Friday, September 25, 2015

Yellowstone National Park: Mt. Washburn and The Fox

Yellowstone National Park – Day 3 – Mt. Washburn & The Fox – 7/24/15

A clear day dawning – very excited at 6:00 a.m.!  Jim and I were feeling a bit more organized, had coffee and oatmeal at our campsite.  We zipped the tent down tight, threw everything else in the car and set off on adventures.  Two goals today:  Lamar Valley for wildlife and a hike to Mt. Washburn. 

Driving north on the upper Grand Loop road, we continued to feel the effects of “oh-my-gosh-we-gotta-stop-itis.”  Just look!

A mile north of Tower Fall is Calcite Springs Overlook giving this view of The Narrows.  The basalt formations were caused by rapidly cooling lava. 

Basalt cliffs right by the side of the road

The northeast entrance road of Yellowstone winds through Lamar Valley, an as-far-as-the-eye-can-see expanse of open lands sloping up to low hills and ringed by jagged mountains, where the buffalo roam and the deer and the antelope play… really.  Jim and I saw all of the above as we meandered from pullout to pullout, following the flow of the just-out-of-sight Lamar River.  

A quarter mile from the Tower-Roosevelt intersection we said “good morning” to this handsome fellow.

So where are the bison?  We were told that Lamar Valley was the equivalent of a bison tax-free shopping day at the mall – crowded with ‘em.  

Wait, Jim sees moving black dots.  Yes, definitely bison!  We walked across the meadow, stepping carefully in the knee-high grasses, our heads on continuous swivel mode to make sure no bison were sneaking up behind us and cutting off an escape route.  After a half hour of cautious approach and binocular-gazing, we considered ourselves lucky and retreated to the car to continue driving.

And around the next bend…

The sign says there are bison around here somewhere

Turnaround point at Soda Butte

Backtracking on the Grand Loop Road,we turned left at Tower-Roosevelt and stopped at Tower Falls Trail.  Guidebooks are outdated – the trail has been closed beyond an overlook that features this view.

An informal trail continues down to the banks of Yellowstone River where Tower Creek flows to meet it.

We followed footprints upstream on Tower Creek, hoping to reach the waterfall, but the banks grew steeper and scrambling got too dangerous for my taste.  Another couple was stopped in front of us, trying to figure out their next move, and Jim kept going.  As the couple and I watched, Jim stepped into the water ankle deep, hanging onto the embankment, then changed his mind and turned around.  That’s the point where his foot slipped and he went in almost waist deep.  I very calmly noted that my brand new camera was in his back pocket. 

I want to go on record that I did not fuss, complain, or wag a finger in my husband’s face.  The camera was in a padded case, and after an afternoon of drying out, it worked just fine. 

At the confluence of Tower Creek and Yellowstone River

At Dunraven Pass, the parking area for Mt. Washburn was packed full.  The trail was a gentle climb, but I had to take it slow and steady going to 10,000 feet.   Cerulean sky, puffy white clouds, warm sunshine. 

Flowers everywhere

Indian paintbrush

Arrowleaf ragwort

Mountain dandelion

Sticky geranium

Cow parsnip – some as tall as me

Lewis monkeyflower

Whitebark pine

We passed people coming down and outpaced a few going up, but the encounter we will never forget was this red fox going about its business.  When we first saw it coming towards us, we stopped, thinking that when it spotted us it would disappear off the trail.  Nope:  this was one focused fox, intent on carrying home supper.  Jim took a video on his phone while I continually snapped photos.  The fox trotted right past us and on around the bend.  

There’s the Mt. Washburn fire tower.  

The top level with all the windows is the ranger's residence.  Quite windy and time to put those layers back on.  Jim was wearing his Virginia Tech ball cap, a beacon to all Hokies, and we met two of them on top of this mountain, one retired gentleman and one young woman who graduated in 2010.  (We gave her lots of advice to travel the world but go back to visit Blacksburg often). 

View from the summit

It’s possible to continue on a mountain bike route down to Chittenden Road trailhead, but we had no shuttle ride so we backtracked.  Wonder where that fox went?  We didn’t see it again, of course, but we encountered a herd of goats also using the trail. 

Baby goat

Our wildlife viewing adventures were a great success!  But Jim and I weren’t quite ready for the day to be over – perhaps we could peek at Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone?  The North Rim area was one big traffic jam, though, so we called it quits and bellied up to the bar at Canyon Lodge.  We struck up a conversation with the bartender, a young woman from Mooresville, NC, just up the road from our Charlotte home.  She had just graduated from East Carolina University and signed up for a summer of adventure before becoming part of the corporate world.  Kids today are so smart.

Jim’s entree at Canyon Lodge:  a Portobello mushroom stuffed with bison meat.  I enjoyed wild game meatloaf (bison and elk).  So far this “sleep cheap, eat well” thing is working out.  I wonder what tomorrow will bring?

“Oh, give me a home
Where the buffalo roam
And the deer and the antelope play…”  ~Brewster M. Higley

1 comment:

IndyGuy said...

Nice trip report and photos. I visited YNP in 2007 as part of a feeler trip which included other areas out west. Unfortunately no serious hiking was really done on that trip. I'm finally in a position to head back out west and hike Glacier, YNP, and Grand Teton, maybe with separate trips. Mt. Washburn is one of the YNP hikes I plan on doing. It looks like you went in July. How as the weather then? Any rain during your days there?

I'm also glad to read the story about the bartender. I really wish I would have had the knowledge she had to do something like that. I stayed at home for college and was too busy working and wasn't no where near as social as I should have been. I always tell the college aged kids I speak with to consider working a summer in places like Yellowstone, Glacier, Denali, or even a beach/tourist town. Life turned out pretty good for me, so I can't complain too much. If things go good enough after the next decade, we might even relocate to E. Tenn. or W. NC and maybe I could do some volunteer shifts at some of the visitor centers in the area.