Friday, May 31, 2013

A Watched Geyser Never Erupts

Riverside Geyser is a pretty special geyser in that it is right on the bank of the Firehole River.  Hence the name.  It also is of note because it doesn't shoot directly up, but instead at an angle which arches over the river.  On sunny days in makes a lovely rainbow, as if the spectacle of the geyser itself were not enough.
Riverside is one of the most reliably predictable geysers because it doesn't have any close geothermal neighbors to disrupt the underground plumbing.  But, as I mentioned earlier, the day of our geyser watching adventure riverside was quite "late" as to what had been predicted.  We kept joking that it was probably like the old saying that a watched pot never boils.  In the end, it was more than worth the wait...even though I got a sunburn while waiting.  (I was bundled up in stocking cap and scarf and never gave a second thought to a sunhat because it was so chilly and overcast!  Lesson learned.)
For and hour or two before the eruption the geyser bubbles and overflows into the river below building the anticipation of the full event.
Then enough pressure is built up underground and Riverside Geyser blasts 75 feet of water in its arch over the river.  When it goes off it goes with glory and power for a full twenty minutes or more including the great steam columns that follow the peak of the eruption.  This cycle repeats itself every five to seven hours.
We share the experience with the two kids on the 50 state road trip and the Frenchman who taught us how to say "beaver" in French.  We were all giddy.  We'd been waiting with such expectation and anticipation that when the moment came you'd have thought it was Christmas.  It made us run and smile and laugh.  It was the first time any of us had seen Riverside's wonder.
I still have to come back and watch again some sunny day.  I think I'd like to see that rainbow.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Seeing Beyond - Inspiration Thursday

When we were in Minnesota one of Matt's cousins commented on my positivity.  This makes me happy, I must say, as I have no objection to being thought of in this way.  Basically she was really cold and said she had goosebumps and I said something like "At least you're not shivering!"  And she said that was one of the things she remembered most about me--that I was always looking for the positive.
"Find a place inside you where there's joy, and the joy will burn out the pain."
 I suppose this is true.  Its been mentioned to me before.  Being upbeat is just the way I choose to lead my life.  I don't always succeed, but I do pretty darn well.  And I think that this is critical in the joy I feel inside.
"Follow your bliss and the universe will open doors where there were only walls."
Perhaps its because it has been much worse at points in my life that I feel such gratitude for all I have now--that makes me look for the upside of any situation and the tiny wonders all around me.  Perhaps it just my belief in the general goodness of the universe.  I don't know.  All I do know is that dwelling on all the problems and negatives in a situation rarely gets a person anywhere.
"Participate joyfully in the sorrows of the world.  We cannot cure the world of sorrows, but we can choose to live in joy."
All quotes by 
Joseph Campbell, American scholar, philosopher, mystic, lecturer and author.
That is not to say I am a rosy-eyed, naive, Pollyanna optimist.  I see problems and legitimate concerns same as everyone else, but I also have learned to see past them at all the blessings that still remain.  Just because something isn't perfect doesn't mean it has no beauty to offer.  Just because things don't go as planned doesn't mean all is lost.  Just because you have pain doesn't mean life can bring you no joy.

To see the challenges to be faced, yet still see beyond them to the gifts of this beautiful universe that remain despite any challenge.  I think that is the fundamental difference.  I think that is what allows me to have such joy and contentment in life.

A Castle Built an Inch at a Time

Castle Geyser was probably my favorite of those we watched during our recent dayhike around the Upper Geyser Basin.  I find it impressive even when it is not erupting just because of the size and shape of that cone.
Cones develop as silica is dissolved from volcanic rhyolite and deposited as sinter on the surface because of the consistent eruptions.  The sinter builds up over the years and thus the geyser's cone is born.  The cones develop at a rate of about an inch per 100-200 years.  Its like coral...only not in the ocean.
With a cone of almost twelve feet high that makes Castle Geyser one of the oldest in the park.
Castle erupts for 15-20 minutes with a steam phase of another 30 to 45 minutes following.  It erupts about every ten to twelve hours though that frequency has changed over the recorded history of the geyser.
The water reaches a maximum height of around 90 feet and boy, is it a lot of water.  As it falls back to earth it rushes down the terraced sides of the cone in rivulets and waterfalls that were quite spectacular.
It was pretty neat to feel the light spray on my face as the wind caused it to drift down on us and the small group of other observers, including a young boy who, as we'd been waiting--had been trying to find the best place at which he would get "really wet" from the geyser.  It seems pretty intense to think that the water lightly raining down on me was only moments before pressurized beneath the earth.  Remarkable.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Hiking the Upper Geyser Basin

