YELLOWSTONE TREASURES: Accompanying travelers to the Park since 2002

Roads closing for winter break in Yellowstone

Roads closing for winter break in Yellowstone

All Yellowstone Park roads except the all-weather road between Gardiner and Cooke City in the northern part of the park will close Monday, November 3, 2014, at 8:00 am. And just in time, too: On Sunday and Monday, October 26 and 27, there was up to one foot of snow in some places and a few drivers were stranded until snowplows could reach them. A dusting of snow remained at Old Faithful in late afternoon on Tuesday (10/28), as I just saw on the Old Faithful streaming webcam.

December 15th will be the day most roads will be ready for snowcoaches and snowmobiles.

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You could ski in Yellowstone Park this winter!

As the leaves begin to turn and we begin to think ahead to the holidays, it’s also time to plan that Yellowstone winter trip you’ve been hoping to take. Having been lucky enough to visit four times in the winter, I can tell you there is nothing like it in the world!

To whet your appetite, here’s a paragraph from a historic winter wonderland story that dates back to the bitterly cold February of 1887, when there was no hotel at Old Faithful. The story tells of Yellowstone Park guide and intrepid skier Billy Hofer’s experiences in the Old Faithful area as he skied around the park on a wildlife-counting tour for Forest and Stream magazine. What Hofer calls “shoes” are the 9-foot-long skis he made for himself.

Hofer wrote: “The morning of the 21st [of February] . . . I visited the whole of the Upper Geyser Basin, going out past the Castle to Iron Creek, which was open, crossing it twice on a snow bridge without getting off our shoes. Along this stream down to the Specimen Lake and Black Sand Geyser there were many bare spots with bright green grasses, and several water plants growing in the warm water and earth, some even showing flower buds. The bright green mosses and plants looked doubly green beside the white snow. All along this creek was to be seen the usual number of ice forms. One in particular was very life-like. It looked like an Esquimau, dressed in white bear robes, with a bundle of sticks in his arms. He had a woe-begone expression on his face, as though in trouble because he had so little wood.”

Happy skiing (or snowshoeing)!
On snowshoes by the Firehole River

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Announcing the Visiting Geyserland e-book

Janet Chapple’s new e-book of geyser basin walking tours of Yellowstone National Park is now available from Amazon, Apple iTunes, Barnes & Noble, eBooks.com, and more . . .

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Morning Glory Pool—Queen of Yellowstone’s Beautiful Hot Springs

If Old Faithful is historically the world’s most famous geyser, then Morning Glory Pool is surely the park’s most famous hot spring. This has been the case for almost the entire history of Yellowstone Park. But, like all Yellowstone thermal features, Morning Glory has not stayed the same.

The Grand Loop Road, that famous figure-eight-shaped main road in the park, went within a few yards of Morning Glory Pool (and also of Old Faithful Geyser) until the road’s rerouting in 1969. This proximity to Morning Glory helps explain the pool’s early popularity and also its appeal to vandals.

At the time it was named, probably in 1883, the name Morning Glory was entirely appropriate, since it was named for the common garden flower. Its shape was a perfect funnel and its water was a super-clear pale blue color. Early writers called it “a cerulean jewel” and its water “of the loveliest, clearest robin’s egg blue.” The color was due to a water temperature too high for the growth of bacteria or algae, even near the edge.

Morning Glory was surrounded by a border of scalloped geyserite as much as 10 inches wide and 5 inches high. Souvenir hunters had managed to remove every bit of this border before Jack Haynes photographed this view of the pool.
MorningGlory_Pool
From the first half of the 1900s

As more and more tourists passed by closely on the road, many of them also seemed to find it irresistible to throw things in. The pool’s only known natural eruption occurred in 1944, but in 1950 an eruption was induced in order to clean out the vent. Rangers found $86.27 in pennies, other coins, clothing that included 76 handkerchiefs and “delicate items of underclothing,” and items as large as logs, according to T. Scott Bryan’s The Geysers of Yellowstone.

