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to the Rockies - Spring 2006
by Sylvia R. Gallagher
p.m., Sat., June 24, 2006
Tower Falls Campground, Yellowstone NP
We left Grand
Teton around 7:30 this morning. Before departure we dumped both our
black and gray water because it looks as though the places we might
stay in Yellowstone don't have dump stations. The huge campground
at Colter Bay has only one dump station, but since the campground
isn't full and it was fairly early, there was no one there. Its location
is pretty strange. It's oriented so arriving campers can dump, but
they have to swerve to the left side of the main road through the
campground. Departing ones have to drive all the way around a camping
loop to be oriented correctly. Then after dumping they have to drive
all the way around again. I wouldn't want to be camped in that loop.
There is another dumpstation in the complex, at a gas station, and
I went over and looked at it, but it costs $10.00 to use. Forget it!
Clair and Sue's
wildlife places seemed to be clustered around Tower Falls Campground
more than any other, so we were determined to get a site there. The
book said it has only 36 sites. We had an 80-mile drive, so thought
we ought to get here in a couple of hours, but we didn't make it until
around 11:30. I made one stop at a bookstore--found nothing. The rest
of the time we were actually driving. Most of the roads were OK, but
the last 17 miles from Canyon to Tower was pretty slow. It's steep,
curvy and mountainous, and a portion of it is in horrible condition.
Furthermore, after we passed Dunraven Pass there were hordes of tourists
barely or not off the road, so we had to creep by them. Many had scopes
set up and were looking far off for Grizzly Bears and perhaps Wolves--based
on what Clair and Sue had told us about the area. With our trailer
in tow, there would have been no way to stop even if we wanted to.
However, we did see one sow Black Bear with two cubs running across
through the open woodlands below us. That was the first bear on the
Before that we
had seen large herds of Bison in the Hayden Valley and nearly hit
an Elk as she emerged from the bushes and stumbled into the road.
If she hadn't found her balance, we would have struck her.
When we got here we discovered that the Tower Falls campground only
has a few sites long enough and level enough for a trailer like ours.
In the first one we tried, even with all three of our boards we couldn't
get it level. A nice man saw our plight and pointed out that site
#3 was long, level, and empty. He said he usually likes to take it,
but it was occupied until this morning. It's on the edge of the campground,
but the front edge--right next to the host, dumpster (drawback: hinge
sounds like a bugling elk, of which there are none around here), telephone,
pay station, and even a water faucet from which we can fill our tank.
We thought it might be noisy, but so far the people are quiet. No
generators are permitted in this campground at all, thank goodness.
We have a view across toward a hillside with sagebrush and grasses.
In the foreground is a mixture of grasses, shrubs, and three species
of tree: Douglas-Fir, Engelmann Spruce, and lots of Lodgepole Pines.
Even though the sites are crammed together, it's ever so much nicer
than the gargantuan campgrounds elsewhere in the park, where we've
stayed on previous trips. We promptly signed up for three nights and
can, of course, stay longer if we want to.
I spent the afternoon
editing the previous installment of my diary, so have done no exploration
of the area. Jim went down to the campground entrance, where there
is a general store and bought a paper in the middle of the afternoon.
He said it was mobbed with people then--probably all those folks we
encountered up on the mountainside looking for bear. Some of the people
were at the store, while others were looking at Tower Falls, a 100-yd
with a high in the 70s, I'd guess. It clouded up some in the afternoon
and we've heard occasional rumbles of distant thunder, but nothing
p.m., Sun., June 25, 2006
Tower Falls Campground, Yellowstone NP, WY
morning we drove out the northeast exit road toward Cooke City and
Beartooth Pass. Much of this area is the Lamar Valley, an open, undulating
valley where wildlife is expected. We got going around 6:30, before
there were too many other cars on the road.
hadn't even reached the junction with the Lamar Valley road when we
encountered a Red Fox in a patch of forest. This one was quite gray
(they range from red to gray), but its white tail-tip clinched the
ID. Even though it was pretty shady, Jim thinks he got some nice photos
hadn't driven too far east when we saw a couple of cars stopped. It
turned out to be a very large male Black Bear, cinnamon morph. It
was obviously used to people and foraged near the road for quite a
while, then ambled across it and foraged some more on the other side.
It was difficult to get good lighting on him, because we were heading
toward the morning sun, but finally Jim succeeded.
little farther along we stopped to look at some Pronghorn, most of
which were too far out for photos. I spotted a speck way out on the
meadow which others told me was just another Pronghorn, but I didn't
think so. When I put my binoculars on it, I discovered it was either
a Coyote or a Wolf, but since it had a collar and a blue eartag, I
decided it was probably a Wolf. Of course, the scope came out immediately.
It was a wolf, the second one we'd ever seen in the wild! Our first
was at a place where we stopped to camp along the Dempster Highway
in the Northwest Territories--above the Arctic Circle. Jim got no
photos of that one either.
out in the valley there were several large herds of American Bison,
as well as many smaller groups. Of course, Jim had to photograph them,
stopped at the beaver lodge Clair and Sue had told us about, but of
course the animal wasn't out. We also saw a nearby Lodgepole Pine
that it had gnawed deeply all around and was well on the way to felling.