During our inaugural visit to Yellowstone this year we thought we'd take advantage of the lack of crowds and do some hiking in the Upper Geyser Basin near Old Faithful.  The boardwalks get a bit crowded for my liking later on in the season, but that first weekend of May there was only one other car in the parking lot when we arrived in the basin--and those folks were going to get coffee, NOT go out to hike the geysers.
Later on in the season it can be hard to find a spot to park at times, but not so early on!
Old Faithful
Its wonderful to feel you've got this magical place sort of all to yourself.  I suppose its because I am from Montana, but, you see, I am not used to traffic and crowds, really.  One of our greatest blessings here is the lack of people.  So, the crowds that come to the park later can annoy me and diminish my good time.
Morning Glory Pool
Too many people disregard signs that tell them to stay off the delicate (and dangerous) thermal features.  Too many people (with telephoto lenses) walk bafflingly close to bison, elk, and the like.  Too many people are careless with their trash and food scraps.  It causes me some dismay.  Too many people, too many people.
All that adds up to mean that this is the time for hitting the more distant, longer, or more strenuous trails in Yellowstone where there are hardly no people.  I read once that 98% of folks who visit the park never leave their cars or the boardwalks around the "major attractions."   Its not hard to get away from them as a just have to walk a bit.  Something I am keen to do.
So we decided to use that first nearly-off-season visit (we were tenting in a campground that had only opened for the season that very day) to see how many geysers we could watch erupt in a single day on the soon-to-be-crowded boardwalks and trails of the Upper Basin.
Bacterial Mats
The answer, as it turns out, is a bit tricky as I am not sure what precisely counts as an eruption.  See, I wasn't sure if the fountain-type geysers that are almost always erupting really counted as an eruption or not.  I think it does, but I am not sure.  I asked around and got rather mixed or uncertain responses.  So, seven major eruptions--Old Faithful (twice), Daisy, Castle, Riverside, Sawmill, and Grotto--and and uncounted minor ones is where the tally landed.
Old Faithful, from a distance.
Castle Geyser
Of course, in addition to geysers there are also hot springs, pools, and fumeroles in the Upper Basin, too.
Crested Pool
In fact, one square mile of the Upper Geyser Basin contains more than 150 geothermal features--including the five geysers that are easily predicted.  How crazy is that!?  150.  In one single square mile.  What a world.
Sawmill Geyser
We hiked a little more than nine miles around the basin as we timed out the different eruption predictions.
And they are predictions, too.  Riverside Geyser was an hour and half "late" in going off, but if it weren't for that who knows if we'd have seen Grotto go off.  And we wouldn't have met the nice kids on the journey to visit all the 50 states.
Riverside Geyser
Geysers are amazing and Yellowstone National Park is home to 60-70% of all the geysers in the world.  Every time I watch an eruption it feels like a gift.  Its all so strange and otherworldly.  There is always an element of surprise and anticipation.  Some go off almost like clockwork and others really are a rare gift to those just happening to be in the right place at the right time.  Its a pretty magical basin, I must say.  Like another planet.  I can only imagine what it would have been like for early peoples who stumbled upon this land of steam and water spouts.    The mystery and power of the place is astonishing.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

A Harlequin Duck Tradition

Last year was our first ever encounter with the absolutely magnificent Harlequin Duck.   These beauties are lovers of fast moving water.  Like shockingly fast water (see the video below).  I don't know how they don't get swept away as they calmly stand or swim in the midst of rushing white water.  They breed in these fast moving streams and then winter along the rocky northern coasts.   So if I have any hopes of seeing them it is while they are breeding.

