Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Spring in Yellowstone

My first introduction to Yellowstone was – I believe – sometime in my elementary school days, although I can't really remember exactly. Some friends of my parents had taken a big trip out west, and when they returned they hosted a slide show of pictures from their trip at their house for a group of friends. I have a pretty vivid memory of sitting in the room watching a video of a boiling mud pot. It made quite an impression on me.

I made my first trip to Wyoming (and Yellowstone) in 2004, and I've visited the Park probably a dozen times or more since then. In spite of that, I still have not seen it all! There are so many hiking trails that lead to hidden mountain lakes, wonderful waterfalls and interesting thermal areas that are off the beaten path, and I've been on almost none of them. Not only that, the Park is different every time you go – even if you're only visiting the main attractions. The thermal features can change significantly from year to year, with some areas becoming much more or much less active. And while you can pretty much be guaranteed to see buffalo whenever you go, you never know what other animals you may see from one visit to the next. Grizzlies, bighorn sheep, black bear, elk, moose, fox, coyote, deer, antelope, wolf... not to mention a plethora of smaller critters, birds of all types and sizes... And don't forget the wildflowers, insects and butterflies. Things change a lot with the changing of seasons also – from baby animals in the spring to majestic antlered bull elk in the fall.

That's why I can't stay away from the place! It's ever-changing and never boring. And that's why, if you ever have the opportunity to visit, you really should. (And bring a good camera.)

Our first visit for this year was back in May, just a week before Grandma & Grandpa H. flew out to see us. It was a beautiful day and we had a great time. I took a ton of pictures, as usual (hooray for digital cameras, cause I never could have afforded that much film...), and (as usual) I want to share all some of them with you! (I'll try to practice restraint...)

Mountain Girl requested me to take this picture. Go figure. :)

Meet our new puppy! He's a Corgi (mostly Pembroke Welsh Corgi, with just a little touch of Australian Shepherd mixed in), and the newest addition to our family.

This picture is from our first sighting of the cow moose and her calf (if you haven't read the calf's big adventure story yet, click here). The calf stayed hidden pretty well, but I caught a couple glimpses of him. You can see him - well, just his nose - just to the right of the mom. He's the dark shape right up against the mom's front leg.

In addition to seeing the moose before we got to the East Gate of the Park, we also saw a couple of buffalo and a group of bighorn sheep rams. It was shaping up to be a good day already! Shortly after we entered the Park, we came across another ram. This guy was pretty nice-sized, too! He was running down the road, and we were stuck behind a few cars that were stuck behind him, so we got to watch him for a little while. He finally decided to get off the road and stop running so he could catch his breath.

We've been in Yellowstone at the end of May before, but we've never seen it as snowy as we did this time! It was a cold winter with a lot of snowfall compared to recent years, but it still surprised us. At Sylvan Pass we could see where an avalanche had come down the slope. I missed getting a picture of it, but there was a decent sized area of tumbled snow with broken trees and branches sticking out of it. It came right up to the edge of the road, so possibly it had even gone across the road and they had to plow it. Here is a picture of the snow in Sylvan Pass.

When we got to Yellowstone Lake we were amazed to see that it was still largely covered with ice! Not a solid sheet of ice, but the remains of it – as you can see here.

The kids were getting restless, so we stopped at the Mud Volcano area so we could all get out and stretch our legs. We walked the little loop that goes through that area. It is partially boardwalks, and partially paved trail. It's not that the trail is really difficult, but it does go up a pretty decent hill... and we had made the mistake of leaving Little Mr. in his car seat and carrying him that way. Man, did that get heavy after a while! He was asleep, so I had figured that it would be better than waking him up to put him in the stroller. (Yeah - it wasn't.)

Anyway, here are a few of the features in the Mud Volcano area. 

Dragon's Mouth Spring

Here is the Mud Volcano itself.

Sour Lake.

So many colors! (These two photos are from the area called Sizzling Basin.)

I like the contrast in this picture between the sulphur and steam of the thermal area in the foreground and the blue freshwater river in the background. This was taken overlooking the Mud Geyser area.

And this is Mud Caldron.

The Mud Volcano is a nice little thermal area to stop at and explore. Since we were there, I read somewhere (it may have been on the NPS website, but I can't remember) that there are some really interesting thermal features behind where you are allowed to go on your own, but there is a ranger-led tour that you can go on that takes you further back in. I thought that sounded like a fun thing to do.

