Jan 222010

Cold snowy morning on the Upper Geyser Basin in Yellowstone National Park from January 2009

How fortunate are we to be here today, a day of a Yellowstone winter

While so many men and women are working so hard to secure their fortunes here on Earth.

Give me not a brick mansion here on Earth

for they are always in need of repair – and an owner to repair them.

Give me instead a large beautiful field such as this one, bounded by mountains and pines.

Give me a river long and clear with rising trout.

Give me a hot spring with its rainbows of steam and a geyser of fireworks so grand!

Give me, if possible, a river otter sliding with abandon on a frozen windswept riverbank.

Give me these things, and my fortune I have.

Because Yellowstone is my mansion on Earth.

This poem was recited to Caroline and I towards the end of our time at Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone National Park. Tyrene is the author and was our guide for the Wake Up To Wildlife tour, our Norris Geyser Basin tour, and our ride north to the Upper Geyser Basin and Old Faithful. After returning to Phoenix we contacted Tyrene to ask her to send us the poem and if we could have permission to print it as it struck a chord with the two of us. This wonderful guide was also with us the previous year for two legs of our first winter adventure in Yellowstone. Thanks Tyrene.

Jan 212010

Caroline Wise at Disneyworld in Orlando, Florida in December 1999
Over the course of the previous fifteen years I have been afforded the opportunity to travel to many a destination here in the United States. Matter of fact, I have been to all forty-eight of the continental geographic areas that cartographers charted as signifying individual states. More than states, I have seen the breadth of a country undivided and magnificent in its scope. From the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific, I have traveled the continent bordered by Canada to the north and Mexico to its south. I have seen so much of this land that I now have in my mind’s eye a firsthand picture of how the surface of the U.S. changes from the wetlands and everglades of southern Florida up the Atlantic seaboard passing the Nation’s Capital on the way to the rocky and rugged state of Maine. The path from here cuts southwest down the Appalachian Trail leading to the Great Smokey Mountains before I travel to the forests of the southern United States ultimately arriving in the Bayou country of Louisiana. The Great Plains in the center of America stretch from north to south over more than a thousand-five-hundred miles and east to west over more than five-hundred miles. I have stood at the headwaters of the great Mississippi River and crossed its widest points after those waters traveled more than two-thousand miles south to the Gulf of Mexico. I have stood atop the Rocky Mountains, strode through the Bear Tooth Mountain Range, been endeared by the Bitter Root Mountain Range in Idaho, ridden an old steam train from Durango to Silverton in the San Juan Mountains, hiked upon the Sierra Nevada, and stood next to three-thousand year old bristle cone pine trees in the Great Basin. At Cape Flattery in the northwest corner of the state of Washington I have looked out to sea, and remember the thousand miles of Pacific coast to the south that I have traveled. Over one-hundred-seventy National Parks and Monuments have welcomed me as have countless cities and towns across this land.

Caroline Wise posing with flowers on Anacapa Island in the Channel Islands during 2004

But, through all of this, I was never alone. I was never without love. My love of place was always with me, and so was another love. A love that reinforces my love of travel and enhances my appreciation for the journey and the destination. That love is the sustaining connection I have to my best friend, my partner, my wife – Caroline. Twenty-one years in the making we have developed a bond that while probably not unbreakable, is as strong a force of togetherness that one might ever hope to have. A kind of synchronicity has formed between us where we will smile at one another at the same instant as we both become aware that we are witnessing or experiencing a perfect moment. The smile arises knowing that the other is at the same point of awe and we find each other’s eyes for confirmation that things are in fact, just perfect. Our emotions spill into the others senses, Caroline’s tears can easily awaken my own tears to overflowing, her smile just as easily puts my face to beaming. We travel side-by-side, we laugh face-to-face, we nurse each others hurts, we care for another. As we walk along in life, we go hand in hand even when not literally hand-in-hand. As far as I know, we both have the best of intentions for our other half, the half that makes us whole. It is as though this pairing requires four eyes and two minds to make sense of and take the greatest pleasure of this world – our spirits kindly obliging this shared moment of our short existence.

Caroline Wise rescuing a turtle from the road near the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland May 2007

I love Caroline in ways spoken of by many a poet or romantic whose words have preceded my own and may have more eloquently captured the essence of love but still I cannot stop myself wanting to let her know in my own words that she means the world to me. From the early years of our relationship, love of intellect and personal interests has matured to a love where I better sense and share her delight and recognize her appreciation for the beautiful. This intimate knowledge of her own connection to life fuels my continuing love for my best friend. It has been more than twenty years since a chance random kiss ignited a chemical chain reaction of olfactory exuberance that threw my senses into a long lasting spell of infatuation. Over the intervening years we have learned more of who each other is and plan to remain interested and involved in who we are becoming. We come to appreciate more of the diversity and abundance that life, culture, and friendship can bring to one’s life. We have endured and continue to stand hand-in-hand.

