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Sunday, April 01, 2007

Part II
Day 4: i.e., June 5, 2004
Yellowstone National Park and Grand Titon National Park

On the fourth day morning, i.e., 5th June, 2004 we left Cody, again early in the morning, on our journey to Jackson Hole, where our stay for the night had been booked and on the way, we passed through a portion of our sight seeing tour to Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks. Cody was only about an hour’s drive from the East entrance of Yellowstone National Park.

Our first stop was at Buffalo Bill Dam built across Shoshone River. This Cody - Buffalo Bill Highway is a scenic beauty across 27.5 miles and follows the north fork of Shoshone River.

We took a few pictures here and then proceeded further to enter Yellow Stone National Forest through the eastern entrance. On the way we passed through the Yellow Stone Lake (7732 feet above sea level) and this is the second largest high altitude freshwater lake in the world. I understand that the maximum depth in this lake is 387 feet. In winter, ice nearly 3 feet thick covers much of the lake, except where shallow water covers hot springs. The lake freezes over by early December and can remain frozen until late May or early June. When we passed by this lake and took pictures, the water was fresh, blue in colour and ice had already melted. This is also a Grizzly territory and in a few places, we saw several tourists parking their vehicle on the road side, taking positions, standing, sitting, lying down and zooming their camera and looking at far off places to spot grizzly bear or other wild animals. Visibly, some movements and the silhoutte of an animal in the far off distances, gave us the impression that they were probably grizzly bears. We were not very sure, but plenty of tourists, have come only to watch these animals and were waiting hours together to spot these animals and photograph them.

As we passed through the Yellowstone Lake, our drive through the Yellow Stone National Park on that day and the next day took us through a loop that resembled the number eight and, took us through the geysers both passive and active, canyon, water falls, forests devastated by fire, waterfronts and all.

Yellowstone National Park is located in the western states of Wyoming, Montana and Idaho. Yellowstone is the first and oldest national park in the world and covers 3,468 square miles (8,983 km²), mostly in the northwest corner of Wyoming. The park is famous for its various geysers, hot springs, supervolcano and other geothermal features and is the home to grizzly bears, wolves, and free-ranging herds of bison and elk. It is the core of the Greater Yellostone Ecosystem, one of the largest intact temperate zone ecosystems remaining on the planet. The world’s most famous geyser, the Old Faithful Geyser is also located in Yellowstone National Park. A geyser is a type of hot spring that erupts periodically, ejecting a column of hot water and steam into the air.

However, after crossing over a portion of the Yellowstone Lake, we drove towards south towards Jackson Hole where we were to stay for the night. This is the southern entrance to Yellowstone National Park, which remains closed during winter. On this way, we first passed through Lewis Lake. The drive was narrow, very beautiful with water one side and mountains on the other side. The remains of some of the not-so-active geysers were there on the route and we stopped over at few places, to have a closer look. The small pits were fuming with clear water beneath and transparent to allow view of the lime deposits in rock-like-shapes below. There were water ponds nearby the geyser pits and the water was crystal blue as you can see in the pictures. The lake was just adjacent touching these geyser bases. We could even see huge – probably dead – geysers spots amidst water in the lake. They have built wooden fences surrounding these dead geysers; they are very dangerous to go nearby as they could violently erupt anytime. There was a small waterfall – Lewis Falls – running into a small stream. We stopped over and took pictures.

Then as we drove, we passed through Jackson Lake that had snow-peak mountains in the background. The view was breathtaking.

Jackson Lake is a lake located in north western Wyoming in Grand Teton National Park. The lake is natural, except for the top 33 feet (10 m), which is due to the construction of Jackson Lake Dam, built in 1911. This top level of the lake is utilized by farmers in Idaho for irrigation purposes. The lake is the remnant of large glacial gouging from the neighboring Teton Range, and is still fed by runoff from small glaciers in near the peaks of those mountains. The main source of water is the Snake River – where we went for a thrilling two-hours float ride the next day – and this river flows in from the North. Jackson Lake is one of the largest high altitude lakes in the U.S. at an elevation of 6,772 feet (2,064 m) above sea level. The lake is up to 15 miles (25 km) long, 7 miles (11.25 km) wide and 438 feet (134 m) deep. The water of the lake averages below 60 degrees even during the hottest summer months and can freeze to more than 6 feet (1.8 m) thick in the winter.

