Difficult or More Difficult – Which Path Would You Take?

The trail to Hamilton Mountain definitely has everything you could possilby want in a hike – cliffs, forests, waterfalls, and stunning views of both the Columbia River Gorge and the surrounding mountains.  The trail starts from Beacon Rock State Park (a Washington State Park’s Discover Pass is required for parking at the trailhead).  The trail begins by moderately climbing through second-growth Douglas Firs and then crosses under some power lines.  About 1/2 mile in, there are some nice views of Bonneville Dam, the Columbia River, and Hamilton Mountain.

Trail-1

 

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In around a mile from the trailhead, you enter the waterfall area, where there are three waterfalls – Hardy Falls, Pool of Winds, and Rodney Falls.  Crossing the Hardy Creek Bridge, you begin to switchback uphill and shortly come to a junchtion where a decision has to be made – the sign at the junction shows two options for getting to the top of Hamilton Mountain – the “difficult” route and the “more difficult” route.  I highly recommend doing the loop counter-clockwise and chosing the “more difficult” option.  Yes, it’s quite a bit steeper, but the views are stupendous and I would rather go up the really steep sections than risk loosing my footing on the way down.

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You will soon be switchbacking beneath on of Hamilton Mountains’s many cliff faces and up to the edge of cliff known locally as Little Hamilton Mountain.  The trail heads along the crest towards Hamilton Mountain proper and continues climbing for another mile or so.  At the actual summit, you will reach a T-shaped intersection; the path to the right dead ends at Hamiltons 2488′ summit but the view is somewhat obscured by brush.  Turn around and stop at teh plateau for breath taking views of Mt. Adams, Mt. Hood, Mount St. Helens, Table Moutain, and the Bonneville Dam on the Coumbia River.  This makes a great spot to stop for a snack or lunch if it’s not too windy.

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Continuing the loop means heading down an old road where you may find yourself sharing the trail with horseback riders.  The trail junction is just over a mile away near a little meadow and the trail follows a relatively level path through an alder forest before joining back in with main trail.

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I wouldn’t recommend doing the entire loop if you have small children as the way up can be difficult for smaller legs and it’s a 9 mile hike.  I suspect that when the wildflowers are blooming, this area will have quite a few blooms that will only enhance the view.

 

Until the next adventure….

Kitt Peak National Observatory – An Experience Like no Other

Kitt Peak National Observatory, located on the Tohono O’odham Nation, sits on 6,880-feet Kitt Peak in the Quinlan Mountains of the Sonoran desert.  Containing 24 optical and two radial telescopes, it is the largest gathering of astronimical instruments in the world.  Founded in 1958, the observatory’s objectives are to strengthen basic research and education in astronomy throughout the United States, its territories and possessions.  The observatory is available to qualified personnel to conduct research in the the field of stellar and solar astronomy.

From left to right, the Mayall 4m Telescope, the 2.3m Bok Reflector, the 0.9m Spacewatch, the 0.6m LOTIS, and the 1.8m Spacewatch.

From left to right, the Mayall 4m Telescope, the 2.3m Bok Reflector, the 0.9m Spacewatch, the 0.6m LOTIS, and the 1.8m Spacewatch.

 

It is home to the McMath-Pierce Solar Telescope, the largest unobstructed solar reflector (it doesn’t have a secondary mirror in the path of incoming light) in the world.    Designed by Myron Goldsmith in 1962, it is named for astronomers Robert McMath and Keith Pierce.  I wish I would have had internet access before visiting the observatory, as they were allowing visitors into the main part of the telescope for solar viewings throughout the day, but we got there just as the last one was ending.  Something to remember for next time.

The McMath-Pierce Solar Telescope at the Kitt Peak National Observatory

The McMath-Pierce Solar Telescope at the Kitt Peak National Observatory

The interior of the McMath-Pierce Solar Telescope at the Kitt Peak National Observatory.

The interior of the McMath-Pierce Solar Telescope at the Kitt Peak National Observatory.

There are 22 optical telescopes and 2 radio telescopes located at Kitt Peak.  Besides getting to go into the McMath-Pierce Solar Telescope, we also got to visit the 2.1m Telescope, that was first opened for public viewing in September 1964.

The 2.1m Telescope at Kitt Peak National Observatory.

The 2.1m Telescope at Kitt Peak National Observatory.

Because we had spent so much time exploring on the way up to Kitt Peak, there wasn’t as much time to explore the observatory as much as I would have liked so I’ll have to go back sometime in the future (maybe they’ll have it open to the public at night for star gazing).  I would have liked to get into the Mayall 4m Telescope as well, but that will also have to wait until a future visit.