Caroline Wise leaving Yellowstone National Park January 20, 2010

Through this incredible love, life appears more colorful, more robust, more full of passion. What is mundane or foreign can be embraced because our comfort and friendship has grown accustomed to accepting change. With a world of possibility, our horizons appear boundless, even with the realization that there are limits to time and to all things manifested by our fragile emotions and the uncertainty of physical being. But from a spiritual or soulful perspective, today is a perfect day to be in hopeless, infinite, apparent ceaseless love. Four-eyes, two-minds, and two-smiles dancing through a wondrous life celebrating its rewards and travails.

Jan 202010

Twilight the morning of our departure from Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone National Park January 2010
It’s now 8:30, an hour ago I was outside watching the dawn arrive. The beginning of the day looked promising with some thin clouds stained with a faint magenta and red against a clear sky grabbing the first light. Now we sit in the Map Room here at Mammoth Hot Springs awaiting this minute. The coach has pulled up but we’ll sit here until the last second, until the driver enters the building. The heaviness of leaving weighs down my ability to spring into action and deliver our bags to the curb.

Leaving via the north entrance of Yellowstone National Park January 2010

In five minutes we will pass through the Roosevelt Gate at the northern entrance of Yellowstone National Park bringing an end to our physical presence in the park, but Yellowstone is firmly entrenched within us. We leave silently kicking and screaming.

Roosevelt Arch at the north entrance of Yellowstone National Park January 2010

A sad goodbye with a tearful but joyous heart breaks with the landscape as we try to drag our little piece of experience we have gleaned from Yellowstone. As we depart we should recognize the efforts that have gone into making this a world-wide loved destination, starting with; John Colter, who first told the stories of this magical place from his visit during the winter of 1807-1808 and inspired others to follow; Nathaniel Pitt Langford who, following the Washburn Expedition of 1870 and his own written experiences of his encounter with Yellowstone, went on to lecture across America and finally lobbied Congress for the legislation to make Yellowstone our first National Park; President Ulysses S. Grant who signed the bill into law that created this National Park on March 1, 1872, the Interior Department, the National Park Service, and all of our tax dollars that work to preserve this corner of America.

On U.S. 89 in Montana driving north out of Yellowstone National Park January 2010

U.S. Route 89 north takes us further away and for the first time in more than a week we are traveling faster than 25 miles per hour. We pass Gardiner, Chico Hot Springs, Emigrant, Pray, and Pine Creek. In Livingston we join Interstate 90 going west. Our destination, the Bozeman Airport is approached in a minute and not a minute later we are unloaded and in the terminal – the convenience of small airports. We were able to grab an earlier flight still leaving enough time for a quick lunch.

Somewhere over the western United States looking down from an airplane flying south in January 2010

Over America. In America. How lucky we are to know this country first hand. During the past twelve months Caroline and I have driven the Skyline Drive through the Shenandoah National Park in Virginia, visited Jamestown and Williamsburg. Toured the Whitehouse, Mount Vernon, and Monticello. In Washington D.C. we finally made it to the top of the Washington Monument, we visited the Smithsonian Museum of the American Indian, took a tour of the U.S. Capitol and a night time tour of the U.S. Naval Observatory. In New York City over two visits we walked through Central Park, Wall Street, Little Italy, China Town, Greenwich Village, crossed the Brooklyn Bridge and went to the top of the Empire State Building – we also stood in the crown of the Statue of Liberty. We rode the Maid of the Mist in Niagara Falls and a Amish horse drawn buggy in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. In Philadelphia we visited Constitution Hall, the Liberty Bell, and the home of Edgar Allen Poe. In Baltimore we toured Fort McHenry where the original Stars & Stripes once flew that inspired the Star Spangled Banner. Historic Gettysburg was easy to fall in love with. A year without the Grand Canyon wouldn’t have been a good year. Old Route 66 with a return to Oatman, Arizona and the wild donkeys was great. In California we ate at the Fish Market in San Pedro, on another visit we had fun at Disneyland and caught a movie in Hollywood. The Forth of July was spent riding the Cumbres Toltec Steam Train with one of the best fireworks shows ever right there in Chama, New Mexico. In Florida we strode through the Everglades, kayaked the Keys, and camped on the remote Dry Tortugas. And now Yellowstone. To see and know America one must get out of the clouds, put oneself on the trail and small roads, gaze up to the heights of the mountains, look out on the horizon of the seas, feel the wind blow on the Great Plains, get lost looking into a canyon, and spend time getting to know this land so few take the time to see and experience.

