upper Terrace drive and started walking, following the boardwalk trail to Canary Spring - another absolutely amazing spot. I looped around the top of the main terrace, then saw that there were a large number of stairs leading down, down, down. Rather than need to walk back up all of those stairs at the end of my walk, I reversed direction and headed back to the car. That turned out to be a lucky decision because my arrival at the lower terraces coincided with a very interesting ranger talk at Palette Spring.

The dominant underlying rock in the Mammoth Hot Springs area is limestone, different from the rhyolite found in the other hydrothermal areas of the park. Limestone changes and builds rapidly; the ranger told us that it is expected that the limestone at Palette Springs will grow by three feet this year. That's a lot of change. There was what almost looked like a decoration at the very top of the "cliff", pieces of rock that resembled stalactites. There were patterns of shape and color, and there were absolutely flat terraces. The flats were formed by water and minerals pooling, eventually hardening into a flat surface.

In case you haven't guessed, my two favorite features at Mammoth Hot Springs were Canary Spring and Palette Spring. It would be interesting to come back in a year or two to see how they've changed.

Time to head east... driving, driving. The road from Mammoth to Tower was beautiful and oh so different from the places I've seen so far. There were mountains in the distance, rolling hills covered in shades of green and yellow, open land. There were stands of lodgepole pines, less here than in other parts of the park, but still present. The road was a bit narrower, no shoulder here. It rolled, climbed, up, down. There were long sections of 6 to 8% grade. Luckily there were still a reasonable number of pullouts so I could look around (safely). If I had more time here I can see myself doing some hikes in this area.

Turning south, I drove to the Canyon area with plans of viewing (and walking to) the Lower and Upper Falls in the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. I walked down the very switchbacked trail to the top of the Lower Falls. I loved the color and the smoothness of the water as it coursed over the top, falling. There was a wonderful view into the valley from the top of the falls, with a rainbow hanging above the falling water.

I had intended to walk to the Upper Falls viewpoint, but as I was walking up from Lower Falls I started to feel drops of cold water. Rain... It was light at first, increasing in intensity as I walked. I stashed my camera in my bag and headed back to the car.

It was 3:30 in the afternoon. With the rain increasing I decided it was time to head back to Old Faithful. It rained, it stopped, rained again, stopped again. I ran into the Old Faithful Inn in light rain. Just a few minutes later it started pouring. It's funny, even when it was pouring I could see spots of blue in the sky.

I have a light jacket with me that is water resistant but not up to a downpour. I meant to bring an umbrella with me; somehow it didn't make it into my bag. Hmm.... I guess I'd better do better the next time!

I thought about sitting still until the rain stopped. Nope, not yet. I discovered that the gift shop sold "plastic bag" ponchos for 2 dollars - so I now have a sort of a raincoat. Funny, I wasn't the only person walking around in a hooded plastic bag!

Tomorrow is another 2-park day. I plan (hope) to do a bit more wandering in Yellowstone before I head back to Jackson.