 

Until the next adventure…

 

 

Discovering the Harmonies of the World…the Musical Instrument Museum

Opened in April of 2010, the Musical Instrument Museum is the largest museum of its type in the world.  No matter what your taste in music is, with over 15,000 instruments and associated objects from nearly 200 countries and territories, there is something here for everyone.  In addition to representing every inhabited continent, some of the larger countries, such as China, Russia, the United States, India and the Congo have multiple displays to showcase the different types of folk, ethnic, and tribal music.

A Harp-guitar from Bad Harzburg, Lower Saxony, Germany.  Myde by Heyno Herbst in 1994, it is a replica of a 1920 harp-guitar made by W. J. Dyer & Bro.

A Harp-guitar from Bad Harzburg, Lower Saxony, Germany. Made by Heyno Herbst in 1994, it is a replica of a 1920 harp-guitar made by W. J. Dyer & Bro.

 

A replica of a Martin guitar workshop at the Musical Instrument Museum.

A replica of a Martin guitar workshop at the Musical Instrument Museum.

 

Your admission into the museum includes a wireless headset for visitors to wear throughout the museum.  As you approach a display, your headset is synced with a “hot spot”, allowing you to hear the instruments being played.  My favorite aspect of this was when we got to the display about the Recycled Orchestra of Paraguay.  Founded in Cateura, Paraguay, by Favio Chavez.  Cateura is basically a shantytown built on a landfill.  Families eke out their survival by collecting and reselling garbage.  Favio Chavez, along with a group of other individuals searched the landfill for usable materials to create instruments.  From empty old drums, tin cans, old pieces of wood, buttons, old x-ray films, and bottle caps, they have made violins, drums, cellos, flutes and other instruments and have created a thriving music school and youth orchestra that performs internationally.  They have also been the subject of a documentary, Landfill Harmonic.

A soprano saxophone made from a tin water pipe, metal bottle caps, plastic buttons, metal spoon and fork handles from the Recycled Orchestra of Paraguay.

Close up detail of a soprano saxophone made from a tin water pipe, metal bottle caps, plastic buttons, metal spoon and fork handles from the Recycled Orchestra of Paraguay.  Made by Tito Romero.

 

A Cello made of a metal automotive container, spatula, used strings, recycled wood and tuning pegs and made by Nicolas "Cola" Gomez.

A Cello made of a metal automotive container, spatula, used strings, recycled wood and tuning pegs and made by Nicolas “Cola” Gomez.

 

Along with the wide variety of instruments, there was also costumes from various festivals held around the world.  One of the neatest I saw, was the masks from Junkanoo, a street parade with music that occurs in many towns across The Bahamas.

A mask from Junkanoo.

A mask from Junkanoo.

Another section of the museum that I found very interesting was the Mechanical Music Gallery, featuring a selection of musical instruments such as player pianos and music boxes that by definition, “play themselves”.  The time between the late 19th and early 20th centuries as known as the Golden Age of Mechanical Music and saw the creation of a variety of self-playing instruments as well as automatons (self-operating machines)

 

A Playasax (mechanical mouth organ) made by Q.R.S. DeVry Corp. and manufactured from the mid-1920s to the 1930s.

A Playasax (mechanical mouth organ) made by Q.R.S. DeVry Corp. and manufactured from the mid-1920s to the 1930s.

A mechanical mouth organ from Germany (c. 1900)  Beginning in the 1870s, player trumpets similar to this one were sold in the United States as "phonographic cornets" and "trumpettos".

A mechanical mouth organ from Germany (c. 1900) Beginning in the 1870s, player trumpets similar to this one were sold in the United States as “phonographic cornets” and “trumpettos”.

 

A close up of an automaton "mask seller".

A close up of an automaton “mask seller”.

Also on display are guitars from various artists, including Toby Keith, Taylor Swift, Roy Orbison, John Denver, along with many others.

An EF-341C guitar, owned by Toby Keith; one of many instruments that was damaged at the Soundcheck storage facility in the 2010 Nashville Flood

An EF-341C guitar, owned by Toby Keith; one of many instruments that was damaged at the Soundcheck storage facility in the 2010 Nashville Flood

While at the museum, also take the opportunity to watch any restorations going on in the Conservation Room.  There wasn’t anybody or any instruments in the room while I was there, but it was still an interesting place to see.

The Conservation Room at the Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix, Arizona.

The Conservation Room at the Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix, Arizona.

If you decide to visit the museum, make sure you check out the Experience Gallery, where there are a variety of the same instruments on display throughout the museum, allowing any aspiring musician to try them out.

There was far too many instruments on display to post photos of all of them here; however, I will be uploading more images to my Flickr page for you to visit should you so choose.  Please remember that all of my photos are copyrighted and may not be used for any purpose without permission from me.

Until the next adventure….

