Elephant Back and West Thumb

Hayden Valley
Hayden Valley

Heading south of Yellowstone Canyon took us through the Hayden Valley where the river was a placid contrast to the torrents pouring over Upper and Lower Falls. However, despite this calm appearance, we were on the verge of one of Yellowstone’s most geologically volatile regions at Mud Volcano.

Its first manifestation is Sulphur Cauldron, a spring with waters about ten times as acidic as lemon juice. Sulphur-rich gasses rise furiously.

Across the road is the Mud Volcano area itself. Features include Cooking Hillside – I’ve included the information board not just for the explanation of how it got its name, but also to show how the treeline had retreated even further since it was erected.

After a picnic by the river, we decided to tackle Elephant Back Mountain, a 3.5 mile loop trail which sounds more impressive than it is – only 800 feet elevation change. Not really a mountain then! A heavily wooded trail leads to good views from the top over Yellowstone Lake.

We then drove along the shores of the lake to West Thumb Geyser Basin, a small volcanic caldera formed inside the main Yellowstone caldera about 150,000 years ago. Some wildlife encounters en route!

If Mud Volcano was all about – well – mud, here we were back to glorious colour. There was something magical about wandering along in the late afternoon sunshine with the lake on one side and these jewel-bright springs on the other.

We returned to the Lodge tired but happy. In the next instalment we see the Park’s most famous geyser, Old Faithful – but prefer some of its neighbours.

Mammoth Hot Springs

Mammoth Springs
Mammoth Hot Springs

The terraces of Mammoth Hot Springs are a sight to behold – living sculptures shaped by a large volume of water flowing across sloping land, and coloured by thermophiles (heat loving microorganisms). A series of board walks takes you round the lower terraces and a short drive loops round the upper terraces. Here are far too many pictures. I just don’t know how to choose.

Mammoth Springs Mammoth Springs Mammoth Springs Mammoth Springs Mammoth Springs Mammoth Springs Mammoth Springs Mammoth Springs Mammoth Springs Mammoth Springs Mammoth Springs Mammoth Springs Mammoth Springs Mammoth Springs

But that’s not all! Mammoth used to be Fort Yellowstone. In the early years of the National Park (established 1872) the Springs were threatened by poachers and souvenir hunters. In 1886, the army moved in and stayed for 32 years: many of the buildings erected then are now used as park headquarters. Cute squirrels too!

On the way to Mammoth, we admired Tower Fall and the Narrows – the far end of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone which I wrote about in an earlier post.

Finally, we came across more wildlife on, or by, the road.

Yellowstone just gets better and better! In my next post, we head for Elephant Back and West Thumb.

Looking back on Leonard

Leonard Cohen in Dublin 2013
Leonard Cohen in Dublin 2013

I can’t definitely say that I’d never heard of Leonard Cohen until 1980. I’ve seen YouTube clips of him on TV series that I know were required family viewing in the 1960s, but if he ever made an impression I quickly forgot him. However, when a new boyfriend introduced me to Songs of Leonard Cohen and Songs of love and hate I was hooked. Thirty six years later, I can’t say John (for it was he) and I have embraced all of each other’s musical tastes. I have never reconciled myself to Captain Beefheart, and he can’t understand why I find Abba so entrancing, but we share a good solid core and Leonard was the first. And the best.

Neither of us had ever seen him perform, so you can imagine our joy when he started touring again in 2008 – and then our sorrow when we realised that his only UK dates were when we were on holiday in the US. Not to worry – he would be performing in Dublin before we left. I still class that weekend as one of the most special in my life.

My weekend in Dublin with Leonard Cohen (I wish)

While we were away, we got an excited message from a friend, another Cohen fan. Good news! New dates! Leonard was coming to Glasgow in November. We immediately ordered tickets. I remember the concert was the day after the US election in which Obama got in for the first time. There was a sense of elation from both band and audience at the line Democracy is coming to the USA. That’s quite poignant to look back on too.

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Leonard Cohen and band in Berlin 2012

In 2012, we travelled to Berlin where the stand-out line in terms of audience participation was First we take Manhattan – then we take Berlin. This left me with the ambition, sadly unfulfilled, to belt out the same line in Manhattan some day.

Berlin: Leonard Cohen at the Waldbühne 05/09/12

However, we did get one more chance at a Cohen concert towards the end of his touring days when we travelled to Dublin again in 2013.

