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Montana Book Festival news

Categories: News, Through Early Yellowstone
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Beth at Montana book fair booth On September 24, National Public Lands Day, I hope you had the chance to get out and enjoy one of our beautiful U.S. national parks or monuments. I spent all that Saturday at the book fair of the 2016 Montana Book Festival in the heart of Missoula. Thanks to festival director Rachel Mindell and her band of hard-working volunteers, people had the chance to hear author talks and peruse new books with Montana-based authors or themes. While the book fair was free and open to the public, many participants bought a festival button so they could attend the various events. Some people stopped by the table to reminisce about Yellowstone Park, take a free Yellowstone Treasures postcard or Through Early Yellowstone bookmark, or buy a book. I’ll be taking the show on the road again for Wordstock in Portland, Oregon on November 5th–maybe I’ll see you there!

Fortunately I was able to combine a fun and research-filled road trip to Yellowstone with this book festival. I drove from Seattle with my son on September 18th, spent a mere four days in the park, and we drove back via Missoula. Author Janet and I will be sharing some stories and pictures from our trips over the next few weeks, as well as adding videos to our YouTube channel. Today I added a video called “Fan Creek 360 degree view.”

–Editor and Publisher, Beth Chapple

Someone on the website Quora just asked about visiting Yellowstone in October, so here’s what I came up with while surfing the National Park Service website for Yellowstone:

Facilities open in October are:
Lake Hotel and Cabins to Oct. 9
Mammoth Hotel and Cabins to Oct. 10
Old Faithful: Snow Lodge and Cabins to Oct. 16; Inn to Oct. 9; Lodge and Cabins to Oct. 5

All campgrounds close in September, except the one at Mammoth Hot Springs, which is open all year.
Almost all roads are open until November 7; Dunraven Pass and Beartooth Pass close on October 11.

Since the weather always turns cold and snowy more and more during October, visitors need to be prepared to dress warmly and could need snow tires in some areas. All thermal areas and most wildlife can be seen (bears are just beginning to think about hibernating), but visitor center hours are limited, some dining facilities are closed, and ranger programs have already ceased in September.

Over four million visitors enjoyed Yellowstone in 2015!

Categories: News
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The National Park Service has announced that Yellowstone Park has just had another record year. Nearly 600,000 more people passed through the park’s five entrances in 2015 than in 2014, a total of 4,097,210.

As always, the West Entrance was the most popular, and more people visited in July than in any other month, with August and June just behind in numbers.

The NPS attributes this year’s popularity to lower gas prices, stepped-up marketing by Montana and Wyoming tourist bureaus, and the NPS’s own “Find Your Park” program. In addition, beginning last year, to encourage visitation, all families that have a fourth grade student may enter any national park without paying an entrance fee.

Record Yellowstone visitation achieved

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In case you haven’t heard, a record number of people visited Yellowstone this October—in fact, 29% more than the previous October record. Also, total visitation so far this year has already topped all records, exceeding the four million mark.

This may be due to unseasonably warm weather, lower gas prices, or simply a relatively upbeat economy. Whatever the reason, Granite Peak Publications likes to think we might have played a small part in informing lots of potential visitors of the unique wonders in store for them when they visit!

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Those noisy contraptions can now enter Yellowstone Park!

Categories: History, Transportation
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It’s August 1, 1915.
“Hooray! Today we can finally drive our new automobile into Yellowstone National Park.” Something like this must have been shouted between the open-topped cars lined up to pass through the North Entrance Arch on the first day it was legal to “motor” through the park. [Turns out we showed you that arch in our July 28th post.]

It’s true that a man named Henry G. Merry from nearby Horr, Montana had decided thirteen years before, in 1902, to “pilot the car [a Winton] to the fort and talk things over with the commandant,” according to Merry’s son’s account many years later. Screen Shot 2015-07-31 at 10.40.57 AM
You see, the Secretary of the Interior and superintendent Colonel John Pitcher had agreed that year that automobiles must be banned from the park due to the terrible condition of the roads and the danger of frightening the horses. But Merry went anyway—and was told he was under arrest and would have to pay a penalty. However, according to son Edward T. Merry: “When my father asked what the penalty would be, the officer very seriously replied, ‘You will have to take me for a ride in this contraption.’” But soon Merry was ushered out with a warning never to try it again.

Officials knew they would eventually have to improve the roads enough for cars to use them, and eventually this was done. Exactly one hundred years ago today the new era began. Fifty Fords, Buicks, Wintons, Haynes, and others entered the park. Within a year it was obvious that horses and autos were incompatible on the bumpy, narrow roads, and of course, the horses lost the contest.

[My source for this story was The Yellowstone Story, Volume II, by Aubrey L. Haines, pages 264 to 269. The late 1890s Winton touring car is courtesy of Wikipedia commons.]

Yellowstone Wallet Alert!

Categories: News, Trip planning
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Like most everything worthwhile in our world, visiting Yellowstone—and the Tetons—will take more out of your wallet this summer. Entrance fees have remained the same for the past nine years. Fees are charged per vehicle.

About vehicle passes

Beginning June 1, 2015, visiting Yellowstone for one to seven days goes from $25 to $30 per passenger vehicle. Grand Teton National Park will have a separate pass for $30. This is a major change, since previously one fee provided visitors with a seven-day entrance permit for both Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks. But people visiting both parks will now be able to save $10 by purchasing a $50 two-park vehicle pass, also valid for one to seven days.

Motorcycles can enter Yellowstone for $25 for one to seven days or both parks for $40, and
individuals (by bicycle or on foot, for example) will pay $15 for Yellowstone or $20 for both parks.