By mid century, due to all the vandalism and consequent lowering of the temperature, concentric rings of bright yellow and orange bacteria and algae grew around the blue center, to the point where the name is now not really appropriate.

Since the 1970s the road has become an asphalt path for bicyclists and pedestrians. Although most visitors today observe the rules and have the good sense not to throw things into hot springs, cleaning out Morning Glory Pool is still needed from time to time. The temperature also may vary from natural causes, and the colors vary as a result, as you can see from pictures of the pool in successive decades taken by my friend and colleague Suzanne Cane.
SC_0195_Morning Glory Pool in 2003
2003

SC_0193_Morning Glory Pool
2013

Contemplating Morning Glory Pool has inspired me to create a list of my favorite 20 easily found hot springs in Yellowstone. They occur in numerous other areas besides Upper Geyser Basin, where Morning Glory is located. I revisit most of them every time I visit the park. You can find some of them described and pictured in five of the Nuggets on this website, such as in the Itinerary for a family trip nugget or the one about West Thumb Geyser Basin. And gorgeous Crested Pool appears on the cover of our new Visiting Geyserland e-book. I’ll write about some other favorites in the months to come—it will be a delightful memory trip for my off-season months!

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What’s the most remote part of Yellowstone Park?

Rebecca and Ryan Means from Florida are gradually fulfilling an unusual goal. They’re hiking “on a quest to identify and visit the most remote locations in each of the 50 states.”

Not just enjoying the out-of-doors far from civilization, they have a mission. The essence of their philosophy is shown in Ryan Means’ answer to a comment last year on his website, remotefootprints.org: “The conservation problem arises when loud, fuel consumptive, destructive, motorized vehicles enter wildlands. The landscape gets scarred. Habitat and wilderness character get lost. Another roadless wildland gets fragmented. Then development usually follows. We are basically calling for an end to the era of road building (and sprawling development) in our great country, especially in public lands.”

They hike carrying heavy packs—Rebecca’s includes a carrier for five-year-old Skyla. So far they have written up their visits to remote spots in 23 states. They don’t always find solitude, but they do get far away from roads and navigable rivers. They especially loved Wyoming’s most remote spot, the Thorofare corner of Yellowstone, 21.6 miles by their reckoning from the nearest road, even farther by trail. The Means’s experiences on this trip have not yet appeared on their website, but their trip was mentioned on October 4, 2014 in the Rapid City (SD) Journal.

Reading this, I thought of one of the selections in my upcoming book (with the working title, Magnificent Playground: Early Yellowstone in Words and Watercolors). I was reminded of Barton Evermann’s 1891 commission to find how trout got into Yellowstone Lake. He visited and carefully described a phenomenal place called Two-Ocean Pass, just south of the Thorofare and the park’s border.

My own related delight is in finding places—even in the hills just above my noisy downtown Oakland—where stopping on a trail you hear no sound, unless it’s a distant bird or a trickling stream. It clears the head. And there are so many such places to be found in Yellowstone. . . .

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Heads Up: Free Park Admission

park entrance sign

As you enter the park heading south on U.S. 191, you are greeted by this sign and Black Butte.

This Saturday, September 27, 2014, is National Public Lands Day. That means that not only the U.S. national parks, but also lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Forest Service, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service waive their fees to visitors so you can get out and appreciate the beauty of our parks and refuges for free.

Not only are fees waived, but thousands of volunteers help out on this day every year. According to the National Public Lands Day website:

In 2013, about 175,000 volunteers worked at 2,237 sites in every state, the District of Columbia, Guam and Puerto Rico.
NPLD volunteers:

  • Collected an estimated 23,000 pounds of invasive plants
  • Built and maintained an estimated 1,500 miles of trails
  • Planted an estimated 100,000 trees, shrubs and other native plants
  • Removed an estimated 500 tons of trash from trails and other places
  • Contributed an estimated $18 million through volunteer services to improve public lands across the country

The photo above, taken by Leslie Kilduff, can be found on page 33 of the guidebook’s fourth edition.