Jan 192010

John Wise pulling Caroline Wise in a sled at Yellowstone National Park January 2010

Finally, fresh snow has made an appearance. Overnight, two to three inches of the wintery cover added to the packed base which has progressively gotten crunchier since our arrival a week ago. The overall weather was not what was expected or forecast, it has been warmer and sunnier than we had imagined and the park employees would wish for. After all, it is winter in Yellowstone and at this time of year everything and everyone operates on the snow, not grass and asphalt. Today is our last day in the park.

The Firehole River looking west on the Upper Geyser Basin just north of Old Faithful Geyser in Yellowstone National Park January 2010

We are not in a hurry to do much of anything. With the new snow we would have needed snowshoes to take the trail past Morning Glory pool to Gem pool and Pinto spring where last year we were amazed with bands of icey ribbons Caroline referred to as “ice bacon”. So, with Yaktrax stretched onto our boots we march out around Old Faithful to the bridge crossing the Firehole River.

Bison laying where they bedded down for the night on the Upper Geyser Basin in Yellowstone National Park January 2010

Turned out that had we been carrying the snowshoes with us, they wouldn’t have been put to much use anyway as we got stuck behind the same herd of bison we had been watching yesterday. It was near Infant Geyser that we stopped to watch and photograph the snow covered bison who were just beginning to move from their slumber. As they started to stir this early morning they moved directly towards our trail and then up and over the boardwalk, stopping us in our tracks.

A snowy bison looking for a feeding spot on the Upper Geyser Basin in Yellowstone National Park January 2010

No matter, watching this small herd lazily stand up, stretch, shake off sleep and snow, while others raised tails for a morning salute is immensely entertaining. We greatly appreciate our close encounter with these furry, brown bison. As more of the herd disperses from the close knit sleeping grounds some are heading for the edge of the forest, others are walking over the boardwalk and a few more pass over a hot spring, pausing to warm themselves in the steam washing over their thick coats and up large dark nostrils.

Bison foraging for food on the Upper Geyser Basin in Yellowstone National Park January 2010

A bison walks out few steps from the group and presses her head through the snow, swinging from side to side, making a clearing to look for still edible grass in her effort to break the fast. With snow less than a foot deep her foraging attempt isn’t quite as impressive as the large male we had seen on the Lonestar Geyser trail last year as he stood in snow reaching up to the bottom of his chin, his head disappearing in the deep powder on his hunt for food.

Snow dusted bison walking over the Upper Geyser Basin in Yellowstone National Park January 2010

Stragglers slowly rise from their snowy beds and bear down on us, as we smartly back away. This is going to take a while. A park ranger who emerged from the forest near the boardwalk warns a man on the other side of the herd that he is too close and to move away. Three or four steps was not adequate and the ranger admonishes him to move further. The wait continues.

Doublet Pool on the Upper Geyser Basin in Yellowstone National Park January 2010

We have some hours to go before our snowcoach arrives to spirit us back to Mammoth Hot Springs, turning around now would put us back at the hotel with little to do. We wait. Not that bison are not fascinating to watch, but after watching them awaken, shake, have a morning constitution, eat, meander, stand around, and indulge in a steam bath, we start to get antsy and want to walk about too. The quiet Doublet Pool deserves being gawked at, we oblige.

Close-up detail of Doublet Pool on the Upper Geyser Basin in Yellowstone National Park January 2010

The thumping and pulsing we heard and felt yesterday is not returning to Doublet. Waiting behind the bison we have ample opportunity to trace the outline of the pool and note the colors. Some other people join us at the bison jam, their patience not nearly as strong as ours; after ten or fifteen minutes they turn and go back. We look at bison, look at Doublet, back to bison, back to the pool, look at the steam, look at bison, and so our routine plays out. As a light snow begins to fall the sun at the same time is off again, on again trying to peek through clouds.

An injured bison looking into the camera on the Upper Geyser Basin in Yellowstone National Park January 2010

The last bison to get moving was a smaller one. Not a calf but maybe a juvenile, then again it may have been a smaller animal due to its serious injury. Its right front leg was broken, the hoof dangling just above the surface of land and snow below it. This tenacious bison stumbled over to join herd, not able to put an ounce of weight on the damaged leg. She would move two or three steps, collect herself and eek out a few more painful limping steps to move closer to the group that must be her family. Time paused while this poor creature inched along.

The Lion Group on the Upper Geyser Basin in Yellowstone National Park January 2010

Finally a break and we make tracks, down onto the segment of boardwalk that enters the edge of the forest alongside the Firehole River. We didn’t get far before we are startled by a bison hidden behind a tree, just feet from the trail. For the next fifteen minutes we wait patiently, but this bison seems to have found some tasty morsels and is content to linger. We are not and begin to cut a path into the forest on the other side of the trail through knee deep snow, over and around fallen trees. At the point we are about to cut left the bison starts to move towards the river, letting us backtrack through our steps and continue our way north on the boardwalk.