Grand Teton National at 13,770 feet (4197 m), is the tallest mountain in the Teton Range. I understand that there are trails for 200 miles on this park for adventurous hikers.

Part of the Rocky Mountains, the north-south-trending Teton Range rises from the floor of Jackson Hole without any foothills along a 40 mile (65 km) long by 7 to 9 miles (11 to 15 km) wide active fault-block mountain front system. In addition to 13,770 ft (4197 m) high Grand Teton, another twelve peaks are over 12,000 ft (3660 m) above sea-level. Seven of these peaks between Avalanche and Cascade canyons make up the often-photographed Cathedral Group.

We reached Jackson Hole sometime in the late evening. We had early dinner and slept off dreaming about our next day’s proposed float on Snake River. We were building up lot of expectations about this float trip and we were also quite apprehensive about what if the river turns wild, which it does without any notice.

Day 5 i.e., June 6, 2004
One thing we strictly followed during our entire trip is to go to bed early in the night and get up early in the morning. This gave us substantial daytime saving. Our trip was planned at the end of winter and beginning of summer. So, it was very bright sun and light in the early morning. We were able to wander around with only our T-shirts and we did not need heavy winter clothing, though we were traveling at higher elevations.

So, this day we started out early around 7.30 – 8.00 a.m. after our breakfast. The hotel provided, cereals, fruit juices, doughnuts, coffee or milk as breakfast. We first roamed about the small town of Jackson Hole. This is a valley. The valley is formed by the Teton Range on the western side and the Gros Ventre range on the eastern side. Grand Teton National occupies the north-western part of the valley encompassing the much of the Teton Range as well as as Jackson Lake. The town of Jackson, Wyoming, is at the southern end. The Snake River threads through the entire valley from its headwater in Yellowstone in the north to the mouth of the Snake River Canyon at the southern tip of the valley. The average altitude of the valley is over 6,500 feet. High altitude and steep mountain slopes on all sides of the valley often causes calm winter nights to be very cold.

We walked through the malls; restaurants were just getting opened for business in the early morning and the shops generally closed. There was a beautiful park with lots of green plants artistically cut into shapes. There was an ornamental arch inside the park. The mountain slope just began very close to the main road, fully green and resembled a sloppy meadow.

We, then, drove down several miles to reach the point from where we will be picked up for our Snake River float trip. We bought our tickets for the float trip in advance using AAA coupon as only limited tourists were taken through the float trip every day. We were driven in a van up the hills for about 10-12 miles and taken to a place very close the river. It was a small concrete bank built on the rushing river. The water flow in the river was very strong.

Snake River is a 1038 mile long river. The Snake originates near the Continental Divide in Yellowstone National Park in NW Wyoming and flows south to Jackson Lake in Grand Teton National Park and past the town of Jackson. The river flows down Wyoming's Snake River Canyon, then enters Idaho; it finally joins Columbia River in the State of Washington.

We were helped to get into a giant sized float (made of rubberized plastic or some synthetic material) which was dangerously wobbling in the water current even while anchored and tied to a pole on the banks. There was seating arrangements for about 10-12 people inside the float. We all wore life jacket before stepping into the float. Other than us, there was another family of 4-5 people in the float for the trip. There was a chief who took the rowing and another to assist him – both young guys. The person has to stand on a small platform inside the raft and he had a huge bamboo-like pole to row and direct the flow of the float. He has to, not only deftly manage the smooth ride of the float along the river, but also has to guard the float from getting stuck with sharp water-plants underneath the water, which could severely damage the float. In several places, the river was shallow, but with uncontrolled water current – should be due to small rocks and sharp rocks and trees below the water. On one side of the river were the magnificent mountainous ranges, many with their snow peaks and on the other side slush wild vegetation. The water flow was wild and the float rocked in several places, thrilling as well as scaring us from time to time. There was heavy breeze as the river flowed through the ridge. During the trip, the rower exchanged places. We understand that one of them is just a part-time and had been moving places in all kinds of odd jobs; he has eventually learnt rowing on a float. Both of them gave great explanations of the great peaks that rose from the riverbed. The float trip ended (at the point from where we were picked up) after a two hours river float along 11 miles river flow.