It must have had a trunk diameter of at least a foot. Curiously enough
the pine was on the opposite side of the highway from the creek where
the lodge is, but there were no trees--not even willows--in the creek,
so I guess it was hard-up.
turned around at the end of the valley where the road started to ascend
through a narrow canyon. Clair and Sue had told us there were sometimes
Mountain Goats and Sheep high up on the mountainsides, but we weren't
interested, having seen those animals closer on other occasions, so
we turned around at the 2nd campground out the road and came back.
We saw little of interest on the way back--just the same Bison and
Pronghorns--and lots more traffic.
was a little early to return to the trailer for lunch, so we headed
out the road towards Mammoth for about three miles, then turned north
for maybe a quarter of a mile to the trailhead for Hellroaring Rapids.
This was where C & S told us to look for Pika. We saw the rocky
slope where the animals no doubt are, but didn't see any. However,
we didn't look very hard, for we had no sooner gotten there when we
discovered a Williamson's Sapsucker nest. It was at eyelevel for Jim
if he clambered up the slope a little ways--not an easy place to stand
for half an hour or more. Jim thought the female looked different
from those in California, the head being more stiped and less plain.
I really couldn't remember, so will have to check the slides of California
ones and compare them with these when we get home.
he was busy with the sapsuckers, I wandered around the small parking
lot and out the trail a little ways. I heard a song that reminded
me of a MacGillivray's Warbler, except that it was coming from high
in the treetops and was one-parted, not two-parted as I expected.
I tried for a while to see the bird, but finally had to go back and
get my tape recorder. By then the bird had quieted down, so I had
to stand around for ten minutes waiting for it to sound off again.
Finally it did, first from a distance and then from closer up. I recorded
it and played it back. After a lot of fly-bys high in the Douglas-Firs,
I finally got a look at it singing, and it actually was a MacGillivray's.
I watched it singing that song and recorded it again. Most of the
time there were a lot of people arriving and departing from the trailhead,
but fortunately at that time no one was around.
went back to the trailer very happy. It had been a really productive
most of the day was clear with almost no breeze. Late in the afternoon
it clouded up and we had a few mild thundershowers. They dropped a
fair amount of rain, but brought no wind. The rain half-way quenched
all the campfires around and they have filled the valley with smoke,
which doesn't help my allergies, which are bad enough from the pine
to quit now. Toby is pestering me to play with him. He's always extremely
active in the evening. I've had to stop him a half a dozen times from
trying to chew the electrical cord from the inverter in the bedroom.
It's a new toy to him--and he dearly loves anything new.
p.m., Mon., June 26, 2006
Tower Falls Campground, Yellowstone NP, WY
Jim didn't want
to go hunt for the Pika because of the mosquitos, and I didn't want
to drive back up the road toward Canyon because of the awful road,
so we decided to redo yesterday's jaunt out to the Lamar Valley. This
time we didn't see anything to photograph. Even the Bison and Pronghorns
were far from the road. We drove it slowly both ways; it was 10:00
by the time we got back to the Tower Junction.
So we decided
maybe it was time to look at the scenic sites between the junction
and Tower Falls. We pulled into the Calcite Spring parking area and
were about to take the short trail to the overlook when I happened
to glance ahead on the highway and saw a bunch of parked cars. It
had to be a bear jam or something, so Jim grabbed his longest lens
and camera and dashed off. As we approached the area, we kept looking
for what everyone was seeing. It wasn't until we were almost there
that we realized the subject was not way off, but right beside the
road, with the people standing right across the narrow road from it.
It was a mother
bear and two adorable cubs, who were gamboling and tussling all over
the place. Much of the time they were in the sun, so Jim took lots
of photos. He had to stand back because of the long lens he had brought.
The mother bear was less photogenic. She spent most of her time with
her head down in the ditch beside the road munching vegetation. We
learned that this bear has been named Rosie and frequents this stretch
of road most of the time. She's obviously totally used to people and
not overly dangerous.
There were two
rangers directing traffic past the place and keeping people from getting
too close to the bears. They didn't keep them very far away though,
another indication that this is a people-tolerant bear. He really
was exasperated, though, when a passing car stopped right next to
Rosie in the ditch, and the woman on the side next to the bear jumped
out to snap a photo.
We watched the
antics of the cubs for at least half an hour while they were in plain
view (lost track of time, it was so fascinating) and then for an equal
length of time when they were back a little ways in the forest, hoping
they'd come back out. (They didn't.)