Sawmill Geyser erupting on the Upper Geyser Basin in Yellowstone National Park January 2010

Some of the trees are frosty, some have a new coating of snow that hasn’t yet blown off. The diamond dust we saw here last year was not to be found here this time We walk on, looking at nothing in particular and everything all at the same time. Northward we go with the umpteenth stop at Sawmill Geyser to watch it erupting. Refusing to stand here an hour snapping another thousand photos we satisfy ourselves with just a few minutes of ogling.

Close-up detail of the emtpy pool at Spasmodic Geyser on the Upper Geyser Basin in Yellowstone National Park January 2010

Spasmodic is quiet again today. That does not imply anything less than amazing though. The ever changing dynamic landscape of evolving art is like a constant transitioning painting being created for the observer instant by instant with flairs of water and steam rippling forward only to be drawn away revealing the canvas which itself is only another layer upon a deeper canvas. The entire panorama is alive, contorted and brilliant under a radiant sun, mysterious and elusive under a gray sky. Superficially I may have understood the idea that Yellowstone will never appear the same between two visits, but it wasn’t until this visit that I truly began to appreciate how to discern that these differences can be observed from day to day, hour to hour, even minute to minute. How long does it take for us to see that Old Faithful is more than a geyser of water shooting into the sky on a somewhat predictable schedule, how long does it take a man or woman to see more than the pool of water or the color of rock? Why are we so easily overwhelmed by the new and so slow to find reflection and appreciate unknown qualities that may lie just before us?

The empty pool of Oval Spring on the Upper Geyser Basin in Yellowstone National Park January 2010

Here is the empty Oval Spring with light puffs of steam rising from below, would you stop to have a closer inspection? While erupting hissing thermal features surround you, does a gray, brown, and tan seemingly lifeless crater warrant your attention? What if this hole-in-the-ground was full of rapturous aqua waters frothing and gurgling with belching gasses, creating a column of water splaying the surroundings? Anyone would likely stop then, but I have to now. I want to understand how this drab vent has all the splendor to have been included in the magnificent display here in Yellowstone.

Close-up detail inside Oval Spring on the Upper Geyser Basin in Yellowstone National Park January 2010

Up close, through the steam, deep in the crater a wall of damp bulbous rock growths are glistening, moistened by the steam and the occasional spurting water. Looking at the details of this spring, my eyes start to reveal the beauty that my impatience might have ignored otherwise. From the boardwalk we are only offered a limited vantage point from which to capture the essence of the thing we would like to experience, the compromise a necessity brought on by humankind’s desire to destroy through carelessness or the collection of a souvenir or memento to take home. And still, with the knowledge of how this can bring ruin upon the world and its beauty around us, there are those who will throw coins, sticks, or other debris into these “things” that have taken hundreds of our lifespans to create and only the flick of a wrist to stop the rest of us from enjoying.

Bare roots of a tree partially covered in snow on the Upper Geyser Basin in Yellowstone National Park January 2010

On another side of the boardwalk a tree with snow covered gnarled bare roots plays second fiddle to the surrounding beauty. The patterns on display in nature’s museum shames the greatest of man’s museums and yet only a fraction of the number of visitors will ever visit a national park in comparison to how many people will pay a visit to a climate controlled building featuring the works of man and woman. Eight and a half million people will pass the Mona Lisa this year, I may be the only soul to recognize this root and find the art inherent in what Mother Nature has created for our delight.

Looking into Belgian Pool on the Upper Geyser Basin in Yellowstone National Park January 2010

Yesterday the colors of Belgian Pool were vibrant, today they are muted under a gray sky. Without the sun to dance across its surface and illuminate the steam, stillness prevails, letting me see more. Sure, the colors of the pool in the sun are a spectacle we all desire to have captured in our photographs of this terrific place, but it is alone in this quiet, under a calm overcast sky that contemplation and the attention to detail is allowed to mount. From the angle I stood yesterday the pool didn’t seem that deep, today I find intrigue not knowing to what depths this darkening blue center might descend.

Detail of bacteria mat on the Upper Geyser Basin in Yellowstone National Park January 2010

What is this? One thing is certain, we are looking at the surface below water of a either a geyser, a bacteria mat, or the edge of a hot spring. My memory fails me as to where precisely I was standing and what in particular was I looking at. Entranced maybe, I must have found this small detail just off the boardwalk and while down on hands and knees I became acquainted with this landscape of jutting mountains, deep crevasses, and precipitous cliffs.

Green plants next to red dormant grasses on a hot spring on the Upper Geyser Basin in Yellowstone National Park January 2010

Winter, even amongst the freezing air and snow covered earth, can be an illusion. Here, next to the seasonally dormant grasses, green fresh life clings to the edge of warmth and light in a bid to deny winter its grip on the environment. These contrasts in survival must be a part of that wonderment that propelled those early visitors from the Eastern United States to recognize the importance of such a place and then to toil in their efforts to help create the world’s first National Park.

