Thursday, April 23, 2015

As Sunshine Flows into Trees - Narrow Gauge Terrace, Snow Pass, and the YNP Hoodoos

In a quite appropriate follow-up to my post about the uncertainty of our vacations this year, Matt and I seized the opportunity for our first 2015 Yellowstone adventure.  Matt had hoped to get last Monday off so I took Monday off.  Then when Matt's schedule was posted he had to work Monday after all.  So, we called it off.

Until Saturday, that is, when we got the wild idea that maybe it would be worth it to go just for the one full day.  One full day is better than not at all, right?  So, we got the tent and food and things together and packed into the car so that the moment Matt got off work we could head for the hills.  He worked until 7:00pm so we knew that the tail end of the trip would be in the dark.  We'd also be setting up camp in the dark.  Still we were convinced that it would be worth it.
The sunset and snowy mountains would have almost been worth the drive in their own right.
And it was.  Oh, it was.
Canyon Campground is cheap, pretty, and primitive.  Works for me!  I enjoy the jumble of rocks on the mountainside above camp.  The camp sites are nestled in and around the boulders.
We camped in a forest service campground about ten miles north of the park.  After setting up the tent we had a campfire and admired the myriad stars overhead.  We slept like babies and woke early the next morning to head into Yellowstone proper.  But, we didn't make it very far before being distracted by the glories of nature.  There was a bachelor herd of Big Horn Sheep grazing in the campground.  Naturally, we had to stop and observe them for a good half hour.  Their grazing brought them closer and closer to where we were parked on the little dirt road through the campground.  They were so close we could hear them ripping up grass and chewing.  It was neat and rhythmically soothing.  We stayed in our car to watch.
I have a fondness for photos of animals eating, food hanging out of their mouths or grasped in hand or claw.
When we finally peeled ourselves away from the big horns we headed into the park where we just kept coming across animals being interesting.  We were only planning to drive to the Mammoth area for some hikes, but despite the short distance it sure took us a while to get there.  I mean, we had to stop and watch these fascinating critters.

There was the sparring match between the two elk--one of which had only one antler.  It seemed a decided disadvantage--and was, based on what we observed.  The double was sure pushing that single around.  I am not so sure it was all in seriousness though.  We passed the same area hours and hours later and there they were, still grazing together.
The elk on the right has only one antler.
Just a beat further down the road was a group of three coyotes stalking through the tall grass at the river's edge.  It looked like they were hoping for an unwary mallard, but the ducks were on to them.  A couple of the coyotes were remarkably red-tinted in their fur.  It brought out the warm hues of the surrounding grasses.  Quite lovely.
With limited time to spend in the park we opted to center our hikes around the Mammoth Hot Springs area.  Our first hike of the day was a short and easy one.  Starting near the stone house north of the main terraces the trail follows Clematis Creek.
We encountered an obstacle--in the form of a very relaxed bison--right off.  The big guy was stretched out quite near the trailhead informational sign board and pretty much on the trail.  We actually had to climb a small hill to skirt around behind him.  He never glanced in our direction, even when we popped back on to the trail 30 yards past him  He seemed like he was enjoying a moment basking in the sun just as much as the rest of us.  It was so nice out, so sunny.
This is the view from the hill we climbed to avoid that fellow there by the sign/trail.
After 2/10th of a mile following the trail along the creek it joins up with the Howard Eaton Trail.  Hanging a left at Howard Eaton the trail climbs gradually up the hills through the sage brush and evergreens, gaining a bit over 300 feet in elevation.  Through the trees there are lovely views of the terraces and hot springs in the foreground with mountains rising up as a dramatic backdrop.
After another 2 to 3/10ths of a mile Narrow Gauge Terrace comes into sight on the left.
Narrow Gauge Terrace
This long, thin formation was named Narrow Gauge because of its appearance of a narrow, graded railroad bed.  This is what the guidebook tells me anyways.  I must say, it did remind me of a railway embankment, the sort that would lead to a trestle over a river or something.  There was a long crack that ran down the length of it, as far as we could see anyways.  A spring of clear--and thus very hot--water bubbled regularly, spilling out into the adjacent formations of orange and white microbial biofilm, dribbling down the sides of the narrow terrace.
After enjoying the view and quiet at Narrow Gauge we continued on the Howard Eaton Trail another couple hundred yards until we could see the Upper Terrace Drive.  Along the way there are a number of currently inactive terraces to look at.  The terraces are made up of travertine, a type of limestone that forms because of the water, heat, and gases in hot springs.  Travertine is white when new, though it turns grey as it ages.  When the springs are active the terraces are much more colorful because of the different types of microbes and algae that live in the different temperatures of water.   When they are inactive they look a bit like haunted coral reefs--isolated and out of place in the forest.  The area is constantly changing.  Some years a terrace will be very active and the next year it will be dry.  Its a dramatic process and so interesting to see the different phases play out.
Upper Terrace Drive isn't a hiking trail, but rather a narrow automotive loop.  We followed it a ways until we could get on the boardwalk that would take us back through the Mammoth terraces and, ultimately, back to where we started from.  I like loop hikes.  We could have easily just turned around at Narrow Gauge Terrace and retraced our steps, but loop hikes are just so much more enjoyable, in my mind.  There was such little traffic in the park that we figured it wouldn't hurt to share the road a little in the interest of making a loop of it.  We only saw one car while hiking on the road.

