Thursday, August 9, 2012

Yellowstone Northern Loop -- Bull Elk Up Close, Pronghorn from Afar, Roosevelt Arch and Mammoth Springs

Today was another early day, getting up by 5:30 and out the door just after 7.  In West Yellowstone we filled up with gas, got the car washed (it really needed it), and we were in the park by 7:45.  Our goal today was the upper loop.  Following the map below, we entered at West Yellowstone, traveled to Madison, up to Norris, over to Canyon Village, then up to Roosevelt, we took a side road about 1/4 of the way to Cooke City, then turned back to go to Mammoth, up to Gardiner, then back down to Norris, Madison, West Yellowstone and back to Henrys Lake.

After early morning coffee, I figured we (I) needed a break at Norris.  We promised ourselves that we would only take pictures of Elk and Buffalo if they were up-close.
But as we passed the "elk meadows" on our way to Madison, this one was a bit closer than the rest, and so we could not resist....ok, now that is kinda "up close and personal"...it will have to do.

We continued on to Norris, as I was relishing in having a quick stop.  Just a mile shy of our goal we hit the small traffic jam, when a few cars, and a van of, uhh, what is the politically correct way of saying this???  Well, let's just say that these folks were helping pay back the money we, as a country, owe them.  Anyway, they start coming out of this white van, 4, 5, 6,7, perhaps 8 of them...within 10 yards of these wonderful Bull Elk who were eating right alongside the road.  


If Elk can dream, do their sharp, pointed antlers bury themselves deeply into the parade of Hawaiian-shirted doofuses clamoring ever so closer for photos?  Do they run off into the sunset in their dreams, heads held high, with a pair of jerks speared, dangling high from each side of their head along with their fancy Nikons still dangling from their clutched fists?   Is it these type of dreams that keep them from acting this out in real life, or are we just days or weeks away from a bloody headline of a foreigner being viciously attacked, marred to death while they innocently were exiting their little rented van along with six or seven other, Hawaiian-shirted fellow travelers, each carrying a camera, I-phone, and for a few even I-pads, each swearing that they were following the park rules and that these vicious American animals are simply out of control???
As for these Elk, they allowed us to pass by before they either bolted, attacked, or ignored the on-coming, colorful crowd.  I think the park service would have a much larger budget if they paid a bounty for pictures of tourist breaking the rules by getting out of their vehicle that is parked on the road, getting too close to animals, etc.  Let's say a $100 bounty, a $1,000 fine for those who are caught, or captured in the photo sense, which will provide a hefty sum of money for the park service.  After all, if we can't even walk and chew gum on the streets of Singapore without being arrested for breaking the law, why do we let foreign tourist come and break our less strict laws without any recourse?  Ok, off my soapbox and on with the show.

After a quick stop, we drove on to Canyon, and then started to head up to Roosevelt.  It was in this area that 10 years ago while on a family vacation with my kids and previous wife, that we saw a few bear running along the hillsides between Roosevelt and Canyon.  Today, despite a long stop at a few pullouts, we saw nothing...nor did others that we talked to.  Oh well, can't win them all.
The scenery is real nice, and there are many areas you can stop to get the shot you want.  
Below is very similar to the area I saw bears 10 years ago...but we were headed the other way.   May people stopped to scan the horizon with their binoculars....but nothing for anyone today, at least not during the mid-morning hours.
As we got to Roosevelt, we did hit some road construction.  The rock formations in this area just south of Roosevelt is different, but with the traffic and construction, we did not get a good shot of it outside of this one as we waited for our side of the road to get the go ahead to proceed.
At Roosevelt we turned right (east) and headed to the north-east exit of the park.  And we rapidly started seeing wildlife....
 Well, the above wildlife is something we are not looking for....but it does look like these kids were having fun.
Oh, and this area has its own herd of Buffalo.  There was an article I ran into today which said that the parks Buffalo is about 500 head larger this year than last....good for them.
At least this small group knew how to get across the street without causing a mess...no mess on the street and no messing with traffic.
A bit further we came to an area with signs which say "Do not stop", followed by an area where a small group of heavy-duty photographer types were hanging out.  A few with lens which would have a hard time fitting through the window of our car.  Along the right side are these signs, below.
So with my curiosity raised, I headed over to the camera buffs and asked what the situation was.  Apparently an older, dead buffalo was found up the hillside yesterday, about 1,000 yards or more from the road.  A group of wolves were up there feasting early in the morning, and the park rangers are sure that the Grizzly Bears were not too far behind.  

I surmised that the "no stopping" signs a short distance away was because the bear could be coming off the hill on north side of the road, crossing to the south side to get to their free lunch.  They also could be coming anywhere off the south side hills too.  It is prime bear country, much like we had been in earlier.  Also, there was a ranger going up and down the road for about a half mile either way, and as we left, two more rangers in hybrid cars were there to assist.  We thought about staying....but even if there was a bear, getting a picture with our camera was going to be a long shot.

I did see some Pronghorn way up the hill a bit east of where the dead buffalo is said to lay.  The Pronghorn are the fastest mammals in North America, capable of running at speeds in excess of 55 mph. They see very well....equal to a powerful telescope.  Pronghorns like the open where their eyesight allows them to spot danger at long distances, and then they run away from it.

