The Magnificent Grand Tetons

After Tammy and I tromped around Yellowstone National Park for about four days (we could have spent twice as many), we headed south to Grand Teton National Park and Jackson, Wyoming. This is where we saw (and I photographed) the bull moose, was investigated by the pika with an unfortunate tick, and nearly stepped on that grouse.

Not counting the two travels days where we drove into, and out of, the park, we only gave ourselves one full day in Grand Teton National Park. That could have been two or three days given the amount of stuff we did not attempt to see or do in this park. The one thing, however, that you cannot help but see, and that steals the show, are the mountains themselves. They jut abruptly out of the terrain, with no surrounding foothills, always catching your eyes. You cannot help but watch them. Interestingly, they are part of a fault-block mountain system, formed not because two tectonic plates are colliding, but because the earth is being stretched apart.

On our one full day in the park, we got up early enough to catch the morning sun hitting the mountains. Here are some photos from that effort. The first photo is a repeat, first posted a few days back as part of Blog Action Day.

Teton Sunrise
Grand Tetons
Grand Teton

Mammoth Hot Springs Terraces

Just south of the village of Mammoth (where Tammy and I had a close-up view of an Elk herd) are the Mammoth Hot Springs Terraces. The terraces are formed when hot water carrying dissolved limestone is cooled, forcing the limestone to solidify.

The first three pictures are terraces formed from the active spring. The water from the spring had moved into a stand of trees. The steam from the hot water, the dead trees and the colored terraces gave this place quite an otherworldly feel. The fourth picture is of a "dead", bleached out terrace. It is no longer supplied with hot water because the springs have moved.

Mammoth Hot Springs Terraces
Mammoth Hot Spring Terraces
Terrace Close-up
Dead Terrace

Morning Glory Pool

On the walk from Upper Geyser Basin to Midway Geyser Basin, the trail takes you past Morning Glory Pool. This is a large hot spring that is a great example of how different water temperatures cause the different colors in the water. The blue water at the center, down towards the bottom of the pool, is the hottest. The more shallow yellow water, towards the edges of the pool, has a lower temperature.

This pool, however, is also a great example of how ignorance can permanently alter our landscape. Because people throw things into the pool, the vent gets clogged and the water temperature decreases in the pool. This results in less of the vivid blue, and more of the yellows and browns. The park service has actually "vacuumed" this pool's vent in an effort to keep it clear of the stuff humanity throws into it.

I never would have imagined that people would think it was okay to throw their trash into something as beautiful as Morning Glory Pool. Sheesh.

Morning Glory Pool
Close-up of Morning Glory Pool
Sign for Morning Glory Pool

Upper Geyser Basin

If you take the time to watch Old Faithful erupt, you might as well take some time to wander around within Upper Geyser Basin. Old Faithful sits on the edge of Upper Geyser Basin, and there are plenty of other geothermal features to see, including other less famous geysers. If you are really into it, then you could hike about a 5 mile loop that starts next to Old Faithful, wanders through Upper Geyser Basin down to Midway Geyser Basin (yeah...there is also a Lower Geyser Basin...but we did not visit that), and then comes all the way back to Old Faithful. That is what Tammy and I did.

One neat thing that the National Park Service did was put little signs up to tell you the name of the geothermal thing you were next to. I tried to take pictures of the sign when I took pictures of the thing, but, alas, I was not consistent. Sometimes I took a picture of the sign first. Sometimes I took a picture of the thing first. Sometimes I took no picture of the sign at all. So, what I ended up with was a bunch of pictures for things whose name I am not too sure about. [Edit: While fixing this post to point at Flickr, I was able to identify what was in the first and third photos. The top photo is of Belgian Pool. The bottom photo is of Spasmodic Geyser.]

Whatever the name of these might be, they are pretty interesting looking. The bluer the color, the hotter the water. The more brown, orange or yellow, the cooler (or "less hot") the water. All of these are located in Upper Geyser Basin.

Belgian Pool
Unknown Pool
Spasmodic Geyser

Old Faithful

I could not imagine visiting Yellowstone National Park and not taking the time to watch Old Faithful erupt. The National Park Service makes it very easy for you: tons of parking, lodging and restaurants within walking distance, schedules posted to help you time your visit, and even benches to sit on while you wait for the show.

Tammy and I planned our trip to Old Faithful so that we would see its eruption in the morning, hopefully early enough to miss the crowds, and then begin walking through the adjacent Upper Geyser Basin in order to see many of the other geothermal features that are neighbors to Old Faithful. Our planning worked out quite nicely, and we also got lucky. We got there early enough to beat the crowds (later in the day, it was very crowded), and managed, quite by accident, to walk up to the geyser viewing area about 10 minutes prior to its eruption.