 

Walking on the Wild Side at the Phoenix Zoo

My last full day in Arizona was spent by going to the Phoenix Zoo.  Founded by Robert Maytag (of the Maytag family) in 1962, the Phoenix Zoo is the largest privately owned, non-profit zoo in the United States.  We were there for the afternoon and there was no way we were going to be able to see the over 1400 hundred animals on display so we decided to start off our trip by taking the Safari Train on a nonstop guided tour to get an overall sense of the layout and allow us to plan what we wanted to see most (if you are going to be spending a whole day at the zoo, I would avoid the Safari Train.  In my opinion, the guide wasn’t very informative and the tour was basically a waste of money).

The Phoenix zoo has four major themed areas: the Arizona Trail, the Africa Trail, the Tropics Trail, and the Discovery/Children’s Trail.  We started off on the Africa Trail where one of the bigger displays contained Reticulated Giraffes (Giraffa camelopardis reticulata), East African Crowned Cranes (Balearica regulorum gibbericeps), Common Elands (Taurotragus Oryx), and Watusi Cattle (Bos taurus) – I’m sure there were more, but those were the main ones we saw while we were there.

Common Eland

A Common Eland appears to be smiling…

A reticulated giraffe at the Phoenix Zoo.

A reticulated giraffe at the Phoenix Zoo.

Home to more than 1,400 animals, including 30 species that are endangered or threatened, and has been conservation minded since it started.  Operation Oryx, a captive breeding program started in the early years of the zoo with the specific goal of reintroducing the nearly extinct Arabian oryx to the wild, was one of only two programs that had gone through the wilderness to zoo to wilderness sequence by the early 1990s.

 

 

A Sumatran Tiger on the prowl at the Phoenix zoo.

A Sumatran Tiger on the prowl at the Phoenix zoo.

One of the coolest exhibits at the Phoenix zoo is Monkey Village.  Home to a troupe of common Squirrel Monkeys, the Phoenix Zoo is the only zoo in the United States where you can walk through a squirrel monkey exhibit.  In the Amazon, squirrel monkeys live in social groups of around 30 individuals; while there aren’t that many in Monkey Village, it is still a site to see – just make sure that there aren’t any directly above you or you may be the recipient of an unwelcome “gift”.

A Squirrel Monkey in Monkey Village at the Phoenix Zoo.

A Squirrel Monkey in Monkey Village at the Phoenix Zoo.

A Squirrel Monkey hiding among the leaves of the trees.

A Squirrel Monkey hiding among the leaves of the trees.

 

The best advice I can give you for enjoying a day at the zoo is to slow down and take the time to see the animals – don’t rush from exhibit to exhibit.  Also, if you have little ones, bring along a change of clothes as they will probably want to play in the water play areas of Leapin’ Lagoon and Yakulla Caverns; there is also an Enchanted Forest play area.

 

Until the next adventure….

Rediscovering Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

I hadn’t been to Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument since I was 8 years old; and, you really couldn’t even call that a trip since it was more of a quick drive through (as I recall).  About enough to say that you’d been there and that was it (of course I was a kid and I had been to a lot of different places by then, so it’s possible that I just don’t remember it).  Needless to say, when the opportunity presented itself to visit again, I jumped at the chance.

The entrance to Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument.

The entrance to Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument.

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument was established on April 13, 1937, by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, citing authority granted to him by the Antiquities Act of 1906.  National monuments are established by Presidential proclamation, whereas national parks are established via an Act of Congress.

Located in southern Arizona and sharing a border with Sonora, Mexico,  Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument is not only a U.S. National Monument, but it also has the distinction of being a UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization) biosphere reserve.  Part of what makes this place so special and unique is that it is the only place in the United States where the organ pipe cactus (Stenocereus thurben) grows wild.

I was really looking forward to shooting the starry skies over the desert, but that wasn’t going to happen this trip as my time there coincided with a full moon.  As disappointed as I was to not be able to photograph star trails, photographing the desert at night lit only by a full moon more than made up for it.

A full moon rises behind an Organ Pipe Cactus in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument.

A full moon rises behind an Organ Pipe Cactus in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument.

One of the trails in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument appears to lead right to the moon.

One of the trails in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument appears to lead right to the moon.

While we were there, we did the scenic drives that are in the park.  First up was the Puerto Blanco Drive, a five mile drive to the Pinkely Peak Picnic area.  Puerto Blanco Drive originally consisted of 37 miles of some of the most scenic back roads driving in Arizona; however, due to safety concerns, all but 5 miles of the road have been closed off to the public.  While what you can see along those 5 miles is breathtakingly spectacular, it is disappointing to not be able to explore areas such as Quitobaquito, the Gachado Line Camp, Dos Lomitas Ranch, the Golden Bell Mine, and the Bonita Well.  The park service has recently opened the road up another 5 miles past the picnic area, allowing a few cars a day to go further into the park until the reach Dewey Springs.

