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Entries about yellowstone

Yellowstone National Park

And Grand Teton

semi-overcast 65 °F
View Roadtrop on mormolyke's travel map.

On the morning of Wednesday, May 30, I was overjoyed to discover that the (post-Half Dome) pain in my legs had finally subsided. A stress-free night and a good sleep, and my calf muscles were almost good as new.

I have to give a shout out here to my calf compression sleeves. I get shin splints pretty badly, which is one of the reasons I tend to be sedentary. Before this trip, I was determined to figure out how to deal with them, and came across compression sleeves as a preventative measure. Good god, why didn't anyone tell me about these before? Not only did they completely eliminate my shin splints for the entire roadtrop, they helped with overall calf muscle fatigue. I'm a fan for life, even if they do make me look like I'm wearing knee-high socks in the summer. I have a pair by Zensah and a cheap pair of neoprene sleeves I picked up on eBay; both work equally well, but the neoprene ones are kind of gross when I peel them off.

These things are win.

These things are win.

Anyway, enough of that. It was time for a visually stunning drive into Wyoming, through Grand Teton National Park, and into the mother of all parks, Yellowstone, complete with its terrifying grizzly bears and ability to basically destroy human civilization instantly should it choose to erupt. I thought when I was planning this trip that Grand Teton's mountains would scare the shit out of me, because I'm generally nervous around mountains. I come from the flattest country on earth, where the tallest mountains barely qualify as hills in this country. When the earth is nearly vertical for miles, I get a little uneasy. But it seems my Yosemite exploits have cured me of this feeling, at least temporarily. Actually, at some point, I remember wondering, "When am I going to stop swaggering and sneering at everything? When is the feeling that I'm King Shit because I climbed Half Dome going to wear off?"

That's not to say that the Tetons didn't take my breath away. They are some right proper mountains.

FLICKR SET: Roadtrop: Idaho Falls & Grand Teton
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The Tetons also apparently have the support of a lot of very rich people. The nearby village of Jackson was much bigger than we thought it would be, and felt very much like a resort town for the upper middle class plus. In fact, we found out later than Harrison Ford lives there, which didn't surprise us at all. The National Park's Visitor Center is without a doubt the nicest, swankiest visitor center we visited on the trip, which is saying a lot, because we've been into a lot of visitor centers.

Eventually, after navigating a lot of closed roads (both parks weren't officially "in season" yet, so there was still a lot of winter repair roadwork being done, which meant we couldn't drive around Jenny Lake *sadface*), we made it to THE SUPERVOLCANO.

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By now, you are almost certainly sick of me saying WOW THIS PLACE IS AMAZING, but WOW THIS PLACE IS AMAZING. This was one of the first sights that greeted us as we started on the Loop Road, next to Yellowstone Lake. It didn't seem real. It still doesn't. As Matt said at the time, "This is like cheating at photography."

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Our campsite was a right turn, but we turned left instead to see our first geyser eruption: Old Faithful.

Yellowstone was kind enough to put on a show for us. After watching Old Faithful, we wandered around the sulfur-odorous geyser basin taking pictures of the brightly colored bacteria* ...

FLICKR SET: Roadtrop: Yellowstone
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... when suddenly, whoosh! A random geyser in the basin erupted.

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And then, a few moments later, another! This eruption was even larger than Old Faithful and went on for such a long time that Matt was able to get close to it even though we were some distance away.

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Yes, that's my Matt there right next to the geyser, while all the other observers stay about three yards back. He got wet. But he was pretty happy about it.

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Turns out this third water spout was the Beehive Geyser, which erupts on a very unpredictable schedule that can vary from eight hours to a day. Thanks, Beehive Geyser!

Next, we were on a mission to see some bison, so we drove the (very) long way back to our campsite around Yellowstone's loop road, and were duly rewarded:

My video of buffalo fording a stream.

And OMG baby buffalo!

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We spent the night at Bridge Bay campground, where we were informed that bears will not break into cars. This seems counter to what we were told at Yosemite, which is that bears will rip your car apart, leading to thousands of dollars of damage. And Yellowstone bears are meaner! I have no idea what to believe, but I kept my bear spray strapped to my hip.

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Actually, we have christened these "bear blasters" after Powerthirst:

If I had a million dollars right now, I'd start a bear spray company and call it Bear Blaster.

