Sunday, January 10, 2021

Yellowstone Trip: Part 4 (The Grand Tetons)

Over two years later I have decided to finish up my posts about our 2018 trip to Yellowstone. Oops! So many more adventures have happened since then, I better hurry and get caught up. I saved this portion of our trip for last because it ended up being one of my favorite parts of the trip; however, my memory has faded, so this may be a brief post, lucky for anyone daring to read.

During our Yellowstone trip we had the opportunity to visit Grand Teton National Park twice! I’m so glad that we did! Yellowstone is wildly unique, but the Tetons are beautiful. We first went after recent snowfall so we could see them snow-capped. We went a second time with friends who had joined us for the second half of the trip. I felt slightly guilty saying we spent time with friends just now due to the current COVID-19 pandemic, but all was well then! The snow had mostly melted, but they were still beautiful. Here are some pictures from both trips there.

On both trips to the Tetons, we spent time hiking around Lake Jenny. On our first trip we got a special treat of seeing a Moose pretty close. She had a calf nearby, so distance was maintained. Here she is feeding in a pond. 

I should mention also that on our Yellowstone/Grand Teton trip we saw several other moose. Seeing moose can be tricky because they can be elusive and difficult to spot in the willows that they are usually hanging out in; however, we had an advantage. David had informed me that his car has the nickname "The Moose Magnet" due to having seen a lot of moose while in it. There's only one problem with this: we were in my car for this trip. I determined that it is David that is the Moose Magnet and not his car. I plan to keep my Moose Magnet around. 

The hike on this first trip also had great views of the lake. We also saw a black bear on this particular trip I believe. It was eating on the hillside above mostly unconcerned about all the traffic on the trail below it. 

On the second trip we took a boat ride across lake Jenny with our friends and did some hiking there on the other side. This included a waterfall and more views of the lake. 

After our second trip to the Tetons, we started our journey back home. We made a quick stop at another high elevation lake that was also beautiful and had interesting rock formations. The rest of the trip home is a blur at this point! Our next big trip was to Colorado! 

Sunday, December 27, 2020

Yellowstone Trip: Part 3 – Camping Stories, Geysers, and More

We spent our first night in Yellowstone in Canyon. We would return here often for supplies, the occasional shower, and most importantly huckleberry ice cream. The rest of our two weeks in Yellowstone, we camped at Norris where each morning we were greeted with the pungent smell of rotten eggs...that is sulfur emanating from the Norris Geyser Basin.

One Sabbath morning, as the sun started to peek into our campsite, I was awakened by a peculiar noise. In reality, it sounded like heavy breathing right outside my side of tent. I refused to accept reality and constructed a story in my head that the noise was actually not right outside the tent and that it was actually someone airing up an air mattress at a nearby campsite. Reality and my more “logical” explanation battled each other in my mind for several minutes. Then my mind had a funny way of rejecting the logical and reverted back to believing it was heavy breathing...and perhaps some heavy walking. I sat up to get a better listen. David stirred awake and said, “what is it?” “I hear something” I casually stated. David sat up. He heard my reality and swiftly but quietly began unzipping his side of the tent. He then told me to quickly and quietly exit on his side as well to enjoy a special treat. There it was, a big old bison eating some grass no more than 20 feet away.

I was so excited and relieved (I started putting the bear spray in the tent after this, however). He gracefully disappeared behind some trees, and I had no expectations to see him again in this manner; however, our pet buffalo came again the following Sabbath and peacefully grazed through our campsite. He became our special Sabbath buffalo. This second appearance was noted by others as well. Some moments you wish to keep to yourself. One older gentleman stopped by to take some pictures. Without permission he wandered through the campsite, taking pictures and chattering away, closed-mouth, mumbly, southern accent intact. He stated that, “Buffalo meat's the best meat there is. I got a friend who raises buffalo. Best meat there is. I'm from Chattanooga, Tennessee...” Of course! How did I not predict this! I was glad to have him on his way, but did find it entertaining to meet a fellow Tennessean even if we did have different perspectives on the usefulness of buffalo.