In addition to
keeping people from approaching the bears, the rangers also spent
a lot of energy trying to keep them from standing on the low rock
guard wall. On the other side was a slippery sandy/gravelly slope
that was only 5-10 ft from the cliff face. Only a week ago (we read
about it in the paper) a woman got on the other side of the wall to
get a better photograph and slipped and fell to her death--with her
ten-year-old daughter watching! Believe me, I showed that article
When the action
moved a bit away, I started looking across the canyon of the Yellowstone
River. I saw a couple of Osprey nests. One had an adult and some very
young nestlings atop an extremely narrow column. Another was on a
ledge, and the well-grown juveniles had walked off the ledge onto
a flat place on the cliff. When they were all bunched up together,
I thought they were a single Mountain Goat. (People were seeing goats
farther along in the canyon.) But binoculars showed they were juvenile
raptors. I went back to the car and got my scope and discovered three
large, healthy-looking ones and one with less of the adult feathering
sprawled out on the flat place. I saw it flutter its wings feebly
once, but I doubt it'll make it.
them for a while, I decided to walk along further and see if I could
find the Mountain Goats. I couldn't. I had intended to walk back and
see what Calcite Spring was all about, but before I got very far,
Jim came along with the truck. The bears had moved off into the forest.
We decided to check out Tower Falls instead. It was mostly hidden
by forest trees, but pretty. Calcite Spring tomorrow.
This afternoon Jim was talking to the camp host, who told him that
it was Rosie we had seen way up the road on the day we arrived. Usually
she doesn't go that far away. There had also been a wolf trying to
get the cubs. Rosie had sent her youngsters scrambling up a tree and
stood confronting the wolf. The host said a camper had shown him a
full-frame shot of Rosie facing down the wolf! Clair and Sue had told
us that wolves are regularly seen up that road, so maybe I'll have
to screw up my courage and accompany Jim up there tomorrow.
p.m., Tues., June 27, 2006
Tower Falls Campground, Yellowstone NP, WY
This morning we
decided we should drive up the road toward Dunraven Pass. It is reputed
to be the best place to see wolves, and is the area where Rosie and
her cubs encountered one. I discovered the road wasn't as bad as I
feared, although coming back the narrowness of it accentuated the
dropoff, a steep slope. I can't help contrasting the lousy roads in
this park with the beautiful ones in Canada's Banff and Jasper. There
the entire highway is beautifully wide with shoulders the entire length
so one can pull over wherever there is something worth looking at.
This road is probably only 18-20 ft wide and where the pavement ends
at the edge, the road ends. The blacktop is piled high, so there is
always a drop off of around six inches. There are occasional small
turnouts and a few larger ones.
We left around
6:15 and drove up very slowly, peering down into the canyon and up
the slope for bears, wolves, or whatever. Very few people were out
and about at that hour, so it was OK to poke along. However, we were
astonished to discover at the top two long pull-outs full of vehicles.
One of them seemed to be an organized group, but I don't think the
other one was. They were well equipped with binoculars and scopes,
and I can only think they were looking for wolves.
We stopped and
scanned for animals at a lot of the turnouts, but all we saw was a
lone female elk. I think the people at the turnouts were prepared
to spend hours in their vigil. We didn't think it was worth waiting
because any wolves would be far below in the valley--far too distant
So we returned
equally slowly back down the road and spent a little time at the tourist
viewpoints in the Tower area, especially Calcite Spring, which we
missed yesterday. We looked in vain for the Peregrine Falcon nest
that Clair and Sue had told us was in that area. We did see one distant,
lone raptor chick of some sort that had walked out of its nest. We
couldn't see the nest, and no adult came in to feed it while we were
there. It was way too far for photos anyway and could barely be seen
with the scope.
Then we decided to drive the first part of the Lamar Valley road once
more. We first encountered a large mixed herd of Bison and Pronghorns
some distance from the road, but a bit farther along there was a beautiful
male Pronghorn quite close to the road. I was driving and pulled past
him so Jim could get shots of him lit up by the sun.
A slight distance
farther were two females, one with an udder full of milk. We never
saw her youngster. Jim got some shots of her, too. We drove on to
the end of the first valley and the start of a narrow canyon and turned
around. On the way back, we encountered a lot of cars at the two female
Pronghorns, so slowed down to see what was going on. To our amazement,
there was a Wolf out with the Pronghorns on the right side of the
road. I pulled over to left side of the road where there was a bit
of a shoulder--down 4 inches, of course.
Jim's still mad
at me because I didn't stop right in the middle of the road to let
him out, but I got chewed out by a ranger a couple of days before
for doing that. He says to be sure to put in my diary that I made
him miss 15 wonderful shots by taking those few extra seconds to park
correctly. I told him he's being silly. Anyway, I'm sure he got lots
of wonderful images, because after I was parked and had gotten out,
I watched the Pronghorn attack the Wolf. She raised herself up on
her hind legs and tried to come down on it with her front hooves.
It all happened so quickly, but I think the Wolf ran right under her
and out the back. The Pronghorns chased that Wolf along parallel to
the road for a hundred yards or so, then across it and off into the
meadow. Jim followed along and got more shots of the Wolf, but I don't
think anything of the action. While he was down the road, I spotted
a second Wolf right where the action had started. It moseyed around,
then crossed the road about 100 ft from me and disappeared after the
first one. I wonder where the baby Pronghorn was hidden. Wherever
it was, the Wolves didn't find it while we were there.
