Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Yellowstone National Park via Denver

[Kyle]2016 is the Centenary of the USA National Parks – it was also to be our last year in the USA for some time. So we found ourselves wanting to get out and see the parks just at the same time as they parks were all spruced up and ready for visitors. First on our list was Yellowstone.

We started the trip with a visit to my high-school friend Geoffrey and his wife Sarah in Denver, and they were planning on joining us in Yellowstone. They were also in the middle of remodelling their house and with other pressures Geoffrey alone joined us leaving Sarah to man the fort. While in Colorado, and in anticipation of some future high altitude hiking, Maryanne and I planned a day hike atop Mount Evans (about 50 miles west of Denver). Mount Evans has the distinction of having the highest auto road in North America – the road goes (almost) all the way to the top at 14,226ft; we hiked up from 12,800 ft and made a loop of it – passing several peaks and passes, along with big horn sheep and mountain goats. This was Maryanne’s first real experience at such an altitude and she was not a fan of the uphill ‘walk’. Other days we simply took the dogs for a walk, helped out in the house, or just relaxed and socialized.

Eating, relaxing and hiking in Denver

A five hour drive from Denver took us to Cody (a wild west kind-a town), and the following day we entered Yellowstone with Maryanne keeping a watch for bears. Yellowstone is famed for its geothermal activity – geysers, vents, steam, and extremophile bacteria in rainbow colors, which all provide impressive displays. I’d been years ago, but this was Maryanne and Geoffrey’s first time; we were all impressed. Yellowstone also has plenty of bison (note: they are not buffalo, but you wouldn’t know it from the cowboy songs!). We saw individuals and large herds, and even some just trotting along the road messing with traffic. We did eventually see a grizzly bear, but from Maryanne’s perspective (she only saw a bit of rump fur between the trees) it didn’t count in any way.

We spent 3 days in Yellowstone and drove, hiked and enjoyed. Many of the hikes were steep and tough, but wow, the waterfalls and the views were well worth it. The first day we hiked up the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone (a deep v-shaped canyon cut by the Yellowstone river revealing dramatic multi-color rock). Every corner we came around and every vista had us exclaiming ‘Wow!’. along the way we made a small detour to descend Uncle Tom’s Trail which is primarily a very long and steep staircase in the cliff to view the base of one of the large falls. We looped back to the car with a walk away from the canyon through some thermal meadows covered in ash and sparse with trees. Our main accommodation was outside the west of the park in Idaho, so we spent the rest of the day driving in that general direction and stopping at any points of interest (stopping for pizza in the first town out).

Our first day in Yellowstone did not disappoint - Bison and waterfalls

Day 2 of the trip the main goal was to climb Mount Washburn, atop of which is a fire spotting station. Mt. Washburn is the highest point in Yellowstone park, so there are spectacular 360° views even as far as the Grand Tetons to the south. On the way down we passed bighorn sheep and on the way up were treated to chipmunks and birds and flowers to detract from the hard work of climbing. At the start of the trail a park ranger was conducting a ‘bear aware’ survey, we were fully prepared with bells and spray (as is advised).

Mount Washburn and views

After a healthy hike we headed for Mammoth Hot Springs and it was here we started to encounter the stereotypical throngs that July in the park is known for! Parking lots were all full and roadside parking seemed to stretch for a couple of miles. Mammoth Hot Springs was the first of the major thermal features we were to see. Hot water has be bubbling out of the earth for so long that huge structures of limestone have formed over a giant area, some ready to encroach on nearby buildings, long ago built at was perceived as a safe distance!

Mammoth Hot Springs

The Third day was a chance to catch up with the remaining major thermal features on the west side of the park; the most famous of which is Old Faithful. We started with a loop walk that took us past several different thermal features and swung by some lesser known geysers (impressive to us) including some that erupt pretty much continuously, bubbling mud pools, and hot springs. The highlight of the day was probably the Grand Prismatic Spring and its surrounding features. Here the scale and color are amazing, even the hot steam floating on top of the pools refract the beautiful colors of the prevailing bacteria, giving the appearance of colored steam. While the deep center is blue, as the water shallows different colors of bacteria grow, each with a distinctive color, leaving a pool ringed with a rainbow. Of course we also HAD to visit Old Faithful; while other ‘features’ were viewed either from the car, or with a short walk around a boardwalk loop – here there is practically stadium seating for visitors to view the explosions of water reliably showing every 90 minutes. There is also (a much less visited) 3 mile loop to view some equally impressive geothermal features my favorite was the Morning Glory pool. Timing looked perfect to also see the more remote Lone Star Geyser and we took the 5 mile walk (round trip) to arrive in good time for the expected performance, only to discover it had erupted an hour early ☹ and we missed it by 9 minutes!

So much beauty to enjoy

The following day we returned to Denver, this time driving through the Teton National Park. America really is a beautiful place and we were both really happy that we were finally seeing so much of it (but we should have started much sooner!).

The Grand Tetons

Once back in Denver we dragged Sarah out for one last hike in-between jobs – this time to Eldorado Canyon.

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