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My hike to Narrow Gauge Terrace in June

Categories: Flora and Fauna, Thermal features, Trip Reports
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Finally in June this year Janet and I got the chance to travel to Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons together. Janet was there on a longer road trip, but we spent several days together at Old Faithful and Norris Geyser Basins, as well as at Colter Bay and the Laurance S. Rockefeller Preserve in Grand Teton National Park, and then some time in Gardiner and Bozeman, Montana, too. No doubt we will gradually share some of our adventures over the coming months. One day I drove back to Mammoth Hot Springs on my own.

The story I am ready to tell is the hike I got to take from the Mammoth main terrace to Narrow Gauge Terrace. Enjoy!
—Beth, editor and publisher

https://www.slideshare.net/BethChapple/beyond-mammoth-hot-springs

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Through British Eyes—Yellowstone, Summer 2016

Categories: Thermal features, Trip planning, Trip Reports
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In this special summer when record numbers are expected in all the nation’s parks due to the centennial of the National Park Service, gas prices are down somewhat, and many foreign tourists (especially those from China) are touring the U.S., a neighbor has sent me a perceptive account of her British friends’ June trip through Yellowstone. I think reading Annie’s comments about Yellowstone may be both entertaining and helpful to people visiting in the next two or three months, so I’m passing along some excerpts from the message she recently sent my neighbor. You’ll learn both the plusses and minuses of a 2016 summer visit!

Pictures here of Aurum Spring at Upper Geyser Basin and Naiad Spring at Mammoth Hot Springs are courtesy of Suzanne Cane, taken in 2013.

From Annie and Paul’s 2016 Trip Report

Our next National Park was Yellowstone, which you can enter by driving through The Grand Tetons and using the South Entrance. We have now visited so many parks that we wondered what Yellowstone could offer that would amaze us yet again.

[The morning after settling into their campsite] From past experience we know you have to go in the parks early so we headed in about 7 am, our aim being to get to the old Faithful Geyser, so named as it erupts more reliably than any other big geysers. At present it erupts roughly every 90 minutes. It expels anywhere between 4–8 thousand gallons of boiling water and reaches a height between 1–2 hundred feet. It is not the largest geyser in the park, but you are guaranteed to see it blow. We had around 40 minutes to wait so took a walk around Geyser Hill.
SC031_Aurum G_12in.copy Aurum Geyser’s pool on Geyser Hill “lays” uniform geyser eggs

It was a truly surreal experience; the Park has built boardwalks around the geysers, and walking around there is a strong smell of sulphur, which Paul hated. I felt it was rather healthy to inhale and clear the lungs. (Ed., Venus, Mars…) The pools vary in size and colour, some small with luminous turquoises and blues. The large ones can be almost obscured with steam, but the wind will momentarily clear it to show crystal clear water bubbling away. Then there are the mud pools which go gloop, gloop, gloop and really stink. We saw some small eruptions but nothing amazing. What was surprising was the number of flowers growing quite close to the geysers’ centres.

We headed back to Old Faithful, which was now due to erupt. The photographers had gathered but there is a large viewing area all around the geyser. There were several false alarms with little spouts of water and massive eruptions of steam, then suddenly she was off—huge column of water rising into the air followed by clouds of steam. It lasted for about 3 minutes and was truly impressive.

Leaving Old Faithful we drove slowly along the Yellowstone Lake, one of the world’s largest alpine lakes, its shores are volcanic beaches. To the east and southeast of the lakes are the wild and snowcapped Absaroka Range of mountains. Truly beautiful.

We wended our way back to camp and decided to treat ourselves to dinner out. We made enquiries at the office and they recommended Bar N Ranch for excellent steaks, quiet and good service. Just what we wanted. It was 10 minutes out of town and perfect. A large wooden lodge style building, we had a lovely table in the window looking out over fields to the pine forests in the distance and their tented camp site, which actually looked a bit like an Indian war army camp all in straight lines with US flags flying! However, the food was great, fresh salad, 9oz. fillet steak cooked medium rare, (not rare as in England which is raw in America) and nice vegetables, and a mellow glass of red wine. Perfect end to the day. [This restaurant is new to me—maybe I’ll get to sample it this summer!]

