Thursday, 3 September 2015

16th August - Cody to Jackson Hole, Wyoming

Of all our early starts this was probably the latest, setting off just as the sun was rising, and for once travelling with the sun on our backs as we headed out of Cody, and onto the Buffalo Bill Scenic Byway back towards Yellowstone.

As we passed through the tunnel and past the dam, and then alongside the Buffalo Bill Reservoir, the sun was hazy, and the water a very light and strange blue.

There were American White Pelicans on the lake, and in a small pool by the right hand side of the road were several Ring-billed Gulls and some small distant waders.

As we entered the town of Wapiti the landscape was open ranchland, but once past the town the valley starts to close in.  On one bluff was this strange building that looks as if it has come straight out of a Mad Max movie rises out of the landscape in a seemingly random collection of wooden terraces and staircases.

This is in fact the former home of architect and engineer Lee Smith.  He began building the home for his wife and children from locally harvested logs and wood, and in the beginning the house had a fairly mundane form. However, after completing the basic home, Smith continued to build, adding extra floors and seemingly tacked-on balconies, all from logs he would collect in his small pick-up. Even after his devotion to the building project led to a divorce, Smith simply redoubled his efforts, building winding organic staircases and scenic terraces on the upper floors. Tragically, Smith fell to his death while working (untethered, as was his way) on one of the upper balconies.

The Smith Mansion has since sat empty, accumulating myths and legends about ghosts and madmen. However, Smith's daughter, Sunny Smith Larsen, has begun a preservation campaign for the site and hopefully her efforts will keep her father's astonishing house from being destroyed.

Further on we were now entering Shoshone National Forest.  From here on the valley was lined on either side with strange buttes and stacks all the product of the sandstone cliffs and the effects mainly of wind and water erosion.

I had my wish, the sky was clear and the early morning light was perfect highlighting the wonderful cliffs on either side of us.  The stacks seem to defy gravity.

While you have to wonder how long it is before these shapes change.

The ridges lines with these shapes.

and in places gaps and holes could be seen between the rock where the wind has exploited the weaker rock.

The Shoshone River winding its way through the valley having played its part in the creation of this wonderful rugged landscape, and leaving it now to the wind.

Despite the short distance travelled we stopped for breakfast, finding a lovely pull in area close to the side of the river.

As we ate breakfast by the side of the water a small group of Yellow-rumped Warblers passed through the cypress trees above us.

It was then we noticed the area was full of ripe berries, and after that we saw the scat by the side of the road that contained the berries, it was large and probably bear that had come through here quite recently.

We headed off once again, making good time into the park.  While the Sylvan Pass and Lake is dramatic there was nothing that drew us to stopping and we even passed on the Butte Lake Overlook.  Coming down into Sedge Bay the Goldeneye were closer to the shore than when we came through a couple of days previously, and we pulled over to have a look.

On reaching Pelican Creek we pulled over once more to watch the shallow pools and trees by the side of the lake.  Out on one of the pools I scoped a Greater Yellowlegs and a few Blue-winged Teal, but they were too distant for the camera.  The juvenile Bald Eagle was calling once again, and the adult flew across in front of us to perch at the top of a distant pine tree.

There was no sign of the pelicans out on the sand bar, but closer in squeals and loud calls from the reeds and pools produced a family of Sora Rails.

As was usually the way in Yellowstone if another cars sees someone looking they pull over, and we were soon joined by an RV and the occupants tumbled out and started looking, in the hope of seeing what I don't know.  They never asked us, and we didn't offer, just decided to get back in the car and head on.

We crossed the Fishing Bridge and decided to pull over and walk along the bank.  Northern Rough-winged Swallows were hawking insects around the water and alongside the trees.  Helen then found the nests under the bridge, and we were able to get close to the nests that were situated under the bridge.  Peering out of the mud made nests were three young swallows.

There are only two here, but there were three, and they would move around in turn after having been fed.

The format was to sit looking out of the entrance waiting patiently.

Then as they sense the adult approaching beg furiously

We walked a short distance along the bank following some duck in the water, but then a dog jumped in, and the duck swam off.  Looking back gave the opportunity to see the bridge in its entirety.

There has been a bridge here since 1902 spanning the Yellowstone river close to the lake.  It was closed to fishing though from 1973 to protect the spawning Cutthroat Trout to the benefit of the resident Grizzly Bears.  There is apparently growing pressure to close the whole area to further protect this habitat.

We turned into the Lake Village and had a coffee sitting on the verandah of the lake Yellowstone Hotel.  After coffee we headed on towards the West Thumb Geyser basin, where this time we did stop.  Once again there is a well built boardwalk that leads out over the fragile and sensitive ground.