I think these
were the same wolves we saw two days ago, for it was very close to
the same area. Both of them had radio collars. (I'm not sure I could
have told them from coyotes otherwise. They're pretty similar and
size is hard to judge in such an open setting. Of course, if they
radiocollar coyotes, I'll have to look carefully at the photos to
We got back to
the trailer around 10:30 and Jim decided to drive that Lamar Valley
section one more time. This time I stayed in the trailer. He didn't
find anything of interest.
Around noon the sky clouded up and by 1:00 we were having a first-class
thunderstorm, which lasted an hour or so. It's been cloudy and cold
all afternoon, but is clearing off now. I can see pink clouds over
the hill outside the window.
p.m., Wed., June 28, 2006
Norris Campground, Yellowstone NP, WY
Not much to report
today; it was moving day. Even though it was only a 50-mile drive,
it took us the better part of the morning to accomplish it. Since
we weren't going animal-hunting this morning, we slept in a bit, getting
up closer to 6:00 than to our usual 5:00. Jim had to carry the last
of the gray water in buckets to the john and fill our tank from the
faucet, which was conveniently close enough to connect a hose.
We drove westward
to Mammoth, then took a five-mile side trip into Gardiner to shop
at a "real" grocery store and get gasoline, which was somewhat
cheaper than in the park. There was a flagger along that stretch of
road. We thought it was construction, but when we read the Billings
newspaper, we discovered that yesterday's rain storm had triggered
a landslide and closed the road for hours yesterday. They were in
the final stages of clean-up, but it was still one-way traffic when
we went through.
We were anxious
to get to Norris as soon as possible, not knowing how many sites we'd
be able to get into. We arrived at 10:30, having averaged about 25
mph on the slow roads. We drove loop A and found it essentially full,
then we tried loop B and half-way around it fell in love with a beautiful
site, B-35, that looks out across a long meadow through a thin veil
of young Lodgepole Pines--and a few older ones. We never got to loop
C. The site is pretty level left-right, but it tilts up-hill pretty
steeply. To level us up, Jim had to raise the front end as far as
it would go, then put down the jacks in front, raise the front end
jack again and put more boards under it and raise it some more, then
lower the front jacks again. (We call this two-stage levelling, and
this is the first time we've had to do it on this trip.)
Not many birds
here--typical of Lodgepole Pine forest. Have only seen or heard Mountain
Chickadee and Chipping Sparrow so far. However, Toby looked out the
window and discovered a BIG "dog," so big that he didn't
even bark or gruff at it, merely whined. It was a bull Bison just
down the campground road a little bit, grazing on the roadside vegetation.
This morning when
he was buying gas in Gardiner Jim discovered a piece of metal embedded
in one of our truck tires. There was a tire store there, but the lot
was so jammed full that we decided it would take forever to get service.
So we continued on in order to get a campsite. After his nap he drove
the 12 miles to Canyon Village. It turned out all the tire men were
out on long rescue operations and wouldn't be back for a while. So
Jim pulled the thing out there--turned out to be a screw with a blunt
tip that was a little over an inch long and perhaps 3/8" in diameter.
It was embedded at a 45 degree angle, as we determined by the wear
on the head. When he removed it, no air leaked out, so maybe the tread
is deep enough on this sturdy truck tire. He did it there so if air
escaped, he could wait for a tire man to get back. We'll watch it
for a few days as we drive slowly around Yellowstone. [The next day
he had the idea of putting "Shoe Goo"--a tough tacky adhesive
sold by many other names--in the hole. We've had no further trouble
with the tire, and the Shoe Goo is still in place.]
We plan to stay
here through the weekend and probably till the 4th, which is next
Tuesday. Norris is pretty centrally located for sightseeing trips
in various directions. We definitely want to return to Mammoth 20
miles north in hopes of seeing a Grizzly Bear. That's the only megamammal
we've not encountered yet.
Clair and Sue are retracing some of our steps in Colorado while we
do theirs in Yellowstone. We enjoyed Sue's message tonight from Leadville
and thought you'd like to read it:
recital of your wolf episode [after the bear one the day before],
I was beginning to find your emails more annoying than interesting
(only kidding, just jealous). . .
"For a day
of mainly driving from Point A to Point B, it was great. Such gorgeous
scenery throughout this area.
for telling us about Mt. Evans. We started the day hiking a bit near
the top of Trail Ridge (Medicine Bow Curve) in Rocky Mountain NP looking
for ptarmigan with no luck. It was about 9 am before we finally got
up there [from Longmont], and the ladies leaving the parking area
as we arrived said they had seen one in their scope part way up the
mountain. We tried, but no luck and none in finding moose down the
other side of the park. [Clair's message sent at the same time said
they walked over a mile on the tundra at over 12,000 ft., carrying
heavy camera gear, of course.]
