GRANITE PEAK PUBLICATIONS: Accompanying travelers to the national park since 2002

First grizzly bear sighting of 2019

First grizzly bear sighting of 2019

grizzly bear photo

Grizzly bear in Yellowstone

On Friday, March 8, visitors observed a large grizzly bear between Canyon Village and Fishing Bridge. Three days later, grizzly tracks were reported between Mammoth Hot Springs and Norris Junction. The boars (male grizzlies) come out of hibernation every year during mid to late March, while the sows and cubs take until April or early May to emerge.

Rangers remind us that the whole park is bear country: from the deepest backcountry to the boardwalks around Old Faithful. Here are some tips to make sure you are prepared:

  • Stay alert.
  • Carry bear spray, know how to use it, and make sure it’s accessible.
  • Hike in groups, stay on maintained trails, and make noise. Avoid hiking at dusk, dawn, or at night.
  • Do not run if you encounter a bear.
  • Keep 100 yards away from black and grizzly bears. Use binoculars, a telescope, or a telephoto lens to get a closer look.
  • Store food and garbage in hard-sided vehicles or bear-proof boxes.
  • Report bear sightings and encounters to a park ranger immediately.

Credits: Thanks to Pam (@D0bby), destination expert for Yellowstone National Park for Trip Advisor, for the heads-up about this news. Photo, courtesy of NPS, can be seen on page 344 of Yellowstone Treasures.

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Spring is in the air

overview map of Yellowstone

Click for larger map.

As the snow starts to melt, the roads in Yellowstone National Park will be plowed and cleared in readiness for letting cars and trucks back in. (Of course, the road from the North Entrance at Gardiner, Montana, through the park to Cooke City, Montana is open all year. But notice that travel east of Cooke City via the Beartooth Highway is not possible from late fall to late spring.) Here are dates to use in your planning this spring.

2019 Winter Closing Dates

Roads will close to oversnow travel by snowmobile and snowcoach at 9 pm on the following dates:

  • March 1: East Entrance to Lake Butte Overlook (Sylvan Pass)
  • March 3: Mammoth Hot Springs to Norris
  • March 5: Norris to Madison, Norris to Canyon Village
  • March 10: Canyon Village to Fishing Bridge
  • March 15: All remaining groomed roads close.

2019 Spring Opening Dates

Conditions permitting, roads will open to regular (public) vehicles at 8 am on the following dates:

  • April 19: West Entrance to Madison Junction, Mammoth Hot Springs to Old Faithful, Norris to Canyon Village.
  • May 3: East Entrance to Lake Village (Sylvan Pass), Canyon Village to Lake Village.
  • May 10: South Entrance to West Thumb, Lake Village to West Thumb, West Thumb to Old Faithful (Craig Pass), Tower Junction to Tower Fall.
  • May 24: Tower Fall to Canyon Village (Dunraven Pass)
  • May 24: Beartooth Highway

Credits: The image is the overview map on pages 1-2 of Yellowstone Treasures. The helpful National Park Service Park Roads page provides the dates listed here and a live road map you can use to find out which roads you can drive on today.

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Supervolcano answers

Cliff Geyser

Cliff Geyser on Iron Spring Creek

One topic that frequently comes up in the articles and blog posts on YellowstoneTreasures.com is the fact that Yellowstone is on a hot spot, which is the reason for all the wonderful hydrothermal features: geysers, hot springs, mudpots, and fumaroles. You can find lots of our interesting posts and pages about the supervolcano here: Search Results for “supervolcano.”

Recently we happened upon this 2015 Q&A on Quora.com that busts several myths at once, in a friendly and concise way.

Q. Does it look like Yellowstone is going to erupt soon?

A. There are no signs that we know of that point to an eruption any time soon. However, since we have never seen a volcano like Yellowstone erupt, we can’t be sure what the warning signs of an eruption would be. Some sensationalist sources take every little twitch from the volcano, and even events unrelated to geologic activity, as signs of an impending eruption. Don’t take them seriously.

In better news, at least one study has suggested that the magma chamber beneath Yellowstone is partially solidified to the point that it currently cannot erupt unless it gets a fresh batch of hot magma from the mantle.

One little misconception that should be covered here: Yellowstone is not “overdue” for an eruption. The little factoid that Yellowstone erupts regularly every 600,000 years is untrue. So-called super eruptions occurred 2.1 million, 1.3 million, and 640,000 years ago, which gives intervals between eruptions of 800,000 and 660,000 years, though three eruptions are not enough to establish a reliable recurrence interval.

Credit: This answer on Quora was written by Nicholas Schiff, B.S. Geology, Mercyhurst University, Erie, PA.

