On Shaky Ground, Part 2

(picture credit: UUSS)

Leah and I passed through the construction zone with time to spare, thus avoiding the road closure, and reducing our stress level. It was 7:00 pm, we were tired, and I needed a break from driving since 10:00 am. If we could make it through the next 28 miles without incident, we’d be out of the park and on our way to dinner. We continued toward Madison junction at a normal pace, until once again, traffic stalled to a stand-still.

Cars were pulling over left and right, creating a logjam. The Gibbon River to my left and the foothills of Mt. Holmes to my right offered scant shoulder room to negotiate a roadside pull-over, yet I managed to maneuver the truck clear of the solid white line to investigate for myself.  Just then, a Park Ranger pulled his patrol car behind me with lights flashing.
“Finally,” exclaimed Leah, “there’s someone here to control this traffic mess!”
I dashed across the road to discover a family of elk dining on long grass on the other side of the river, while the ranger seemed powerless to control the many onlookers. Instead, he joined all us at the water’s edge to admire the scene.
Elk and fawns
I turned to ask Ranger Painter a question. “Is there any concern to the public about the earthquake swarm that’s been recorded since the weekend?”
Since June 12, the northwestern edge of the park (our location) had experienced over 464 events, with the largest quake registering 4.4 magnitude on June 15.
Scientists reported,
“This is the highest number of earthquakes at Yellowstone within a single week in the past five years, but is fewer than weekly counts during similar earthquakes swarms in 2002, 2004, 2008 and 2010.”
The last major eruption of the Yellowstone supervolcano was a magnitude-7.5 event in 1959 at Hebgen Lake–the same vicinity experiencing the latest seismic activity–resulting in a landslide that killed twenty-eight people.
Painter responded, “Is that your red F-150 parked over there?”
“It is,” I answered, “but it’s not for sale,” I added.
“There’s been a report about unsafe driving–that you’ve been passing on a double yellow. Is that true?” asked Ranger Painter.
Incredulous, I asked, “Are you sure you have the right truck? There must be a hundred or more red trucks in the park.”
“But your’s is the only one from New Jersey,” he asserted. “Another ranger witnessed you unlawfully passing, and put in a general call to pull you over. That means I’m supposed to give you a ticket from him for the offense. So, I’m gonna need to see your license, registration and insurance card, please.”
“Are you kidding me? This is extortion! There’s no way I did what he said. And if it’s true, then why didn’t your buddy pull me over?” I insisted.
“Look, I understand your frustration, and I don’t think this is the best way of doing things either.” Painter shrugged, “Personally, I hate doing someone’s dirty work, but I’m just the messenger. This is gonna take a little time, so you’re welcome to continue taking pictures if you want.”
After twenty minutes, the elk returned to the forest, and the crowds diminished. Painter returned to the truck, with my citation. “First of all,” he started, “I want to thank you for not being a jerk.”
“Not my nature,” I declared.
“Good,” Painter responded, “because I didn’t cite you for careless driving like the other ranger advised, which would have been a $200 offense. Instead, I wrote you up for unsafe passing, which only carries a $60 fine… and a $30 processing fee.
“What? A $30 processing fee on top of the ticket. You guys give new meaning to highway robbery,” I alleged.
“What can I say? Everything’s going up,” Painter posited. “Just sign at the bottom,” he instructed, offering the violation notice. “I’m also giving you this flyer, ’cause if you think this is unfair, then call the number and maybe you’ll get the ticket dismissed if you fight it.
“You bet I will,” I pronounced.
“Drive safely,” Painter forewarned, “and you’re in no danger of being caught in an earthquake.”
We finished the ride home to our Airstream in West Yellowstone without words or further incident after completing the Upper Loop in 10 exhausting hours.
The next day, we planned to follow the Lower Loop around, but we were grounded the moment we passed through the West Entrance. Our intention was to leave for the park on the earlier side of 9:00 am, but arranging future reservations in Canada’s national parks had proved more elusive and time-consuming. Consequently, traffic into the park was such a snarl by 10:30 am that cyclists with loaded side bags were making better time. After three hours, we managed to travel thirty ebb-and-flow miles. We were so far behind the tie-up that we could never figure why things were moving so slowly, although we surmised that it was animal-related.
We ate our lunch at Fountain Paint Pot, and walked the boardwalk through a desolate field of fumaroles, geysers, and hot springs, glad to finally stretch our legs. I chose to photograph the landscape as “abstract in nature”, sometimes compressing depth with a longer focal length…
blue flats
Fountain Paint Pot flats
bacteria trail
bacteria swirl
…or extending time by shooting at high speeds…
mud pop
…before moving onto Black Sand Basin to capture and accentuate true color through a polarizing filter.
Norris Geyser Basin
 emerald hot spring
prismatic pool
Leah and I agreed that it made little sense to continue the loop. It was already 4:30 pm. We called it quits before reaching Old Faithful, knowing full well that we would be driving into the eye of traffic turmoil, and realizing that the ride back to West Yellowstone could be unpredictable.
We originally planned to explore the park in five days, by pacing ourselves through the highlights, but allowing for a deeper connection by hiking some of the 1000 miles of available trails. But the Yellowstone crowds squashed our enthusiasm, and wore us out. Leah vowed that we would not return to the park in the foreseeable future, even through two more days were scheduled.
Part 3 reveals how we spent the remainder of our time.