However, despite all our precautions, we did not see a single bear the entire time we were in Yellowstone -- indeed, since I am writing this after the fact, I can report that we did not see one during the entire trip. I am not very disappointed by this. I read too many bear attack stories during preparation.

The next day was spent on a more leisurely trip around the Loop Road, seeing all of the typical touristy sights Yellowstone has to offer to the intrepid traveler willing to venture onto a supervolcano in bumfuck. Here be bubbling mud volcanos and bizarre terrace formations spewing the fetid stench of brimstone, and a gorgeous canyon with multiple waterfalls that required us to once again climb a lot of stairs to view. Unfortunately, climbing Half Dome a few days earlier had not made us instantly fit. Damnit.

FLICKR SET: Roadtrop: Yellowstone
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That last line of thumbnails contains shots from Norris, the "hottest" geyser basin in Yellowstone, and the area which most made me remember that this location could at any moment trigger the apocalypse. While here, we met a hilarious Chinese tourist couple who pulled up in their RV and upon seeing us, immediately asked: "What is a geyser?" It turns out they had somehow traveled to Yellowstone without doing any prior research whatsoever -- apparently a regular occurence for them, since they seemed astounded by my rudimentary knowledge.
"How do you know so much?"
"Umm, I like to read about national parks."
"Wow, you read a lot."
"(Not really.)"

A few minutes later, we saw the male half of the couple, Ray (he gave us his business card -- he is a "Representative for Celebrities and Entrepreneurs"!), bounding across the geyser basin toward a steaming hole in the ground. He was not on the boardwalk. He was clambering over the thin crust of the basin. The thin crust surrounded with warning signs not to walk upon it, because sometimes it collapses and causes the errant walker to fall into waiting holes of boiling water and die (so I have read). This has happened to tourists in the past, and we thought for a moment that we might be witness to this horror.

"Tell him to get back! He could die! Quick!"
His girlfriend yelled out some panicked Mandarin and he returned to us, grinning while we tried to impress upon him the importance of not running off the boardwalk to peer into geyser blowholes.

After we returned from our boardwalk stroll in the drizzle, he approached us again. "Where are you going next? We'll go with you. You can show us. You know a lot. Do you know where we can see bears? We want to see bears."

Unfortunately, we could not take him up on this offer of companionship, as we were on our way out of the park to our next exciting destination: Thermopolis, home of the Wyoming Dinosaur Center. We said our goodbyes. I hope they survived.

  • N.B. I used my PowerShot's "Super Vivid" mode for these pictures. Because, if you take a look at any pictures of these bacteria pools by professional photographers, you'll notice that they all mess with the saturation. If they can cheat, I can totally cheat too.

Posted by mormolyke 17:36 Archived in USA Tagged geysers yellowstone wyoming old_faithful bison norris mammoth_hot_springs grand_teton Comments (0)

Strange Raven buries a rock

overcast 60 °F
View Roadtrop on mormolyke's travel map.

At Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone National Park, we witnessed the inscrutable behavior of a very strange raven.

When we spotted him, he was carrying a white rock in his beak and walking over the dusty ground between terrace formations.

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After choosing a site, he put the rock down and began to dig a hole in the ground with his beak.

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However, after placing the rock in the hole, he was not satisfied, and dug up the rock to carry it to another part of the ground.
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This happened three or so times while we were watching, until he finally seemed content with the burial site of his rock. The job done, he took to cawing.

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After a moment, a magpie alighted and began to yell at him.

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I've never seen a raven do anything like this before. Their Wikipedia entry seems to shed some light:

Common Ravens have been observed to manipulate others into doing work for them, such as by calling wolves and coyotes to the site of dead animals. The canines open the carcass, making it more accessible to the birds. They watch where other Common Ravens bury their food and remember the locations of each other's food caches, so they can steal from them. This type of theft occurs so regularly that Common Ravens will fly extra distances from a food source to find better hiding places for food. They have also been observed pretending to make a cache without actually depositing the food, presumably to confuse onlookers.

Common Ravens are known to steal and cache shiny objects such as pebbles, pieces of metal, and golf balls. One theory is that they hoard shiny objects to impress other ravens. Other research indicates that juveniles are deeply curious about all new things, and that Common Ravens retain an attraction to bright, round objects based on their similarity to bird eggs. Mature birds lose their intense interest in the unusual, and become highly neophobic.