The buffalo was not the only disturbance of my sleep that I had. About a week into camping at Norris, in the middle of the night, in a dreamlike stupor, I became vaguely aware of a roaring noise. It sounded like a jet, but the jet noise did not fade. As with the buffalo, I tried to come up with logical explanations in my head as I became more lucid. Perhaps it was a jet and I was dreaming and unaware of how little amount of time had passed. Perhaps it was a vacuum cleaner? That didn't make sense. In all honesty, I was slightly annoyed that I had to be awakened and thus aware of how cold I was. The noise kept on. I whispered to David, “What is that noise?” No reply. A whispered louder, “What is that noise?” Still no reply. I groaned and whined a little, “Whaat is that nooisee?” No reply. I thrashed and flailed about hoping to gain some attention from him. No reply. He never woke up! I was fairly awake by now and decided that Yellowstone was probably erupting, and there was not anything I could do about it, and if it was something else, David sure wasn't going to help, so I might as well go back asleep. The roaring faded as I drifted back into a shallow slumber.

The next day, I groggily recalled the event. I was unsure if it had happened or not. David of course had no recollection of hearing anything. We wondered at some point if it could have been the nearby Steamboat Geyser erupting. As we departed a week later, we stopped by the Norris Geyser Basin that houses Steamboat to check on our theory. We saw that Steamboat had erupted even more recently than the event I had experienced, which did not rule it out yet. We talked to a ranger. I asked him would I be able to hear it a distance away. He said, “Oh yes! It is very loud. Like a jet.” For further confirmation we did find the other past eruption dates. Indeed! I had heard Steamboat erupting. What makes this special is that Steamboat is the world's tallest geyser shooting up to 300 feet in the air, and unlike Old Faithful, it's eruptions are not predictable. In fact, years may go between eruptions; however, in 2018 a new record of 32 eruptions was set and has since continued being more active. 

Basically, I had heard Yellowstone erupting in a sense. I'm thankful it was just this geyser. Here's Steamboat fuming. 

In an earlier post, I stated I would discuss geothermic activity more. Although hot springs (i.e., boiling cauldrons of sulfuric acid) and geysers are a main attraction of Yellowstone, I have to admit that I was not a huge fan. In addition to the obnoxious odors, I couldn't help but think it was all a bit creepy. After all, David had told me stories about people being disintegrated in the hot springs. It was beautiful in a lot of cases, however.

The great thing about Yellowstone is that there were so many opportunities to explore and have adventures in nature that were vastly different than other places such as Tennessee; however, not all adventures were nature-made. As one may expect, toilets are a bit scarce, especially ones that flush. In restrooms that had flush toilets, I was amused by signs instructing users to not squat on the toilet. I understood that there were a lot of visitors there from other countries, but surely it was understood that you don’t stand on the toilet. I tried to imagine the acrobatic feat of folding my tall lanky American body into squat position all while being perched up on top a toilet. Inconceivable for me! Quite the feat for someone more flexible. Surely those signs were not needed, right? Not to mention, there were no squat toilets around to confuse anyone, right? Well, one evening after driving a ways, we both had to use the bathroom pretty bad and stopped at the Mud Volcano. David went into one pit toilet and I went racing to the one next to it, only to be greeted with a shocking sign on the outside. Could it be? I cautiously opened the door. Sure enough. I go racing back to where David was and asked him if he was almost done. He asked what was wrong, and I exclaimed that I did not know how to use the one next to him. We both were amused and had a good laugh. It was the only one I saw there in Yellowstone, which is also amusing.  

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Yellowstone Trip: Part 2 (Scenes and wildlife from Yellowstone)

As mentioned in Part 1 of the journey, I was not sure exactly what to expect out of Yellowstone. Upon entering the park, I realized the great diversity in landscapes, habitats, and animals. One part of the park had the ability to look completely different from another part of the park. There were mountains, valleys, canyons, rivers, waterfalls, lakes, areas of geothermic activity (I have more to say on geothermic activity in a future post). It was all beautiful in its own kind of way, but my favorite scenery was Trout Lake at sunset (first picture below). It was spectacular and surreal. High elevation lakes continued to be one of my favorite views throughout the trip. Meadows were a close second if not a tie.