Next day we went into the park a bit later, which was a big mistake, crowds of people and difficulty parking at various view points. . . . [Driving north of Beryl Spring, between Madison and Norris,] we got stuck in a massive line of cars. We thought it was road works, slowly we crawled along until finally we got to an open clearing and found cars stopping all over the road to photograph bison, really!—hardly the most enchanting of animals and how many photos do you need? That put me in a bad mood as it seems so selfish.

[Unable to find parking at Norris Geyser Basin] we headed on around to Mammoth Hot Springs. Lots of car parks but very busy and we finally got into one and set off on the boardwalk. The hot springs here have created very strange rock formations like steps with boiling water running down them, large pools of iridescent green and blue, bubbling and steaming. . . . I walked higher and higher, and at the top you have an overlook of all the spectacular terraces.
P1050633_Naiad Spring Naiad Spring, about halfway up the stairs from the Mammoth Lower Terrace parking areas, became active in 2012.

Most of the geysers are in the Southern Loop. . . We headed in on day 3 at about 7 am and reached Biscuit and Black Sand Basin well before the crowds. It is really difficult to do justice to these geysers. One favourite was Excelsior Crater; it was completely covered in steam which also enveloped us, and as we reached the far side of the pool the wind cleared, the steam momentarily revealing the brilliant colours in the water, at the edges light turquoise getting darker and then deep blue in the centre, and really clear. Quite phenomenal. Grand Prismatic Spring was quite dramatic, as from a distance you can see the steam is coloured blue, mauve, red, pink and yellow. As you get nearer the steam swirls about you and it is a really eerie feeling. Unique and, yes, awesome!!

Yellowstone is a fantastic park, we gave it 5 days but really do need longer to explore it.

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What’s New, Fun, and Interesting in Yellowstone This Summer?

Categories: Geysers, Trip Reports, Wildlife
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Entering Yellowstone from the North Entrance may be a little tough going and not aesthetically pleasing for most of this year [2015], since there’s a humongous construction project going on to completely revamp the entrance area at the little town of Gardiner. But five miles and a thousand feet up the road to the south is Mammoth Hot Springs, and, in addition to seeing the springs along the Upper Terrace Road, I recommend spending an hour or so at the redone Albright Visitor Center. It has excellent hands-on dioramas of all of the park’s bigger mammals and kiosks for park orientation on the first floor. In the basement level, completely accessible with a new elevator, are great historical displays and the restrooms. For more about this see the Yellowstone Insider’s recent article.

One of Upper Geyser Basin’s most popular sites is the wonderfully regular Riverside Geyser. It almost always erupts every six to six-and-one-half hours. Here is the eruption I caught on my all-too-short visit to the park in mid June.


You can hear (1) a geyser gazer transmit by FRS radio the time of eruption to the Old Faithful Visitor Center, (2) the excited crowd,(3) the swishing of the main eruption, and (4) the rumbling of the side spouter that always accompanies Riverside’s eruptions. It always erupts quite a bit longer than this little video, which was edited for Granite Peak Publications by Jens Paape.

You can reach Artemisia Geyser’s beautiful pool and formation in one of two ways.Artemisia Geyser One is by walking beyond Riverside Geyser about half a mile up what used to be the main road and is now a rather rough trail past Morning Glory Pool (page 95 in Yellowstone Treasures) or by parking at Biscuit Basin and crossing the road to reach the other end of the trail from Morning Glory Pool. Up the hill in the distance in my picture is Hillside Springs, which old-time stagecoach drivers called Tomato Soup Springs.

I did not see any grizzly bears on this trip, but there are now enough of them in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem so that visitors are seeing them quite frequently. The national media covered the recent very unusual event where a grizzly climbed on the hood and sides of an occupied car, leaving some scratches but giving the occupants of the car the thrill of their lifetime and their own video.

One thrill of this visit for me was being assigned for three nights to what has to be the best room in the Old House of Old Faithful Inn (Room 229). It was inside the farthest east of the five dormer windows that span the third floor front of the inn. Two mornings I awoke to a swishing sound, opened the side window, and there was Old Faithful Geyser erupting for my private enjoyment!

For fishermen and others interested in what is happening with the fish in Yellowstone Lake these days, take a look at the Great Falls Tribune’s story about the good news regarding the struggle against illegally introduced lake trout.

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Guest Post by Rita Reining, a nature lover and outdoor enthusiast. She can often be found hiking the hills around her home in Oakland, CA and serves as a docent in the Natural Sciences Gallery of the Oakland Museum of California.

