Polecat Hot Springs, Grand Teton National Park, Summer 2017

We went on a hike to the Polecat Hot Springs. These are actually in the John D Rockefeller Memorial Parkway area between the Tetons and Yellowstone near Flagg Ranch. The Snake River flows south out of Yellowstone through this area and into Grand Teton National Park where it becomes Jackson Lake. Fishing on this part of the Snake River is said to be very good. There are many fewer people fishing and the fish are less stressed. Access to the river seemed easy and many fish-floated the seven or eight miles from a launch point at Flagg Ranch down to Jackson Lake.

Flagg Ranch is not now nor ever was a ranch. It was an early Army outpost guarding the southern approaches to Yellowstone. It got its name from all of the flags that flew over the base. There was no explaining the double g at the end. There was a lodge, cabins and campground there for a long time until it burned down. A new log lodge was built closer to the Snake River which turned out to be a poor location as it was in the flood plain of the Snake River. So in the 1990’s they took the lodge apart and moved it about a mile to its present location.

The trailhead to Polecat Creek and the Polecat Hot Springs started near the lodge. Some maps said 1.5 miles. The signs said 1.2 miles. None were very accurate. It turned out to be closer to 4.5 miles round trip when you figured in all the connections and links from one trail to another.

The Polecat Creek is closer to a river based on what we saw there. It was pretty substantial. We didn’t see any fishing people which seemed odd but there were lots of white swans (not seen here). This water is warmed a bit by the Hot Springs.

A large area north of Flagg Ranch burned in the summer of 2016. The south entrance to Yellowstone was closed for some time as was the only way into the northern entrance to the Tetons.

Even after a year the woods still smelled strongly of burned wood. In most places the fires moved through quickly burning everything on the ground and the trees. Not long enough to completely burn the trees, just long enough to kill them and leave them standing. The grasses and ground cover seem to be coming back in many areas. In areas where it was particularly hot they take longer.

There were areas where the only burned part on the ground was at the bases of the trees. Sparks and embers from other parts of the fire blew into the upper branches of these trees and set the tops on fire and as the fire burned down the tree the burning bits fell to the ground and burned around the tree but not enough to spread the fire along the ground.

The trail mostly went through the woods and then opened up into a large grassy meadow. This seemed like an easy trail, mostly soft loose sandy material. By the end we each had a sore knee and were pretty tired. Four plus miles in soft loose sand is not as easy as it seems.

I never figured out what these plants were but they were fairly common. And big, 5-6 ft tall. And right at the top was a most curious looking red dragon fly. There were lots of them in this area near the hot springs.

The red dragonflies were about 3-4” across. If you were patient one would land on something nearby and you could get pretty close. Their wings, especially near the ends were nearly transparent. I have never seen anything like these before. Maybe it has to do with the Hot Springs which are full of sulphur and other chemicals.

These are times when I wished I had a better camera but the iPhone works pretty well. Maybe a new camera or a new iPhone X is in my future.

The Hot Springs are an entire meadow of oozing, hot smelly water which collects in small streams. People used to come up here to sit in the pools which at times are bigger. Signs now warn to stay out of the water because of the high temperatures (up to 180°), the nasty chemicals in the water and worse, the bacteria that grow in the water. Since this all flows down into the Polecat Creek maybe that is why there are not as many fish there.

The red area was just like the hot springs in Mammoth, a hard layer of built-up mineral deposits with water flowing over it. This water was very hot.

Further up a side branch enough flowed in from the side to make a small cascade.

The bacteria and algae formed long stands of slimy hair that swayed in the current. It was not bad looking but why would anyone get in this primordial soup of goo.

There is always time for a sit-down break, even if it is on a food storage box where the bears come looking for a snack. Hiking pole at the ready, just in case.

And of course we had our can of souvenir bear spray. They are about $50. Signs everywhere say you need them. Only about 1 in 100,000 visitors will come close enough to a bear to need it. I guess I wasn’t going be that one without it. You can’t take them on an airplane on the way home, they are not returnable. So it is now a souvenir. Maybe I can interest a mail carrier in a serious dog deterrent.

The way home lead through more burned areas.