Here is my proof that I was a good Yellowstone tourist and I took the time to watch Old Faithful erupt.

Old Faithful
Old Faithful
Old Faithful

Today is Blog Action Day

I am participating in Blog Action Day today. What that means is that today's post should be on a topic that is related to the environment. The focus of this blog is already about the outdoors, so relating today's post to the environment is no stretch.

I typically do not use this blog as a platform for preaching, or attempt to beat readers over the head with how I think they should live their lives. Today is a little different. I am sharing five photos (taken during my recent vacation to Yellowstone National Park and Grand Teton National Park) of what I consider to be beautiful examples of our environment. Examples that exist not because of humanity, but despite it. Our environment will not be preserved automatically. We must take steps to preserve it, or places like the ones I picture below will only exist in our art and in our memories.

Teton Sunrise
Yellowstone Canyon
Snake River
Snake River and Tetons

Yellowstone Falls

When we hiked the North Rim Trail, we were excited (and nervous) to have the chance of observing both the Upper Yellowstone Falls and the Lower Yellowstone Falls from their brink (right as the water plunges over the edge). The wide open views and the significant elevation change was enough to make me extremely tense. The upper falls are 109 feet tall, and the lower falls are 308 feet tall. Despite my nervousness, I forced myself right up to the railing in order to look over the edge at the water plunging down to the bottom.

I suspect anyone nearby may have chuckled at my obvious, white-knuckled grip of death on the railing. On the other hand, I chuckle at the fact that I am scared of heights and have a blog titled "No Ceiling".

Anyway. I digress. I did take some pictures of the water at the top rushing over the edge, but the problem I am seeing now is that my pictures come nowhere close to capturing the enormity of the drop off. When I look at my pictures of the top of the waterfall, I get no sense of the canyon, or the change in elevation. There is nothing in the photos of the upper and lower falls to give me a sense of scale.

But that does not mean there are no pictures worth sharing. Here is a sample of the views from the hike along the North Rim Trail. These pictures are:
1. Looking downstream at the start of the hike.
2. Crystal Falls.
3. The viewing area at the brink of the lower falls.
4. The canyon downstream of the lower falls.

Yellowstone River
Crystal Falls
Brink of Lower Yellowstone Falls
Canyon Below Lower Yellowstone Falls

Lizard with an attitude

Way back on the first day of our trip, when we visited Antelope Island and hiked the Buffalo Point Trail, Tammy and I came across a lizard that was sunning itself on the edge of the trail. Naturally I wanted to take pictures, but was very cautious so that I did not scare the lizard away. I slowly swapped lenses on my camera and then bent over him to take a couple of pictures.

That angle was not working for the photographs or my back, so I decided to sit down on the opposite side of the trail. I hoped to get a picture that was more down to the lizard's level, instead of from my level looking down. I was half expecting that the lizard would spook and run away from me as I lowered myself down to the ground, but that did not happen. No...he decided to run towards me instead.

At first I had a tinge of alarm as I imagined a panicked lizard running up my shorts, or something weird like that. But he stopped just in front of me. And then he looked me straight in the eye for a moment or two, long enough for me to get my picture, before turning around and heading someplace more comfortable and out of the way of curious photographers.

I did not do a good job compensating for the harsh light, but I think the lizard pose is too good not to share.

Lizard with an attitude

Ruffed Grouse

While Tammy and I were in Grand Teton National Park, we hiked the trail around Jenny Lake, past Hidden Falls, and up to Inspiration Point. This is the same trail where we saw that cute Pika with the nasty tick between his eyes. Along this trail there was a spur trail over to a pond where you sometimes could see moose. We took that trail, but alas, there was no moose. On the other hand, I almost stepped on a Ruffed Grouse.

This is my second close encounter with a Ruffed Grouse. I ran into one on a trail in Maine in June of 2006 (no picture). When I saw the one in Maine, I thought that it was somewhat slow to react to my presence. It saw me, and kept watching me, as it kind of sauntered off into the woods. It did not fly away in a panic. It just slowly, but purposely, walked away into the underbrush. At that time I thought that behavior was a tad odd, but I had never had a close encounter with a Ruffed Grouse before, so what did I know?

So, as Tammy and I were scanning the pond in the hopes of spotting a moose, I noticed some movement on the ground near my feet. I immediately stopped and watched as a Ruffed Grouse sauntered across the trail in front of me. Once again, this bird slowly but purposely, with no panic evident in its movements, made its way into the underbrush. Two close encounters with a Ruffed Grouse, same behavior each time.

Here is a picture of the pond with a reflection of the Grand Tetons in it. I timed the shot perfectly so that the water would be rippled, thereby preventing a clear reflection of the mountains (sarcasm). Tammy did a much better job with this opportunity. The next two photos are of the Ruffed Grouse that I almost stepped on.