When my friend Ellen and I decided to sign up for Wolf Week—a five-day course presented by the Yellowstone Association at the Lamar Buffalo Ranch the last week in March—I had no idea of the adventure that was in store.

After dinner on our first evening the instructors gave out a picture and a short bio of a wolf living on the North Range of the park to each pair of participants. Each couple presented their wolf information to the group. We learned about the 11 different packs in the park, but we concentrated on the eight packs that currently call the North Range home. The specific wolves we learned about all have radio collars. The wolves generally don’t have names but are known by their number. Also, we learned a little of the genealogy of the wolves, many of whom are descendants of the Druid pack which were the original wolves introduced to Yellowstone in 1995. We felt a bit better acquainted with specific wolves and the packs that we might encounter.

The next morning (and for the following two mornings) we were up at 5 AM in order to be on the bus to start looking for the wolves before sun-up. We drove to the Little America area where we came upon a group of people with spotting scopes focused on the Junction Butte (JB) pack about one-half mile away up the hillside enjoying the remains of an elk brought down a couple of days earlier. We quickly set up our scopes to observe our first wild wolves of this trip. It was so exciting!

As we watched them, I was surprised that their behavior was quite sociable. When we arrived, the big gray alpha male, 911M, was eating. A bit later the alpha female, 970F, and then two other females settled in to feed. No snarling or fighting such as I had expected. When it seemed that all had had their fill, the pack began to howl. First one, then another, then everyone. Each wolf has its own tone and voice. It was an exhilarating chorus. From across the way, more howling was heard. This was by the Prospect Peak pack (PP). The JBs evidently did not want to interact with the PPs and they ran up the hill and disappeared over the ridge.
Wolf March 2015 by Rita Reining
There are several groups of dedicated wolf watchers. First there are those who are associated with The Wolf Project, consisting of teams who follow all the packs in the park. Then there are the rangers, photographers, bloggers, and local residents who are out every day recording and reporting what they see. All seem to be connected by radio, and we relied on this communication every day in order to follow the wolves.

Thus, we learned that there was wolf activity in the Lamar Valley. This time we watched a gray pup of the Lamar Canyon (LC) pack busy at an old bison carcass. Soon the black alpha female, 926F, walked by, stopped for a moment by the carcass and continued on her way, followed by another black pup.

We followed 926F and her six pups’ activities during our wolf week. The picture above was taken by Jane Morse, a fellow participant, and this wolf looks very much like 926F. The stories about 926F made our observations all the more interesting.

About ten days before we arrived in Yellowstone, the LC alpha male was killed by the PPs. (The highest cause of wolf deaths is by other wolves.) The larger PP pack encountered the smaller LC pack. The reason for the PP aggression is unknown, but as they were advancing on the LCs, all the LCs ran away except the alpha male. He stood his ground as the PPs edged closer, and then he turned and ran away in the opposite direction from the rest of his pack. Unfortunately the PPs caught and attacked him, leaving him for dead. 926F came back and lay by him as he died.

Now 926F had become the leader of the LC pack, consisting only of a pregnant 926F and her six yearling pups. She was solely responsible for getting food for herself and her pups. Wolves only begin to learn to hunt after their first year. 926F will need a new mate. All the wolf watchers were concerned for the future of the LC pack. 926F would be denning soon to have her new pups. Mother wolves do not leave the den until the pups can be left without her for a short time. Usually the alpha male stays near her, and he and other members of the pack bring her food. The LC wolves were in danger of starving, since the yearling pups were useless as hunters.

The next morning we saw a deer carcass in the ditch by the road. It had been hit by a car the night before. Here was a free meal, and 926F walked right by a small herd of bighorn sheep to get to the carcass. But she ran off when the rangers came to move the carcass away from the road for the safety of the wolves as well as to avoid a traffic jam. As soon as the rangers left, a golden eagle, some magpies, and a coyote returned to the carcass. But, 926F wasn’t going to let the lesser beings take food away from her and her pups, so about noon she came and dragged the carcass into the woods.