It was nearly lunch time, so we continued on down the road towards the Canyon area. This is the Hayden Valley.

We saw some elk.

And some ducks. These are (I believe) a pair of Lesser Scaup.

And these are Mallards.

We were hunting for a picnic area, but I guess everyone else had the same idea because every single picnic table we found was already occupied. So we improvised. And our parking lot/sidewalk picnic was... fine. The seating was a little uncomfortable. The spot was not very private. And the wind kept blowing the plates away (so PJ got his exercise chasing them down... lol). But we had fun anyway!

After we ate we took the kids over to see the Canyon and the Lower Falls. We didn't make it to this area last year, so this was their first time seeing it.

It is always beautiful!

And very unique.

Then we got back in the car and switched drivers. :)

Next we stopped at the brink of the Upper Falls. The Upper Falls are the smaller of the two. The river comes pouring towards the drop...

...and it is amazing to stand right there at the brink of the falls as the water thunders over the edge.

The spray mixed with the sunshine and made this pretty little rainbow.

There is also a viewing platform at the brink of the Lower Falls (the big one). I've never been to that one, but I imagine it is pretty impressive.

And we found some snow piles! Yay!

We also stopped at a Canyon overlook.

Next we drove up over Dunraven Pass. There was quite a lot of snow up there too. It was up over the roof of the car in a lot of places. This road was still closed just a couple of days before we were there, but it was now open for the season.

Coming off the mountain.

A little while later we came across a wildlife jam. I was hoping for a bear, and so were the kids... and there he was! (Can you spot him?)

Sleeping. Up a tree.

It was neat to see this black bear, but he didn't move at all while we were watching him. (How is he not falling out of the tree???) Mountain Girl was a little disappointed. She said, “I want to see a bear what's walking around.”

I was determined to get some pictures of some waterfowl this time. We have seen a lot of different ducks and other birds on our trips into the Park, but I haven't gotten many on camera. PJ... (I love you, PJ) …well, he doesn't really like to stop the car for birds, he prefers to watch the bigger, furrier animals. But...

Ruddy Ducks.

Ruddy Ducks. The one with the blue bill is the male, the plain brown one (flying) is the female.

American Coot (I think).

Yellow-Headed Blackbird.

We found all these guys at Floating Island Lake. (And even PJ admitted that they were pretty fun to watch. Thanks for stopping, babe.)

The kids had wanted to go up to Mammoth Hot Springs, but we were running out of time for that since we weren't planning to eat supper in the Park, so we turned around and started heading back towards the Northeast Gate. On our way, I spotted the sign for the Petrified Tree. Having never been back there before, I asked PJ if we could drive back real quick and he agreed. The road to Petrified Tree kinda goes straight back off the main road, then turns and goes behind a hill, so you can't see the tree from the main road. Neither could we see this from the main road.

A bear what's walking around! Hooray!

There weren't a whole lot of people back there, and we were able to watch this black bear for a while, which thrilled the kids. He was just moseying along, eating grass. (Yes, bears eat grass. They are omnivores. Biker Dude just learned some new vocabulary – carnivore, herbivore, omnivore.)

After watching him, we didn't even have time to get out of the car and go see the Petrified Tree! But here's a snapshot of it that I took out the car window.

And of course there were buffalo in the Lamar Valley. And people who were walking way too close to the buffalo. (Please, if you ever visit Yellowstone, do yourself a favor and give the animals some space. Please.)

The Lamar Valley is a place where you are supposed to be able to see Yellowstone's wolves. And I have never seen a wolf yet. Not even once. Not even a glimpse of one. And it has been ten years since I first set foot in this place. We were driving through there in the early evening this time... Still no wolves. Maybe another time... For today... just more buffalo.

After exiting the Park, we drove for a little while before we stopped and ate supper. We ended up getting to Dead Indian Pass (on the Chief Joseph Scenic Highway) just at sunset. 


It was so beautiful up there, and my camera didn't really capture the scene that well (believe it or not) so you'll have to just come out here and see it for yourself!

We were home after dark and we carried sleeping kids into the house and put them in their beds. It was a peaceful end to a beautiful, relaxing day. It was wonderful to be able to take a family day after being so busy lately. I highly recommend it! The mountains are essential to the preservation of my sanity (lol). Where do you go to unwind? Feel free to comment below!

"You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; 
the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, 
and all the trees of the field will clap their hands."
-Isaiah 55: 12 (NIV)

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