Saturday, July 21, 2018

Yellowstone has large areas of geothermal activity

When we visited Yellowstone five years ago we took in Old Faithful and many of the more popular geothermal attractions. We had not been to West Thumb Geyser Basin or Norris Geyser Basin so on this trip we focused on those areas. The geothermal areas in Yellowstone have walkways that allow an up close look at these sites. There are many signs warning people to stay on the walkways because the soil is dangerous at many locations and could give way plunging you down to an almost certain death. Also, most of the pools are not only near or above the boiling temperature of water, some are acidic. The park ranger with ask you to hold up your finger and then will tell you it is not a thermometer. There are always people who ignore the warnings and many have died as a result. The link below describes some of these incidents.

The West Thumb Geyser Basin is actually on the shore of Yellowstone Lake.

Yellowstone Lake at West Thumb Geyser Basin

Pulling back shows the geyser basin

The next photo is one of the thermal pools at West Thumb and you can see that it drains into Yellowstone Lake.

Thermal pool draining into Yellowstone Lake

Looking at this short video of one of the pools at West Thumb demonstrates the heat rising

Norris Geyser Basin is located in the northwest area of the park far from Yellowstone Lake. On the highway a few miles before reaching the basin is Beryl Spring. This is one of the hottest springs in Yellowstone and the water temperature varies between 188 and 192 degrees F. The following video will give you a feel for the activity of this spring.

The following photo of Beryl Spring was taken in the morning and the cool air was condensing the water vapor into steam making it difficult to see the spring. The video above was shot later in the day after the air warmed up.

Beryl Spring

The next two photos are of the Norris Geyser Basin, one from each side of the walkway.

The following youtube video demonstrates the activity in the basin.

Friday, July 20, 2018

Beartooth Scenic Byway

For about 15 years now it has been my desire to drive the Beartooth Scenic Byway that runs from Silver Gate to Red Lodge, Montana. Although a few adventurous motorhome owners have driven the byway with their coach, this was not something I was inclined to do. Driving a 40 foot motorhome towing a car it would be necessary to negotiate some of the switchback turns using both lanes of the highway. Also there would be very few places to pull off and take photos. We like to make quick stops to take photos so driving this byway with our motorhome towing the car was out of the question. We visited Yellowstone five years ago but Pam enjoyed the park so much she wanted to stop there again. I wanted to do the Beartooth Byway. So the original plan was to spend four days camped in West Yellowstone, making daily trips into the park, and then move to Red Lodge via I-90 and drive the Beartooth Highway from there. While we were in Oregon we found out that some friends from Sacramento, California were going to the FMCA Rally in Gillette and wanted to meet up with us and drive in together. By driving in together we would be parked together. We decided to modify our plans and do the Beartooth from West Yellowstone. That meant an all day drive from West Yellowstone to Silver Gate, over to Red Lodge, down to Cody Wyoming and back thru the park via the East Entrance. We packed lunches and dog food and hit the road early for a 12 hour day trip.

Beartooth Scenic Byway sign near Silver Gate

Beartooth Lake

Top of the World Store at 9352 feet on the Beartooth Highway

Elevation at scenic viewpoint where the following photo was taken. Notice it is seventeen feet short of 11,000 feet. The wind was blowing at about 20 mile per hour and we had to wear our jackets.

Beartooth Mountains in the distance

Many glacier lakes along the top of the byway

Take a close look at the next two photos and you will see some of the switchback turns that must be negotiated to travel the Beartooth Highway.

The next photo was taken on the way back to West Yellowstone in the middle of the park near Fishing Bridge. The photo is of Yellowstone Lake looking east from Highway 20. The surface of Yellowstone Lake is 7714 feet above sea level.

Yellowstone Lake

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve

There are many signs that volcanic activity played a big role in shaping the landscape of the Western US. We have already visited a few on this trip and posted about them. Craters of the Moon is another example of volcanic activity in this region. Instead of creating conical mountains such as Mount Rainier, here fissures opened up in the earth spitting forth lava and ash.  Here are a few photos from our visit to Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve.

Sign lets you know you are entering the preserve

Much of the land is covered with lava

Some of the land is covered with cinders and small plants adapt. The area in this photo is referred to as a cinder garden.

Although there are no large mountains here there are cinder cones. In this photo taken from atop the large cinder cone in the next photo you can see several cinder cones.

Large cinder cone we climbed. If you look close you can see tiny people at the summit.

We are climbing the cinder cone and Pam is up ahead.

This photo was taken after we got to the top.

Now we are going back down to the parking lot.

Idaho National Laboratory and Pickle's Place

The barren and desolate land between the Craters of the Moon National Monument and Idaho Falls is home to the Idaho National Laboratory. Driving thru the reservation made me glad I worked at the Oak Ridge National Lab and not INL. The laboratory is so far away from possible residential communities that INL operates a fleet of shuttle busses between those communities. The main facility of INL is 47 miles from Idaho Falls, 64 miles from Blackfoot, and 20 miles from Arco. One afternoon as we drove back from Idaho Falls we must have met 25 of those busses taking folks home from work. The link below zooms in on that fleet of busses parked at the lab. Shuttle busses at INL

The following photos I took at the entrance sign on the Idaho Falls side of the reservation gives one a feel for how far from civilization the laboratory is.