The Ajo Mountains lie in the distance along the Ajo Mountain Drive in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument.

The Ajo Mountains lie in the distance along the Ajo Mountain Drive in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument.

The Ajo Mountain Scenic drive is a 21-mile long, mostly gravel road that almost immediately immerses you in the Sonoran Desert.  Stop by the vistior center and pick up the free driving guide that provides a brief history of the area at 18 different stops (most of which provide information on something unique to that particular stop).  For example, at stop 6, there is a ramada built out of ocotillo branches, similar in style to when they dotted the landscape when the people of the Tohono O’odham tribe inhabited the Diablo Wash Canyon as far back as 12,000 years ago.

A Ramada made from Ocotillo branches shelters a picnic table along the Ajo Mountain Drive.

A Ramada made from Ocotillo branches shelters a picnic table along the Ajo Mountain Drive.

At stop 9, you can walk out to see a crested Organ Pipe Cactus.  As of yet, scientists do not know what causes the mutation, but it doesn’t appear to affect the growth of the cactus and it is really  neat to see up close.  This mutation can also be found on Saguaro cacti.

A close up of a genetic mutation in an Organ Pipe cactus forming a cristae.

A close up of a genetic mutation in an Organ Pipe cactus forming a cristae.

About midway through the drive, you will see a double arch in the hillside.  The first arch is pretty obvious, but almost directly above it is another smaller arch.

A double arch can be found along the Ajo Mountain Drive.

A double arch can be found along the Ajo Mountain Drive.

Once again, we had the drive almost completely to ourselves (except for the border patrol agent that passed us on an ATV).  Like any scenic drive, the key to enjoying it is to SLOW DOWN – take time to stop at the pullouts and read the information provided about the area.

Our last night in the park brought some thin clouds (that unfortunately didn’t light up for sunset at all), but made for some neat images once they were lit by the moon.

 

Camping under the stars.

Camping under the stars.

Until the next adventure….

Waterfall Wanderings

I spent Saturday wandering along the East Fork Lewis River in the southwest corner of the Gifford Pinchot National Forest before I drove into Portland that evening for my cousin’s birthday party.

The East Fork Lewis River just below Lucia Falls

The East Fork Lewis River just below Lucia Falls

My first stop was at Lucia Falls Park, where Lucia Falls has a drop of about 15 feet.  Don’t be fooled but its short height, it is still an impressive waterfall as it is 50 feet wide.  Due the large amount of rains we have recently had, the water was really surging over the falls.  I’m really curious to visit this area again in the fall and see how it looks with a lower water volume.

Lucia Falls

Lucia Falls

After exploring a few of the trails around the falls (and trying not to fall into the river – those rocks are extremely slippery), it was time to head back to the car and drive off in search of my next waterfall: Moulton Falls.

Moulton Falls Park is a 387 acre park where Big Tree Creek flows into the East Fork Lewis River.  Dropping approximately 10 feet, Moulton Falls is definitely not a big waterall and when the water is running high as it was during my visit, the falls appear to be more of a rapid than an actual waterfall.

Moulton Falls

Moulton Falls

The highlight of the park isn’t necessarily the waterfall, but rather one of the bridges that crosses high over the water.

High Bridge

High Bridge over the East Fork Lewis River

I loved the color of the water as it flowed through the canyon and took the opportunity to do some close ups of some of the rocks and the water as it flowed by.

East Fork Lewis River Close up 2 East Fork Lewis River Close UP

After leaving the area around Moulton Falls, I headed upriver in search of one more waterfall – Sunset Falls, located in Sunset Falls Park and the uppermost falls on the East Fork Lewis River.  Sunset Falls Park is a U.S. Forest Service Park so you will need either a Northwest Forest Pass or an America the Beautiful Pass to visit (or you can always visit on a fee free day).

Sunset Falls

Sunset Falls

It was almost time to start heading back so I wouldn’t be late for my cousin’s birthday party (there’s no way I was going to be late for strawberry shortcake), but I had time to find one more waterfall.  Big Tree Creek Falls was the biggest waterfall I found as it drops approximately 60 feet as it tumbles downstream towards the town of Yacolt.  From what I’ve read, it is possible to get to the base of the falls without the use of ropes, though I didn’t see the way down when I was there, and since I was by myself, I certainly wasn’t going to take any unnecessary risks (falling on slippery rocks was not how I planned to spend my afternoon).  Big Tree Creek Falls is on Weyerhauser Land, so if you decide to visit, please make sure you don’t block the gate as if enough people do this, it will end up restricting access for everyone.

Big Tree Creek Falls

Big Tree Creek Falls

That was all the time I had for exploring so it was time to hustle back to the car and make my way across the Columbia River and into Portland as there was a birthday to celebrate.

