States visited: 49!

visited 49 states (98%)
Create your own visited map of The United States
Miles driven so far -
LOOP 1 (Aug 2009 - Aug 2010): 29,000
LOOP 2 (May - August 2012): 10,800

Highest altitude with camper: 11,158ft (I-70, CO)

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Yellowstone National Park: Sunday, June 20th

Happy Father’s Day to Dave (and of course to my wonderful Dad, sorry we're so far away), he’s an amazing Dad who deserves 100% the love and adoration the kids have for him.  He was delivered breakfast in bed: cinnabuns, fruit, juice and coffee, along with cards, what a great way to start the day!

There was a family in an Outback camping opposite us who we chatted with the previous day.  As they were getting ready to leave, they asked to look around our camper.  We love sharing all the mods (modifications) that Dave’s done to the trailer, there are usually a couple that people leave saying they’ll definitely be copying.  I still need to put a post in somewhere of all the mods he’s done on this camper, there are SO many.

We decided to spend the rest of the day in Yellowstone National Park; the world’s first National Park created in 1872.  This Park is HUGE!  It is a geological smoking gun that illustrates how violent the Earth can be.  One event overshadows all others: Some 640,000 years ago, an area many miles square at what is now the center of the park suddenly exploded.  In minutes the landscape was devastated. Fast-moving ash flows covered thousands of square miles.  At the centre only a smoldering caldera remained, a collapsed crater 45 by 30 miles.  At least two other cataclysmic events preceded this one.  Boiling hot springs, fumaroles, mud spots, and geysers serve as reminders that another could occur.

We came in through the south entrance, past Snake River, Lewis Lake, Grant Village, West Thumb and the incredibly beautiful Yellowstone Lake to Fishing Bridge.  Here we went into the Visitor Center to look around and pick up Junior Ranger books.  Understandably, given the size of the park and the extensive things to do and see, the Ranger carefully went through each book with the children; she was very thorough in explaining what they needed to do and also extremely knowledgeable about the park in general – it was her 42nd season working here!

One of the questions on Jake and Caitlin’s books required them to read the signs on the fishing bridge.  This used to be packed with shoulder-to-shoulder fishermen until the 1970s, at which point, Rangers realized that the area was being incredibly over-fished and the once dense trout population was dwindling to nothing.  Fishing is now banned on the bridge and the trout population is steadily increasing once again, this has brought back a number of birds to the area, including the pelican.  While we were looking, a Park Volunteer came along to measure the depth of the river and check its temperature.  She was kind enough to allow the kids to help her and they lowered her measuring string into the water.  The thermometer was not accurate for lower temperatures because it was designed for measuring the temperatures in the mud volcanoes and hot pools; she said, “Let’s just say, it’s cold in there!”

From the Fishing Bridge area, we followed the Yellowstone River up to Canyon Village.  This part of the road took us through Hayden Valley, known as a great spot to see bison.  As we drove along, we began to see small groups of 3 or 4, suddenly as we rounded the bend, fields of bison emerged in front of us.  We pulled over, it was impossible to stay the required number of feet away from them as they were practically next to the truck!  A little further away a baby was nursing, such a neat sight.  Given the time of year, there were many babies, so cute.

We stopped in at the Canyon Visitor and Education Center to search for more Junior Ranger answers.  This is an impressive Center with a fairly new exhibit.  This area is known as the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone with trails and viewpoints on both the North and South Rims.
We walked the Brink of Upper Falls Trail on the North Rim; this gave a dramatic view of the colliding currents going over the brink. On our way out, we saw an awesome elk sitting in the grass.

From there, we drove out to the Artist Point car park on the South Rim.  This view is one of the most photographed points in Yellowstone and even though we were here early in the season, the car park was pretty full.  The first thing we noticed when we got out of the truck was the mosquitoes, ugh, our least favorite insect!  We’re still not sure why they were so bad just at this area but it still spurred us to move at a much faster pace than we would normally have done!

This overlook is framed by the canyon walls with forests for a backdrop, the Yellowstone river thunders more than 308ft over Lower Falls.  From the upper overlook, we could see the canyon in both directions.  It was beautiful, shame about those pesky bugs.  As we started back, the rain came down, creating a gorgeous fresh pine aroma.

We followed the Yellowstone River back along the road, watching a storm forming in the distance, through Hayden Valley (more bison and elk) to Sulfur Caldron.

This is one of the most acidic springs in Yellowstone.  Its turbulent waters have a pH of approximately 1-2, which is about as acidic as car battery acid or stomach fluids.  Its name comes from the large amount of free sulfur in its waters.  The stench was truly overwhelming; the kids were particularly less than impressed and kept their fingers on their noses the whole time!