An annual pass for Yellowstone will be $60. This pass offers visitors in the local area an option that is less expensive than the $80 Interagency Pass. Interagency Pass rates remain the same: Annual ($80) and Senior ($10). Military passes and Access passes (for people with permanent disabilities) will remain free.

Free park admission

There’s still one way for people living near Yellowstone to save money. Fee-free days in the second half of 2015 will be:
August 25: National Park Service’s 99th birthday
September 26: National Public Lands Day
November 11: Veterans Day

About backcountry passes

Backcountry pass fees are going up this year from Memorial Day to Sept. 10. These fees apply per night for all individuals 9 years of age or older. Backpackers and boaters will pay $3 per person, per night, up to a total of $15 per night for groups of 5 or more. Stock users will be charged $5 per person, per night.

You can purchase an annual backcountry pass for $25, and the fee for advance reservations remains $25.

Let’s celebrate March, Women’s History Month, with an excerpt from a Yellowstone story written by Margaret Andrews Allen. In 1885 her family visited Upper Geyser Basin in a horse-driven wagon. Camping near Castle Geyser, they all set out the morning after arrival to see the geysers.

“First, of course, we visit Old Faithful, the Clock of the Valley, hardly varying five minutes in its hourly eruptions. Its low, broad cone of scale-like layers is firm as the solid rock. No thought of danger here. Everything gives us the idea of regularity and order. We are in position, the curtain rises, and the play begins. The eruption is fine, the geyser sending up a solid column of water, with clouds of hot steam, for over a hundred feet. But it is soon over, and we add to our experience by drinking of the hot sulphur water it has left in all the little hollows of the crust. This is merely to add to our experience, for the taste is far from agreeable. This geyser is the great resource of hurried tourists, from its regularity. We met many parties who had seen only this one—and that one alone is well worth seeing. But what one is sure of seldom fascinates. The freaky ones are most sought after and admired.

“We cross the rushing Firehole, and I shall leave it for the guide-book to tell the variety of craters and pools, extinct and active geysers and formations, all the way from Cauliflower to Coral. We come back to our tent already feeling like old residents, ready to initiate ignorant new-comers.

“We have seen various men pass with mysterious bags on long poles, and, on questioning one of our neighbors (a very old resident, for she has been here a month) we find it is merely the family washing. The bag contains soap and clothes, and is to be hung in a boiling spring, when, in a few hours, the dirt will be boiled out. We follow suit, and immediately our bag of clothes is hanging in a lovely little blue pool not far from our tent.

“But we have a ham in our wagon; why should not that be cooked in the same way? The Devil’s Well [Crested Pool] is near, and soon our ham, in a strong sack fastened to a pole, is cheerfully bubbling away. In about two hours it is well done, and lasts us the rest of the journey. Our potatoes are not so successful, for our bag breaks, and down they go to whoever the owner of the well may be, for a perpetual potato-soup.

“At dinner, our neighbor, the Castle, starts an eruption, and immediately the whole valley is in turmoil, rushing hither and thither for a good view. But the geyser changes its mind, the clouds drift up, a drizzling rain begins, and we are settling down for a quiet afternoon in our tent when suddenly, with rumble and roar, the deceitful Castle shoots a column of water into the air and everything is dropped for the show.

Castle Geyser black-and-white photo

“Our neighboring campers are already climbing the sides of the cone, about twenty feet above the road, to have a look inside, and we follow their example. Then stones are thrown in and shot out instantly. I bethink me of our dish-towels, and in they go. In another minute they are fifty feet in the air, and dashed down far on the other side; for a strong wind has risen and driven the water and steam in a great curve to the south. After three such baths they are clean. We have seen the only poetical washing-day in our lives. We wish all were like it. It is not turning the geyser to a base use: it is merely idealizing washing.”

Of course, the thousands of visitors to geyserland today do not use the pools and geysers to wash their clothes and dishes. But think how it must have lightened the load of “woman’s work” for the few days Ms. Allen was in Yellowstone. Times have changed!

Ms. Allen’s entire story will be reproduced in Granite Peak Publications’ upcoming collection, with the working title of Magnificent Playground.

Castle Geyser photo from 1996 by Leslie Kilduff, appears on page 99 of Yellowstone Treasures, Updated Fourth Edition.

Does Yellowstone Need to Raise Entrance Fees?

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Since 2006 a family’s private passenger car has been able to enter Yellowstone and the Tetons combined for a $25.00 entrance fee. If you return several times in a year, you are better off to buy the $50.00 annual pass for both parks. Seniors (62 and older) are able to purchase a $10.00 pass good for their lifetimes, a bargain for sure, what with the increasing lifespans of today’s seniors.

Now the National Park Service is proposing the following fee schedule:
1- to 3-day pass to Yellowstone only for $30.00
1- to 7-day pass to both Yellowstone and the Tetons for $50.00
Separate annual passes for each park for $60.00.

Eighty percent of the money derived from entrance fees goes to the park where it is collected, while twenty percent goes to the general NPS fund, mostly used for parks where fees are not collected. There is also an annual national park appropriation from Congress, which for many years has been inadequate to cover even routine expenses, such as park personnel salaries, utility bills, and the like.

Looking at what the “extra” money from entrance fees goes for in Yellowstone, most of it is desperately needed for maintenance of buildings and roads, now used by over three million visitors each year. More money for Yellowstone can also mean that the park can continue and expand the fight against the lake trout, those huge fish that have been decimating the native cutthroat population so many park animals depend upon.

NPS is accepting comments on their website (not by e-mail or fax). You can read the entire fee change document there. Use this link to comment on it. You have through Saturday, December 20th, to comment. Click on Entrance Fee Proposal and then in the Comment Now box.

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!