When I first laid eyes on them it took my breath away.  Their pattern of feathers is delightfully improbably and gorgeous.  The male's chestnut-red side feathers are glorious in the sunlight and that head is just downright spectacular.  I mean, it has a prefect circle on it made of feathers!  Even the female in her more subdued camouflaging of feathers is quite a remarkable creature to behold and moves through the rough water with remarkable ease.
The first weekend of May we happened to pass by the LeHardy's Rapids which is where we had seen them almost exactly a year previous.  There was much more snow than last year, but we thought we'd walk down to the rapids anyway and check it out.  Maybe they'd be there again.  The trail down to the rapids had a good three or four feet of snow piled up on it, but it was more that worth it.

Because once again there they were!!
But this time there were more than a dozen of them perched on the rocks in mid-stream or swim-walking up the rushing current.   The males bobbing their beautiful heads at each other.   The females standing by looking unimpressed by all the bobbing.
It was amazing.  They are so gorgeous that I just can't get over it.  I find them to be by far the prettiest duck I've ever seen.  Seeing so many of them all in one place was all the more wonderful.
As we were once again in the area the following week we again stopped by the rapids.  However, in just the span of one week the three feet of snow on the trail was gone and the Harlequin Ducks numbered only two.

Its interesting how much chance and timing is involved in witnessing some of these wonders of nature.  I think Matt and I have found a new May tradition.

Saturday, May 25, 2013


One of the things we were very excited about doing once we bought a house and knew we were settled down in one place for a while was planting fruit.

I, more or less, enjoy all the fruits I've ever tried.  Some more than others, but, basically, I like it all.  Fresh, canned, cooked, whatever.  I am a big fruit person.  Matt is more particular in his fruit preferences, but he is working on it.  We both love fruit smoothies and eat them a few time a week.  If fruit wasn't so expensive we'd probably have one with breakfast every day.  That is, hopefully, where the growing fruit comes in.  Fresh, organic, inexpensive fruit to enjoy right off the plant and frozen and canned come winter.

We forage for fruit whenever possible, be it the apple tree in the abandoned lot down the street or the thimble berries along a mountain trail.  For several years now we've been completely self-reliant in applesauce, apple juice, and apple pie filling.  But, we'd like to expand that selection in the years to come.  Slow and steady wins the race.

Last year we put in a bed of strawberries, most of which we didn't allow to fruit in their first year in order to encourage better establishment and root growth.  They are coming along well this year and I am very much looking forward to that first sun-warmed strawberry of the season.   In addition to the strawberry beds in the back we also have a few large planters of them out front.  One of these front yard plants was recently mowed down by some hungry critter...possibly a member of our neighborhood herd of deer.  Oh well, so far it was an isolated incident and the plant is readily growing back.
The poor gobbled up strawberry plants with their empty stems.
Wee green strawberries all brimming with promise.
We also put in two red currant bushes.  This is a fruit I have less experience with, but all those experiences have been quite tasty.  Like that jelly we got from aunt Verna.  We planted the currants as bare root stock and they are really filling out already.  But, it will be at least a year before they do any fruiting, maybe two.
Next to the bed of strawberries we planted a few different varieties of raspberries--a couple kinds of red and one golden.  One of the varieties didn't take off and so this year we swapped in the asparagus bed at the end of this row instead.  Hopefully the asparagus will do better there than did the raspberries.  The raspberry plants that didn't outright die were so spindly last year and didn't fruit at all, but already they are taking over the bed--and even moving out into the grass--this year.  Its looking very good.  It's hard to believe so many shoots came off of so few original plants.  We are hopeful for a good raspberry crop as they are our favorites.
We still have some live blueberry plants that need popped in the ground, too, but well, we'd have to stay home some weekend to get that done and Yellowstone is calling.  All in due time.  All in due time.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Birding Vacation Minnesota

We were in Minnesota with most of Matt's family last weekend at a golf tournament/family reunion.  It was a blast.  I love Matt's family.  Perhaps I am too exuberant about this, but I don't care.  They are awesome.  I love them like the family I was born into.  So, I had a great time hearing stories from the cousins about Matt and his brothers as little boys, watching Sharon laugh and enjoy herself with her sisters as I so like to do with my own sisters, learning more and more cool stories about Matt's grandmother who passed away just before the trip, watching the boys joke with their uncles and aunts, road-tripping with Matt and Adam like we used to when I first met him--this time with the added bonus of Ryan as well.  Its so all around pleasurable for me.
So, it wasn't like I needed a cherry on top or anything, but oh, did I get one--in the form of birds.