Until the next adventure….

Quiet Solitude in Yellowstone National Park

Today was a complete change from the bitter cold temperatures and bright blue skies that we had while exploring the park yesterday.  Slate gray skies and unrelenting snow fall were on order for today….not the best weather for photographing Old Faithful, but that is also part of the challenge of photography – being able to adapt to changing conditions and sometimes, that means going out in less than ideal conditions.  We were travelling by snowcoach again today, this time to Old Faithful and the Fountain Paint Pots area of Yellowstone National Park

Photographers on snowmobiles line up along the banks of the Madison River to photograph elk and tundra swans.

Photographers on snowmobiles line up along the banks of the Madison River to photograph elk and tundra swans.

We stopped behind the snowmobilers in the photo above to watch the female elk and a couple of Tundra Swans along the banks of the Madison River.

On the Banks of the Madison River

A female elk and some tundra swans on the banks of the Madison River in Yellowstone National Park.

A female elk foraging for grass along the banks of the Madison River in Yellowstone National Park.

A female elk foraging for grass along the banks of the Madison River in Yellowstone National Park.

The weather showed no signs of improving as we made our way towards the Fountain Paint Pots in the Lower Geyser Basin area of the park.  Our first stop in the short walk around the Fountain Paint Pots was the Celestine Pool, one of the hot springs that, tragically, has resulted in the loss of human life.

Celestial Pool in the Lower Geyser Basin in Yellowstone National Park

Celestial Pool in the Lower Geyser Basin in Yellowstone National Park

Near Silex Spring, bacterial mats composed of various types thermophilic bacteria transform the winter landscape with broad brush strokes of yellows, greens and browns, all dependent upon the temperature of the waters in which they thrive.

Thermophilic bacteria reside in the waters that run off of Silex Spring, resulting in broad strokes of color on the landscape.

Thermophilic bacteria reside in the waters that run off of Silex Spring, resulting in broad strokes of color on the landscape.

We also stopped for a few minutes to watch Red Spouter, a fumarole on the Fountain Paint Pot trail.  Normally, Red Spouter emits steam and other gases; however, during the wetter months of the year, it splashes up muddy water that is red in color.

Red Spouter

Red Spouter

A close up of the water at Red Spouter

A close up of the water at Red Spouter.

Leather Pool was our next stop along the Fountain Paint Pot trail.  Once a warm (143 F) pool lined with a brown bacteria that gave the pool its name, it’s temperature increased significantly after the Hebgen Lake earthquake in 1959, killing the algae that resided in the pool.

Leather Pool in the Fountain Paint Pot area of Yellowstone National Park.

Leather Pool in the Fountain Paint Pot area of Yellowstone National Park.

After exploring the area around the Fountain Paint Pots trail, we stopped by Excelisor Geyser, named by the Hayden Geological Survey of 1871.  The Excelisor Geyser pool discharges 4000-4500 gallons of 199F water per minute directly into the Firehole River.  It was an active geyser at one point in time, but it is believed that its powerful eruptions damaged some of its internal plumbing system, turning it into a productive hot spring most of the time.

Excelsior Geyser

Runoff from the Excelsior Geyser flows into the Firehole River.

We were soon off to the witness what would be one of the many highlights of the trip…..the eruption of Old Faithful in the Upper Geyser Basin.  Due to it’s predictability, it can be almost impossible to find an unobstructed view of the eruption.  However, in the wintertime, there are very few people around and you can get a clear view from just about anywhere on the boardwalk that surrounds the geyser.  Named in 1870 during the Washburn-Langford-Doane Expedition, Old Faithful was the first geyser in the park to receive a name.  The eruption of Old Faithful was very difficult to photograph since the steam and water explosion matched the gray color of the sky.  By darkening the sky a little bit, I was able to differentiate between the geyser and the skies behind it.

Old Faithful begins its eruption in Yellowstone National Park

Old Faithful begins its eruption in Yellowstone National Park

After experiencing Old Faithful erupt, exploring the visitor center, and enjoying lunch (and finding my cell phone for the umpteenth time – not sure why I kept losing it on this trip), it was time to start making our way back towards Madison Junction, but there were a couple of more stops to make before we exited the park for the day, the first of which was the Kepler Cascades.

Kepler Cascades drops approximately 150 feet on the Firehole River in Yellowstone National Park.

Kepler Cascades drops approximately 150 feet on the Firehole River in Yellowstone National Park.

Kepler Cascades were first described by the Washburn-Langford-Doane Expedition in 1870, but remained nameless until 1881.  In 1881, then park superintendent, Philetus Norris named the cascades after the 12 year old son of Wyoming’s territorial governor John Wesley Hoyt, Keppler Hoyt, who was visiting Yellowstone with his father when the cascades were named.