Dublin Diary: Day 1

Leonard was still in such good shape then. He skipped and danced, bent down on his knees – and got back up again without a struggle! When his former lover and muse, Marianne Ihlen, was dying earlier this year it worried me that he told her that he wouldn’t be far behind her, then I heard that he had said in an interview that he was ready to die. He recanted this in his final interview at the launch of his last album just a few weeks ago, but he looked terribly frail and, from comments made by his son Adam, was in a lot of pain and not very mobile. I was shocked at the decline in just three years, but I suppose that’s old age and we all have to face it.

I’ll leave you, not with my favourite Leonard Cohen song which would be far too hard, but with this little gem that I discovered a few years ago via the wonderful site, Cohencentric: I love Leonard Cohen.

Leonard – you might, or might not, have been ready to die, but we certainly weren’t ready to lose you. So long, and thanks for all the memories.

On being 90

Last month, we celebrated my Mum’s 90th birthday. Here, she describes the weekend on her own blog.

It was always sunny

Chris Mitchell 90thOn the 21st October 2016 I became a nonagenarian. When I was a wee girl I was very proud to have been born on Trafalgar Day, which in these far-off times was celebrated widely. I was also exactly six months younger than Princess Elizabeth of York, which pleased me when I was old enough to know. When I began to feel I might make it to ninety I had a trawl through the internet to see who, apart from Nessie and Nancy, Paisley Methodist friends, might be sharing the occasion. There were quite a lot, most of whom I’d never heard of, but two appealed to me.

John and I were tremendous fans of the first and had a great admiration for him. He is now regarded as a National Treasure, not surprisingly. He opened our eyes to the wonderful wildlife in many places in the world which few of…

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Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River

Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River
Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River

Yellowstone’s Grand Canyon runs for about 20 miles, but the best part is around Upper and Lower Falls (109 and 308 feet respectively), very close to Canyon Lodge where we were staying. We spent two full days hiking the various trails around the rim.

Day 1

We started with two short, steep trails which each dropped 5-600 feet from the North Rim to overlook Lower Falls. We managed to climb back up the first one without stopping, and were complimented by a young man as follows: “Wow! I don’t want to make any judgements about age, but my kids’ grandparents couldn’t have done that!” I wasn’t sure whether to be flattered, or to be insulted that he obviously thought we looked too ancient to manage such a feat. I think I’ll stick with flattered…

Brink of Lower falls
Red Rock Point
Artist Point and Point Sublime Trail

From Red Rock Point, we drove round to Artist Point on the South Rim. The trail from here to Point Sublime displayed the multi-hued rocks of the canyon to perfection.

Ribbon Lake Trail

We then followed the Ribbon Lake Trail – lots of bird life here.

My Fitbit measured over 30,000 steps that day – the first and only time this has happened!

Day 2

On our second day in the Canyon, we returned to Artist Point and hiked a loop, taking in the South Rim and Clear Lake Trails, which provided an amazing variety of scenery.

South Rim Trail

From Artist Point we set off on the South Rim Trail. As we walked along the canyon edge, we could see the North Rim viewpoints we had visited a few days before – Red Rock Point and Brink of Lower Falls.

 

Just before we reached the falls, we came to a diversion at Uncle Tom’s Trail.

Uncle Tom's Trail
Uncle Tom’s Trail

Now rope ladders would have been beyond me, but steps I can manage. I won’t pretend that I wasn’t completely out of breath by the time I got back to the top though!

We continued along the South Rim past Upper Falls before re-joining the road at the Wapiti Lake Trailhead where we had our picnic.

Clear Lake Trail

From the other end of the trailhead, Clear Lake Trail led off and the scenery changed completely. First, there was an open meadow to cross.

Eventually, the smell of sulphur assaulted our nostrils and we emerged from a small patch of forest to find the hydrothermal area of Clear Lake with acid-bleached driftwood and boiling mudpots – a complete contrast in its desolation.

Eventually, we met Ribbon Lake Trail again and had the same walk back to Artist Point as on Day 1. It seems no-one can resist photographing the canyon walls.

Yellowstone surprises round every corner. In this small area we encountered painted cliffs, waterfalls, meadows, sulphurous lakes and boiling mudpots. Could it get any more amazing? Well, maybe it could – next up, Mammoth Springs! In the meantime, this post is linked to Jo’s Monday Walks. Hop over there for blue Portuguese skies and a selection of other cyber-rambling.

Jackson to Yellowstone

Mesa Falls, Idaho
Upper Mesa Falls, Idaho

A large berry fire had closed the North Entrance of Grand Teton and the South Entrance of Yellowstone, our obvious route. A detour into Idaho was required to reach Yellowstone’s West Entrance, thus adding an unexpected new state to my tally. The drive wasn’t a huge amount longer, but we had no idea about sights along its route, whereas the road north through Grand Teton had many obvious stopping places. Here, social media came into its own. I’d been keeping an eye on both parks’ Facebook pages for news, and one helpful user commented that anyone taking the western detour should consider visiting Mesa Falls. That was our plan made for us!

