Sunday, September 25, 2011

How I Spent My Autumn--Travelogue: Part I Boiling River

Yesterday was the second day of Autumn, and the weather is still nice.  We decided to take another trip to Yellowstone.  I'm not sure how many more times we'll get out this fall, but I know we'll have at least one trip to Craters of the Moon, weather permitting.  Still, I'd like to do as much as I can and see as much as I can.

When I was a kid, one of my favorite things to do was to sneak into Yellowstone at night and go skinny-dipping in the hot pots.  We called it hot potting.  Everybody did it.  That makes it right, right?  There were a few legal hot pots, but most of them were illegal.  Mostly I frequented the legal ones.  I really liked the ones where you sat in the river at the point where hot water from thermal areas drained into it. 

In places like that you could position yourself to be as warm or as cool as you wished, depending on where you were in relation to the water pouring into the river.  I really enjoyed the river near Ojo Caliente and the river at Midway Geyser Basin.  Unfortunately, the river at Midway was closed because it became a real party place and the rangers grew tired of cleaning up beer cans, litter and underwear.

There was another place like this at Mammoth Hot Springs called the Boiling River.  I had heard about it for thirty years and had wanted to go there but it was never convenient for one reason or another.  We decided that the Boiling River would be our destination in Yellowstone this time.  We would see many things on our way there and many things on our way home, but the emphasis of the trip would be the Boiling River.  I must say, it did not disappoint.

On our way to Yellowstone we stopped at a place called Howard Spring.  There is a natural spring just on the Idaho side of the continental divide on the way to Yellowstone.  The Forest Service has tapped the spring and created a fountain where travellers can stop to picnic and refresh themselves.  My children believe it is the best water in the world.  We love to stop there when we travel, and my Dad used to stop there from time to time when I'd go to Yellowstone with him.  This has been a family tradition for decades.

Howard Spring is named for General Oliver Otis Howard who stopped there during his famous pursuit of Cheif Joseph and the Nez Perce.  I have always taken the side of the Nez Perce, but this is not the post to discuss that topic.

Garrett, Rhys and Chimene at Howard Spring

Last summer, the NPS (National Park Service) undertook an extensive remodel of the Gibbon Falls area.  Gibbon Falls is one of the prettiest and most accessible waterfalls in Yellowstone, and one of my favorites.  We almost always stop there when we go on the Northern Loop.

The original overlook was just a wide spot in the road where cars, rv's and tourbusses would park and people could walk along a narrow walkway for a short way along the falls.  It never seemed safe there with vehicles pulling in and out, and I was always nervous about my children there.

The new overlook is a hundred times better.  The Park Service created a parking area that is sufficient for even the peak times of the park.  They have also created a short paved trail along the river that shows the brink of the falls, the classic view and a much longer view of the falls.  The new setup is fantastic, and I think the views are actually better than they were in the past.  I heartily approve of what the Park Service did here.  They created a better situation where people can enjoy one of the great views of the park and made it far safer for children.  Bravo NPS!

Gibbon Falls

While we were at Gibbon Falls, a very large raven decided that we were parked in his territory.  He was fearless and none too happy that we were there.  I was within ten feet of him and he still didn't fly away.

The Raven

Next, we stopped at the Artist's Paint Pots nature trail.  This is another area that the NPS has improved.  The original trailhead was another wide spot in the road.  To get to the trail, you had to cross the highway and walk along a decrepit boardwalk through a swamp to get to the main trail.  I suppose because of the volume of traffic at this site, the NPS decided to make it more accessible. 

They installed a parking lot and improved the trail which can now accomodate strollers and motorized wheelchairs, one of which was there when we were.  The trail winds through a mature lodgepole pine forest for about a half mile til you reach the geyser basin.  There are pretty pools, a small geyser that was continually gushing while we were there and up the side of the hill were the mudpots.  When viewing the mudpots, Rhys, Garrett and I had a discussion about viscosity.

While this particular geyser basin isn't as showy as some of the other geyser basins around Old Faithful, it is still worth seeing.  The crowds aren't as great here as they are in other areas of the park so that makes it even better.  Another good thing the Park Service has done.

Mineralized pool at Artist Paint Pots

The view from the ridge at Artist Paint Pots

Mudpot at Artist Paint Pots

One of our favorite places in Yellowstone is Sheepeater Cliff.  The boys were anxious to go there and to climb again.  I have a hard time not stopping at this site.  It's easy to climb and very enjoyable.  We love to go there.  Sheepeater Cliff is an ancient basalt flow that cooled into jointed columns.  I have always loved columnar jointed basalt.  Sheepeater Cliff does not disappoint.  We stopped long enough for the boys and I to climb the cliff a few times and then headed to Mammoth.

Sheepeater Cliff

Columnar jointed basalt

We love waterfalls and are on a mission to see all the falls in Yellowstone.  We have a really good start.  On the way to Mammoth, we stopped at Rustic Falls at the Golden Gate of Yellowstone.