In the guidebook: There’s much more in Yellowstone Treasures about the Yellowstone hot spot and supervolcano, especially in the Geological History chapter, pages 303 to 318.

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Winter 2019 trip report

Having returned from my 2019 winter trip to Yellowstone about a week ago, I’m still visualizing the beautiful snow-covered landscapes I was recently privileged to pass through. And for a present-day Californian (but raised in Montana), it was a particular delight to watch it snow.

I realize that now, in my mid eighties, it is unlikely that I’ll go again in winter. As it happened, we were in the middle of the government shut-down, but, thanks to the concessionaire Xanterra, which covered the cost of grooming the roads as well as furnishing their usual pleasant rooms and good meals, we had no trouble getting around.

For potential visitors a little or a lot younger, I would still highly recommend that you go! The friends who joined me were able to handle the snowy trails around Upper Geyser Basin and Fountain Paint Pots.

Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel with snowcoaches in winter

This was my fifth trip there in winter. Incidentally, I’ve been asked how many times I’ve been to Yellowstone altogether, and it must be in the dozens of times by now.

You need to leave your car in Mammoth. That’s where you cease to encounter plowed roads, since the park has a policy of simply grooming the other snowy roads, making them suitable only for snowcoaches, snowmobiles, and a few cross-country skiers. If you don’t know what a snowcoach is, take a look at this picture from 2012. Rather than the triangular tracks we used to ride on, the coaches now have very large, low pressure tires. The ride is quite smooth.

Phone numbers for Xanterra are (866) 439-7375 and (307) 344-7311. You would have to be extra lucky to find available rooms between now and winter closure, this year on March 3rd, but think about planning way ahead for next winter.
Keep in mind that you can’t see all the park in winter—except maybe on skis. The groomed roads are limited to Mammoth to Old Faithful, Norris to Canyon, and West Yellowstone to Norris. They do try to keep the road from Mammoth out the Northeast Entrance to Cooke City plowed. Here is the link to the map showing what roads are plowed, groomed, and closed: https://www.nps.gov/yell/planyourvisit/parkroads.htm.

I can’t resist crowing a bit: the snowcoach drivers and other Xanterra personnel were quick to let me know that they use and treasure my guidebook, Yellowstone Treasures, now in its fifth edition. In fact, when I sat behind the driver in one coach, he admitted to being a little nervous that he might get something wrong in his commentary. (He was superbly capable.) At the end of our trip, but before I left the snowcoach, he asked a colleague to pass the bound copy of the book (the one that Xanterra drivers share and use regularly), through the driver’s window for me to sign. I had never before seen a copy with a library-type binding!

—Author Janet Chapple

Photo credit: Jim Peaco, National Park Service, December 12, 2012.

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Late-season thoughts on long-lasting thermal features

Another in the occasional series “My Favorite Hot Springs”

Black Sand Basin, showing Rainbow Pool and Sunset Lake. Click to enlarge!


In any piece I write about Yellowstone, it may be hazardous to say this or that is my favorite. Here is what I committed myself to when I wrote about Black Sand Basin—maybe because in my summer visits I always spend a few days at Old Faithful Village, very nearby. “Black Sand Basin has got to be my favorite easy walk,” I wrote. “In less than a mile of walking you can enjoy a welcoming geyser (Cliff Geyser), which may be erupting as you get out of your car, then Rainbow Pool and Sunset Lake to the north.” (See “Yellowstone gems we all own” for more.)

The above is still valid, but this week, daydreaming about being back in the park, I am mentally picturing the half-mile or so of mostly level walking needed to see all the features at West Thumb Geyser Basin. (There is a short stairway at the far end of the loop.) This walk is surely another favorite of mine but requires a drive of about 19 miles from Old Faithful. It is also a place where I lost track of my husband for about an hour during the last summer he was well enough to travel, but that’s another story.

West Thumb has a lot of the quintessential “bang for the buck.” It is a delightful place to spend an hour or so, not only for its thermal features but also for its beautiful view of Yellowstone Lake. In winter it is just as great a place for a stroll. Unfortunately, it lacks geysers—although Hillside Geyser was active here for a few years earlier this century. There is generous parking, restrooms, and a picnic area for summer lunches.

Starting out past the small information building, when you turn right at the walkway’s intersection, you’ll come to a pair of beautiful hot pools, which used to differ in color and apparent temperature, but in summer 2016 and perhaps before, they overflowed into each other. Other pools that are especially notable include Black Pool, which did used to appear black but became blue when it turned hotter (and even briefly erupted in 1991) and Abyss Pool, one of the park’s deepest, which performed as a geyser as recently as 1992.