From there, we started driving towards north, where the Yellowstone National Park is located and inside, you have the world famous geysers. This was the same route by which we reached Jackson Hole. As we approached the south entrance to Yellowstone (this route generally remains closed during winter as I mentioned earlier), we saw in several places the remains of fallen snow accumulated on the sides of the road and in the small woods. As it was after several years, we were seeing snow once again, we stopped by the roadside and that is when we started our playing around ice. I started the play by picking up some loose snow and throwing at Bala and, he picked up the game with Viji who in turn retaliated back by throwing snow all around. We had some of the nicest action pictures on my video as well as on our still camera as we played on ice. Reluctantly, we stopped our play after some time realizing that we were already getting late towards our next tour spots. We also saw the devastating effect of forest fires as several charred trees having fallen aground. I understand that Yellowstone and surrounding areas are prone to forest fire the last most ravaging one took place in 1988 which destroyed almost 36% of the park. While the whole scenario in the valley and hills were eye catching, we could also see the rage of nature at several places.

We entered the loop (which resembles the number 8, that I mentioned earlier) and our first stop on this loop was the world’s most famous Old Faithful Geyser.

The Yellowstone park sits on a high plateau which is, on average, 8,000 feet (2,400 m) above sea level and is bounded on nearly all sides by mountain ranges of the Middle Rocky Mountains, which range from 10,000 to 14,000 feet (3,000 to 4,300 m) in elevation. These ranges are: the Gallatin Range (to the northwest), Beartooth Mountains (to the north), Absaroka Mountains (to the east), Wind River Range (southeast corner), Teton Mountains (to the south, see Grand Teton National Park) and the Madison Range (to the west). The most prominent summit in the plateau is Mount Washburn at 10,243 feet (3,122 m).

The Continental Divide of North America runs roughly diagonally through the southwestern part of the park. The divide is a topographic ridgeline that bisects the continent between Pacific Ocean and Atlantic Ocean water drainages (the drainage from one-third of the park is on the Pacific side of this divide). For example, the Yellowstone River and the Snake River both have their origin close to each other in the park. However, the headwaters of the Snake River are on the west side of the continental divide, and the headwaters of the Yellowstone River are on the east side of that divide. The result is that the waters of the Snake River head toward the Pacific Ocean, and the waters of the Yellowstone head for the Atlantic Ocean (via the Gulf of Mexico).

The major feature of the Yellowstone Plateau is the Yellowstone Caldera (A caldera is a volcani feature formed by the collapse of a volcano into itself, making it a small, special form of volcanic crater); a very large caldera which has been nearly filled-in with volcanic debris and measures 30 by 40 miles (50 by 60 km). Within this caldera lies most of Yellowstone Lake, which is the largest high-elevation lake in North America, and two resurgent domes which are areas that are uplifting at a slightly faster rate than the rest of the plateau. (In geology, a resurgent dome is a volcanic dome that is swelling or rising due to movement in the magma chamber. In the monitoring of volcanic hazards, resurgent domes are often observed the most intensively. A magma chamber is a large underground pool of molten rock lying under the surface of the earth)

Yellowstone Caldera is the largest volcanic system in North America. It has been termed a "supervolcano" because the caldera was formed by exceptionally large explosive eruptions. It was created by a cataclysmic eruption that occurred 640,000 years ago that released 1,000 cubic kilometers of ash, rock and pyroclastic materials forming a crater nearly a kilometre deep and 30 by 70 kilometres in area (18 by 43 mi) (the size of the caldera has been modified a bit since this time and has mostly been filled in, however).