"So we continued south to Idaho Springs. Beautiful sunny weather
when we started up the Mt. Evans road. We didn't see much along the
way except for the fantastic scenery, gorgeous wildflowers, a few
marmots and one pika who quickly left his rock. We got to the top
of the mountain, and Clair said there was a mountain goat right at
the Visitor Center rocks. By the time I got out of the car with the
camera, the goat had gone into the visitor area and was licking minerals
off the floor. Not a very good picture, but at least we got to see
"We got back
into the car and snow was falling. We drove around two turns and there
were goats just right off the road--females with kids. Clair got shots,
and then the snow was really falling and thunder was growing louder.
The goats decided to move along, and the kids were adorable romping
about. Sort of looked and acted like a whiter Toby. On down the road
farther, another goat crossed the road in front of us.
about half way down the mountain, some Bighorn ewes and lambs ran
across the road in front of us. They were really hightailing it, but
again great to see, and who can't use more sheep butt shots?
"Clair said the best part of the trip down Mt. Evans Road was
it was snowing so hard you couldn't see over the cliff!" [The
drop-off is on the right side of that narrow road most of the way
down, and nary a guardrail.]
above, we can see they did in one day what we spent at least a week
doing. We still don't know how they do it day after day. Both ways
seem to work, for they get great photos of some things, while we get
p.m., Thurs., June 29, 2006
Norris Campground, Yellowstone NP, WY
Around 9:30 last
night after Jim was sound asleep in bed and I had pulled down the
shades, Toby and I heard a sound right outside the window that could
best be described as "schlumpf. . . shlumpf. . . schlumpf. .
." It kept getting closer and closer, and Toby decided it was
definitely something alarming and started barking. (Jim continued
to slumber.) I had sort of figured out what it was, so to keep Toby
from seeing it and going berserk, I put him in his kennel before raising
a blind. Of course it was the Bison biting off large mouthfuls of
grass, flowers, etc., from immediately outside the trailer window.
He couldn't have been more that five feet away. The neighbors from
both sides were soon all over our site and right outside the bedroom
window where Jim was now only trying to sleep--a gross breach of campground
Finally the beast
wandered off, but still later when it was practically dark he came
back and ate some more. Then he went over to a dead snag of a Lodgepole
Pine that still had some bark left and proceeded to rub some of the
last of his winter coat off his back. We collected it as a souvenir
this morning. Toby is fascinated by its odor and frantic to have access
to it, so we have to keep it well away from his grasp. Jim thinks
I ought to spin it and knit a sweater, but it would have to be for
a very small doll, not me, unless I find a whole lot more.
We haven't seen
the Bison at all this evening--so far. Jim just went to the phone
and a little girl told him there is one in loop A right now. Don't
know if it's the same guy. [By the time we left there, we had figured
out there were at least two bull Bison in the campground area and
no females. They differed markedly in how much fur they had shed.]
This morning we
got up at 5:30 and drove without breakfast up to the Mammoth area
and took the Upper Terrace Drive, where C & S told us they'd seen
Grizzly Bears in the evening. We drove the loop once looking for bears
and a second time enjoying the thermal features, which I think are
my favorites in the park. Their delicately sculptured features, tinted
with various colors by thermal bacteria, are so beautiful. I especially
enjoyed Orange Spring Mound and Canary Spring. The latter was just
a large pool from above, but I climbed down a flight of stairs to
where I could view where the pool overflowed, forming a beautiful
set of terraces.
We went into Mammoth
village and bought some breakfast. After that I walked around the
lower portion of the terraces and discovered that Palette Spring was
the most attractive feature there. People had told us that Mammoth
is "no good any more, because it's all dried up." Actually,
according to the brochure I picked up, the water moves around and
moistens some areas for a while, then others. The famous Minerva and
Jupiter Terraces that I remember from my first visit decades ago are
just stark and white, with the deposits falling off in spots, but
the other places more than make up for them.
Mammoth is the
only place in the park where hot water saturated with carbon dioxide
flows over calcium carbonate--reacting with it and converting it into
soluble calcium bicarbonate, then redepositing it as insoluble calcium
carbonate somewhere else as the water evaporates. This accounts for
the delicate ripply details in the formations, which I never tire
of watching, especially when there's water sheeting over them and
they're tinted various colors. The colors are produced by bacteria,
with the color ranging from yellow to orange to red to green to brown
as the water becomes increasingly cool. Different species are responsible
for different colors.
After that we
returned slowly down the road back to Norris, stopping at every conceivable
feature. We saw lots of Elk and Bison, but no bears of either species.
At one point on the road there was a large lake out in the middle
of a meadow--Swan Lake, I think it's called. Since there was a large
parking lot near it, we stopped. I couldn't find any swans, but with
my naked eye saw a couple of specks on the water, which turned into
a whole lot of ducks when I put my binocs on them. So I got out my
scope to see what they were. I was able to identify Canada Goose,
Lesser Scaup, Mallard, Ruddy Duck, Green-winged Teal, Ring-necked
Duck and possibly Common Merganser. Another birder with a scope pulled
up shortly afterwards and we both were watching them for a while.