On Shaky Ground, Part 1

via Daily Post: loop

I know I’ve complained about crowd size at National Parks before, but now that summer is upon us, and we’ve arrived at Yellowstone, it seems as if this park is bursting at the seams. Today, we abandoned our plans to visit the Upper and Lower Falls of Yellowstone’s Grand Canyon because of traffic, and we’re not returning tomorrow.

We started out four days ago, driving to Yellowstone after an overnight stay at Colter Bay in Grand Teton National Park. Unfortunately, the campground was at capacity, without any opportunity of staying an extra night… and we would have stayed had there been a cancellation, despite the broken water valve at our site. (Leah negotiated a $5 discount for the inconvenience.)

It meant there was little time to explore, given our late arrival after driving five hours from an overnight at Rawlins, WY, a whirlwind dust-bowl of a town that features the Wyoming Frontier Prison, a retired state penitentiary-turned-museum as its biggest distraction. Sorry, but we had little interest in “doing time” at a prison.

With limited daylight at Grand Teton, a hike around a portion of Jackson Lake was all we could muster.

Flowers and TetonsLakeviewmoored boats

The transition between Grand Teton and Yellowstone is seamless, with the South Entrance serving as the gateway to both parks along the John D. Rockefeller Memorial Parkway.

Although we were towing the Airstream through the park to our West Yellowstone campsite, we elected to stop at Old Faithful to stretch our legs with a few thousand others.

old faithful crowd

But it was worth it!

people watching eruptionInside Old Faithful

After an abbreviated walk along the Upper Geyser Basin with half the population of China, we decided to call it a day. The setting and throngs of tourists left us uneasy to a “fault”.

UGB6Upper Geyser BasinUGB2UGB4

Arriving at Wagon Wheel RV Campground, an open over-crowded sand pit in West Yellowstone presented its own set of problems. Our designated reserved site had been cut in half. What was once a long splinter of space that would barely accommodate a pull-through trailer with tow vehicle, had now become two sites. Our front-side neighbor pulled through yesterday, leaving me the compromised backside of the plot to back into from the street.

back to back

It was like threading the Airstream through a narrow tube, backwards.


Leah was furious. With no other available space anywhere in the park’s vicinity, we accepted our fate, but not until Leah wrangled a $20 discount for each of our five nights.

The next day, we completed the 70-mile Upper Loop.  Our objective was to take the counterclockwise route to avoid early road construction delays between Norris and Mammoth Hot Springs. To complete the loop, we would need to leave Mammoth by 6:30 pm before the construction crew shut down the road. It took us ten hours to make the circle, but gave us many unexpected thrills.

full bisonBison profile1

We followed the road past Gibbon Falls,

Gibbon Falls LSGibbon Fallsmuddy water

to the Norris Geyser Basin,

Norris prismUGB1

where an Oregon idiot dissolved to death last year by slipping into a boiling spring. Apparently, he and his sister carelessly wandered 225 yards of the boardwalk trail near Porkchop Geyser. The Norris region is home to the oldest and hottest geothermal activity in the park.

smoke and water

There were no remains to recover.


Our leisurely drive continued uninterrupted, winding through numerous mountain passes and rolling meadows until traffic slowed to a standstill near a swarm of pedestrians who blocked the road with their vehicles parked and running. Parents with children were dashing across the road, weaving through an impromptu parking lot and up a knoll overlooking a valley. I managed to park the truck 50 yards away at a turn-in, and ran with my camera.

black bear dinnerbear2bears

We arrived at Mammoth Hot Springs by 6 pm as the bright sun was casting tall shadows against the terrace wall.

terracesUGB5Mammoth HS terrace1 (2)Mammoth HS terrace

Time at the top of the park was limited. Our newest concern was getting back to West Yellowstone before the road closed. Most of the way back was a work zone, with alternating one-lane traffic slogging through packed dirt until we reached the Norris junction.

That’s when things got strange…

Part 2 coming soon.