Three cheers for volunteers! And enjoy your Saturday in a park or refuge.
—Beth, editor of Yellowstone Treasures

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Yellowstone’s Mammoth Hot Springs

A thermal area in the park that attracts me strongly and that I think is underrated in general is Mammoth Hot Springs. Nineteenth-century visitors were sure it would sometime soon be turned into a spa or sanatorium, but fortunately that didn’t happen.

Before soaking in the hot pools became strictly forbidden, lots of people did it. Park hotels did not provide hot showers in those days. Belgian travel writer Jules Leclercq visited in 1883 and experienced “supreme satisfaction plunging into a basin whose waters were an exquisite 30ºC [86ºF]. My bath was a meter deep. The siliceous efflorescence that lined the interior walls seemed like velvet cushions. . . .” until he noticed water in a neighboring basin suddenly rising. It happened that his clothes and towels were in that basin. “The proximity of the hotel consoled me in my misfortune,” he concluded.

Lacking a volunteer organization such as the Geyser Observation and Study Association that keeps good track of the geysers in and around the Old Faithful area and Norris, Mammoth-lovers mostly have to find out what is happening there for ourselves. Mammoth’s springs and the terraces they create are always changing. The ones I found most active this August were Grassy Spring and its very new (probably as yet unnamed) neighbor; Canary Spring; and Narrow Gauge Terrace.

In the twenty years I’ve been observing it, the hot water activity in Canary has gradually migrated from close to the hillside just below the Grand Loop Road out to the north.

Canary Spring 2009

Canary looked like this when I was there in 2009.


The terraces Canary is building are amazingly high and beautiful. Here’s what I saw on the morning of August 15th 2014:

Near the steps leading down to Canary is a good place to observe how newer springs can begin to form terraces by depositing a thin layer of calcite ice on top of still, level pools of hot water; with time tiny delicate terracettes form around the pools. Eventually these will build up to be impressive terraces, too—and the boardwalk will have to be moved again!

An area not shown on the Yellowstone Association pamphlet map at all but described in Yellowstone Treasures is my other favorite at Mammoth, the extremely active lower terrace formation at Narrow Gauge Terrace. Deeply ensconced in tall trees, the growing terraces are almost impossible to photograph well. It was very dark there in 2009, but my friend Suzanne Cane got a very good shot in June 2013.
Narrow Gauge Terrace 2009

Narrow Gauge Terrace by Suzanne Cane in 2013

This year, the active springs and color from them cover about 300 degrees of a circle. My Narrow Gauge notes: “Building a throne for itself. One large dead tree fully knocked over at south end. No sound here but the musical bubbling at several pitches from various outlets.” Magical!

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Updated Yellowstone snowmobile regulations now include a lottery

This winter for the first time snowmobilers can enter a lottery for unguided tours of the park. This is the time to enter the lottery. The National Park Service has announced that the “Non-Commercially Guide Snowmobile Access Program will allow up to four non-commercial ‘transportation events’ of up to five snowmobiles each to enter the park daily—one ‘event’ per day per over-snow entrance into the park.” This quote comes from the Snowgoer website.

If this is something you’ve always wanted to do—and it has not been allowed for the past several years—you’ll find all the details of entering the lottery at the NPS website.

There are other ways to enjoy the beauties of Yellowstone’s winter landscape: in guided snowmobile tours or in heated ten-passenger snow coaches. For my winter adventures in years past, see Winter in Yellowstone.

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More about my geyser day

riverside geyser firehole river

Riverside Geyser (2004)

While I waited for Grand on August 12, 2014, several geyser gazers mentioned that Riverside Geyser was due around 1:30 pm, so I thought (although I hadn’t brought a lunch)—why not stay out in the basin? So on I went to relax in the shade at Riverside and catch its 1:55 pm eruption—a little less rewarding than sometimes, because the wind was blowing the water and steam back at the geyser cone. It couldn’t create a beautiful drape across the river, as I’ve seen many other times. [This ten-year-old photo shows a faint rainbow, something else to look for when you visit. --Ed.]