Entrance sign to INL

Zooming back from the sign nothing as far as you can see

Looking back toward Idaho Falls

The view on the north side of our vehicle

The other side of the road

It turns out the best route from Ketchum to West Yellowstone is Highway 20 passing back thru Craters of the Moon, Arco, and INL. Pam had noticed the small local restaurant in Arco named Pickle's Place and wanted to stop and eat. There was plenty of parking for our motorhome towing the car so we stopped. I think Pam got the bug from my sister who loves to stop at small mom and pop places to eat. Below is a place we stopped with my sister in Virginia once that should give you a flavor of the places Connie likes to check out.

Dinning on the back roads of Virginia

Pickle's Place in Arco - you can see our motorhome in the background

The menu

Being retired from Oak Ridge National Lab the Atomic Burger seemed to be a fitting choice and that is what I had. It was good and on a burger scale of 10 I would give it an 8. The claim was that all their patties were hand made with local Idaho beef and never frozen. They were advertising their new pickle popsicle but we chose to skip desert and be on our way to Yellowstone.  

Desert anyone

Hay surpasses potatoes for #1 crop

We learned that hay is now the number one crop in Idaho surpassing potatoes. Driving around the area one sees field after field of hay with sprinkles going every day. As we drove down Highway 20 towards Idaho Falls we met many large triple trailer trucks stacked high with large bales of hay. Go to the Google Map link below and notice all the large green circles. At first glance you might think they were made by a tractor seeding the field by GPS. You would be wrong. Those large green circles are created by long sprinkler systems that travel in a circle as they water the field. If you zoom in you can see the sprinkler train.

Large stacks of hay are numerous

Hay fields are a main part of the scenery

Sprinklers are running everywhere you look

Ketchum Idaho, Sun Valley, and the Sawtooth Scenic Byway

We left Seattle on July 6 and arrived in Ketchum, Idaho on July 7, stopping for the night in La Grande, Oregon. We left Ketchum July 10 and are currently in West Yellowstone, Montana. We are getting a little behind with the blog but there are so many things to do it is hard to find the time.

Ketchum is famous for its ski slopes and Bald mountain is said to have a perfect pitch. It is the best single ski mountain in the US. The world's first chairlift was built at Sun Valley in 1936. The average snowfall in Sun Valley/Ketchum is 150 to 200 inches while Idaho's statewide average is only 29.5 inches. Of course it is summer now and we came here for the Sawtooth National Forest, the Craters of the Moon National Monument, and the spectacular scenery. The Sawtooth National Recreation Area has four mountain ranges with 40 peaks of 10,000 feet or higher. The scenery is drop dead gorgeous as you drive along the Sawtooth Scenic Byway (Idaho Highway 75). On the darker side, Ketchum is the place where Ernest Hemingway committed suicide and his grave is in the Ketchum Cemetery. Visitors leave him bottles of various alcoholic beverages which he often indulged in. Also there are many coins on his grave.

Hemingway's grave

Along the Sawtooth Scenic Byway is the Galena Summit topping out at 8701 feet. We pulled off at the summit and I climbed up the hill above the road.

Our GPS says 8703

The summit on Highway 75 - the hill on the right I climed

Looking back down at Pam

Looking north in the direction we are headed

Just down the road was a dirt trail going even higher up the mountain so we did a little 4-wheel drive adventure. The GPS indicated the road continued back down the mountain in the direction we had just come from. There was a spur heading to the top but we choose not to continue on up. What we found at the location where we stopped was a weather station complete with a snowfall measurement pad.

We did not take the spur

We stopped here

The weather station - snowfall pad in the lower left

A few miles further north was an overlook with a commanding view of the Sawtooth Mountains.

Sawtooth Mountains

We decided to turn around in Stanley Idaho and return to Ketchum. The next photo is of the Salmon River at a pullout in Stanley. As I write this it occurs to me that we did not take any photos while driving up the valley. That is unfortunate because the view was terrific with mountains and green meadows on each side of the road. There were many campgrounds along the river and at lakes where fisherman and off-roaders were camped to participate in outdoor activities.

Salmon River in Stanley Idaho

There is an organization known as Rails to Trails with the mission of turning old railroad beds into walking and biking paths. The old railroad into Ketchum is now a paved trail with a tunnel under the busy Highway 75. The campground we stayed at is next to the trail and we took the bikes for a spin. We give this trail a big number ten and enjoyed riding along surrounded by endless scenery.

Sailing down the bike trail near the campground

In many places the trail is bordered by aspens. The center line in the photo below is only present on the ingress/egress of the tunnel going under Highway 75 and brings the rider's attention to two way traffic in the tunnel.

In many places the trail is bordered by aspens

A drive thru Sun Valley, adjacent to Ketchum, rewards us with more stunning scenery and we notice a spur of the bike trail goes thru Sun Valley.

Sun Valley Trail on the left and Sun Valley Road on the right

Not so shabby houses in Sun Valley

Looking Northeast in Sun Valley