The burned bark is like a big blister. It just peels off in big slabs. It is hard to see the forest like this but it is a natural event. The heat causes the pine cones to open and the new seeds to pop out. The burned forest floor leaves little to compete with new seedlings until they get established. It may take 30 years for the new trees to get to the size of the burned trees.

A nice hike. A wide variety of things to look at. Weeks later we are still nursing sore knees.

More later,

Roger and Susan

The Big Blink, Grand Teton National Park, August 21, 2017

Where were you on this day? The day of the total eclipse of the sun whose shadow passed across a big chunk of America. We were in Grand Teton National Park just south of Signal Mountain on a two rut road for 4WD vehicles only. Two years ago we drove the rocky road all the way to the southern end and then on into Jackson. A landslide this spring cut the road in half and a ranger we spoke two said it was unlikely it would be repaired.

When we heard about the Eclipse and where it would be visible we thought first about the summit of Signal Mountain, for a few seconds, and realized every body and their brother would think of that location. Then we remembered the 4WD Snake River Road and thought that is the spot! Not many would subject their automobiles to a road made up mostly of grapefruit sized rocks, deep dried-up mud holes and almost no chance of rescue if need be. Worst of all there wasn’t a porta-potti anywhere in sight.

There it is on the map circled in red, our goal. The road is not marked in any way. There is a gate to close it off. The turn off is about 12 miles south of Colter Bay. We expected traffic to be a nightmare at 8 AM but it wasn’t. We talked to some other folks in the campground who left at 6 AM heading for a spot near Gros Ventre right on the line of totality. That 45 min drive took them almost 2 hours. Everyone got up early for the traffic jam.

A ranger was at the entrance to the road. He said no fires, please, and agreed that this was going to be a great place to watch the event.

Looking north and south. Nothing much looking south. The sun at the appointed hour would be in the upper left hand corner of the lower picture. Some clouds when we got there but they moved away

Looking west towards the Tetons and east to the Snake River. You can see a car out there in the distance, the closest anyone else was to where we stopped.

Rocking chairs, a small table, a rug, snacks, coffee, cool glasses and all was ready for the big blink.

We were so cool. In the sun it was warm, low 70’s. There was lots to get ready for. But there was plenty of time, it took at least an hour for the moon to creep across the front of the sun. I was torn between watching for the exact moment the moon covered the sun and the shadow of the moon moving across the face of the mountains. We were about 7 miles from the peaks and the shadow moved at a half mile per second. So seeing the shadow on the face of the mountains was going to be a split second sort-of-thing.

This was with the special glasses over the lens on my iPhone. The moon is starting to cover the sun.

These pictures were just seconds apart. The face of the mountains just got darker in an instant. And then it was dark.

This lasted for about 1 min and 50 seconds while the moon hid the sun. The temperature dropped about 15°.

I wish I could say the next pictures were mine but they were taken by other RV travelers and posted on an RV site.

Somebody had a very big lens to get this picture.

This one looks pretty close to what we were seeing.

This one was very good. Look at the reflection on the guy’s bald head.

And then the moon moved on, slowly revealing the sun again. It was light again almost immediately. The temperature went up slowly. Most people started for home right away. We hung around for another hour enjoying the sun and the warmth. Several SUVs and trucks passed us heading back for the highway. When we were ready to leave there was no one in sight. A couple miles back to the highway. The ranger was still there, he said only nine went in and we were about the last to leave. He said radio chatter indicated lots of traffic further south.

Even the local grocery store got into it.

I hope you had a chance to see it, probably on TV.

More later,

Roger and Susan

Schwabacher’s Landing, Grand Teton National Park, Summer 2017

We visited this spot two years ago, we had to go back. This landing is on the east side of the Snake River. At one time it was a real river landing. Today it is mostly a calm backwater populated with ducks, geese and beavers. The beavers have built a series of dams that have made a chain of pools. Lots of wildlife to watch and amazing views of the Tetons.

It was a cloudy day, but calm. Mountains, forests, sky, and meadows – all reflected in the ponds.

And beaver lodges. We didn’t see any beavers but there were lots of ducks. Just past the beaver lodge at the left of this pond there was an overflow across the dam to another pond a couple feet lower. The ducks were sliding down the spillway to the lower pond and then swimming on.

The interaction between the clouds and mountains was fascinating.

The clouds moved just enough to give a quick view of the Grand Teton with just the peak still in the clouds.