Not only did the geology of Yellowstone vary drastically, but the weather did too. Before heading to Yellowstone, David reassured me that although it would be chilly at night, it would be a “dry cold” and would not feel all that cold. It felt cold. As soon as the sun went down, I braced myself for about 12 hours of misery. Perhaps I am being dramatic, but I'll let you decide with the following pictures. This was taken in August! August!!! First for me! Although beautiful, we fortunately camped just a little lower in elevation than this. It was a close call though.

Although each night was spent with some level of discomfort, the days made it well worth it! Some days we spent more time driving around looking at wildlife and scenery. Other days we spent hiking and fishing. Our search for wildlife yielded many good sightings. Some sightings were easy. For example, there were bountiful herds of bison. Bison in a field. Bison in a river. Bison on the side of the road looking in your window. Bison in the middle of the road creating up to two mile buffalo jam. Grown bison. Baby bison. Bison. Buffalo. Bison. I'll share a good buffalo story in an upcoming post.

Another common sighting was pronghorn antelope and elk.

And check out this handsome coyote!
And this elegant pair of trumpeter swans!
Then there were other really common sightings such as ravens and red squirrels. I think they were pretty fantastic though. I had not seen ravens before and could not get over how big they were compared to crows. And squirrels...squirrels are always fun.

Other sightings were more difficult and/or too far away to capture without an expensive, fancy camera. The best sighting was wolves! The first wolf sightings were so far away. Even with binoculars, they looked like black blobs moving. One particular evening, however, we got a special treat. We were driving through the Lamar Valley looking for wildlife with our friends Michael and Julie. Michael got a tip-off from a wolf watcher (the kind with the nice scopes) that a pack of eight wolves were heading down the valley. We took off racing against nightfall. We parked near the river where the wolves would hopefully cross. Indeed, we got the chance to see a few of the pack members cross. They were mostly black wolves, but a gray wolf was also spotted. Through the binoculars we could tell just how big of puppy dogs these guys really were. It will remain a fantastic memory.

Wolves are cool, but what people are really afraid of in Yellowstone are the grizzly bears. I'm pretty much not afraid of our black bears here in Tennessee, but I had lots of questions about grizzly bears, their aggressiveness, what to do if we saw one, what to do if attacked, etc. The reality that we were in bear country really set in on our Pebble Creek hike where we saw trees with claw marks at least six feet high. It was then I began rehearsing our action plan in worst case scenarios and became more eager to chime in with David as we walked calling, “Hey bear!”

We never did see a bear out hiking. We really did not see much in terms of large wildlife while out hiking with the exception of a large bull elk who spooked and switch backed up a hill in front of us. We did see wildlife from the road, including grizzly bears. Again, Michael was responsible for giving us a tip-off on a grizzly location. Twice we drove to where the kill was to see the bears. The first time we saw one bear. The second time we saw two bears where the second was biding its time until it had the opportunity to get in on the action...or lack was a dead bison after all. Again, lack of a fancy camera prevented a good picture, but here you can somewhat make out a bear through my phone and binoculars combo.

Now back to some other common sightings. As I mentioned, we had the opportunity to do some hiking while in Yellowstone. A common sighting on these hikes was David fishing of course!

I did some fishing as well. In fact, I may have even experienced my first disappointment over a missed fish. We were fishing on the Yellowstone River and I had the biggest fish I've ever caught on the line, a Yellowstone Cutthroat. I was listening to David as he tried talking me through the fight. Things such as "let it go!" "reel! reel! reel!" "let it go!" Then I heard David say some words. I didn't know what was happening, but all of a sudden the fight was over and there was nothing on my line anymore. Apparently, an even bigger fish came and got on the line also and they both broke off as a result. It was a sad moment. I did enjoy the fishing over all though. Of course, I'm never as passionate about fishing as David, so I would often just watch, look around at flowers, critters, etc. For example, I found myself intrigued by this bee and flower. It was on there as we passed by and still there when we headed back again at least an hour later.