Just as I approached on the long walk back up the paved road (the former Grand Loop Road), Castle obliged me with my fourth major eruption of the day at about 2:25 pm.

But that was not all! After some sustenance and a rest, I took off again for the early evening eruption of Great Fountain. A few minutes after establishing myself with a book on the viewing bench, my neighbors on the bench and I struck up a conversation. Nine-year-old Emma from Portland wanted to tell me all about her many trips to the park and environs and to pick my brains about what I knew, so the book was put away.

I timed the first overflow of Great Fountain at 6:38 and knew we still had at least 45 minutes to wait, so I asked Emma if she’d like to walk back along the road to see Surprise Pool and Firehole Spring. She asked her father’s permission, and off we went. Like me, she was mesmerized watching the big white bubble of steam rise over and over in Firehole Spring and sometimes burst at the surface. And I had to scold her father for never stopping there on the way to Great Fountain.

Nevertheless, Emma had a one-up on me, when she said she’d been to Oblique Geyser—and I haven’t. I’m more inclined to call it Avalanche Geyser (see “A Yellowstone rock in the Smithsonian, Part II“—but I’ve never been there.

Great Fountain began its significant bursts at 7:21. Never having seen it erupt on the same day as Grand, I had never noted the contrast in their eruptions. Grand pushes up its water higher and higher and continues with constant jetting until it all disappears down its big hole. But it’s always worth waiting a few minutes, because as on this day, it can return with one (or sometimes more) great spoutings; on this day, the second was higher than the first, as I caught on my second video:

In contrast, Great Fountain begins rather tentatively (and may have a blue bubble at its base, but not this time). It seems to die back, then surges up again numerous times. I watched for only 20 minutes but suspect it went on longer.

And so to rest, with visions of spouting waters to last me another year.

CREDIT: The photo of Riverside Geyser was taken by my son-in-law Niklas Dellby on August 5, 2004.

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Geyser Day 2014

Since I never tire of watching Yellowstone’s geysers, this year I gave myself all of one day, August twelfth, for chasing the best eruptions. I was richly rewarded.

Starting early, before the Old Faithful Visitor Education Center opened and posted its predictions, I took a chance that there might be an early morning eruption of Great Fountain Geyser that I could catch, but sitting at its shapely formation for 45 minutes, I saw only small bursts and had to conclude that I had missed it.

Still, delighted to find that my FRS radio worked even nine miles from Old Faithful, I heard that Fountain Geyser (in the Fountain Paint Pot area) had started erupting at 9:12, so I got there as quickly as exceeding the speed limit (just a little) would allow. I was in time to witness the latter part of Fountain’s eruption, which continued until 9:48. Jet Geyser was spouting in all directions, and little Twig Geyser contributed, too.

Red Spouter’s northern vent was acting as a very loud fumarole, and the southern vent was boiling vigorously, showing that the water table is relatively high for this late in the summer, thanks to ample rainfall. A clever new sign at the Paint Pot gives us the “Recipe for Mudpots.”

Fortunately, I had arrived at the parking lot before the 10:00 am crush, when tour buses and the majority of private vehicles make parking next to impossible. (The same was true this August at Norris Geyser Basin.)

Being able to phone the Old Faithful V.E.C. for geyser predictions this year proved its value: I learned from calling (307) 344-2751 (x2) that I might get back to Upper Geyser Basin in time for Grand Geyser, whose four-hour window was given as 9:15 am to 1:15 pm. Sure enough, arriving at Grand at 11:23, I had only a half-hour wait. Just after the second Turban Geyser eruption that I witnessed, Grand began and gloriously lived up to its name. Its two bursts spanned about fourteen minutes, and I was able to record some of the high points on my iPhone. This was one of the highest and most exciting Grand eruptions I’ve seen in recent memory.

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