Daisy Geyser erupting in the distance on the Upper Geyser Basin in Yellowstone National Park January 2010

Thar she blows! Daisy is a spoutin’, gone and blown her top. Two days ago we waited patiently, if waiting fifteen minutes could be considered patient, for Daisy to erupt – we moved on. From afar today we look west to see the geyser going full steam ahead. Even if we were to put our butts into run-for-it mode right now, we would not arrive geyser side for an up close view of Daisy’s majesty and so we pause to enjoy it from where we stand.

A coyote on the Upper Geyser Basin in Yellowstone National Park January 2010

We race by Grotto, nature is summoning Caroline to take care of business. Also racing by is a coyote. The lucky coyote only need raise a leg or squat with nary a care as to who might be witnessing this necessity, then again, lucky coyote doesn’t require doffing of four layers of protective clothing to expose the essentials required for finding relief. In an instant the coyote was out of view going in the same direction we were traveling, maybe our paths may cross again.

Trees, snow, water, and steam next to the boardwalk on the Upper Geyser Basin in Yellowstone National Park January 2010

Steam and grass, water and snow, ice and mud, hoof prints and bird calls, all of this in one place. I want to return in spring, in summer, in fall, I want to be here every day to see how it all changes. I need to capture the rising and descending water, the turning of plants from brown to green, the migration of birds, the explosion of colors and their subsequent fading to prove to everyone that the earth is indeed alive and is a master of creation, architecture, and building greater than the all of the combined efforts of us puny little people. Where has our sense of awe gone that our daily actions don’t reflect our compassion for preserving a planet that gives us all that we so irresponsibly take from it without offering every concession possible to allow it to remain healthy and intact?

Caroline Wise and John Wise in front of Morning Glory Pool on the Upper Geyser Basin in Yellowstone National Park January 2010

It’s 11:47, tea time. Once again we are at Morning Glory and as it has been on other visits, this is the turnaround point and in effect, the end of our visit to Yellowstone. From here we begin our goodbyes. We are no longer traveling into, but away from. We raise our cup of hot tea and toast Yellowstone. A little bit of sun pokes through as wind whips snow from the trees. Words fail to describe the immensity and totality of the experience once one has been immersed in Yellowstone for a goodly period of time. The landscape and its components become a singular whole with each individual element being an obvious part of a larger body. Only because we are so tiny ourselves are we able to witness the finery and details we look at and pretend to understand. Each part is like a cell that, when grouped together, forms an organ, but looking from afar at the individual element can we understand its role? The organ that is Yellowstone is too complex, too large to come to an appreciable understanding of just what it is and how its myriad pieces fit together in a week, a month, or a year. That this park delivers such extraordinary experiences is part of the draw that brings those of us back who have been here before. We become two more pieces of the puzzle, with a sense that our small part must be filled and for a short time we too can and must be a part of Yellowstone.

Section of Riverside Geyser on the Upper Geyser Basin in Yellowstone National Park January 2010

We deviate from the trail returning us to the Snow Lodge, veering onto Riverside Drive. A pool is overflowing, spilling into the Firehole river. This pool is bubbling with a few small eruptions only reaching heights of six or seven inches but these are signs that Riverside Geyser is likely to erupt within the next 90 minutes. Yet nearly a half hour passes and the activity, while not constant, remains as it was, never becoming a full eruption. With less than an hour before check-in for our snowcoach it is now time to beat feet.

Grotto Geyser erupting on a snowy sunny moment on the Upper Geyser Basin in Yellowstone National Park January 2010

Just because we are leaving doesn’t mean we don’t have time to enjoy a sight or two. Earlier we had skipped by Grotto, now as we are walking by some sun and blue sky bring cheer to these moments we attempt to draw out of the sadness of the end of an incredible trip. Someone might ask, why don’t you make an effort to spend more time here, to work here, to live within the borders of Yellowstone? Is there a job title describing one who sits and stares at nature for months and years on end who is not an accomplished author or photographer? Is it even possible to write tomes on a mind ascending beauty with no regard for a thread of story besides the journey of recognition of the aesthetics of the natural world?

Warm water and snow on the Upper Geyser Basin in Yellowstone National Park January 2010

Wouldn’t you know it – another bison jam. Our herd from up the hill moved its way west and are presently crossing the bicycle path, our only short distance and expedient path to the Snow Lodge. Backtracking to cut a return passing Beehive Geyser might make us late. We need a lifesaver. And it is delivered by a Matt-Track vehicle whose approach scurries the bison forward while part of the herd is yet to jump over stream to cross the bicycle path – we break for it, oh no, so is a bison, we run, it lumbers, but it’s big and heavy so we allow fear to propel us out of its way. Out of wind and out of harms way we are soon in front of the shuttered Old Faithful Inn, its big red door closed for the season. Its presence is ghostly with the echoes of summer and the shadow of crowds in the foyer spilling out of the sealed namesake of the geyser it was build next to. Walking by I can’t help but see Jack Nicholson opening the doors inviting us in for a private winter tour.