Each eruption is in fact a part of an eruptive cycle that climaxes with the collapse of the roof of a partially emptied magma chamber. This creates a crater, called a caldera, and releases vast amounts of volcanic material (usually through fissures that ring the caldera). The time between the last three cataclysmic eruptions in the Yellowstone area has ranged from 600,000 to 900,000 years, but the small number of such climax eruptions can not be used to make a prediction for the time range for the next climax eruption.

Preserved within Yellowstone are many geothermal features and some 10,000 hot springs and geysers, 62% of the planet's known total. The superheated water that sustains these features comes from the same hot spot described above.
The most famous geyser in the park, and perhaps the world, is Old Faithful Geyser (located in Upper Geyser Basin), but the park also contains the largest active geyser in the world, Steamboat Geyser in the Norris Geyser Basin

Old Faithful Geyser: An eruption can shoot 3,700–8,400 gallons (14,000–32,000 l) of boiling water to a height of 106–184 feet (30–55 m) lasting from 1.5–5 minutes. The intervals range from 65–92 minutes with 91 minutes being the average.

An eruption can shoot 3,700–8,400 gallons (14,000–32,000 l) of boiling water to a height of 106–184 feet (30–55 m) lasting from 1.5–5 minutes. The intervals range from 65–92 minutes with 91 minutes being the average. An eruption can shoot 3,700–8,400 gallons (14,000–32,000 l) of boiling water to a height of 106–184 feet (30–55 m) lasting from 1.5–5 minutes. The intervals range from 65–92 minutes with 91 minutes being the average.

Steamboat Geyser is the world's tallest and currently active geyser. During major eruptions, water may be thrown more than 300 feet (90 m) into the air. Steamboat's major eruptions last from 3 to 40 minutes in length, and are followed by powerful jets of steam. Steamboat does not erupt on a predictable schedule with recorded intervals between major eruptions ranging from four days to fifty years. The geyser was dormant from 1911 to 1961. Minor eruptions of 10 to 15 feet (3-5 m) are much more frequent. After an eruption the geyser often vents large amounts of steam for up to 48 hours. Cistern spring, located nearby, will drain completely during a major eruption of the geyser and the spring refills within a few days.

The reason, I ventured into writing the geological details about Yellowstone and its attractions, is: we have seen with our eyes, the glory and ferocity of nature; we have experienced our hair rising on our spine when we were there watching the spring go up high into the air; we have experienced the fear in our mind what if we fall under the ground in these places or the ground erupts below our feet; many have not had these experiences. As I read my own writing and muse over our visit and the feelings we had, I feel so grateful to God, that he gave us a chance to experience a part of his grand dance. I have tried to narrate our trip and our feelings as accurately as possible without trying to embellish the story about our trip. We were in a great awe, admiration, astonishment, bewilderment, fear, appreciation and respect for mother nature as we were sitting, standing and running between different hot springs as they blew up from beneath the ground. The whole springs were cordoned off for a distance of almost 200 feet and we could only watch them from a distance.
When we arrived at the Old Faithful Hot Spring site, it was about 3.00 p.m. We learnt that the next eruption of spring might take place at 4.00 p.m. They have studied thpattern for long and have reasonably estimated the timing of the spring from time to time. So, we waited over there and also walked around the trail. The areas around the hot spring were cordoned and we saw a number of Bison gazing around these hot springs and also antelopes in the wood areas. Sharp at 4.00, we saw slow activity in the spring. There was a small fountain type from the geyser pot initially, which started growing higher and higher as time passed by and suddenly, it started shooting up vertically to almost more than hundred feet or so. The spring lasted for about five minutes or so and it subsided. We quickly moved to other geyser spots, especially the Steamboat geyser. We saw several people running towards that and we also ran and there we saw the geyser rising to heights. It was a magnificent view in both places. There were minor, smaller geysers too.