From one stink, we crossed over to the Mud Volcano area and entered another stink!  It was a little alarming to read:

Toxic gases exist in Yellowstone.  Dangerous levels of hydrogen sulfide and carbon dioxide have been measured in some hydrothermal areas.  If you feel sick, leave the location immediately.

The kids didn’t see this until later, the older two were quick to comment how sick they felt while we were walking around, clearly we’ve done them irrevocable harm.

The fascinating and mysterious mud features found here are some of the most acidic in the park.  This acidity plays a part in making them different from most hot springs and geysers.  Hydrogen sulfide gas is present deep in the earth at Mud Volcano.  Some microorganisms use this gas as an energy source.  They help convert the gas to sulfuric acid, which breaks down rock to wet clay mud.  Hydrogen sulfide steam, carbon dioxide, and other gases explode through the layers of mud in dramatic or delightful ways.

In contrast, the more alkaline waters in most of Yellowstone’s geyser basins react with underground rock to line subsurface cracks and fissures with silica, creating the natural ‘plumbing’ systems of geysers and hot springs.

We walked the middle-loop around Mud Volcano.  We passed Mud Geyser first.   In 1870, muddy water exploded 50 feet into the air every few hours.  The geyser died in the 20th century, its plumbing clogged with mud and gravel.  In 1993, soil temperatures skyrocketed for unknown reasons and trees began dying around the geyser’s south rim.  By January 1995, a new feature on the south bank of Mud Geyser had burst onto the scene.  Steam vents and shallow pools sizzled.  In 1999, mud pots formed and then exploded, leaving a deep hole with more sizzling features and mud.

We continued up ‘Cooking Hillside’ to Sizzling Basin and Churning Caldron.  These were like witch’s caldrons, bubbling and steaming crazily.  These were pretty inactive, covered with a thick mat of microorganisms prior to 1978-79 when a swarm of earthquakes struck.

Next, we passed Black Dragon’s Caldron (which burst onto the landscape along a crack in the earth in 1948, uprooted and coated nearby trees in thick mud) and Sour Lake.  This lake is named for its acidic or ‘sour’ water, it may look like a pleasant swimming hole, but its water would burn skin like battery acid.  Most of its acid comes from microorganisms that create sulfuric acid as they consume sulfur.  These microorganisms also give the lake its neat color.

We stopped to look at Grizzly Fumarole and learned about the different names of features that erupt from the surface.  It depends on the sizes and forces.  We continued to Mud Volcano.  Early explorers to Yellowstone described this feature as a ‘most repulsive and terrifying sight’, a volcano-like cone, 30 feet high and 30 feet wide with mud erupting to cover tall trees.  It’s likely that a violent eruption blew out the cone’s top, leaving the crater we could see.  Rich in iron sulfides and powered by heavy gas discharge (pee-you!), the gray-colored water constantly undercuts the back wall.

Finally, we checked out Dragon’s Mouth Spring.  Apparently this feature has captured imaginations for centuries.  The Crow Indians saw the steam as snorts of an angry bull bison.  An unknown European American gave it the current name.  Its previous names have included Gothic Grotto, Blowing Cavern and The Belcher.  This surging action has decreased since 1994; no one is sure why.  In 1999, more dramatic changes occurred: The water temperature dropped ten degrees and the color changed from green to chalky white.  The kids very unwillingly posed for a photo, we could barely raise a smile though because the steam and smell was really overwhelming to them.

We stopped to take pictures at Le Hardys Rapids.  These rapids come alive later in the month with jumping trout; must be an incredible sight, I’m sure it must also be a good bear-spotting sight at that time.

On the way home, we popped into Grant Village Visitor Center Fire Exhibit.  Another Outbackers family called and said they’d stop in at our campsite on the way past.  Flagg Ranch is still a good 40 minutes from Grant Village but they were close by our location.  The Greene Family has 3 boys, similar ages to our kids: Jack (11), Henry (8) and Charles (6), so while we chatted, they ran around outside. We made plans to meet up the next day for dinner.  Dave also went over to another Outback across the way which was sporting an Outbackers sticker on their camper: Hodgepodge.  Becca and Nathan were happy to stay and play with their kids while I finished making dinner.


Geoff F said...

Brilliant photos from Yellowstone.It will be tough for this odyssey to end.
Your inhouse auditor has just spotted your deliberate error on the stats. The number of photos taken is incredible, especially when the Valentines are such time travellers!
Love Dad xxxxxx

The Valentines said...

LOL, ooops, good spot Dad! It's had the wrong year for weeks/months; glad to have you onboard as my editor-in-chief!