On the final morning in the field we went back to where we had last seen 926F. We had only just left the bus when we heard her howling. Shortly, her pups joined in. The howling had the bighorn sheep across the road on high alert, but we couldn’t spot any of the wolves. About a half hour later, we saw them crossing the ridge under a cliff. A lone bull elk was standing at attention on an outcropping as they passed by him within 100 yards. The pack seemed to ignore him. Two elk were on top of the cliff, on alert, scanning in opposite directions. Just then we saw one of the pups approaching the elk. Both elk turned and faced the wolf. The wolf got to about 50 feet from the elk, stopped, backed up a couple of paces and gave the elk a wide berth as he walked around them. Then we saw him walking toward the elk from uphill. He more or less repeated his previous approach from below, then walked away. Maybe he was just practicing for future hunts. This was the closest we came to seeing any real drama on this trip.

The pack was moving west, so we went west to the other side of the ridge. We spotted the pack bedded down at the edge of the woods. After a while they began to move around. I watched as one of the pups laid on his back in the snow rolling back and forth, just like my dog does. Making wolf “angels”?

Then 926F must have given some signal. She started moving west again at a determined pace with the pups following. We watched until they were out of sight.

All too soon our week at the Lamar Buffalo Ranch ended. We left Yellowstone hoping to sign up in the future for another exciting and interesting course with the Yellowstone Association. Also, I was wondering what the future would be for 926F.

Post script for 926F: Shortly after my visit, four adult males from another pack joined the LCs. The wolf watchers were optimistic that 926F would choose her alpha male from one of them and, with the yearling pups, have a sustainable pack. It was not to be. As of a month after I left Yellowstone, I learned that 926F was now alone. Her yearlings were gone and so were all four of the males. The last I heard, 926F had not yet gone to den. She is very lean but has managed so far to survive on her own. Her saga continues.

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Yellowstone’s Mammoth Hot Springs

Categories: Thermal features, Trip Reports
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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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More about my geyser day

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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

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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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What to say about an idyllic three days in the Lamar Valley enjoying and learning more about Yellowstone wildflowers? Even in seasons without so many flowers the valley is one of my favorite places anywhere.

Whenever I’m there, I can never get enough of the changing light as you look up the valley to Saddle Mountain and its neighboring peaks or across the river to Specimen Ridge. But this green early summer with bison grazing everywhere is really special.

Also special in every way was the Yellowstone Institute class called The Art of Wildflower Identification. Instructor Meredith Campbell is not just knowledgeable about botany and a fine artist. She is wonderfully qualified to patiently teach us about keying in Rocky Mountain wildflowers as well as about some techniques of drawing and using color. We were using a little booklet that asks us specific questions about the leaves and flowers and (sometimes!) leads us to identify the one we are looking at.

This was my third time for taking this class, but the second was seven years ago, and I need lots of review. Special for me this year were the other members of the class, who included the current Mammoth Clinic doctor (also trained as an architect and capable of lovely flower drawings), several caring people who work for the park service or for the Yellowstone Association, and others with interesting backgrounds and reasons for being there. They were particularly kind to me as by far the oldest class member.

It hardly mattered that it rained on and off for the first two days and the third was sunny—but when we went partway up Mt. Washburn seeking subalpine flowers, we encountered a strong cold wind. You never know what to expect in the mountains.

I am hoping I can soon add a Lamar Valley picture to this post, one taken by Kathie Lynch, who spends so much time studying Lamar wolves that her license plate is “YNP WOLF.” She writes interesting reports about the park’s wolves on The Wildlife News.

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In a few days I’ll fly to Idaho Falls for a brief visit with a friend before I drive to the Lamar Buffalo Ranch in northeastern Yellowstone for my Yellowstone Institute class. This is a class called The Art of Wildflower Identification, taught by Meredith Campbell. I’ve taken the class twice before and simply loved it.

We start with the elementary botany of flowers, and since for me it’s always quite a few years between these classes, I can use all the review I can get. Meredith also shows us some techniques for drawing with our colored pencils. Then we’re off for three days in various outstanding fields of flowers that she’s found in advance.

Here is a forget-me-not, a sample of the wonderful flower drawings by Mary Vaux Walcott in the 1920s (from page 352 in Yellowstone Treasures):

Mary Vaux Walcott watercolor of flower

—and my best effort at drawing a clematis during the 2007 class:

Clematis by Janet, 2007

Clematis by Janet, 2007

You can see why I need more classes!

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A new review

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Last Tuesday, reader Barbara Shaw decided to write a review of the Yellowstone Treasures guidebook on Amazon.com:

We just returned from a Winter in Yellowstone trip and this was a great resource to keep handy as we traveled around the park. Read more

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