He left before I did.
It took quite
a while to scan the entire pond and study them all. When I turned
around to return to the truck, to my amazement I discovered 15 vehicles
in the lot and more pouring in. The people were all milling about
trying to figure out what the attraction was. Without binoculars,
they couldn't see the ducks--and wouldn't have cared if they could.
Most of them didn't even know why everyone else was stopped there.
For the rest of the day we've been laughing at the Duck Jam I single-handedly
I didn't dare
confess my "guilt," for a few days ago when I was trying
to figure out the MacGillivray's Warbler song, a woman came up to
inquire what I was watching. When I told her, she disgustedly turned
to her daughter and remarked, "Just a bird!" Other birders
(especially Terry Hill) have told me they've had similar experiences
there. People can be downright rude, as this woman was. Imagine what
15 carloads of people might have done to me!
a few geological features and I also got some shots of the forest
recovering from the 1988 fire. One place had seen little recovery
and a display explained that this hillside had burned in 1976 and
the new trees from that fire had not matured enough to produce cones--and
seeds--when the firestorm of 1988 burned the area again. Thus the
seeds for germination had to arrive via other means.
We got back to the trailer around noon. Again it clouded up in the
afternoon and we had a very short thunder shower. Before that it was
pretty warm--but still in the 70s, not the 92 degree forecast for
We stayed in our
site in the afternoon, leaving the park to the crowds. Early rising
and quitting at noon work best for us. It gives us several hours before
the traffic gets really thick on the roads. We notice that some of
our fellow-campers don't get back from their sightseeing until 7:00
seems to be completely full tonight, and I suspect most of these people
plan to hold onto their sites all weekend. Certainly we do. I walked
Toby around loop C and have decided that our site is the nicest in
p.m., Fri., June 30, 2006
Norris Campground, Yellowstone NP, WY
Not too much exciting
today. We spent the morning exploring one of the loops of the nearby
Norris Geyser Basin, a walk of 1.5 miles with plenty of ups and downs.
This is the most active of the geyser basins and the most varied.
It also contains Steamboat Geyser, the tallest active geyser in the
world, which erupts when it feels like it with intervals from days
to years. It last erupted about 13 months ago, but was still impressive
today with some spurts of 10 to 15 feet every minute or so.
The reason for
this basin's extreme activity is that it lies at the junction of three
faults. This also explains the fact that each geyser, pool, mudpot,
etc., is quite different from the one before. I purchased one of their
new full-color trail guides (published in 2005, 50¢ and well
worth it). It explained the geology, chemistry (silica based here,
so different from Mammoth), microbiology, etc., of the basin in general
and the features in particular. I had obtained one yesterday for the
It was 11:00 by
the time we got back to the truck, having started out at 7:00. We
really poked along, enjoying each feature. I recorded the sounds from
some, and Jim photographed many. I never tire of watching these thermal
features and look forward to seeing them again whenever I come to
this park. I'll have to take in the Porcelain Basin another day. It
is a shorter walk, but involves more elevational change than the portion
we walked today.
drove north and south on the park roads looking for any large mammals
that "needed" their pictures taken, but found none. Late
this afternoon in the campground we had a visitation of one of the
two male Bison--not our late-night visitor--and Jim pursued it all
over the place, photographing it digitally. (There are two large male
bison that roam the campground area. We can tell them apart because
one has lost much more of its winter coat than the other.)
It clouded up
around noon and was cloudy most of the afternoon, which isn't good
for our solar panels. Our batteries are on the low side, so I'll curtail
this episode. I wanted to include more of what I learned about the
scientific aspects of the thermal features, but won't.
July 1, 2006
Norris Campground, Yellowstone NP, WY
p.m., Sun., July 2, 2006
Golden Stake RV Parks, Brigham City, UT
We had to leave
Yellowstone before we really wanted to because our batteries were
just too low. Even though our site was pretty open, the only time
of day there was much sun was rather early in the morning, when it
was shaded. The rest of the time, we had lots of clouds, so our solar
panels just weren't doing the job. Our refrigerator flashed "lo
DC" over and over, and when we checked the voltage it was below
11 volts. Lights were dim, pump barely worked unless we turned all
the lights off. The last night we were there I read by flashlight
after it got dark. The forecast was for several more similar days,
so we knew we had to go where there was an electrical hookup, and
with the long holiday weekend in progress, we might as well head for
home. So that is what we did this morning.
Jim thinks maybe he depleted the batteries by using the power jack
to raise the front end of the trailer so much. He's resolved to do
it manually in the future when we're camped without electricity. It's
not that difficult, and he did it for years.
Our voltage was
so low that I didn't dare try to fix breakfast in the trailer, so
we decided to drive to West Yellowstone 27 miles away and find a restaurant.
After driving through the town and not finding anything that was both
appealing and open, we parked just past the town on a wide parking
area and fixed breakfast there. By that time the voltage had come
up a little from being hooked up to the truck.