Rustic Falls brink of the falls

Rustic Falls

Yellowstone's Golden Gate

The boys were anxious that we not miss the Boiling River, and that was our next stop.  The hike was about a mile, give or take from the trailhead to the spring, but it really felt like less.  It was level and an improved gravel trail.  There were lots of cars in the parking lot and lots of people coming and going.  This is a very popular spot in Yellowstone.  I imagine it could be standing room only during the peak season.

The trail follows the Gardiner River without deviation until you get to the Boiling River.  The Boiliing River is an underground hot spring that gushes out of the side of the hill into a very short stream until it pours into the Gardiner River.  It pours into the river at several points along about a hundred yards of riverfront.  Over the years bathers have used rocks to dam the river into shallow soaking pools and placed flat rocks in front of the best spots for soaking.  We opted for the first such pool.  There were fewer people there and it was very nice.  The main soaking area was downstream from us.  Whatever the allure was for the lower area, the privacy where we were was much better. 

I have many happy memories of hot-potting, and soaking in the Boiling River brought them all back.  Soaking in the Boiling River was an item on my bucket list and it did not disappoint.  The boys were already making plans for our return trip next summer.  They said it was the highlight of the whole trip.  We will go back to Boiling River.

Headwaters of the Boiling River

Main bathing area of the Boiling River

Garrett and Rhys in the Boilng River

The boys and me in the Boiling River

There had been some road construction and delays between Norris and Mammoth, so we opted to go to Tower and swing around through Canyon instead.  It didn't really save us much time, in fact it probably cost us an hour or two, but we saw alot of neat stuff along the way.  We stopped to see several waterfalls and other attractions along the way. 

The first waterfall we stopped at was Undine Falls which is just past Mammoth on the road to Tower.  Undine falls is a beautiful three stage waterfall with sheer drops interrupted by cascades.  The easiest way to view this falls is from the road, although there is a trail to the base of the falls which we hope to hike next season.

Undine Falls

The next waterfall we viewed was Wraith Falls.  This is a hike we took a few years ago but didn't take a camera with us.  I wanted a picture of this one as evidence that we had been there.  I think the next time we go to Wraith Falls we will go closer to the spring when the water flow is heavier.  All along the path there were plants with white berries.  I don't know if it was poison oak, poison ivy or poison sumac.  I wasn't about to find out.  The trail to Wraith Falls is really quite pleasant, level except for the very end when it goes up a series of switchbacks into a small canyon.  The falls is hidden until just before the lookout point.

The waterfall splits around a bulbous rock formation and most of the water goes to one side or the other with a little making it's way over the top.  During the spring runoff, I think the flow is more dramatic.  We will see when we view it next.

Wraith Falls

Along the road to Tower we saw a magnificent, lone bull bison grazing.  We stopped for a photo and he didn't even acknowledge our presence.  (Note:  we didn't vacate the vehicle)


After that, we stopped at Petrified Tree because we have seen bears on that stretch of road before and were hoping to see one yesterday.  We didn't, but we always like going to that part of the park anyway. 

At one time, Yellowstone was covered in a redwood forest very similar to California's.  A volcanic ash flow covered the forest and the trees petrified.  Over the years, erosion has exposed the harder rock of the petrified forest and left standing tree stumps and tree trunks on the hillsides.  The famous one at Petrified Tree is surrounded by an old iron fence to keep people from collecting and vandalizing. 

I also think the fence is there to misdirect people as well because on the hillside to the right of the petrified tree is a virtual forest of vertical petrified tree stumps.  We were with Nick and Cynthia a couple of years ago in the park and Nick saw something on the hillside and sprinted up.  This hill is on about a 60 degree angle, so it is not a leisurely climb.  I followed, and when I got to where Nick was there was a much larger, more impressive petrified tree stump.  This one was at least fifteen feet in diameter and we were touching it.  We counted on that hillside about twelve more equally impressive petrified tree stumps.  The NPS doesn't call attention to them because I'm sure they don't want people to know about them.  That's part of the hidden Yellowstone that I love so much.

Petrified Tree

As we were leaving the Petrified Tree area, I stopped the car because the sunset over the mountains was beautiful.  Mist had gathered in the valley and it looked like the Smoky Mountains.  I had to have a picture of it.

Yellowstone's version of the Smoky Mountains

By the time we got to Tower it was dusk, heading toward nightfall.  There was still enough light to see the waterfall, but just barely.  I didn't travel all that way to miss it, so I hiked to it and got a photo.  In years past, there was also a trail to the base of the falls which we have taken.  Unfortunately, the trail washed out this spring and I wasn't able to take it.  I hope they rehabilitate that trail for next season.  It's quite beautiful.

Tower Falls

This was a long day, but a good day.  We saw alot of stuff and did alot of things on this excursion.  I hope to get to Yellowstone at least once more before the season is ended.

1 comment:

elizabethAndIsabelle said...

I was looking for a good picture of the Boiling River in Yellowstone and found your site. Great pictures!

My 8 year old daughter and I were in Yellowstone 2 weeks ago and she loved the Boiling River, but I did not get a picture of it (too scared to take my camera down there :-). I'm making a scrapbook of the trip, and want to put in a picture of the river. May I use the one on this page with the text "Main bathing area of the Boiling River"? It's the best picture I've found.