Posted by mormolyke 11:40 Archived in USA Tagged raven yellowstone mammoth_hot_springs Comments (1)

Bears


View Roadtrop on mormolyke's travel map.

T minus ten weeks today! Preparation is going very well. I have now ascertained that we'll be able to take the roof rack off the Magnum, since all our luggage will fit easily under the bed; this will probably save us a couple hundred bucks in gas thanks to reduced drag, believe it or not.

I am experimenting with having a pixie cut so that I won't have to brush my hair on the road, but it turns out, no, my hair needs brushing no matter what. It's very fine, and there's a lot of it. Too much of it; it always takes twice as long as the typical customer for me to have it cut. I kind of adore having super short hair, though. I might just settle for wearing spiffy hats in the morning to tame the bedhead.

One of my developing concerns about this roadtrop is bears. Stephen Colbert knows what he's talking about. Bear in mind (bears on mind) I grew up in Australia, where there are no large predators out in the bush, unless you are a baby and count dingoes (I'm going to hell, by the way). It's astounding to me that Americans become hysterical about our spiders and snakes when in this country, there are BLOODY GREAT BIG THINGS WITH TEETH AND CLAWS THAT EAT YOU. Hello. Also, you have plants that cause people to break out in hives just by touching them, and they're everywhere, what's up with that?

Anyway, back to bears. My own hysteria was awakened after I bought and read Yellowstone Trails: A Hiking Guide.

At the very start of the book, the authors launch into what seems to me a huge section dealing with the threat of bears, which contains such sage advice as "Bears are unpredictable. Avoid meeting one in the backcountry." I understand that there are crazy people in the world who might actually seek out a bear instead of avoiding them (see: my favorite documentary, Grizzly Man), but to me this is kind of like getting a horoscope that says "Avoid making mistakes today." Here's where things get really interesting, though:

PLAYING DEAD
Leave your pack on. Lie on your stomach. Interlock your fingers over the back of you neck and bring your elbows up to cover your face. You pack offers protection for you back, leaving only your buttocks and legs exposed. The bear may bite and scratch you, but you must remain still and silent. This sounds incredibly difficult, but many "ordinary" people have done it. People who have played dead and been bitten and scratched by grizzlies have told me that they weren't aware of any pain during the attack. Once the bear leaves you, don't move, as the bear may be watching you from a short ways off, looking for signs of life. Continue listening, and only move when you are sure the bear has left the area.

So, apparently if you are being eaten by a bear, you should do everything you can to squash your survival instincts. Let the bear have a bit of a nibble. Whatever, you didn't need that buttock anyway. Oh yeah, if the bear is eating the person you love most in the world next to you, just, you know, just lie still and don't say anything. Easy. His body will be in such an extreme state of shock that he's not feeling anything anyway, so just let it be. Bleeding to death? Wait until the bear leaves. That might be a while. Oops, you're dead. Easy.

But before you think that maybe bears aren't so bad - they are just enforcing the rules in some bizarre Mother Nature-adjudicated game of Sleeping Lions - read on:

If the bear enters the camping area while you are asleep and pulls you or one of your party out of the tent, this is the time to fight back. Do not play dead in this situation. This is one of those extremely rare situations that have occurred periodically in Yellowstone and other areas in bear country. The person being attacked usually isn't capable of resisting the bear, so it is up to the rest of the group to distract or deter the bear. I would definitely use my pepper spray. This is a volatile stituation and everyone is in danger of being injured, bit without help, the person being dragged off will almost certainly be killed.

Well, shit. I am not sleeping in the woods. Nope. And I may need to take a Valium before hiking anywhere. And I'm buying some bear spray and an airhorn and a little bell, and maybe some tactical weapons and full plate armor. And maybe I should take up bear blasting.

See, I'm sure some Americans work themselves up into similar froths about our spiders and snakes. The thing is, I can kill a spider with my foot or a quick squirt of fly spray. Snakes bite once, usually out of fear, and then they generally fuck off into the undergrowth so you can immediately tourniquet your wound and head off to a hospital. They certainly don't sit around a couple dozen yards off waiting for you to try to move so they can attack you again.

BEARS.

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This is still not dampening my enthusiasm for this trip. I'm just taking into account the fact that I might be eaten by a bear, that's all.

Posted by mormolyke 12:06 Tagged planning yellowstone Comments (0)

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