David also found what we believe is a horn of some sort.
So many more animals and sights were enjoyed while we were out exploring and driving around that were never documented and have simply started fading out of memory unfortunately. In my next post, however, I will share some other memorable sights and events that won't leave the memory too quickly.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Yellowstone Trip: Part 1

Two weeks ago, we returned from a trip I have always wanted to do an now feel blessed for having been able to do. I'm not sure what I was expecting out of Yellowstone, but it just seemed like a cool place to visit, to see wildlife especially. With my personal tour guide/loving husband leading the way, the trip far exceeded expectations. I wanted to share all in one post, but it really was too big of a trip to summarize concisely. If I had to summarize though, I would say the west is a wild, wide, and desolate wonder. For those interested in a more detailed version, I am breaking the trip down into different parts. I hope to post more parts as I have time over the next couple weeks. My plan is to highlight the cool things we saw at various places including landmarks, scenery, animals, and maybe an interesting story thrown in the mix.

We started in the evening on August 22 and drove through the night. A little stress, anticipation, Taco Bell, and sitting upright all night meant misery in Missouri and bad times in the Badlands. You have to have one bad experience, right? It all seems like a distant memory now, and the good memories have taken over mostly. As we left the east, I watched as the landscape flattened, emptied, rolled, filled, and emptied again. Our first stop was Badlands National Park in South Dakota. It felt like we were just cruising along, 80mph in some places, then all of a sudden there were badlands. Although I was reaching the climax of my discomfort at this point, I was able to enjoy this strange landscape. This was also perhaps the first interesting mammal spotting, bighorn sheep.

From the Badlands, we drove to the Black Hills and spent the night. The following morning we visited Mt. Rushmore and headed on to Wyoming for Devils Tower and our first night of camping in the Bighorn Mountains. Devils tower is another example of an abrupt landscape change. It seems so random! Below Devils tower, we got to see a bunch of prairie dogs. I'm sure they are pests to those who live in the area, but they are so cute!

In the Bighorn Mountains, I witnessed several new things. First, I witnessed free-range cattle and cattle guards in the roads. I will insert here that I had some misconceptions about Wyoming and cattle stemming from the song "Get Along Little Dogies." I assumed cattle to be abundant, but alas the sparsely brush covered hills are nutrient scarce, requiring more range per cow than I am accustomed to. Second, I witnessed what I thought was a momentary lapse in judgment in my husband who decided to make the cows get off the road. His excuse? He didn't want to hear cars honking at them all night (debatable). His technique? Run at them, throw some rocks, yell at them. Was he successful? Mostly. Meanwhile, I was somewhat apprehensive and stricken with slightly irrational thoughts. After all, these are free range cattle. They might not be as predictable as Tennessee cows, a bit more fierce perhaps.

After camping Friday night next to a man who talked to himself and had a Doberman with questionable temperament, we got up to go explore the Medicine Wheel. Here, I experienced mild elevation sickness for the first time. It was well worth it though because we got to see a pika!!!! It was by far my favorite animal of the trip I believe. I thought the prairie dogs were my favorite until I saw that little pika. Can there be anything cuter? We also saw some yellow-bellied marmots at the Medicine wheel which were also cute.

As thoughts about pikas and marmots were running through my head as we headed back to camp, something caught my eye...some horse trailers and some very excited dogs. Could it be? David answered my unspoken thought with "I bet it is a cattle roundup." We got to see the whole shebang. Cowboys, cowgirls, herding dogs (Australian shepherds and border collies), horses, and of course cows. This was such an exhilarating experience to me that I considered moving to Wyoming to become a cowgirl, but my dislike of the cold and being a vegetarian brought me back to reality.

From here it was on to Yellowstone! More pictures and long narratives to come!