We stayed in the Old Faithful Geyser area for almost two hours and walked around the entire trail, where there were several alive and dead geyser pots. The authorities must have had tough time in erecting platforms all around the trail to ensure safety of the visitors.

Having thoroughly enjoyed our stay near the Old Faithful Hot Spring area, we decided it was time for us to reach our destination point for that day. We had booked our night’s stay at Best Western Hotel at Gardiner, which is the northern entrance for Yellowstone National Park. During winter, the southern and western entrances to the park are generally closed because of snow.

This was the first day, when Bala and Viji decided to eat out, though Lakshmi and me decided to manage with some bread and buttermilk, which we procured from the nearby store. The town of Gardiner was virtually deserted in the evening time excepting a few passing vehicles and people inside the restaurants. We took rest to be ready next day morning again for a long drive out going around the entire Yellowstone.

Day 6 : June 7th, 2004

Gardiner, the northern entrance to Yellowstone, lies in the State of Montana, just across the border. Yellowstone River passes through the town and our hotel was located just adjacent to the river on an elevation. After taking a couple of pictures near our hotel, we started out and our first stop was at Mammoth Hot Springs.

Mammoth is a large hill of travertine that has been created over thousands of years as hot water from the spring cooled and deposited calcium carbonate (over 2 tons of calcium carbonate flows into Mammoth each day in a solution). Although these springs lie outside the caldera boundary, their energy has been attributed to the same magmatic system that fuels other Yellowstone geothermal areas. A travertine is a mineral consisting of a massive usually layered calcium carbonate (as aragonite or calcite) formed by deposition from spring waters or especially from hot springs.

Thermal activity here is extensive both over time and distance. Terrace Mountain at Mammoth Hot Springs is the largest known carbonate-depositing spring in the world. The most famous feature at the springs is the Minerva Terrace, a series of travertine terraces. The terraces have been deposited by the spring over many years, but due to recent minor earthquake activity, the spring vent has shifted, rendering the terraces dry.

The hot water that feeds Mammoth comes from Norris Geyser Basin after traveling underground via a fault line that runs through limestone and roughly with the Norris to Mammoth road (the limestone is the source of the calcium carbonate). The Mammoth Terraces extend all the way from the hillside, across the Parade Ground, and down to Boiling River.

The entire walk around the Mammoth Hot Spring and the hills of calcium carbonate deposits took more than half an hour. It also presented a colourful picutre with panoramic view of the green hills, the town below steaming water from the springs when viewed from the top. We could also view from a closer angle the limestone deposits over the red and brown rocks and some of the deposits resembled the scenery one gets while travellng on hilly tracks, where you can see the step farming on the hills from a distance.

We then drove down south towards the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. This canyon is 900 feet deep and half a mile wide. The specifics of the geology of the canyon are not well understood, except that it is an erosional feature rather than the result of glaciation.

(Yellow decayed rocks in the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone)
One has to climb down to have a closer look at the waterfalls and so went down on a steep path and we reached the view point from where we can see the falls from a closer distance. Probably, this was the best ever spot, I have seen in our entire trip, I thought. With the sound of waterfalls roaring from the distance and the strong winds piercing one’s nerve, (my long hair going hay-ware in all possible directions clumsily), viewing the canyon on the sides, I felt so calm and peaceful inside. I wanted to meditate on the spot and so I sat on a small rock and meditated for a short time. I felt that this was one of my best meditating experiences in my lifetime.

After the meditation was over, I found a western couple, young in age, sitting over the wooden ridge, completely oblivious of the dangers, seemed to be in an entirely different world. The other side of the ridge, was just steep down three or four hundred feet – a sure way to hell(or may be heaven). I was panicky and I wanted to shout at them to get out of that place from that ridge. They were sitting there for some time. Though many tourists were moving around, no one felt like cautioning them. I was furious and feeling helpless. I just closed my eyes and prayed fervently, ‘Oh, Bhagawan, please go and tell them to get out.’ Just when I opened my eyes, I saw they got out of the ridge and walk away. I thanked Bhagawan that he responded to my prayer instantly.