All these pools are described and some are pictured in Yellowstone Treasures, fifth edition, pages 140 to 143. Scroll down on the Guidebook page to see what pages 138-39 look like, with a map of Yellowstone Lake’s West Thumb and a photo of Bluebell and Seismograph Pools.

Photo credit: Aerial view of Rainbow Pool and Sunset Lake in Black Sand Basin on Iron Spring Creek by Jim Peaco,
June 22, 2006. Available on the official Yellowstone National Park Flickr page.

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Late fall travel in Yellowstone

Cyclist enters Yellowstone National Park All roads close to public motorized vehicles at 8 am on November 5, 2018, except the road between the North Entrance and the Northeast Entrance. Outside the park to the northeast, the Beartooth Highway is closed, but the Chief Joseph Highway remains open.

This is when the fall bicycling shoulder season begins. However, the weather forecasters are predicting wind and snow for this weekend, so conditions will not be ideal. See the National Park Service’s Spring & Fall Bicycling for more. The shoulder season lasts until about the third week of November, when plowing operations stop so that enough snow can accumulate on the roads to support oversnow travel.

Then the Grand Loop Road will open to snowcoaches and snowmobiles on December 15, ending the fall season officially.

Photo credit: NPS photo from the Yellowstone National Park Flickr album, Jacob W. Frank, June 13, 2018.

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Yellowstone trail reconstruction in 2018

NPS Yellowstone Canyon Closures Map As this lovely map from the National Park Service website shows, the Canyon area is filled with construction projects that are going to improve safety and accessibility for people, and only some of them have been finished. The map is from October 11 and does not include the Uncle Tom’s Point project that was finished on October 20, 2018. (Tap or click the image for a larger version.) For example, the Brink of Upper Falls is closed for construction through the summer of 2019. And the portion of the North Rim Trail between Brink of the Lower Falls and Chittenden Bridge is still closed.

Here’s the good news: the Uncle Tom’s Point reconstruction that was completed on October 20 added new walkways and improved overlooks with views of Upper Falls. Canyon Overlook and Sunset Point are wheelchair-accessible, and you will now be able to walk the South Rim Trail to Chittenden Bridge in 0.87 miles (1.4 km).

There’s more to come for trails through Yellowstone National Park. Mount Washburn trails and trailheads closed for the season on July 12, 2018. They are reconstructing the trail and building a telecommunications structure at the historic Mount Washburn fire lookout. Also, on October 15 Fishing Bridge closed for construction, and more recently a boardwalk on Geyser Hill had to be closed due to activity underneath. On Twitter? Follow us (@GPPublications) and the park itself (@YellowstoneNPS) to keep informed about trail changes and improvements.

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My Norris project

park superintendent Norris

Superintendent Norris, as reproduced on page 205 of Yellowstone Treasures

After an August when I deserted not just Yellowstone but left the country for a trip to Germany, France, and Switzerland, I am back picking up my research project where I left off. This project will, with luck, turn into a new biography of Philetus W. Norris, Yellowstone’s second and most dynamic superintendent, who served from 1877 to 1882.

There is much to learn about Norris, including reading his several reports as superintendent. His only other extensive published work, unless you include the letters he sent to the Norris Suburban newspaper, is a book of annotated poems called Calumet of the Coteau. The book’s title refers to a peace pipe and the French word for hill or hillside.

I have quoted two of his poems in my historical anthology, Through Early Yellowstone: “Rustic Bridge and Crystal Falls” and “The Wonder-Land.” Norris’s unfailing use of iambic tetrameter or pentameter can get monotonous, but the sentiments are nice.

I can relate to “The Cloud-Circled Mountains,” especially to the second of its six stanzas:

My heart’s ’mid the mirage, the lakes, and the plains,
The buttes and the coteaus, where wild nature reigns;
My heart’s ’mid the coulees and cañons so grand,
And bright-spouting geysers of lone Wonder-Land.
Oh, my heart’s ’mid those fountains and streamlets below
Those cloud-circled mountains, white-crested with snow!

Read more about my trip to Europe in the nuggets Savoring France, Part I and Part II.

Photo credit: Record Group 79, National Archives and Records Administration, Yellowstone National Park.

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Cycling through early Yellowstone in 1892

Gate of the Mountains Albert Hencke

The Gate of the Mountains by Albert Hencke (1865-1936), originally published in 1893 in Outing magazine. Click for a larger version.

This month Dave Iltis of Cycling Utah decided to reprint Janet Chapple’s annotated version of “Lenz’s World Tour Awheel” in its entirety in the late summer issue of their magazine, Cycling Utah / Cycling West. Cycling Utah has been providing cycling news, information and events in the western United States since 1993. Dave bought the book in the shop at the Old Faithful Visitor Education Center and decided that the charming adventure story deserves wide readership among bicycle riders. You can even get the whole magazine issue as a free download from that website.

