Monday, May 23, 2011

Days 31 to 33—Yellowstone

After leaving Washington, we drove through Idaho and Montana to Yellowstone National Park. There we discovered an entirely new kind of traffic jam.
The bison come so close to the vehicles that you could almost touch them. You worry a little that they might get nervous and headbutt your car. In fact, after one poor fellow´s bison-destroyed car was a prayer request at the church we went to on Sunday, I started to take this more seriously.
Yellowstone has an abundance of wild life, which you can often see from the side of the road. Two tips for enjoying Yellowstone wildlife:
  1. Pull over every time you see a crowd of people stopped on the side of the road.
  2. Bring binoculars or a telephoto lens, so you can see what everyone else is (half of the time the animal is very far away).
You´ll see animals close enough to get nice pictures with 3x zoom, but you´ll miss the excitement half the time. Also, you should probably listen to the safety stuff that´s all over the park and not get too close. I believe this is an elk.
Despite prophecies of the pending rapture, we decided to spend several days camping in the caldera of a supervolcano. Thankfully, the world did not end, nor did the volcano erupt, and we managed to enjoy the beautiful effects of this volcanic activity without undue danger.
The beautiful colours in some of the thermal features are caused by theromophilic (heat-loving) bacteria. These extremophiles live in some pretty extreme conditions. Needless to say, the walkways over these areas are great. I really prefer when my shoes don´t melt or get corroded by acid.
I´m fairly sure that the bacteria that make Grand Prismatic Spring so colourful are the prettiest bacteria in the world.
As we rounded the corner on one path, a large bison was just getting up from his afternoon nap. As we didn´t have the car or anything else to protect us, this was a little too exciting.
Most of the trees in this area are lodgepole pines. This continually made me think of Michael Chabon´s Summerland, my favourite baseball-fantasy novel, where a lodgepole pine is the backbone of the worlds.
Yellowstone is a huge park, and so you mainly end up driving between the different areas and then parking and following a trail or boardwalk though an area. Due to the elevation the paths along the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone were still covered in snow, but we could still drive between lookout points along the rim.
In places the cliffs have mineral deposit from thermal activity that are beautifully coloured.
The frequently-photographed view from Artist´s Point allows you to see the lower Yellowstone Falls plunging into the 308 feet into the canyon.
Later we explored West Thumb Geyser Basin, which includes the ¨fishing cone¨ which was once famous for being the only place you could catch a trout and boil it with out taking it off the line. Of course modern safety and environmental preservation concerns have put an end to this. More fish for the loons, I guess.
I usually wear polarized sunglasses, so sometimes I am surprised to see things in my pictures I did´t see with my eyes, like these reflected trees.
One of the remarkable things about Yellowstone is how much life manages to thrive in some pretty tough conditions. Deep snow in winter, heat and acidity from thermal features don´t stop the plants and animals from taking advantage of this unique habitat. There´s no guarantee the thermal features won´t change and ruin a trees stop, either.
There are several ¨predictable¨ geysers in Yellowstone, although Old Faithful is predictable within 8 minutes either way, so unless you like sitting for 30 minutes to 2 hours to wait for another prediction, it may be the only big eruption you see. There are always some little ones going off.
After Geyser watching for awhile, we went into Yellowstone Lodge and had some coffee and ice cream. The atmosphere in here is really amazing, I would love to stay here someday.
This one´s just pretty.
Hey look! A Baby Bison!
Our last day in Yellowstone was Sunday, and we went into West Yellowstone to Community Protestant Church. The people there were very welcoming, although it was still fairly sparsely attended, given how early in the season it was. They have some interesting stain glassed windows, with places from Israel on one side and counterparts in Yellowstone on the other. Afterwards we went back north in the park to see the Mammoth Hot Springs. It´s amazing how spring springs up early near the warms of the thermal springs.
Finally, we went animal watching in the Lamar Valley towards the northeast park exit. I had told the park ranger my sad tale about how, as a Canadian, I had never seen a moose, and this is where I was told I might find one. We saw some pronghorn sheep early on.
A grizzly bear was sniffing around in a valley off the side of the road. We saw the cars lined up, and went to see want the commotion was about. Note that this Grizzly Bear was photographed with 12x digital zoom, and was probably a little close for comfort.
After driving almost all the way to the Northeast exit, I finally saw my Moose. This youthful Moose was peacefully grazing by the side of the road.
Since we were so close to the northeast exit, we decided to see if we could leave that way, even though our GPS kept insisting that we ¨perform a U-Turn when possible¨. Just outside the park we saw two more Moose. Unfortunately, they ran away.
We stopped at this store to ask for directions. Unhappily, the northward Beartooth pass, which is the longest highway above 10,000 ft in elevation, was still closed, so we had a very careful animal watch on the way back to the north entrance at twillight. Someday, we´d like to go back and drive the other way.

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