Clepsydra Geyser erupting in the afternoon on the Lower Geyser Basin in Yellowstone National Park January 2010

And it’s done. Our bags are are about to be loaded on the Prinoth and we on a snowcoach bound for Mammoth. Dipper Darla will be our driver and guide for the four hour fifty mile ride north. Passing Black Sand Basin, Biscuit, and Midway Basin with its Grand Prismatic until we reach the Lower Geyser Basin Thermal area, the Fountain Group to be precise, also known as the Fountain Paint Pots. A thirty minute speed tour over the boardwalk feels like a fifteen minute blur. We barely have a minute to appreciate Clepsydra Geyser, the geyser that never stops erupting – almost never.

Mud pots at Fountain Paint Pots on the Lower Geyser Basin in Yellowstone National Park January 2010

A peek into the mud pots and Silex Spring and Darla gets us to pile back into the snowcoach. Twenty minutes later we take a short break at Madison Junction. Unceremoniously we dart past Norris Geyser Basin, Roaring Mountain, Obsidian Cliff, and more until we reach Swan Lake Flat in the dark. We did stop momentarily on the way for a sighting of a bald eagle, we pulled over, slowing down as we passed Gibbon Falls, but we did stop a few times to spot Dippers. The American Dipper is a small dark gray aquatic bird that survives Yellowstone’s harsh winter by diving and feeding in the rich warm waters of the Yellowstone river system. Darla loves these birds so much she has been christened Dipper Darla.

Silex Spring on the Lower Geyser Basin in Yellowstone National Park January 2010

Bunsen and Electric Peaks are not to be seen in the dark. We pass golden gate knowing so only because we are told. In front of the Mammoth Hotel we stretch tired limbs and hobble to our room to deposit our bags before stuffing ourselves at the Mammoth Dining Room. What we ate wasn’t spectacular, it hardly registers, but the dessert of Apple Gallete ala Mode could be considered a primary factor in returning. For all I know this sweet treat is a frozen toaster pasty but after a long cold day it does fill a certain spot. [The photo above is Silex Spring.]

The blurred and spotted view out the window of a snowcoach in Yellowstone National Park January 2010

A short break before collecting the key to the hot tub for an hour long basking in steaming waters topped with cold night air. We look skyward at the stars while a light snow is blowing in from where, we do not know. Music plays softly in the background, drifting in from the adjacent ice skating rink. The barren trees overhead and behind are illuminated by the lights of the ice rink, the hot tub light is blue, a clock in the window of the cabin reminds us of the time. All too soon the spa, the sight of the stars over Yellowstone, the smell of sulfur from the springs, geysers, and fumaroles, and our week long vacation here will all come to an end for us and will probably be just getting started for someone else. We are finished packing and ready for sleep. In the morning we will have breakfast and await H.A. Moore’s return to ferry us back to the Bozeman Airport. [The photo above is out the window of the snowcoach, you see, it pays to leave your vehicle and explore this world around you.]

Jan 182010

Closeup photo of the texture of bark on a tree in Yellowstone National Park January 2010

My mind is quiet, thoughts are distant. Today is a day to observe the world around me with an uncritical but still curious eye. Six days was what it took before I could fall into and become part of the scenery of Yellowstone. The previous days were spent collecting – collecting the sights, sounds, and smells of the park with a mind racing to have it all. Today we are here alone; although the drone of the snowmobiles is a three-hour background noise in the distance: on the trail we are the only humans.

Moss growing on a tree branch in Yellowstone National Park January 2010

A rough trail going to Mallard Lake takes us to an infrequently visited hot spring and mud pots in the forest. We are in no hurry and take time to listen and watch. The squirrels are signaling to one another that we have arrived with a raucous chatter of squeals between tree tops that we had at first thought were bird sounds. We have looked at the features of the major geyser basins a dozen times before and are making an effort today to see what we have not seen before. Tree bark, sap, moss, lichen, and hoar frost all demand a closer inspection.

Moss growing from a tree branch in Yellowstone National Park January 2010

We are standing in the forest like a tree rooted to the soil, little is moving, it is still and quiet, besides the breeze that ruffles some branches overhead. The rustle of our synthetic layer of clothes brushing against pant legs and arms adds a sound of plastic friction not belonging to this natural space. We try not to move or be seen so that nature might return to its routine that the intruders are disturbing. I want to experience this place and moment in which artifice has no place.