It was very interesting to pass Narrow Gauge Terrace from the other end of it--the view from Upper Terrace Drive.  It was considerably less remarkable from the automotive trail.  On the hiking trail we were on the level with it.  From Upper Terrace Drive we were below it.  We couldn't see the crack.  We couldn't see the springs bubbling.  It was totally different and much less exciting.
Once we were back on the boardwalk we passed some familiar sights--springs and terraces we'd visited on our first trips to the park.  Still, the ever evolving nature of the area means each visit is new.
I just adore geysers and hot springs.  I find them so fascinating.  They're beautiful and powerful and always changing.  It appeals to me a lot.
As we were getting off the boardwalk and making our way back to the car we ran into a geology professor from the college where I work with two vans full of students on a fieldtrip.  How lucky these budding geologists have such a great opportunity just a couple hours down the road.  I imagine its quite a wonderful educational experience.

With our legs warmed up we immediately set off for our second hike of the day--a swell six mile loop around Terrace Mountain.  This mountain is a bit of an oddball in that its made up of dormant hot spring terraces.  At point on the hike we could clearly see the old, dark grey terraces at the top.    The trail starts from the Bunsen Peak trail head just five miles south of Mammoth.
The first two miles of the hike are on the Glen Creek trail which follows along its namesake creek.  It was very open.  The sagebrush was all around, but the forest was off a ways and the sky felt wide overhead.   Mountains ringed us on every side.
The trail was largely clear of snow--though there were a few patches here and there.  It was quite muddy at points though on account of all the melted snow.  There were lots of tracks to be seen as a result--deer, elk, bison, coyote, bear.  The only fresh tracks were the bison tracks.  A pair of Sandhill Cranes flew over our heads making their distinctive creaking honk.  They were fairly low and we got a very good view of them during the fly over.  Large birds are really something else.  they seem so unlike their small, sparrow brethren in so many ways.
Bear tracks
The first spring flowers were peeking out.
After two miles the trail joins up with the Snow Pass Trail at Y in the trail marked with a pile of stones.  We did hike in sight of some powerlines for a few minutes--not my ideal--but soon they were behind us.  The trees got a bit more dense and the canyon narrows as we approached the pass between Clagett Butte and Terrace Mountain.