Firehole Falls

Firehole Falls

Located upstream from the confluence of the Firehole and Gibbon Rivers, Firehole Falls drops approximately 40 feet within Firehole Canyon.

Firehole Falls was basically our last stop for the day, but when we stopped at Madison Junction on the way out of the park, I spotted a Blue Grouse (Dendragapus obscurusthat was moving among the branches of a tree overhead.  After watching it for a bit and snapping lots of photos, it was time to head out of the park….

A blue grouse found at Madison Junction.

A blue grouse found at Madison Junction.

Until the next adventure….

Winter Wonderland in Yellowstone National Park

Tuesday morning dawned bright and cold mind numbingly cold (hey, when you are from the Pacific Northwest where 1/4 ” of snow causes the entire area to basically be shut down, -28F is mind numbingly cold).  We set off to explore the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone via snowcoach, a touring van that has been converted for over snow travel by replacing the wheels with tracks and skis.

One of the many different  types of snowcoach that  transports visitors through Yellowstone National Park in the winter.

One of the many different types of snowcoach that transports visitors through Yellowstone National Park in the winter.

Our first stop was not too far into the park to watch a couple of Tundra swans playing in the waters of the Madison River.  As we made our way further into the park, it wasn’t long before we saw some bison, using their heads to push snow out of the way to get to the grasses underneath, and a couple of elk enjoying some sunshine.

Bison use their heads to "plow" the deep snow out of the way in order to get to the grasses underneath.

Bison use their heads to “plow” the deep snow out of the way in order to get to the grasses underneath.

We made a short stop for some hot chocolate at Madison Junction.  This is where the winter tours split, with groups going to both Old Faithful (which we will experience tomorrow) and the rest headed up toward the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.  After warming up at Madison Junction, we stopped at Gibbon Falls, named after General John Gibbon.  With a drop of approximately 84 feet, Gibbon Falls was first described by William Henry Jackson during the second Hayden geological survey of 1872.

Gibbon Falls drops approximately 84 feet on the Gibbon River.

Gibbon Falls drops approximately 84 feet on the Gibbon River.

After exploring Gibbon Falls, we made a stop at Beryl Hot Springs in the Gibbon Geyser Basin.  In the winter time, the 196 F average water coats the surrounding trees in thick layers of frost giving them the appearance of ghosts.  The wonders of the day kept getting more and more beautiful and we weren’t even to the best part yet…

Averaging 196F, Beryl Spring is one of the hottest springs in Yellowstone National Park.  It was named by the USGS Hague party in 1883.

Averaging 196F, Beryl Spring is one of the hottest springs in Yellowstone National Park. It was named by the USGS Hague party in 1883.

Steam from Beryl Spring covers the surrounding trees in thick layers of frost, giving them the appearance of being ghosts.

Next up, Upper Yellowstone Falls, where, as the Yellowstone River flows out of Yellowstone lake, it leaves Hayden Valley and plunges 109 feet before flowing another 1/4 of a mile downstream before dropping over the 308 feet high Lower Yellowstone Falls (almost twice as high as Niagara Falls).

Smaller than it's famous counterpart, Upper Yellowstone Falls plunges 109 feet down the Yellowstone River.

Smaller than it’s famous counterpart, Upper Yellowstone Falls plunges 109 feet down the Yellowstone River.

Lower Yellowstone Falls

Lower Yellowstone Falls plunges 308 on the Yellowstone River. The dome in front of the falls is ice created from the spray of the falls and will vary in height each year, depending on the amount of snow received and the temperatures.

Before long, it was time to head towards Canyon Village for a lunch break where we watched Jeff Henry clearing the snow off the roofs of the buildings.  Jeff Henry has worked and photographed in and around Yellowstone for years and has had numerous books published with his stunning photography.

John Henry clearing snow from the roofs of the buildings at Canyon Village in Yellowstone National Park

John Henry clearing snow from the roofs of the buildings at Canyon Village in Yellowstone National Park

After lunch had been consumed and we had watched the snow being cleared from the roofs, it was off to one of the best views of the day – the Norris Geyser Basin.  The hottest geyser basin in Yellowstone National Park, Norris Geyser Basin consists of three main areas – Porcelain Basin, Back Basin, and One Hundred Springs Plain.  The waters of Norris Geyser Basin are acidic (unlike most of the other geyser basins in the park which are alkaline), allowing for a different class of bacterial thermophiles to survive at Norris Geyser Basin, creating a variety of different color patterns in and around the Norris Basin waters.