Matt and his brothers reported seeing what they suspected to be orioles during the first nine holes of golf they played.  I had been knitting in the club house as it was pretty raining in the morning so I had seen nothing of the sort.  Before the second nine holes Matt asked me to snag his binoculars from the car so he could have them in the golf cart should the birds reappear.  I had intended to follow them so they could show me where they saw the birds, but I got distracted.  So, a while later I was cruising around the golf course taking photos with Heather, one of the younger relations, and whamo!  there was a flash of brilliant orange in the trees to my right.  

At this point I basically abandoned ship, telling Heather to go ahead without me, as I headed down the slight hill to the wooded riparian area that edged the course--camera in hand.

I'm not sure how long I was down there.  A while.  I was overcome with joy that I couldn't possibly have left and time didn't matter.  It was like bird paradise.  They were everywhere and oh so obvious and bright.  One after the other in a most wonderful parade.

That first oriole only allowed me a few quick glimpses.  Soon enough though I could tell their calls apart from the other birds and was able to track them from tree to tree by sound as well as sight.  Baltimore Oriole.  We don't get those in Montana.  And they were thick in those trees.  Each one could make my heart soar though.  The joy did not diminish as I spotted one after another.  Amazing.  Color like that seems almost unreal.
Dozens of Yellow Warblers flitted by me quickly as they shot from tree to tree.  Their melodious burble filled the wooded space from their high perches overhead.  We have a few of these stunning lemon yellow creatures that frequent our yard at home.  The males, like the one below, have a nice maroon or chestnut colored streaks across their breasts.   They are so small and sing so very sweetly.  Yellow Warbler is a more than apt name.
All of the sudden I noticed there was a black and white bird not fifteen feet away at just about eye level.  I didn't see it fly in--all of the sudden he was just there.  He turned towards me as he fluffed his feathers and revealed a striking and lovely reddish pink heart shape on the breast.  I'd never seen one before, but I knew it immediately from my extensive study of the National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America--a Red-breasted Grosbeak.  He preened and fanned wings and tail almost non-stop as I watched.  He appeared to be strutting for someone, but I only saw the one, single bird, so maybe I am misinterpreting things.  The females are mostly brown maybe I just couldn't see her.
Not long after, a very small bird landed on a branch overhanging the river.  Before I could get him in frame with the camera (he was so small it was hard to make out any detail with the naked eye other than flashes of yellow) the little thing disappeared behind the river bank.  I waited in posed silence and to my delight he returned to the branch just a few moments later--wet from the river and apparently in need of a good fluffing.  Even though he wouldn't sit still for all his fluffing I could tell I'd never see this bird before either.  But, the name didn't immediately jump to my mind.  I had to look it up later.  He turned out to be a Cape May Warbler--a species that only passes through the United States, but does not really live here.  They breed in Canada's boreal forests and winter in the warmth of Central and South America, as well as the islands of the West Indies.  So, what I mean by all that is that it was a wonderful chance that I happened to witness the lovely bird at all.  He is on his way back to Canada to have babies.  I's sure glad he needed a drink and bath along the way!
There was also a Catbird that was meowing loudly from some thick bushes.  I mean, its call sounded just like a meow.  It was nutty.  I'd seen Catbirds before, but I don't remember hearing them before.  Another very apt name, I guess.
There was also Hairy Woodpeckers, a few Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers, a Chipping Sparrow, and Black-capped Chickadees.  Not to mention ferns and flowers and fungus galore.
I could have stayed down in that wooded glade for a long, long time--even longer than I did--but I heard Matt's brother give a whoop (I presume it was a good hit) and so I came back up and out onto the green manicured lawn to join them and tell Matt all about all the birds I saw.  I think I caused a chuckle and some surprise--appearing as I did out of nowhere, far from the club house or a cart.

I watched the Baltimore Orioles fly back and forth across the fairways all the ride back to the last hole.  So stunning and brilliant orange in the sunshine.  Like a gift for the eyes.  Traveling is made all the more exciting and thrilling for me by the prospect of new and unusual birds for me to behold.