We'd strapped our snowshoes to Matt's backpack, just in case, but the snow on the pass was crusted over well enough that we just walked across the 50 yards or so of snow in our plain boots.
Snow Pass
In many places where the snow was melted a web or matrix of some sort had been left behind.  Matt was calling it snow mold.  I did a few preliminary searches online and he may be right.  It was sure strange though, I thought.
Snow mold?
From the unsigned Y it a mile and half to the next trail junction.  After Snow Pass the trail winds downhill again until it meets up with the Howard Eaton Trail.  At the information sign board at this junction we learned we could have hiked straight from Mammoth, rather than driving to the Bunsen Peak trailhead.  It could have been an epic hike!  As it was though Matt was worn out by the end and so I'm glad we didn't make it any longer.  I forget sometimes that I walk much more than him as part of my commute to work and so start my hiking season in better shape than he does.  From the sign board its a little more than two and half miles back to the trailhead.
There was one grove of aspens along this trail.  They sure stand out in the middle of a conifer forest.
Along the way Matt spotted a crevasse in the rocks just off the trail.  Parts of it were so deep we couldn't see the bottom.  There is so much water and time visible in these formations.  Their power is well illustrated.
A mountain chickadee was so smitten with spring and good eats that she didn't even worry about us.  Usually chickadees are impossible to photograph.  They flit about so much.  This one was intent on that seed though and stayed on the branch at the edge of the trail for several minutes, hammering away with the seed held tightly in her little, grey feet.  I like all chickadees.  They're cute, have a cute whistle, and remind me of my Grandma Fran.  Mountain Chickadees have little eyebrows that make them look feisty to me, especially in comparison to the Black Capped Chickadees.  Over the course of the hike we'd also see Northern Flickers, Mountain Bluebirds, a Williamson Sapsucker, Common Ravens, and American Robins.  We also saw a couple Osprey from the road on the way to the trailhead, including one with a shiny silver fish grasped in its talons.
Mountain Chickadee
But, back to the hike.  This would be the last leg of the loop, so to speak.  It would take us through an area called The Hoodoos.  We were particularly keen on this given our recent visit to the hoodoos in Bryce Canyon.  Of course, we knew from the guidebooks that these Yellowstone formations were not really hoodoos in the geological sense.  The area was called The Hoodoos because of its spooky, supernatural, otherworldly feel.  It certainly was a cool place--the rocks in a jumble resembling a sort of moonscape.  But, I was a little disappointed.  The Bryce hoodoos were so cool that these rock formations were a little less than dazzling by comparison.  Don't get me wrong though, it was a very odd, unusual landscape.  The name just led to an unfair comparison in my mind.
I made a new dress--my same beloved pattern as from the Easter dress--for the summer.  I put the finishing stitches into it just a half hour before we left for the park.  I made it with the express purpose of it being my camping dress.  Its made of a thick, durable canvas or duck type material that I got heaven knows where.  Its like a Carhartt dress, if sorts, that type of feel and durability.  This first trial run makes me have very high hopes for it.  As an unexpected bonus the light tan material makes spotting ticks a snap!  The ticks are out.  We ended up flicking off a dozen between the two of us--including one I found on the clothes fresh from the washer as I hung them on the line.  Those puppies are resilient to say the least.
Leaving the Hoodoo portion behind us the trail continues on ducking in and out of the forest and it winds along the edge of the mountain.
The views were quite sweeping and keen.  At points the road, far below us, was visible as it cut through the Golden Gate Canyon.  We could see Rustic Falls which we pass each time as we enter the park from Gardiner.  Its always impressive to me to see how far we climbed.  The trailhead started down on that road way down there.  And here we are.   We stopped and sat awhile, taking it in.
Continuing on--our stomachs growling and reminding us that lunch was overdue and those dried mangoes wearing off--we saw more flowers and moss covered trees, more sweeping views.
Back in the forest and descending quickly towards the trailhead Matt noticed a weirdly shaped tree.  It was like there was a Christmas tree on top of a normal tree.  A very strange growth pattern, we thought.  I have no idea what causes it.  We'd notice a few more once this initial sighting put them on our radar.
After lunch along the Gibbon River we considered a third hike and then realized it would involve more driving than we were interested in.  We were content and just a little worn out from our first hikes of the year.  We had to get up early to make in back in time for Matt to get to work.  So, we just started our mosey back out of the park.  It can take a while, after all, with so many critters and mountains and pretty things about.
We stayed up until the stars came out, but just barely.  We sat around the fire talking.  We read and explored the campground a bit--I think I found a new favorite site!  We enjoyed a few beers and a lovely dinner.  We were happy in our muddy boots.
Matt and I both remarked over and over and over again how glad we were we'd seized the chance to go, to get out and see and experience all these things which bring us such joy.  One day can recharge a person a whole lot.

8 comments:

  1. I absolutely love this post! I am looking forward to the day I can hop into my car just to see nature's beauty! Lovely pictures!

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    1. Thanks, Shannon! If you're ever in my neighborhood let's got YNP together! It would be a wonderful way to catch up with you and I am certain we're both endlessly appreciative of nature and all its wonders. Until then I will continue to enjoy the heck out of your dive photos!

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  2. Good for you! Beautiful as usual!

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    1. Thanks! And YES! It was magnificent and we were so glad we went!

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  3. You don't think somebody (something) stripped that tree trunk up to that part way up there? Funny.
    Your mention of the microbial - whatever it was - is very impressive! I'm glad you had such a good trip.

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    1. I am not sure what may have caused it! I hadn't considered that possibility though. Could be...I really don't know!
      I am a bit in love with the geysers and their peculiar geothermal biosphere. It is amazing and I learn more and more about it every year.

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  4. Thanks for your comment on my recent fawn pinafore creation. In response to your question, the leather doesn't fray at all so the edges are just cut with scissors and left raw. Thanks for visiting my blog xxx

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    1. I've never worked with leather. You creation sure make a person consider it though!

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