Then we continued on US 20 to I-15 and drove about 315 miles, arriving
here in Brigham City around 3:00 p.m. This is a rather crowded RV
park, but very shady--nice when the temperature got up to 95 degree.
Our converter box has been working steadily and our voltage is now
up in the green. Haven't checked what that corresponds to on the voltmeter.
we explored some areas south of where we'd gone the day before. We
didn't get a particularly early start, because I was already aware
of the voltage problem and didn't want to turn on the lights to prepare
Jim drove very
slowly, and we both looked for animals. We were rewarded by a beautiful
male Elk with a huge rack in fresh velvet. As with most roadside Yellowstone
animals, he paid no attention as Jim photographed him. He was pretty
much in the shade that early, but Jim felt he got some nice images
anyway. Interesting enough, on our way back, the same fellow was the
cause of an "Elk jam" and was out in a meadow nearby. Unfortunately
he was lying down in the tall grass with his back to all the gawkers,
but Jim still took some pictures of that beautiful rack.
We took the 1/3-mile
walk to Artists Paintpots. They were mildly interesting, but two beautiful
blue flowers caught my eye more. I photographed both of them and also
took some notes. I identified them with no difficulty from my Yellowstone/Teton
plant book that evening.
(Campanula rotundifolia). I had a bit of trouble with this one, because
it didn't have round leaves. But when I read the text, it said the
round ones are basal and wither early. It has linear leaves that clasp
the stem. It also noted that the buds are upright, but when the flowers
come out, they droop or or horizontal--to keep rainwater away from
the pollen, according to the book.
(Gentiana detonsa). I had heard of this flower and guessed what I
was seeing, for it looked like some of the gentians I'd elsewhere
on other trips. The petals were finely fringed. There was a dense
carpet of them one place on the trail. The book says this is the official
flower of Yellowstone and blooms throughout July and August. They
must be more widespread later in the summer, for these were the only
ones I saw in the park.
We walked the
short loop trail around Terrace Spring and I walked the half-mile
trail around Fountain Paint Pots. This latter area is justifiably
famous. It had two geysers that are active most of the time, Clepsydra
and Spasm, and I was able to photograph them both in the same picture.
Other features are close together, too, and highly varied. The paintpots
are a large pool of boiling mud with bubbles all over the surface
and a variety of colors around the edges--again due to various colors
of bacteria that like different degrees of cooling.
trail was mobbed with people, speaking many different languages. Several
tourbuses had let their passengers out to walk the trail, and the
parking lot also had lots of cars. We happened to arrive at the same
time as a group of Japanese tourists were setting out on the trail.
Whenever I encounter crowds like that, I make a point of walking the
trail the opposite way from most people. This way if anyone is particularly
annoying, I don't have to put up with them the entire way around.
The Japanese weren't exactly annoying, just numerous and loud.
like that, I seem to spend almost as much time watching the people
as I do looking at the scenery. Everyone seemed to be very busy taking
pictures of each other, often with the most uninteresting backgrounds.
In order to take the picture, the photographer would stand on one
side of the boardwalk and the subject(s) on the other, blocking traffic
until the job was done. One lone Japanese(?) woman, who didn't seem
to be with the tour, asked me to take her picture near the paintpots.
She'd definitely not chosen the best place for the picture, but there
was some of the feature behind where she was standing. I tried to
put her in the left half of the picture and the paintpot in the right,
but she kept stepping into the middle of the scene, which offended
my sense of what constitutes a good picture. Finally I told her where
to stand and got some sort of picture for her. She had a digital camera
with a little screen viewfinder. It was such a glaringly bright day
that I could barely see to compose the photo. That really made me
thankful I was shooting film. (Actually my digital camera does have
an old-fashioned viewfinder option, but I don't know if the little
one this woman was using does.)
After that mob,
we decided it was time to turn around and drive back to the trailer
and leave the park to the crowds for the rest of the day. When we
got back, Jim hooked the truck up to the trailer and ran it for about
an hour and a half, hoping it would charge the battery. It seemed
to boost it almost to 12 volts, but it didn't last. As I noted earlier,
the voltage was abysmal last night.
The clouds were
really thick all afternoon, and around 1:30 we had a strong hail storm
that lasted maybe 15 minutes. Fortunately the hail was only pea-sized,
so it didn't do any damage. We always worry about our vent covers
and solar panels. Of course the mid-day darkness didn't help our batteries.
We've been really
impressed by the new Lodgepole Pines growing all over the park. They
all germinated after the 1988 fire and are all about the same size--ca.
6-10 ft tall--and crowded extremely close together. I suppose the
taller ones will eventually shade out the slightly shorter ones and
thereby thin out the forest. Even so, mature Lodgepole Pine forests
are pretty tightly packed. I'm sure the park has learned its lesson
and won't suppress all fires as they did in the past. Patches of burned
areas serve as natural firebreaks, and in 1988 there weren't many.