Closeup of crystallized sap over barkless wood on a tree in Yellowstone National Park January 2010

A nearby tree, now a well worn scratch post for elk, stands with one side stripped of bark. During the summer it appears to have become a favorite of male elk in need of shedding the velvet that covers their maturing antlers. In an effort to try to protect itself, the raw blond wood of the tree has sent out sap which has crystallized into a second skin. We stop to stick a finger into nature, to poke the piney sap and delight in its sweet smell. With great affection we inspect the granularity of exposed wood and believe we could stay here all day staring at the minutiae.

Closeup of an open pine cone still attached to the pine tree it grew from in Yellowstone National Park January 2010

Inching along the trail going up the hill we pass our turn. There seems to be a pull to see what’s just over the next rise, and as one would expect, it’s another hill. From time to time a light snow flurry dances through the frigid air, we wonder if it’s a prelude to something greater. It isn’t and won’t be. The crunch of dry frozen and packed snow underfoot crunches in rhythm to our gait like a metronome keeping the beat. It is a rhythmic sound not fitting the random natural soundscape playing in these woods. We must stop to allow the natural order to take back charge.

Closeup of a small fallen branch with orange fungus growing on it in Yellowstone National Park January 2010

After backtracking to our ill-defined turn the haphazard trail leads us over fallen limbs. A jump across a small stream as we try to avoid the deeper bison hoof holes that puncture the snow to the ground below. Massive plops of bison poo are skirted, then finally we are delivered to our reward. An unnamed hot spring and mud pots in a small clearing. The is no boardwalk and no fence, besides the self imposed fence of common sense that demands we leave the area as we find it so other will have the same opportunity to see and define what this sight means to them.

A bubble of mud about to pop at an unnamed mud pot on the Upper Geyser Basin in Yellowstone National Park January 2010

Gas is hissing as it escapes earth’s grasp, maybe it is angry for being held so long. Caroline squats down to record the sound of heavy mud bubbling up with a thick sound of slowness. The rolling brown sludge pops and a new layer is stacked on an older one before they spread out to begin their sink back into the depths from where they emerged. Some mud is so thin as to be considered more water than mud – its boil has the more familiar sound we oft hear on our stoves as the pot comes to a boil. The steaming hot spring behind the mud pot breaks its silence to let gas rise from its center bringing to mind a giant cauldron of a mysterious emerald potion.

Hoar frost standing in the soil at an unnamed hot spring on the Upper Geyser Basin in Yellowstone National Park January 2010

Hoar frost appears to crawl from the depths below, rising from the loose gravely soil. Tendril like ice sticks latch on to invisible air supports as these shoestring clumps of fragile sculptures have grown from the frozen surface defying my imagination as to what this process must look like as the ice sprouts and aims upward. Youtube does not come to the rescue this time to show me a time-lapse of how this plays out.

Five bison in the snow near the Observation Trail on the Upper Geyser Basin in Yellowstone National Park January 2010

Back down the trail and over a small bridge crossing the Firehole river where earlier we had spotted a few bison in the distance – they are gone. These lumbering creatures haven’t moved far though and it is we hope, in our good fortune that they are moving in the same direction we are. We cross over the Firehole on the bridge near Old Faithful and turn right on the Observation Trail hoping the bison are coming this way. Either they are moving faster than we thought or the herd is larger than we considered.. The latter is true, we count twenty-six bison. For close to a half hour we stand next to a large boulder trying to blend in, watching the bison gracefully sway their had back and forth, foraging for buried grasses under the snow. One heads up the hill, three meander down hill, two more eyeball us on the trail as if they are as nervous of our presence as we of theirs. We oblige the bison and return to the Upper Geyser Basin boardwalk. As we try to keep a safe distance with three bison on our left, a couple are approaching from dead ahead, while a few who had been down the hill start climbing – we are being encircled. Hastily we aim for our one escape, on the very icy boardwalk passing Beehive geyser. By now we have watched this herd for more than an hour feeling like half a day has passed.

A small eruption at the Lion Group on the Upper Geyser Basin in Yellowstone National Park January 2010

It’s gray, overcast, and a cold light wind is starting to bite. The bison are forcing us to head towards the western bridge over the Firehole near Castle Geyser. We walk along slowly, occasionally looking over our shoulders to ensure enough space remains between us and the bison who are blocking the south bridge. The Lion Group of thermal features are letting off a little steam and kicking up some low grade eruptions that take our thoughts from the cold and the marauding herd behind us.

Edge detail of Heart Spring on the Upper Geyser Basin in Yellowstone National Park January 2010

Once again at Heart Spring and its beauty is not in short supply. A limestone lip looks to be floating on the water surface with its fractal edges rolling on forever in imperceptible crystalline structures that grow larger every day. Under the dull light of today everything but the shape of Heart Spring looks different. The bacteria mat may not be as vibrant, but it looks altogether like something else, as though the pigments of the life forms are light aware and change for the occasion.