Moose Pond Reflection
Ruffed Grouse
Ruffed Grouse

Storm Point

The day that Tammy and I drove south to Grand Teton National Park, we stopped at Yellowstone Lake and hike the Storm Point Trail. This trail takes you through fields, two different types of forest, and right up to and along the edge of the lake. After this hike was finished, I was trying to identify some ducks and had a very close encounter with a coyote (unfortunately without my camera in hand). Here a few photos from the Storm Point hike.

First up is a picture of a female American Three-toed Woodpecker. This is a new bird for me, and it took me a moment to realize that it was not a Hairy Woodpecker (which does not have the black barring on its sides). This picture was taken in the dark cover of some kind of evergreen forest (not pine, but spruce or fir...I am not very good with tree identification).

American Three-toed Woodpecker

After you come out of that dim evergreen forest, you are looking at the actual Storm Point and the expanse of Yellowstone Lake. We were also suddenly back in the wind. Once the cover of the trees was gone, the wind was a non-stop force to be reckoned with. I had to take care to prevent my hat from blowing away, and it was difficult facing the wind and taking pictures. This is a photo from Storm Point across the water of Yellowstone Lake.

View from Storm Point

After a short walk along the edge of the lake, the trail turned back into the forest, but this time it was Lodgepole Pine. The floor of this forest was nothing but long dead and fallen trees (I think it might be from the fires of 1988, but I am just guessing). There were still plenty of live trees, however, to block the sun and protect us from the wind.

Lodgepole Pine Forest

Life on a Volcano

After Tammy and I watched Old Faithful erupt, we hiked a five mile trail that explored Upper and Midway Geyser Basin. This trail was a mixture of gravel path and boardwalk that takes you past the myriad geothermal features in the area. This was an other-worldly place that smelled of hydrogen sulfide, was clouded by waves of steam, and was a confusing mix of warm wet air and cold dry air. In the middle of all of that, however, there were animals living out their lives, apparently ignorant of, or adjusted to, the volcanic workings of the area.

The first picture is of a Mountain Bluebird. These were fairly common, and their behaviors reminded me of the Eastern Bluebird that I am more familiar with. The second picture is of an Osprey eating a fish (I am assuming it is trout) while steam from some geothermal feature wafts by in the background. And the third picture is another American Bison, this one crossing Firehole River. The "rock wall" in the upper left corner of this picture is the outer wall of Riverside Geyser.

Mountain Bluebird

Osprey with Fish

American Bison

North Rim Trail - Clark's Nutcracker

On our first full day in Yellowstone National Park, we hiked a piece of the North Rim Trail. The part of the trail we hiked is a short and sweet 2.8 miles, including the walks down to the brink of both the Upper Falls and the Lower Falls of the Yellowstone River. What I found interesting is that the park provided convenient parking for each waterfall, which caused almost everyone to drive and park in one of those lots, and hike just the bit that took them down to one of the waterfalls. We were the exception and saw no one else hiking the bits in between the waterfalls.

At one point while we were hiking back to where we had parked our car, we found ourselves in the midst of a group of Clark's Nutcrackers. These birds are in the same family as crows, and this group of five or six was making lots of noise. At first I thought that there might be a hawk, or owl or some other animal that they were mobbing, but I never saw anything to support that theory. So, it may have just been a rowdy group, or maybe we were the ones getting mobbed.

Clark's Nutcracker
Clark's Nutcracker

Young Birds

A couple weeks back I posted about the cow and calf moose that Tammy and I discovered at Bear Lake NWR. But that calf moose was not the only young critter on the loose. There were also plenty of first year birds getting ready for their first winter.

Here are a couple photos of young birds. The first photo is of a first year White-faced Ibis. The second photo is of a mother and first year Western Grebe.

[edit: added link for White-faced Ibis]

White-faced Ibis
Western Grebe with Chick

Rock Wren

One of the things we did while exploring Antelope Island was hike the very short Buffalo Point Trail. We were both tired from our earlier flight, so this short climb to the top of a ridge was perfect for our energy level. The top of the ridge is apparently a great place to catch the sun setting behind the mountains to the west of the Great Salt Lake. As we were walking back down to the car, we passed several couples heading up to enjoy the show.

We were too early for the sunset, but that was okay. We were entertained on the way up by the Chukar that I already wrote about, a rabbit that I have yet to write about, and this Rock Wren. The top of the ridge is a nice jumble of rocks and boulders, and I think we must have been disturbing this wren's perfect home. He would come out and silently watch us from some nearby rock. Whenever I noticed him, however, and made some effort to take his picture, he would hop or fly into cover, only to emerge on some other rock in a completely different direction.

Rock Wren
Rock Wren
Rock Wren