I was not willing to move away from the spot for quite long. The view was so fascinating to me and the spot was compellingly mesmerizing me. Realization dawned on us that it could become dark soon. So, reluctantly we climbed back the steep passage back to the top and it took some considerable effort for Lakshmi and me.
We reached back to our hotel, took rest, had an early dinner in a restaurant opposite and went to bed. The next day is our return back to Billings city and back to Phoenix and that is when we passed through one the most splendid drive we ever had in our life.

Day 7: June 8, 2004

This the final day of our trip and we have to get back to Phoenix taking a flight from Billings. So, we departed from Gardiner reluctantly in the morning. Viji was insistent that there are some waterfalls on the way by taking a small detour. However, we probably lost our way and returned back, pushing aside any idea of taking further detours as this could delay our reaching Billings and we do not want to miss our flight to Phoenix. We began our journey along what initially looked like a valley on the hills until we started our climb on a winding route from Cooke city, which took us to an elevation of nearly 11000 feet above sea level. The entire travel was zigzag with several switchbacks (hairpin bends). This was the Bear Tooth Pass overlooking the glacier lakes. The approximate elevation rise is from 5,200 to 8,000 feet in 12 miles (1,600 to 2,400 m in 20 km) in the most daring landscapes - the highest parts of the Beartooth Highway level off into a wide plateau near the top of the pass, and then descend.

At one place in the valley, we were so excited about the scenic beauty and we stopped the car for a while. Viji wanted to feel the coolness of the waters of a small stream, running nearby. We took pictures at this place with the snow-spread mountains in the backdrop. As we climbed, we found that hardly anyone is on the road excepting us and that was scary too. It appears this road was cleared for traffic after the winter snowfall, just the previous week. As we climbed towards the peak, we could see at some points, people gathered for snow skying. Further up, at one place, we were so enthralled by the view of snow everywhere that we wanted to step into the snow. As we were trying to venture, we just noticed luckily for us that it is not just snow fallen on ground, but it is a frozen lake. We thanked God for not letting us into our misadventure into a frozen lake. Then we saw several such lakes frozen completely at the top; we did not know how deep they are. As we further climbed and reached the peak, the view was breathtaking with series of mountains scattered with snow. We climbed down from 11000 feet and reached Red Lodge. The travel from Cooke city to Red Lodge over a distance of about 69 miles on the hilly track took almost three hours for us and was one of the adrenalin shoot up experiences throughout. I came to know that due to the high altitutes, snowstorms can occur even in the middle of the summer and the pass is also known for strong winds and severe thunderstorms Our cell phones had gone dead during this entire mountainous drive and it was just Bhagawan’s grace that nothing untoward happened on the way. We also came to know that several mudslides and rockslides have taken place on this road severely damaging the road during 2005 and they took up extensive repairs on this section.

We stopped somewhere on the way to have our lunch, something we brought with us and finally reached Billings around 1.00 in the afternoon. We drove straight to the airport, deposited our car and awaited our departure for Phoenix. We reached back Phoenix sometime into the night.

Now, even after two years of this trip, I was vividly remembering the places we saw and the pleasant experiences we had. I would say that this was my most memorable sightseeing tour I ever undertook. The nearest I could think of is our trip and stay at Kedarnath and Badrinath in India during 2002 and I am ever determined to visit Kedar and Badri once again, before we loose our health, to stay and experience the Mother Nature in all her Purity and Sanctity.

Viji tells me that a place called Kalgiri in Canada is equally beautiful, fresh and engrossing. She has visited this place during 2005 and she must be a very fortunate person to see around places.

I owe my gratitude to 'wikipedia' for good deal of information about Yellowstone National Park and Grand Teton National Park and for some of the images I have produced here. I also thank Bhagawan to have given me an opportunity to visit these places and I pray to HIM that everyone who reads this travel report be able to vist these places so that they too enjoy what we did.