Along the Mesa Falls Scenic Byway we stopped first at the overlook for Lower Mesa Falls – we’d be able to hike down to them later in the morning.

A short distance along the road was Upper Mesa Falls where the Big Falls Inn (built around 1915) now serves as a visitor centre. There is also a network of board walks taking you to the Upper Falls and their attendant rainbow.

From the parking lot, the one-mile Mesa Nature Trail takes you to the Lower Falls which we had looked down on earlier. Thank you Facebook commenter, we loved Mesa Falls!

After a lunch stop at the Angler’s Lodge in Island Park, where I had possibly my favourite veggie burger ever, we crossed back into Wyoming and continued on to Yellowstone. Before long, a line of cars stopped at the roadside signalled our first wildlife sighting – elk and a very lazy looking bison.

Our final stop of the day was Norris Geyser Basin. Our eyes popped out on stalks and remained there the entire week we spent in Yellowstone, which is basically the caldera of a giant volcano. We watched the earth’s surface literally boiling at our feet, through geysers, springs, mudpots and fumaroles, and had a constant smell of sulphur in our nostrils. We have so many pictures, I’m not sure how I’m going to whittle them down for the next few posts. In the meantime, here are some highlights from Norris – first, Porcelain Basin. The colours are caused by the different minerals and algae present in the water.

Back Basin is home to Steamboat Geyser, the world’s tallest active geyser. Major eruptions (300 feet) are rare, the last one being two years ago, but we certainly saw it ejecting water for 10-20 feet. We thought this was awesome till we went to Old Faithful a few days later!

After a long day, we arrived at our accommodation, Canyon Lodge, to be brought down to earth with a bump. It had one huge advantage – location: the main road in Yellowstone forms a figure of eight loop and Canyon Lodge is very central. It’s also the largest lodge in the park and the only place we could get in for a full week, but my advice would be “don’t stay there”. Built in the 60s, it has massively expanded since then in terms of accommodation and the services haven’t kept up. Our room was 15 minutes walk from the dining room up a pot-holed unlit road and, although superficially attractive, wasn’t terribly comfortable either (one hard chair). I could go on and on, but John has written a very scathing review on Trip Advisor so if you’re thinking of going to Yellowstone, read that!

If I were doing it again I would stay a few days in the south of the park at Old Faithful and a few days in the north at Mammoth Springs – if we could get in. However, we didn’t let the lodge dampen our enthusiasm for the park and packed as much as we could into the next few days.

Next up – Yellowstone Canyon itself.

Grand Teton National Park

The Tetons from Mormon Row
The Tetons from Mormon Row

In the 1890s, ten early settlers built their homesteads along Mormon Row – today, still no more than a gravel road just inside Grand Teton. We’d read that the view of the mountains from here was superb, and so it proved. On our first morning in the park we drove out there – it’s also a popular cycling route. A small collection of pioneer cabins and barns remains which are much photographed: I love the way the roofline of the oldest and most dilapidated echoes the peaks.

From Mormon Row, we headed to Teton Village, home of Jackson Hole ski resort and thus furnished with various methods of getting up high without actually climbing. We took the aerial tramway up Rendezvous Mountain. The first picture below shows the tram coming back to base – you might have to enlarge it to see the man sitting on top (to the left of the wires). Totally scary! The second photograph is our view back down as we travelled up the mountain. Inside the tram in our case.

Many people got out, checked the viewing platform, and headed back down. Not us! We had three trails to do. The first, Top of the World, was a simple loop of less than a mile round the summit. It was chilly up there – definitely hang-on-to-your-hat weather – but we warmed up afterwards with coffee and waffles in Corbett’s cabin.

From here, we decided to hike down the 2-mile Cirque Trail to Bridger Restaurant where we could take a gondola back to Teton Village. We had an audience!

You might think this was easy because it was heading downhill, but the last picture in the gallery shows quite a large ridge in front of the peak which we had to climb up and over. You might also think that when we saw Bridger Restaurant coming into sight we would head straight down to its terrace for a refreshing drink. Well, we took another uphill path to reach the 1.5 mile Casper Ridge Loop which turned out to be a real highlight. This adorable marmot posed for ages and the two mule deer didn’t seem shy at all. (I think they are mule deer, and I think they are different – it could just have been the same one following us!)