Norris Geyser Basin

A section of the Norris Geyser Basin area in Yellowstone National Park

After we were done exploring Norris Geyser Basin, it was getting to be time to bring the days’ adventures to a close and head back out of the park for the night.  We did see some more bison (including a young one) and some tundra swans along the bank of the Gibbon River before stopping at The Chocolate Pots on the banks of the Gibbon River.  At a temperature of around 130F, the Chocolate Pots are a unique feature in the park due to their rich, dark-brown, chocolate color and are composed primarily of iron, aluminum, nickel and manganese oxides.

Chocolate Pots along the Gibbon River in Yellowstone National Park.

Chocolate Pots along the Gibbon River in Yellowstone National Park.

All in all, it was an exhilarating day exploring America’s first National Park via snowcoach.  There’s definitely something to be said for getting off of the beaten path and visiting the park in the off season.  No cars clogging up the roads, no people getting dangerously close to the wildlife with their cell phone cameras….just the sounds of rivers flowing, wing blowing through the trees, and the sounds of geysers sending their eruptions skyward – a perfect way to spend our first day in the park.

 

Until the next adventure…

On the Road Again….This Time to America’s First National Park

Saturday morning came, and it was time once again, to load up the car and head out of town … this time towards West Yellowstone, Montana, for a wintry vacation into America’s first national park – Yellowstone National Park. However, no road trip to adventure would be complete without making a few stops along the way…

The first stop on our most recent adventure was to pick up Mom’s friend in Spokane (let me tell you, getting enough luggage and food, along with 3 people into a Hyundai Tuscon for a week in cold weather is a bit like playing Tetris). We decided to spend Sunday night in Belgrade, Montana, as there were a couple of one room schools along the way that we wanted to find; some that we had found before and wanted to photograph under a blanket of winter snow and others that we hadn’t found before.

While driving through Idaho, we spotted Elmer’s Fountain at the entrance to the Gold Creek Mine.  Since we were past it before we spotted the exit for it, we went up the freeway to the next exit and turned around.  Elmer’s Fountain was originally known as Arnold’s Fountain since Arnold was Elmer’s best friend and the original owner of the land the fountains are on.  Elmer’s Fountain was built by Elmer Almquist, a silver miner and part owner of the Sunshine Mine before he passed away in March 1986.

Located at Exit 66 on I-90 eastbound, Elmer's Fountain was built by Elmer Almquist, a silver miner and part owner of the Sunshine mine.

Located at Exit 66 on I-90 eastbound, Elmer’s Fountain was built by Elmer Almquist, a silver miner and part owner of the Sunshine mine.

From there, it was on to Montana with a brief stop at the Fort Missoula Historical Museum.  Established as a permanent military post in 1877, the fort was built in response to townspeople and settlers for protection should a conflict with the western Montana Indian tribes occur.  The fort was used as a training facility during World War , before being mostly abandoned by 1921.  In 1933, it was designated as the Northwest Regional Headquarters for the Civilan Conservation Corps.  in 1941, Fort Missoula was turned over to the Department of Immigration and Naturalization for use as an alien detention center for non-military Italian and and Japanese-American men.  It was also used as a prison for military personnel accused of military crimes and other personnel awaiting court-martial following World War II, before being decommissioned in 1947.  While there, we photographed Engine No. 7, a Shay-type engine built in June 1923.

Built by the Willamette Iron and Steel Works of Portland, Oregon in June 1923, this Shay-type, gear-driven locomotive was ideal for the rough trackage, steep grades, and sharp curves found on logging railroads.

Built by the Willamette Iron and Steel Works of Portland, Oregon in June 1923, this Shay-type, gear-driven locomotive was ideal for the rough trackage, steep grades, and sharp curves found on logging railroads.

Also located at the fort is a historical tipi burner that was built around 1946, in Conner.  They were once used by every sawmill in the Missoula Valley (and other areas) to burn waste from the milling operation.  New technologies to turn the waste into pressboard and paper, along with the launch of the Clean Air Act led to the end of the tipi burners in the 1970s.

Tipi burners were once plentiful in and around logging towns

Tipi burners were once plentiful in and around logging towns

While at the fort, we also visited the Grant Creek Schoolhouse that was built in 1907 in the lower Grant Creek drainage, north of Missoula.  It served the farming area until 1937.  It was moved to the grounds of the fort in 1976 and was restored to its appearance in the 1920s.  Unfortunately, we didn’t get to see everything at Fort Missoula, so there is plenty of reason to go back again one of these days.

The Grant Creek School was moved to Fort Missoula in 1976.

The Grant Creek School was moved to Fort Missoula in 1976.

After leaving Fort Missoula, it was time to start finding a couple of one room schools.  The first one on the list was the Springhill Community District 20 School ,which in 2011 had a total of 14 students enrolled in grades Pre-k through 8th.

