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

Consider spring cycling

Consider spring cycling

spring cycling Yellowstone

Spring biking with bear spray at Silver Gate (The Hoodoos), March 29, 2017


Updated March 25, 2020: This post should be renamed “Consider spring cycling another year instead.” Xanterra has closed all park facilities through May 21st at least, and as of yesterday, the National Park Service closed both Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks until further notice. More in the next post. For nostalgia value and future planning, we will still leave this post up!


Doesn’t this picture inspire you to get outside (well prepared for encountering cold and bears) in Yellowstone National Park this spring? Before the first roads open up again for public travel comes the spring shoulder season for cycling. Here is what our guidebook Yellowstone Treasures has to say about the road you see in the photo, which is about 4 miles south of Mammoth Hot Springs on the Mammoth to Norris Road:

3.7/17.3 The Hoodoos (or Silver Gate) one-way road. Go slowly to find and take the very short, unmarked loop road to the west—a remnant of the 1899 stagecoach road. Park here to look closely at some unusual rocks.

The massive, topsy-turvy blocks of silvery, gray-white travertine, strewn about so haphazardly, are the result of a large landslide from the slopes of Terrace Mountain to the west. No one knows when the boulders slid here. These boulders are not the same as the hoodoos you can see near the park’s East Entrance (see “What’s a Hoodoo?” on page 154). The other official name for this place, Silver Gate, is actually more appropriate.

The Mammoth Hot Springs to Norris road, the northwest segment of the Grand Loop Road (see map), closed to oversnow travel this year on Sunday, March 1st. The planned reopening date for cars for this road and out to the West Entrance is April 17th. So that means that for about two weeks before that, bicycles, including e-bikes, are allowed on certain roads! (They are never allowed on park trails.)

The following road segments may be opened to bicycling each spring:

  • Mammoth Hot Springs to the West Entrance
  • East Entrance to the east side of Sylvan Pass (six miles from the entrance)
  • South Entrance to West Thumb

Keep in mind, though, as NPS says: “Roads will not be free of cars during these times: bicyclists will encounter employees, contractors, plows, and other administrative vehicles on the roads.” You’ll need a helmet and high-visibility clothing. You’ll also want to do your research in advance; Camping for bicyclists is limited to the developed campgrounds located throughout the park. See the park’s Spring & Fall Bicycling and Bike in the Park pages for more.

Credits: Photo by NPS/Jacob W. Frank, in the public domain (see Yellowstone National Park’s Flickr page for more wonderful photos!). Road log section quoted from p. 269 of the 6th edition of Yellowstone Treasures, due out this May.


Park visitation levels off

visitors on hot spring boardwalk

Yellowstone Treasures editor, author, and granddaughter visit Hot Lake on Firehole Lake Drive, Yellowstone, June 22, 2013.



According to the Big Sky news website, www.explorebigsky.com, visitation to the park has leveled off since its peak in 2016. Here are the figures the Montana website presents.

Yellowstone Visits by Year

  • 2019 – 4,020,287
  • 2018 – 4,114,999
  • 2017 – 4,116,525
  • 2016 – 4,257,177
  • 2015 – 4,097,710
  • 2014 – 3,513,486

Explore Big Sky does not hazard a guess as to why visiting Yellowstone National Park has stopped increasing. Certainly summer will still bring crowds. Do you have an answer or even a reasonable speculation about this pattern of visitors? Are you planning a trip in 2020? Please write and let us know!


An unusual geyser basin closure

Steamboat Geyser runoff

Click for a larger image.

A heads-up for anyone traveling to Yellowstone this week: Norris Geyser Basin in Yellowstone closed on Monday October 7, 2019, to all visitors. The area closure includes the entire basin, entrance road, parking lot, and Norris Geyser Basin Museum. (The Norris Campground and the Museum of the National Park Ranger already closed for the season in September.) The closure is for paving at the junction. The announced closure is for just two days, but weather and other factors could easily extend it.

This picture shows how Steamboat Geyser’s runoff looks during a minor eruption. According to Geysertimes.org, it’s been six days since the last major eruption of Steamboat Geyser, so it’s well within the expected window for its next one. So that is annoying to geyser gazers, but of course this is one of the last possible weeks to do any construction before the winter snows come.

The photo of Steamboat Geyser’s prodigious runoff channel, Norris Geyser Basin, was taken by Beth Chapple on June 28, 2019.


An active Norris Geyser Basin geyser

Norris Geyser Basin’s most famous geyser is Steamboat, which can amazingly spout to three times the height of Old Faithful Geyser, making it the world’s largest. On June 28, during a research trip for the forthcoming sixth edition of Yellowstone Treasures, I lingered in the basin for three hours, catching some of Steamboat’s minor eruptions and watching the runoff channel. Steamboat has been very active all summer, as you can see on the Geyser Times website, so maybe you will get a chance to see it erupt during your visit! But on that particular day it did not erupt until nearly midnight, when I was long back to my home near Seattle.