Finally, we descended to the café and had that reviving drink before heading back down to Teton Village via the gondola.

On our second, and final, day in Grand Teton we took another hiking trail to Bradley and Taggart Lakes. This 6 mile loop had, once again, wonderful views of the Tetons.

After our hike, we took a drive through some of the rest of the park to see as much as we could before leaving the next day. We admired the Cathedral Group:

Cathedral Group
Cathedral Group

And stopped at Jackson Lake by Signal Mountain Lodge. That’s not cloud to the right, but smoke from a large berry fire in the north of the park. This was going to cause us problems the next day….

Jackson Lake
Jackson Lake

Finally, we saw our first herd of bison. Even if they were behind a fence (cunningly omitted from the pictures.)

Our constant refrain held good here too – “we want to stay longer!” – but this was tempered by our excitement that we would be in Yellowstone the next day. Would it live up to expectations? What do you think!

Linked to Jo’s Monday Walks.

Maryhill Video

I’m taking a short break from blogging about our Wyoming road trip to tell you about the Scottish Heritage Angel Awards which recognise the work of voluntary groups and individuals in protecting and celebrating Scotland’s built heritage. One of the organisations I volunteer for, Maryhill Burgh Halls Trust, was up for an award and four of us attended the ceremony last night. We didn’t win our category (though got a certificate of commendation) but we saw ourselves on a great big screen and the Trust gets to use the short promotional film that was made. I don’t have a speaking part, but I’m there in full tour-guide mode and you can see I’m very good at pointing….

Rock Springs to Jackson

Wind River Range
Wind River Range

The journey from Rock Springs to Jackson fell into two distinct parts. To begin with we crossed flat plains, before reaching more mountainous areas in the late morning. We stopped in the pretty little town of Pinedale where we enquired about local hikes from the very helpful gentleman in the visitor centre. After a wander up and down the main street, and an early lunch in the Heart and Soul Café, we followed his advice.

We headed up Fremont Lake Road to the top and then took what I think was Pole Creek Trail. It wasn’t that interesting a walk to be honest – gently uphill through forest with no views, or at least none in the time we could afford to spend, so we walked about an hour in one direction, then turned round and came back. However, it broke a long car journey and stretched our legs, and there were lovely views of Fremont Lake and the mountains from the road.

From Pinedale, we headed straight on to Jackson, just outside Grand Teton National Park and our base for the next three nights. We were back to staying in a small inn this time – the comfortable and attractive Alpine House.

Other than that, we didn’t engage much with Jackson which was definitely tourist central. We went out for dinner at night and that was about it – though I really have to mention Pizzeria Caldera where we had the best pizza that either of us could remember eating for a long, long time. Jackson was just a dormitory for exploring the park. More on that next time!

Laramie to Rock Springs

Centennial, Wyoming
Centennial, Wyoming

Our next “proper” destination after Laramie was Grand Teton National Park. That would have been a six-hour drive, and we hate sitting in the car all day, so we broke it up with one night in Rock Springs. Even so, it looked a boring drive along the interstate so we decided to cross the Snowy Range Pass again and stop in some different places. The first was the pretty little town of Centennial where we took morning coffee and looked at the outside parts of the Nici Self Historical Museum. The old railroad depot building wasn’t open (we weren’t having much luck with our timing).

We stopped again for lunch in Saratoga, but after that it was all interstate.

Saratoga, Wyoming
Saratoga, Wyoming

Usually, we prefer B&Bs or small inns, but I couldn’t find anywhere suitable listed in Rock Springs so, as it was only one night, I chose a chain hotel, Homewood Suites. Actually, I could get converted back to this sort of place – we had a spacious, comfortable room and, had it not been the weekend, could have partaken of a free dinner buffet. The only downside was its location on the edge of town – but as luck would have it, right next door was Trip Advisor’s number one restaurant, a Chinese / Japanese place called Bonsai which we really enjoyed.

Before that, however, we had driven to the historic downtown area for a walk around. As well as lovely old buildings …

… we enjoyed the street art, including some fine benches, and were amazed that artwork just hung in an underpass and didn’t get vandalised.

Rock Springs used to be a coal mining town – the coal seams running right underneath the downtown area – and they’ve made a lovely job of preserving this history in the park by the railroad.

Outlaw gangs who roamed the West often passed through Rock Springs or used it as a destination. Apparently, as a young man, “Butch” Cassidy acquired his nickname while working in Rock Springs as a butcher. We were really getting to like these old western towns and, you’ve guessed it, wished we had more than one night here, but the next day we had to press on. Grand Teton was calling us!