Springhill School District 20

From there, we stopped at the Pass Creek School which currently has 10 students in K – 8th grades.  As we were getting in the car to leave, the teacher came out and invited us in to see the school and chat with the older kids, 3 of which will be heading to Washington DC this spring.

Pass Creek School

We then passed through the remnants of the town of Menard, where all that remains are a few scattered buildings and the town’s grain elevator.

Menard

Maudlow was our next destination and there we found the two-story Madulow School District 31 building that was built in 1909, as well as the old Maudlow Mercantile.  After falling on my backside on a patch of ice that was covered with snow, and poking around for a bit, it was time to go off in search of another school.  But first, we found an old Montana Elevator Company grain elevator in the former town of Accola.

Maudlow School Montana Elevator Company

The next school we found was the Dry Creek School (District 9) built in 1902.  This building replaced the cabin where classes were originally held in 1901.  When classses began in the spring of 1902, there were 45 students.  Originally known as Cedar View, and later, Hillsdale, it became the Dry Creek School in 1909.  By 1945, there were only 4 students enrolled and the school was closed.  District 9 was consolidated with the Manhattan School District 3 in 1961.

Dry Creek School

We had time to hunt for one more school before we made our way to our final destination of West Yellowstone, so we started looking for the Anderson (District 41) School.

Anderson School

Our next stop was to be our final destination for the remainder of the week, West Yellowstone, Montana.

…Until the next adventure.

Snowshoe Racing…What was I Thinking?

I’m always up for trying a new adventure and that’s probably never going to change.  Because of this, I decided to enter a snowshoe race – actually, I entered two of them, but the first one was cancelled due to a lack of snow.  :-(  Not to be discouraged by the abysmal snow in the majority of the Cascade Mountains, I headed down to Oregon Saturday night to visit with my cousin for a bit before Sunday’s main event, the White River Snowshoe 4k/8k put on by X Dog Events.

Saturday night, we went to dinner and then drove into town to go to see Saving Mr. Banks starring Tom Hanks as Walt Disney and Emma Thompson as P. L. Travers, the author of Mary Poppins.  I’m a huge Disney fan and one of my favorite movies just happens to be Mary Poppins so I was super excited to see how hard Disney had to work to obtain the rights to the movie….and it didn’t disappoint.  If you get the chance to go and see it, I highly recommend it (though leave the young children at home as it is not really a kids movie).

Sunday morning dawned with bluebird skies and I headed east on the Mt. Hood Highway through Government Camp and down to the White River West Sno Park, the starting area for this year’s event.  After getting checked in and picking up my race number, I had some time to just wander around and admire the beauty of the day (and try to get familiar with the settings on my new GoPro camera I had just purchased)

You couldn't ask for a better venue to hold a race...

You couldn’t ask for a better venue to hold a race…

It wasn’t long before the parking lot was full and hundreds of racers were gathered around anxiously awaiting the start, but first we had to receive a few race guidelines (like make sure you follow the yellow cones and the orange flags in the snow).  And then, with a mighty blow of the conch shell, we were off….

Best starting gun ever!!!

Best starting gun ever!!!

After a fast start, it wasn't long before the field started to spread out

After a fast start, it wasn’t long before the field started to spread out

While walking in snowshoes is relatively easy – they say once you walk ten steps without falling down, you are a pro – running in snowshoes is an entirely different matter.  It’s like being a little kid and trying to run down the hall with your mother’s shoes on.  It definitely takes a bit of getting used to and I’ll admit, there was at least one face plant on my part (nope, no photo taken of that so you are just going to have to imagine it).

The snow wasn’t great as we haven’t had any snow for the past week and there were parts of the trail that were barely covered, but that didn’t stop us from having fun.  The course was a loop, the 4k event did one loop, while the 8k event completed two loops.  And while the course looks really flat, it’s more of a gradual climb for the first half as you make your way up the valley and then downhill for the remainder of the course

Course Map

One of the steep sections involved climbing out of the valley

One of the steep sections involved climbing out of the valley

Before long, we were making our way through the trees and back towards the start line…..and that’s when it happened.  One minute, I was jogging along having a grand old time and the next thing you know, I was missing a snowshoe and face first in the snow….Luckily there weren’t very many people around (I’m sure it looked rather graceful funny).  Oh well,  laying in the snow was a great way to cool off.

DCIM100GOPRO

One important thing to remember for next year, bring a water bottle as there wasn’t any water on the course (other than the frozen kind and the river, neither of which I was too keen to drink from).  While there was a “temptation station” on the course, the beverage of choice at it was Coors Light and since I don’t drink, that wasn’t an option either.

Temptation Station

Temptation Station

And just like that, we were back at the finish line…..definitely not first, but not last either, so I’ll count that as a personal win.  The way I figure it, I lapped everybody who stayed at home on the couch at least once.  :-)

…Until the next adventure