Usually when we've
been on the road this long, we're ready to go home. Unfortunately,
this time we aren't. However, the summer crowds are out, and the breeding
activity will soon be finished, so I guess we'll have to put Yellowstone
on our list of places to go back to soon. Clair and Sue were there
in early June and had much smaller crowds to contend with. We'll have
to do that--maybe next year.
p.m., Mon., July 3, 2006
Country Aire RV Park, Cedar City, UT
Last night our
bedroom in Brigham City was pretty warm. Not only was the air warm,
but the converter box puts out a lot of heat and it ran all night
Just a day of
driving 310 miles. The traffic through the Salt Lake City to Provo
megalopolis wasn't bad. I guess a lot of people had the day off. That,
of course, portends heavy traffic all the way from Las Vegas home
tomorrow. We'll make the decision whether to stay in Barstow when
we get there.
A hot day, with
a high forecast here in Cedar City of 93 degrees, and I think it was
probably about that when we arrived around 3:00. It was really uncomfortable
in the bedroom for an hour or so. However, clouds were building and
later in the afternoon we had a couple of good thunder showers, and
it's been raining lightly and steadily for an hour or so. Temperature
turned comfortable when the clouds and rain started. The trailer cooled
off quickly, for there was a lot of wind, too. According to the paper,
there are 8 to 10 lighning-caused fires burning throughout this corner
of Utah. Don't know if this rain was widespread enough to quench any
As we drove through
the high country along the road, we were astounded at how many dead
Utah Junipers ("cedars" locally) we saw. They seemed to
be in patches with abrupt cut-offs to healthy ones. The prolonged
drought in this area is responsible for the die-off, I believe I've
a.m., Thurs., July 6, 2006
I awoke at 4:30
a.m. on July 4 and promptly got up. I hoped that if we got an early
start Jim wouldn't want to spend a night sweltering in Barstow. We
had clouds, patchy rain, and some thunder and lightning almost all
the way to Las Vegas. Despite that, it was 88 degrees as we were driving
through St. George. Cedar City had clearly been the place to spend
the night. I think it was in the high 60s when we left in the morning.
We stopped for lunch in Barstow, leaving Toby in the truck with the
engine and two A/C's running. (It was 95 degrees.) Even so, I worried
that somehow the truck engine would stop or something and gulped my
mediocre hamburger. But it all worked out OK. We got home around 3:00
p.m., having gained an hour enroute. We drove 430 miles; 300 is our
usual day's drive towing the trailer, especially on freeways like
those in California, which mile-for-mile are even worse than Utah's.
We have to use the right two lanes, which are in terrible shape from
if some of the dead junipers in Utah weren't caused by fires. As we
drove along I-15 between Cedar City and St. George, we passed the
area that was afire when we came through there last year at about
this time. Many skeleton trees were evident in that area.
Getting home is
always hard. Temperature was warm and muggy, so it was a sweat literally
as well as figuratively to get everything unloaded from the trailer.
I've been doing laundry for two days and will do one more blanket
and the throw-rugs tomorrow.
Toby has been
busy getting acquainted with his "new" home. He's spent
more of his nine-month life in the trailer than any other place--three
months here before we left and four months on the road.
I took him for
a walk around the neighborhood yesterday afternoon, and he decided
the fire hydrant across the street was another strange animal. He
crouched down about six feet from it and started gruffing softly at
it and whimpering. Then he approached it very cautiously--something
he was never permitted to do with strange wild animals. When he got
up to it he cavorted around it trying to get it to play with him.
(A man driving by in his car was grinning all over his face at the
performance.) I thought it was curious that a dog that has seen Moose,
Bison, and all sorts of lesser animals would find a simple urban fire
hydrant new and strange.
We've been cautiously
letting him have the run of the house, and I'm finding he's not as
mischievous as I feared. He seems to want to stay near me, which is
what I prefer anyway. I wanted a loving little companion, and that's
what he's turning out to be--although he isn't as little as we hoped.
I just weighed him on the bathroom scale--about 11 lb. (Charlie was
7 lb when he was healthy.)
He's a great traveller--curls
up in his little bed in the truck, no matter how long the drive, and
even stays there when we leave him alone in the truck. In the evening
he wants to play and is forever snatching things he shouldn't. He
always wants something new. Jim just went to 99¢ Store and bought
him a pile of new stuff, including a precious little stuffed dog that
looks just like him--he'll probably never get a chance to tear that
one up, it's so cute. We gave him the beach ball, which he chases
all over the place. The other stuff we'll deal out gradually.
it really was a wonderfully relaxing trip. The screw in the tire,
which Jim removed and plugged with "Shoe Goo" was the closest
we came to either car or trailer trouble. I didn't have the serious
goals that I'd had on previous ones. No workshop depends on what we
were able to photograph or record. So we sort of went with the flow
and figured out where to go next after we were tired of where we were.
Mosquitos weren't bad, so I spent many delightful afternoons outdoors
embroidering and enjoying the setting and its wildlife. Our jaunt
to Yellowstone was a spur of the moment decision--and a wonderful
one. Staying in the smaller campgrounds was a wise decision. We had
a great time there. My only regret is that we had to leave the park
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