Now there was no way I was going to get a picture of them that far off.  I even tried getting one through the binoculars...with a little luck...just to show Marcia that they were there because she doesn't do binoculars, and they were too far way to see without them since they blend in with the grass so well.  So below is what I was able to put together....
The Pronghorn are the light brown dots in the very upper right corner of the picture.  Later we missed the opportunity to get a picture of one much closer...but conditions did not allow for me to stop, and when we went back, it had already vanished into the depths of the dropping hillside. 

We decided to head on to Mammoth Hot Springs and to the north entrance of the park.  The landscape was nice, although a heavy smoke was showing up as we got closer and closer to Mammoth.
Above is the Yellowstone Petrified Redwood Tree.  The following is the wording on the monument about this tree.  “This petrified redwood is a clue to a warmer, damper, more violent Yellowstone landscape. Anatomically the trunk is indistinguishable from present-day redwoods in California.  When a chain of volcanoes erupted here in Eocene times 50 million years ago, they triggered massive landslides into mountain and valley streams. The rolling mix of ash, water and sand buried whole forests. Before the trees could rot, abundant silica in the volcanic flow plugged living cells, creating 'forests of stone'.”
 The mountains, the green and gold hills...all so lovely.
Below you can see the haze in the sky in the upper left corner...it gets worse...there are fires in Yellowstone, nothing big as of yet, but the biggest one is in the north-west corner of the park.
 Below you can really see the contrast of blue sky and hazy sky.
There are so many areas where one would think that the wildlife is living in abundance.  I think they just come out when they want to come out, and they go to the vast areas of the park which are not traveled daily by people in autos.
Yellowstone became a National Park on March 1, 1872.  It was our Nation's first National Park.  In 1903 the railroad finally came to Gardiner. Montana, and as part of this, a welcome to Yellowstone arch was erected.  Today is known as the Roosevelt Arch.
Above is the backside of the arch as we had just exited the park and were heading into Gardiner..  Below is the front side of the arch.  Along the top is the wording: "For the Benefit and Enjoyment of the People."  The small plaque on the left side of the arch says "Yellowstone National Park."  On the right the plaque says "Created by Act of Congress, March 1, 1872."
A short ways up the road and there is this sign below.
As you pass through the Mammoth area, you also pass through the Park's Headquarters, known as Fort Yellowstone.  For the first 30+ years, the military ran the park.  Now the Park Service runs it, and uses the old barracks and buildings for quarters for staff and for storage.
Above is an overlook of Fort Yellowstone from the lower Mammoth Terrace.  We ate lunch at this overlook.  Before we got to the overlook, we passed Liberty Cap, a large rock formation in the Mammoth Springs area.
But it was now time for lunch being after 1 pm.  The overlook provided some more wonderful views as we ate our standard PB&J sandwiches, apple, and our Sun Chips.
Today's view is out the front right window of the car.  The white area in the trees is part of the Mammoth Terrace.  The view below is out the right rear.  That pass to the right leads to the Roosevelt Arch and the town of Gardiner.
And of course, if it has something to do with food, than Skruffy has to put her noise into it, as she does her customary posie between our shoulders watching Marcia put together the sandwiches.
Below is a better picture of the Mammoth Lower Terrace that we can see from the overlook.  Please note that just under the steam there is running hot water that comes up and out onto this rock formation.
After lunch we pulled into the Mammoth Hot Springs Upper Terrace area.  At first it looked like this was a walking route only, but you can drive your car around a loop of just under a mile, and it is well worth the drive.
There are many different rock formations, and the various colors that the hot spring water has painted onto the rocks.
 And this wide variety of living and dead trees throughout the area.
These two pictures, above and below, are my favorites of this area.  The rocks glisten from the moister of the water,  there are so many different shades of colors, and the rocks are so massive.
 I call them rocks, but they really are a build up of calcium carbonate, which comes from the limestone that the hot water travels through. They figure the water is part of the Norris Geyser Basin (see map), and that this is where the faults that run under the ground allow the hot water to escape. 
There are many signs which warn one to not walk out onto the encrusted areas....that it is hard to tell just how thick the crust might be...and that falling through the crust, one might very well end up in very hot water.  Just last weekend, and 37 year old man from Utah ignored the warning, he fell through and was severely burned.
Now we finish the final leg of the upper loop as we head to the Norris Geyser area.  At first we are traveling through an intense rock land....the outer edge of the Caldera which was once part of the super volcano which helped to make Yellowstone what it is today.
This area is really not the highway, but a pullout which looks like it might have been part of the original highway way back when.  But it shows the rock formations which we were traveling through.

Above we come back to the highway, and very quickly come upon this small waterfall. 
Just over the hill, it like a whole another world....
 A world of meadows full of green and gold
Finally, we had one more stop to take...hoping that it might be a place we can find some mountain goats or big horn sheep or something....
 But alas, it was just another place for kids to climb on rocks...and yes, if you look closely, there a few kids up there somewhere.
So we decided to call it a day, and as we went through West Yellowstone I went into a Grocery Store to buy a pre-cooked baked chicken, some more apples, and another bag of Sun Chips.  The chicken was surprisingly good, and not bad at $6.50...but the apples and sun chips added another $6....sure glad we did our major shopping at Smiths near our stop at Glacier!  If you come here, come prepared, or come rich.

Tomorrow we may just go back to see if any bears show up near that dead buffalo....and we still have not seen the upper falls of the Yellowstone River yet either.....and...well, we will just have to see how the day goes.

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