This is a really nice place to visit. A short drive down a gravel road to the parking area found maybe 10 other cars there. And a horse trailer whose occupants and riders set off cross country up the river. A very short walk along the pond trails and you are usually alone. It is a quiet place with much to look at both very near and off in the distance. A place to just sit and look and listen.

Or to paint in real time.

More later,

Roger and Susan

Back to the Tetons, Colter Bay, Summer 2017

After a week in Madison we headed back to Colter Bay.

Solar Power

Our week in Madison was a good test of our solar power. We had no electric hookup there. We were in a partially shaded area, some days were partly cloudy, we had rain one evening. But for the week we generated about 17,000 watts of power going into the batteries from the sun. It was more than we used by a slim margin but enough to keep us in power. We did run our generator for two hours one morning in the middle of the week. The diesel fired boiler side of our Aqua Hot heating system had a thermostat die so it wouldn’t fire up. Fortunately the Aquahot will also heat the coach and water using electricity. So we turned on the generator, it powered the Aqua Hot which heated water and did some battery charging as a bonus.

Our goal was to be able to go 4-5 days without running the generator, just using solar power. In Madison it worked!

Colter Bay

Colter Bay is on the east side of Jackson Lake about 2/3 of the way north through the park. There is a marina where you can rent motorboats, canoes or kayaks, buy a fishing license or schedule one of several scenic boat trips. There is an RV campground with hookups, a campground without hookups, rustic log cabins or even more rustic tent cabins for rent. No lodge. There is a visitors center, a grocery and supplies store, a laundry, a gift store, a couple of restaurants and stables where you could schedule a horseback ride. There are several trail heads right here so plenty of hiking without having to drive anywhere. Leek’s Marina is just a couple miles up the lake and they have a good pizza place.

Without a lodge here most of the people staying here are not the tour bus types. The tour busses stop here but don’t stay long. So even on a busy day it never seems congested or crowded.

The RV campground is pretty roomy for a National Park RV campground.

Shady most of the day.

There are neighbors but this is a nice place. As campgrounds go it is somewhat expensive but for the location it is OK with us. Probably 1/3 of the spaces empty out each day and refill by the end of the day. It is full from May through the end of the season in early October when it and most of the park closes for the winter.

Being right next to Jackson Lake is one of our favorite things about this campground.

A short walk down the path and you are on the beach (round smooth rocks). It was a frequent destination in the afternoon.

Maybe not quite Hawaii like but we have our beach chairs just in case. It is usually fairly calm with a warm afternoon sun. At nearly 7,000 ft the sun felt pretty intense.

The water sparkled in the late afternoon sun which went behind the mountains long before it got dark giving us an extended twilight each evening.

And up the lake to the north, a warm evening glow.

Many days saw clouds roll across the mountains from west to east. Some days there was thunder. We had a bit of rain one evening and a sprinkle here and there. Usually by the time the sun was close to the mountains the clouds had gone away.

It is hard to describe this place, the way we feel when we are here. This part of the park feels and looks different from other parts. We like it here. It is unlike anywhere else we have been.

The mountains are very close, they just come right up out of the lake.

We were here two years ago as well. Take a look back at that post. I hope you have an opportunity to visit the Tetons and see just how wonderful this place is.

More later,

Roger and Susan

Mammoth Hot Springs, Tower Junction, Lamar Valley – Yellowstone National Park, Summer 2017

At Norris you can continue on north to Mammoth Hot Springs or go east towards Canyon Village and then north from there to Tower Junction and east into the Lamar Valley. We did both.

Mammoth Hot Springs

Mammoth Hot Springs is at the north end of Yellowstone near Gardiner, Montana. It has a whole hillside of terraced hot springs that flow out making big flat pools of mineral laden water. The edges build up from the minerals and the the water flows over the edges to make another pool below. The last time we were here was in 1980 and it seemed to us that the pools were much more active and colorful than they were this time. I am sure that there are seasonal and year to year variations. These Hot Springs have been here for thousands of years. When the park was first established there were private hotels and bath houses.

There was smoke in the air from fires in Montana. That is Mammoth in the distance. The lodge, park headquarters and the old Fort Yellowstone.

It seemed sort of dried up compared to what we recalled.

