Monday, July 30, 2012

How I Spent My Summer, 2012 Part III--Travelogue: Lower Mesa Falls

Brink of the falls, Lower Mesa Falls

On June 16th, 2012, Chimene and I went to a retirement party for one of my colleagues up in West Yellowstone, Montana.  We decided to leave early and take the Mesa Falls Scenic Byway.  We had been to Mesa Falls many times, but this time we noticed a trail to the brink of Lower Mesa Falls.  In some of the travel literature we have, I saw a close up picture of the Lower Falls and we decided we had to hike it.  I couldn't find much literature on hiking trails in the area, but I did find a link that talked about scrambling down the talus slope to the river and a great view of the falls.  That's the route I decided to take.

Talus Slope at Lower Mesa Falls

Our party included Chimene (my wife), my sons Haydn and Garrett and me.  On the way, we stopped at one of the scenic overlooks to view the Teton range.  At many places in the snake river plain the Teton mountains are visible.  This is a beautiful spot to see them from.  While we were there, we came across several different species of wildflowers, some of which we had never seen before.

The Teton Range from the scenic overlook

Wild Sweet Pea


Possibly Payette Beardtongue

When we got to the Lower Falls, Chimene discovered that she had not brought along her hiking shoes and only had sandals.  So the overlook for Lower Mesa Falls was as far as she went.  The rest of the time she spent reading in the car while Haydn, Garrett and I scrambled down the scree slope.

Chimene's only pic of the day

The hike consisted of a scramble down about 500 feet of boulders with a few stands of trees in the middle.  It was tough going.  Some of the boulders weighed in excess of a ton.  The pitch was up to 60 degrees in some places but settled to around 45 degrees in others.  By the time we got to the bottom, I decided I was going to find a different way up.  All the way down and back up, Garrett and I feasted upon wild raspberries that we found in the canyon.  They tasted like raspberries, but were slightly more tart than the domesticated ones.

Haydn and Garrett on the scree to show scale.  Note the pitch at around 40 degrees

Looking up the scree pile.  Daunting

Life will always find a way

A grove of trees in the middle of the scree pile

Wild raspberries

After we exited from the small grove, we came upon our first view of the Lower Mesa Falls.  It was magnificent.  There is a basalt tower that is a remnant of an earlier falls at the location.  The falls are steadily moving upstream.  We saw evidence of at least two other falls systems while we were on the trail. 

Haydn and Garrett wanted to go all the way to the river's edge and I felt it would be more practical to skirt alongside the talus at the level of the falls until we got to the brink.  They visited the river and I cut a trail to the falls through the boulders.  We met up about a hundred yards from the falls where we picked up a real trail.  When we got to the falls, they did not disappoint.  The Upper Falls is wide and a single sheer drop and is impressive in it's own way.  The lower falls, however is a tiered waterfall that shoots through a narrow canyon over three distinct levels.  The Lower Falls drops about 65 feet in total.  The trail went right to the brink of the falls.  It was magnificent and the sheer power of it was incredible.

Our first view of the falls after exiting the grove.  Note the sun shining through the mist from the falls

Haydn and Garrett at the river

Another view of the falls with the basalt tower visible

The basalt tower from the trail

The falls from the trail

The first tier of the falls

A deep hole I would not want to kayak through

Pretty little grotto on the side of the falls

Possibly my favorite picture of the day.  Complimentary colors of yellow and purple with Goldenrod and Fireweed at the edge of the waterfall

None of us wanted to climb out the way we had come down the canyon so I opted for another trail.  We skirted along the columnar jointed basalt until we found a notch we could climb up the cliff.  There was a plateau there that gave another view of the falls but more interestingly it showed at least two previos extint channels the falls used to follow.  I found a jeep/horse trail that gave access to a few backcountry camping spots and we followed it for awhile.  It became clear to me that it exited at the Upper Falls campground which was a mile away from where we wanted to be.  What I learned though was it is an easier trail than the one we went down and the one we went up.

We backtracked and cut across the plateau to a much gentler incline up the scree pile than the one we came down and made our way up to the top.  We emerged right in front of our car in the parking area.  This was a rigorous hike across the boulder field, and one that I'd like to do again, but when I'm in a little better shape.  The boys liked it and we had a fun time together.  This was well worth it.  I recommend this hike.

The boys climbing out

The falls from the plateau, also showing the ancient course of the river and waterfall

The river valley from the plateau on the way out of the canyon

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