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

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Late-season thoughts on long-lasting thermal features

Categories: Thermal features
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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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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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This summer in Yellowstone National Park

Categories: Park environs, Trip planning
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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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Getting ready for the summer season

Categories: News, Trip planning
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Kudos to Sean Reichard for keeping us up-to-date on various Yellowstone issues!

First, I was glad to learn from yellowstoneinsider.com that Superintendent Dan Wenk will not be leaving Yellowstone soon, as reported recently. He has been doing an excellent job. I was privileged to meet him during a January 2012 Tauck Tour of the Park.

Today, I learned from Sean that as of June first, 2018, not only will the fee to enter either Yellowstone or Grand Teton go up from $30 to $35 (good for one week), but one can no longer buy a joint annual pass to both parks.

At least, we can be thankful that after strong negative reaction from the public, the fees did not rise to the originally proposed $70.

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Encourage teens to join the Youth Conservation Corps

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Yellowstone youth conservation corps members

Youth Conservation Corps members at Inspiration Point, Yellowstone National Park (NPS photo, circa 2012)


The National Park Service is announcing that the deadline to apply for one of the two month-long sessions at Yellowstone this summer is rapidly approaching: March 1, 2018. This will be the 29th straight year that the Youth Conservation Corps is offered in Yellowstone National Park. Sixty young people between the ages of 15 and 18 can participate in this program, which has educational, recreational, and work aspects. Teens help NPS staff with trail and campground restoration, resource management, visitor support, maintenance, and more. “Applicants should possess a positive attitude, a willingness and ability to work in a physically active outdoor program, and get along well with others,” according to the press release. What a great opportunity! For more information and to obtain the application, see the YCC page on the official Yellowstone National Park website.

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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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Man outsmarts fish—at last: The current ways to battle lake trout

Categories: Flora and Fauna, News
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Lake trout (Salvelinus namaycush) have caused a near-disaster in Yellowstone Lake, starting more than two decades ago.

The new edition of Yellowstone Treasures says: “Although some larger lakes of southern Yellowstone were intentionally stocked with lake trout long ago, these large predator trout, illegally introduced into Yellowstone Lake in 1994, have caused a drastic reduction in the lake’s cutthroat trout that may never be reversed. However, the combined NPS/Yellowstone Park Foundation aggressive efforts—gillnetting and electrofishing—had begun to pay off by 2012, and lake trout numbers are now declining each year, while cutthroat trout numbers are increasing. Researchers now know where the lake trout spawn, and some eggs can be killed. Meanwhile, anglers must kill all lake trout and either eat them or puncture the air bladder and dispose of the carcass in deep water.”

Ted Koel and his team are now using “Judas fish” to lead them to schools of lake trout, and they employ aircraft to locate the tagged lake trout. As this year’s fishing season opens in Yellowstone, you can read all about it in this recent Powell Tribune article by Mark Davis.

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“Stop the Car”

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Here is an entertaining link to a Yellowstone Insider post I am happy to pass on.

I did not know about this place with the unusual name and will surely try to stop there when I pass through Silver Gate to enter the park through the Northeast Entrance next month.

The Beartooth Highway and Chief Joseph Scenic Byway are both beautiful ways to reach the newest entrance to Yellowstone. The former opened in 1936, and the latter was fully paved only in the 1990s.

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This Is When You Really Need “Yellowstone Treasures”

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Mud Volcano winter

Mud Volcano area in winter. As of today Yellowstone is still covered in snow; most travel by car starts April 21, 2017.

March—while you may still be wishing for spring—is a great month to plan a summer or fall trip to Yellowstone. Here are some ways that Yellowstone Treasures can help you plan, especially if you haven’t been to the park before.

First, if your time is going to be limited to two or three days, in the book’s introduction (pages 17 and 18) there’s a list of Best Sights. An enthusiastic Amazon.com customer last June wrote: “Ms. Chapple’s rating of one star for those sights that were ‘worth taking the time for,’ or two stars for those you ‘must see’ really helped us plan our two day stay. . . .” (But—if at all possible—I highly recommend that you stay a week or even more. You won’t regret it.)

Yellowstone has become so popular—with over 4.2 million visitors last year—that almost all the in-park cabin and hotel rooms are already booked. I have to blame this mostly on the large bus tours that book blocks of rooms a year or more ahead, knowing they can fill up their tours with no trouble. This leaves us individuals and families who plan later in the year with little recourse but to book rooms in gateway places like West Yellowstone, Moran, Cody, Cooke City, and Gardiner. You can, of course, book a space in campgrounds or in the only RV camping spot, if you are so inclined.

Fortunately, the gateway towns have lots of accommodations. You will find phone numbers and email addresses for the chambers of commerce of all the gateway towns in the back of YT, as well as how to contact the park concessionnaire, Xanterra (or Yellowstone Park Lodges). Also, see our Yellowstone Links for the chamber of commerce websites in those places. Online resources such as Booking.com can be a great help with finding rooms outside the park.

A chapter near the beginning of Yellowstone Treasures tells you all about the five different entrances to the park and what you’ll see on their approach roads. The bulk of the book (pages 38 to 301) is what you’ll use before you go, while you’re there, and for reference when you return home. It’s full of detailed maps made and kept up-to-date by my incomparable mapmaker, Linton A. Brown. Here is one from page 200 of the guidebook.
Yellowstone Treasures map

Happy planning!

Photo credit: Janet Chapple, 2012.

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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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