Parts still looked like what we remembered.

In many places the hot water just bubbled out creating there large mounds with water flowing down the surface.

The Army was the first caretaker of Yellowstone and established a major fort here with calvary barns, hospitals, barracks and headquarter buildings many of these are still here today.

This is an old photo of what the Fort looked like in the early 1900’s. It is still the main manmade feature at Mammoth Hot Springs.

The Officer Quarters are still here and still in use as permanent residences for Park Staff. The Park Headquarters are here and The Park Superintendent lives here as well.

There is a lodge here for visitors and cabins too. And a nice sit down dining room and a cafe. There is a general store that has just about anything including camping supplies and groceries. There is a gas station, a fire and rescue department, a Park Law Enforcement office and a medical clinic. There is a campground and a nearby riding stable. Something for everyone.

The far end of the lodge had a cafe for a quick lunch. As is pretty common the food was just OK and lunch was expensive. At this end of the lodge they had a sit down dining room with table cloths and all the trimmings. After lunch in the cafe we looked at the dining room menu and decided we could have had a pretty nice lunch in the dining room with many more selections for about the same price, maybe just a bit more.

When we were here in 1980 the visitors center was also a storehouse of photos and historical documents for Yellowstone. All of this has now been moved to a new archive museum, the Yellowstone Heritage and Research Center just outside the North Entrance in Gardiner.

You can visit here in person or go on-line and see more than 100 years of history.

It was a long drive from Madison to Norris to Mammoth Hot Springs. The road from Norris to Mammoth is being rebuilt. Not just repaved but all new everything. They work over night and the road is closed. During the day traffic gets through but there are several stretches of single lane traffic and delays. We got through OK in the Jeep but I would not have wanted to be one of the many motorhomes, fifth wheels and trailers going that way.

Tower Junction

Tower Junction is the other area we did not get to two years ago. Back up to Norris and then west to Canyon Junction and then north towards Tower/Roosevelt Lodge. Canyon Junction is where the Upper Falls of the Yellowstone River cascades into the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. It is pretty impressive as are the crowds. The roads to the south rim of the canyon and all of the overlooks there are closed for rehab so it is especially packed on the north rim. Fortunately the road to Tower Junction skirts around all of that.

Tower Falls is one of the highest in the park. The rock formations around it look like towers thus the name. If flows downhill just a short way into the Yellowstone River which heads north and west.

The Yellowstone River has cut its way though a layer of white/yellow rock on the left side of the picture. Is is a pretty big river at this point.

Tower Junction has a campground, a store, a gift shop (of course) and is pretty congested. The drive from Canyon Junction to Tower Junction has some of the highest elevations in the park. Once you cross over the high points and head further north the landscape changes dramatically. Much drier looking grass lands, many fewer trees. And further on at Roosevelt Lodge (which is cabins) and a campground, there is another small store and stables where you can go for a horseback ride or a stage coach ride.

These were lined up loading and unloading folks. A horse and rider lead each stagecoach to highway crossing and stopped traffic while it crossed and then went back for another one

Lamar Valley

Lamar Valley was the real destination though. A park ranger was talking about bison (they are not buffalo) in the park and said most of the 6,000 or so in the park had moved up to the NE corner of the park to Lamar Valley. This part of the park and the lands stretching further east were very much like the old open range land that the bison herds roamed on. Before the railroads and settlers moved west there were an estimated 30-60 million bison. In a short period there were only 571 left in protected herds. Today there are about 500,000 in many smaller herds. Yellowstone has the biggest population today.

And there they were, hundreds if not thousands along the Lamar River. From our vantage point we could see a long way in either direction and there were bison as far as you could see. Big bulls, cows and lots of calves. The ranger said that almost every cow will have a calf in the spring.

It was easy to hear them bellowing and snorting. Most were eating grass or having a lie-down. A bunch of high spirited youngsters (most likely) were running around sort of chasing one another. A few were butting heads, getting ready for the fall festivities. It was pretty amazing to see so many just home on the range.

Back the way we came. And even though this is a high mountain twisting narrow road, here came campers and RVs of every description.

Somehow you have to drive in Yellowstone to see what most come to see. We were pretty pleased to stay close to Madison and see what we could right there without the drive.

More later,

Roger and Susan