While waiting, I strolled over to Veteran Geyser, “which probably derived its name from the very old sinter deposits all around,” as author Janet Chapple says in the fifth edition of the guidebook on page 238.

Veteran Geyser

Veteran Geyser, morning of June 28, 2019

Veteran Geyser back vent But behind the main pool of Veteran Geyser is a vent that has become more active in recent years. So we will be adding the phrase “recently getting a beautiful light coating of geyserite” to the description. Below you can see a more detailed view.
—Editor Beth

Veteran Geyser back vent detail

Fresh geyserite deposited by Veteran Geyser, June 2019


Yellowstone’s Fire Lookouts

Today I spontaneously decided to check into the status of the fire lookout towers inside Yellowstone National Park, since the guidebook points out the ones on top of Mount Sheridan and Mount Washburn. Well, I was saddened to learn that the Mount Holmes fire lookout burned to the ground on Tuesday, July 16, 2019. The tower was built in 1931 and had historic value. A fire observer working in the Mount Washburn lookout tower spotted the lightning-caused fire. This first Yellowstone fire of 2019 means that the Mount Holmes Trail is closed until public safety can be assured. The Billings Gazette had one good story about the event, and National Parks Traveler had another.

If you’d like to learn more about the job of being a fire lookout in the park, I recommend this short Inside Yellowstone video on the National Park Service website.

—Editor and Publisher Beth Chapple


Crystal Falls on Cascade Creek

Crystal Falls Yellowstone

Crystal Falls from Uncle Toms Overlook on the Canyon’s South Rim


While visiting Uncle Tom’s Overlook to see Upper Falls, I was also looking at how far the reconstruction projects have gotten. I noticed the improvements to the walls, the ongoing construction of the viewpoint at the Brink of Upper Falls, and the new paved trail to Sunset Point, which had a colony of marmots to watch when I visited. (See the Yellowstone trail reconstruction in 2018 post for more about the plans and a nice map.)

But the most exciting aspect for me on my late June 2019 visit was seeing this waterfall. The description from the 2018 edition of Yellowstone Treasures goes like this: “little Crystal Falls across the canyon, obscured by branches” (p. 180). Well, granted, I did have to use binoculars and my camera’s zoom function to appreciate it. See below for how the description can still be called accurate. There is a trail to see this waterfall on Cascade Creek that pours down into the Yellowstone River, but the easiest way to reach it is temporarily off limits as construction crews use the parking lot to work on the Brink of Upper Falls viewpoint.

Enjoy! —Editor Beth Chapple

Crystal Falls in the trees

Look to the right when you are at Uncle Tom’s Point to see this waterfall.


June 25 Book Event in Cody, Wyoming

Yellowstone Heritage and Research Center

Yellowstone Heritage and Research Center in Gardiner, MT, is one of the institutions participating in the Collecting Yellowstone conference, June 24-29, 2019. Photo courtesy NPS.

Later this month Granite Peak Publications editor Beth Chapple will be traveling to Yellowstone National Park to do research for the next edition of Yellowstone Treasures. Here’s some of what she has planned.

The best part is I will be sharing our books at a fair that’s part of the Conversations on Collecting Yellowstone Conference, in Cody, WY, outside the East Entrance to the park. The Vendor Fair is both for the conference attendees and open to the public, so please let others know, and try to join us! The exhibitors will be art dealers, artists, booksellers, book publishers, and more. Here’s your chance to look at all things Yellowstone! Beforehand and after the conference I will be driving from Bozeman through the park. Looking forward to the drive on the Chief Joseph Scenic Byway into Cody.

Collecting Yellowstone Fair

WHERE

Taggart’s Ballroom
Holiday Inn of Cody, next to Buffalo Bill Village
1701 Sheridan Ave, Cody, WY 82414

WHEN

Tuesday, June 25, 2019
1:30-5:20 pm

Here’s more about the conference, though registration is closed. With the upcoming sesquicentennial of the establishment of Yellowstone National Park in 2022 in mind, special collections librarians at Brigham Young University and the University of Wyoming have organized librarians, archivists, curators, collectors, vendors, and researchers who work with Yellowstone National Park materials to converse about areas of common interest, discuss concerns, look for opportunities and generally get to know their colleagues. As a result, the first conference on Collecting Yellowstone materials is underway!

The goal objectives of this conference is to bring together individuals/institutions with significant Yellowstone National Park materials to:

  • Learn about the various YNP collections across the United States
  • Become acquainted with their colleagues
  • Discuss collections, discovery, acquisition and related topics
  • Identify trends and issues that impact collections now and in the future
  • Connect with scholars actively involved in YNP research
  • Meet with collectors and vendors of Yellowstone’s vast history

Check back for a trip report and a conference report in July.


Excerpt from A Place of Marvels

We’ll soon be celebrating National Parks Week, April 20-28. But let’s get a head start. On this day in 1870, park writer Ray Stannard Baker was born in Lansing, Michigan. This Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist is best known for his biography of President Woodrow Wilson, for whom he had been the press secretary. Baker worked for McClure’s Magazine at the time he published his Yellowstone report, excerpted here.