Stone detail and rust looking edges of a small geyser cone on the Upper Geyser Basin in Yellowstone National Park January 2010

Be careful looking here, in places where, just the moment before, you thought you had seen all there was to be observed, upon looking again you will spot that special treasure you could have sworn wasn’t there a second before. I know for fact I walked past this unnamed rusty cone yesterday, not having noted precisely where this photo was taken. It could in fact be part of a named group but now, looking at the image, I cannot say from precisely where it came. When I was on the boardwalk and this caught my eye, it looked brand new to me. I had simply gone by previously, without giving it a second thought – could I have been so callous? Am I guilty too, of seeing the big picture and maybe on more than one occasion have missed seeing the smaller detail?

Detail of curves and wood grain of a twisted tree limb on the Upper Geyser Basin in Yellowstone National Park January 2010

I strain to see more. I cannot say with any certainty if and when I will have the opportunity to walk the land of the worlds first national park again. I want to remember every detail, every corner, every bend. The forms and shapes, the contrasting colors, textures and sounds are too much for my conscious mind; my only hope is that I might displace memories of useless television shows and overwrite them with truly valuable images. I plead with my subconscious mind to record every bit of information so that my future dreams will walk through billowy steam, gaze upon Kodachrome colored landscapes, and inspect the granularity of the wood texture in that old tree.

Moss growing next to a small geyser on the Upper Geyser Basin in Yellowstone National Park January 2010

A favor to ask of the Park Service: oh, grant me the occasion to stroll unencumbered by the rules, let me crawl down upon the earth to find intimacy with the grains of sand. I need to tease out the details of individual leaves in the moss to witness first hand these multicelled rhizoids. Yes, Wikipedia and technology do have a place for us (within reason) to better understand the natural world around us. My day today has been obsessed with fine detail, my future visits will hopefully take me into the atomic and molecular structure of this place until one day I may observe Yellowstone from space, maybe then I may feel that I have seen a little something of this park.

Closeup detail of an overhang on a small unnamed geyser on the Upper Geyser Basin in Yellowstone National Park January 2010

Just to the right of the moss is a boiling cauldron. Clear water rises and thrashes about and it could be that action of fury that grabs your attention but just above the surface of the churn is this stone relic, reminding me of the fossilized head of some ancient and extinct creature that roamed this land so many millions of years ago. I can still see the leathery texture of its petrified skin, its lower jaw now missing. What you are really looking at are the deposits of minerals that have been shaped, formed, broken, and worn by the forces of nature. Not being a geologist I cannot tell you if this is still growing or if its eroding, or both. I can wonder whether the steam might carry enough minerals that could be bonding to this outcropping and it is the wonder of my imagination that propels me to want to know more, to come back, to learn more than my simple mind allows me to appreciate from making observations.

Closeup of boiling water in an unnamed small geyser on the Upper Geyser Basin in Yellowstone National Park January 2010

And below, the water. Rising up from the earth. Tracing a path through the plumbing from the depths until maybe a thousand years, maybe a million years later, it returns to the surface. Some of it, escaping as gas will join clouds above and travel another thousand miles before it condenses and falls as rain on the heads of pedestrians out for a stroll on the streets of New York. As the water erupts, some will splash over the rim to collect in a pool before flowing off to join the Firehole river. When those waters join yet another river, will they, years from now, be found in a glass of lemonade about to be drunk on a hot summer day? Steam and overflowing water will feed the moss around the edges – will a passing animal nourish itself on green lunch fed by these waters? Will some of this water fall back into the earth, hidden deep below for another millennium until someone else with an inquisitive mind looks into these depths and wonders if anyone else has ever seen just this water?

Closeup detail of erupting Castle Geyser on the Upper Geyser Basin in Yellowstone National Park January 2010

Sawmill Geyser is about to draw us in once again when Caroline notices Castle Geyser is erupting. The Castle is roaring, spitting, fuming. Hysterical, expulsive fits of swirling steam, gas, and water are thrusting skyward. Out of the steam, sheets of rain fall quickly from the fast rising clouds. The erupting water ceases and the gas and steam take on a new vitriol, cursing the earth below for holding it prisoner. The water, now jealous, rejoins the free-for-all in an attempt to steal the show by reaching for the heavens, until both seemingly exhausted begin to fade, but it was a fools bet that things were over. Springing back to life, the entire process continues.

The rising steam of the erupting Castle Geyser against a late afternoon sky on the Upper Geyser Basin in Yellowstone National Park January 2010

For over a half hour we sit, stand, and walk around the display. We wonder how those who stopped by for a few minutes were able to pull themselves away as we wait in delight that we should be so lucky to be here to watch the entirety of an eruption cycle of Castle Geyser. As the glow of twilight is getting ready to give way to the approaching night, the Castle calms its rebellion and returns to silence and we to the Snow Lodge.