This Black Pool, once black, but now all the black thermophiles that gave it the colour have gone, leaving it clear, and reflective blue

the trail leads down to the lake.  The sky was a little hazy, and this was being attributed by the rangers to fires in Idaho and the smoke being blown east in the fresh winds.  The steam from the geysers and springs plus the hazy air made these kayakers look quite atmospheric.

Once again the run off from the springs created some wonderful colourful bacterial mats providing lovely patterns on the ground.

The deep blue of the lake contrasting with golden ochre colours.

Close to the water two Goosander or Common Mergansers as they are know in the USA swam past us, and were actually diving around the ridges of underwater cones.

There were also one or two Herring Gulls in attendance, taking over from the Ravens.

This geyser is known as the Fishing Cone geyser, and anglers once used a "hook 'n' cook" method to prepare their catch dipping it into the boiling water.  Fishing is now prohibited.

Leaving West Thumb we travelled on to new roads heading south past Grant Village which was named after Ulysses Grant the president who established the park in 1872.  We passed once again the continental divide, and then down past Lewis Lake, and then to another turn out to view Lewis Falls, where the Lewis River falls 30 feet after leaving the lake.

The view from the other side of the bridge follows the river as it flows south.  On a day like today we should have been able to have seen the Tetons from here, but the visibility was not that good due to the smoke drifting in.

We finally passed through the southern entrance and bid farewell to Yellowstone, it was true to say it had far exceeded our expectations, a wonderful, beautiful place with so many different wonders to admire and enjoy.

We headed south on the John D. Rockefeller jr Memorial Parkway (makes the name M25 seem so boring!), stopping at the first visitor centre at Flagg Ranch to understand how the fees work.  Apparently the system changed this year and they combined the fee with Yellowstone, but if you come in from the south, and only want the Grand Teton you pay at Moose River.  Chances are you can avoid the fees all together, it just depends whetehr the booths are open or not.

The Highway 89 as it is now called pulls in alongside Lake Jackson, and we were given our first view of the Teton range.

The afternoon light was not the best, but it hardly took from the beauty of these mountains.  There are no foothills seen before most mountain ranges to obscure the view, these peaks just appear from the valley floor.  The range is crowned by the sharp edged Grand which stands at just under 14,000 feet.

The rocks are estimated to be 2.7 billion years old, and are some of the oldest in North America, but the mountains are among the youngest in the world.

beginning 100 million years ago long before they were created the collision of the Pacific and Atlantic tectonic plates bowed up sedimentary rocks, then 10 million years ago movement on the Teton fault generated massive earthquakes causing the mountains to rise, while the valley floor dropped.  The vertical displacement of the sedimentary rocks from the mountain tops to the valley floor approaches 30,000 feet.

Then 2 million years ago massive glaciers flowed south from Yellowstone and filled the valley, eroding mountains and depositing glacial debris these glaciers sculpted the jagged Teton skyline.  The final act of the glaciers was to deposit moraines along the receding edge of the glaciers, and these today dam the streams and rivers creating the beautiful lakes such as Jenny Lake and the largest, Jackson lake, although this was increased in size by the building of the Jackson Dam in 1911.

As a result of these huge variations in height there are up to five environments in the Grand Teton Park, Alpine at the very heights, Forests, Sagebush Flats, Wet Meadows and the Lakes and Ponds, all combine to make this a wonderful natural area.

The next stop was another view of the mountain range, this time at Willow Flats, and area of willow and water meadows, that can support Moose.

We walked down the bank, and alongside a small pool where there were a group of American Wigeon feeding in the water.

Ducks at this time of the year are in their eclipse plumage, where they have moulted the old feathers and are growing brand new feathers, there still remain some of the key identification features though, in this case the shape of the head, the russet flanks, and remnants of the bottle green head plumage.

A little further round there were also some young Ring-necked Ducks dozing in the sunshine.

As we watched the ducks there were Yellow Warblers in the bushes fly catching, and Green Darner dragonflies hawking by the side of the pool, fighting each other should one encroach on the others territory.

The mountains still are able to retain their snow fields, despite the very warm temperatures here down in the valley, and here you can also see the low willows that dominate the area here, and give it the name.  This is reportedly one of the best spots for wild life, but this afternoon with the sun, and people it was very quiet.

From here it was about 30 miles still to Jackson.  The area is known as Jackson Hole, but we were staying in the town of Jackson.  After finally locating our hotel and checking in we were given a ride into the downtown area.  Jackson has two seasons, in the winter, skiing, and the summer the park visitors.  As a result it is an extremely touristy place with souvenir shops everywhere.  Struggling to find a suitable place to eat we opted for a roof terrace in the middle of town that overlooked the stage coach stop.

After dinner we walked back to the hotel, and prepared for yet another early start tomorrow.  We had decisions to make, where would we go, but I felt it has the potential to be a very interesting day.

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