On Hymen Terrace by Blumenschein

Engraving of Ernest L. Blumenschein’s 1903 drawing. Tourists on top of Hymen Terrace, Mammoth Hot Springs.

Beyond the Upper Basin one cannot escape a veritable succession of marvels. At the Fountain there are many strange forms of geysers and hot springs, often gorgeous in coloring, surrounded by water-formed rocks in many curious and beautiful designs, and veritable caldrons of bubbling mud, and bears in the garbage-piles, and I know not how many other wonders. At Norris there are growling, jagged holes in the earth, belching forth huge volumes of hot steam, which, having killed and bleached all the verdure of the near mountain-side, has given the whole valley an indescribable air of desolation, as if the forces of nature had gone wrong—the very work of the devil, after whom so many of the marvels are named. Farther along one shudders under the brow of Roaring Mountain, makes a wry face while sipping water from the Apollinaris spring, wonders at the Hoodoo rocks [at Silver Gate], or admires the gorgeous colored pulpits and terraces of the Mammoth Hot Springs.

And yet after all these things, amazing as they are, one turns again to the road and the mountains and the trees. Undue emphasis may have been laid upon the odd, spectacular, bizarre—those things, dear to the heart of the American, which are the “biggest,” the “grandest,” the “most wonderful,” the “most beautiful” of their kind in the world. But the Park is far more than a natural hippodrome. The geysers appeal to one’s sense of the mysterious: one treads on the hollow earth not without an agreeable sense of danger, thrills with the volcanic rumblings underneath, waits with tense interest for the geyser, now boiling and bubbling, to hurl its fountain of hot water into the air; one is awed by these strange evidences of a living earth, guesses and conjectures, as the scientists have been doing for centuries, and then, somehow, unaccountably weary of these exhibitions, turns to the solemn, majestic hills, to waterfall and marshy meadow, to the wonderful trail through the forest. For, after all, the charm of the Park is the charm of the deep, untouched wilderness, the joy of the open road.

Indeed, the very name Park, associated as it is with smooth lawns and formal, man-guarded tree-groups and stream-courses, seems out of place when applied to these splendid mountain-tops. Here is a space nearly sixty miles square—a third larger than the State of Delaware, and, with its adjoining forest reserves, which are really a part of the public wilderness, nearly as large as Massachusetts or New Jersey. Visitors see only a narrow road-strip of its wonders, though the best; upon vast reaches of mountain and forest, lakes, rivers, geysers, cañons, no man looks once a year; probably many areas have never been seen by human eyes. The United States regular soldiers who guard it keep mostly to the roads, the boundaries of the Park being for the most part so wild and rugged that even poaching hunters could not cross them if they would.

It was a carping German traveler who complained that this Park was no park. “Look at your dead trees and burned stumps in the woods,” he said, thinking perhaps of the well-groomed, man-made forests of his native land, “and your streams, full of driftwood. It is not cared for.”

And Heaven help that it may never be cared for in that way! Not a park, but a wilderness, full of wild beauty and natural disorder, may we keep the place as nature left it, disturbing no land-slide where it lies, no natural dam of logs and stones heaped here by mountain freshet, no havoc of wind-storm or avalanche. The windfall, with its shaggy spreading roots full of matted earth and stone, rapidly being covered with grass and moss, and the river-bed full of bleached driftwood, each has its own rare quality of picturesqueness, its own fitting place in this wild harmony. There is beauty even in the work of the forest fire, which has left whole mountain-sides of freshly scorched pine foliage, a deep golden red smoldering in the sunshine; and many a blackened bit of forest, longer burned, leaves an impression of somber shadows, of silence and death, which cannot be forgotten. One even comes to begrudge this wilderness its telephone poles, its roads, and the excellent stone embankments which keep them from slipping down the mountainsides into the swift streams below; for they detract from its wild perfection. We may behold nature in its softer and more comely aspects almost anywhere; but every year, with the spread of population in our country, it becomes more difficult to preserve genuine wilderness places where hill and forest and stream have been left exactly as nature made them. Already our indomitable pioneers have driven the wilderness into the very fastnesses of the mountains, so that only remnants now remain. And this great Yellowstone Park remnant has been fortunately set aside by the government for the enjoyment and inspiration of the people forever.

CREDIT: “A Place of Marvels: Yellowstone Park as It Now Is,” The Great Northwest Series, The Century Magazine 66, no. 4 (August 1903): 481–91. Reproduced in Chapple, Janet, ed. Through Early Yellowstone: Adventuring by Bicycle, Covered Wagon, Foot, Horseback, and Skis, pp. 215–17. Lake Forest Park, WA: Granite Peak Publications, 2016.

Believe us, the engravings of Blumenschein’s illustrations for Baker’s article come out far better in the print version of the book.


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.


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.