Philadelphia-born Frank Lenz made his pioneering side trip through the then 20-year-old Yellowstone National Park as part of his solo round-the-world cycling journey. It took place in late August 1892, but even so he encountered snow. As he says:

I was congratulating myself upon having passed through the most uncomfortable portion of my trip when I espied it raining on the opposite side of the river, and soon the icy-cold spray reached me. When within half a mile of a government engineer’s camp, what was my surprise to see the rain change into snow. As it blew up quite strong. I made for the cook’s tent for shelter, and here for three hours I thawed out my fingers and feet, which were nearly frozen.

Lenz’s story is one of the highlights of our enjoyable anthology, Through Early Yellowstone: Adventuring by Bicycle, Covered Wagon, Foot, Horseback, and Skis. Other highlights, according to Aaron Parrett’s Montana book roundup in Montana: The Magazine of Western History, include Nathaniel P. Langford’s 1871 “Wonders of the Yellowstone,” Margaret Andrews Allen’s “A Family Camp in Yellowstone Park” (1885) and the journalist Ray Stannard Baker’s “A Place of Marvels: Yellowstone Park As It Now Is” (1903). You can read this and other reviews to learn more.

If you are interested in the shoulder seasons for cycling in the park, see the National Park Service’s Spring & Fall Bicycling page.

—Beth Chapple, Editor and Publisher

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This summer in Yellowstone National Park

Recently we had an email conversation with a reader who wrote in via our contact form. With his permission, we are reproducing it here, lightly edited. You may find it helpful when planning your own trip.

1937 Yellowstone Bus Everett Washington

1937 Yellow bus from Yellowstone Park, on display at Historic Flight Foundation, Everett, Washington

July 23, 2018
Hi Janet,

I am reading your book Yellowstone Treasures. It’s very nicely written and packed with tons of information. Thank you from a first-time visitor like me.

I will be traveling for the first time to the park in the first week of August with my family and friends. The location we chose to stay in that was affordable is outside the west side of the park. I am coming over from Canada.

I will be staying for five days. Is this time enough? I have divided the park in 4 segments, and each day I will be entering the park from the west. Is this approach right? What are some of the things that I must absolutely need to know? Does the park have wheelchair facilities? My friends’ parents are in their 80’s and won’t be able to do long walks. Does the park have rentals for golf-cart-type vehicles?

I will really appreciate your guidance and help. Thank you in advance for your response.

Warm regards,
Sameer


Recommended Walks in Yellowstone July 26, 2018
Dear Sameer,

Thank you for your kind comments about the guidebook. I put your questions to the author, Janet, and she asked me to write back to you.

There is never time enough to see everything, unless you stay all summer! However, the most essential sights are on Yellowstone’s west side. Be sure to allow one or two days for the area between Norris Geyser Basin and the West Thumb of Yellowstone Lake, where there are so many fabulous thermal features to stop for. “My other personal favorites are the Mammoth Hot Springs area and the Lamar Valley,” says Janet. Don’t try to see everything since you need to allow time for travel and meals. Rather than seeing all your four segments, maybe choose two or three? If you do want to see the east or south sides of the park, look for lodging in Cody or Dubois, Wyoming, since those can be cheaper than lodging in the park or Jackson.

You will be in the park at its busiest time, so expect bumper-to-bumper traffic on some of the roads. If you can start very early in the mornings, you will do yourselves a favor. It’s always a good idea to check the official NPS Park Roads page the map showing current road status and for the closing dates of various roads. Another way to beat the crowds is to bring picnic food and drinks in a cooler for your lunches and snacks. Yellowstone Treasures tells you about the picnic areas.

You also asked if the park has wheelchair facilities and if the park has rentals for golf carts. The visitor centers at Old Faithful, Canyon, and Mammoth will loan you wheelchairs, or you can rent them at the medical clinics (Old Faithful, Mammoth, and Lake). See the NPS Wheelchairs & Mobility page for more information. But there are no golf-cart vehicles. One of the most rewarding short walks is around Black Sand Basin, the nearest short side road to Old Faithful Village, and of course Yellowstone Treasures has a list of more short walks on pages 366-68. And be sure to check the guidebook’s maps for the wheelchair symbol on trails and restrooms.

Another option to look at for your friends’ parents is one of the many yellow bus tours (see Xanterra’s Land Adventures page).

Enjoy your trip!
Beth Chapple

Editor and Publisher
Granite Peak Publications

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