Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Day 4: Mill Creek Cabin, MT - Arco, ID

Breakfast and Ticks in the Before-Time

We got up bright (dark) and early at a cold 4am. We wanted as much time to see the majesty of Yellowstone as we could afford while still progressing our journey westward.

First though, Colleen found a nice gift in her hair. A tick. It hadn't bitten her, so we got it off and plunked it into a bowl to get a good picture of it. It was probably a hitchhiker from the Badlands the night before, likely hanging out her sleeping bag from when they were on the ground during loading the car.

We killed it with bleach.

With that dealt with, we made some breakfast, and packed up the car. It was really cold, and there was ice on the windshield. Luckily, when packing up the car back in Canada, I decided "I'll never need these ice scrapers again" and left them there. So we sat in the car for a bit while the hot air blasted off the windshield, trying to melt it clear (after Steve removed the fuse for the air conditioning which was broken so the defrost setting would work). Finishing the last off with a credit card, we were off.
To the old! And the faithful!

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Yellowstone - The World's First National Park

This is our first exposure to Parkitecture. Since the 1900's, architects for National Parks structures have tried to build them from local materials, so they blend in with the surroundings. They are intended to "grow out of the surrounding landscape". The north gate of Yellowstone shows the same style.

Funny thing about this gate - the main road into the park from the north doesn't go through here anymore. Colleen and I had to divert off to the "scenic route" (a few feet over) to see it. The real road is just out of view to the left.

We were blocked for a moment by some bison on the road. Caught off guard, Colleen couldn't get the camera out fast enough, and only got this photo. Her obsession began (though let's be honest, continued, since she was obsessed looking for them in the Badlands too), and she played the buffalo song to attempt to attract them.

Mammoth Hot Springs

These hot springs are huge. Mammoth, one could say. It's divided up into two terraces, upper and lower. The different springs flow into each other, with springs clogging up and news ones opening, so the landscape is always changing.

Behold the Liberty Cap. 
This 37 ft formation was caused by a spring staying in the same spot for a very long time. Much like an icicle forms by water dripping down, the spring water constantly flowed up, leaving mineral deposits for perhaps hundreds of years.
And no it doesn't look like that. Quit being childish.

This sign says "stay on the boardwalk" in a better way than words ever could. While everything looks like rock, some of it is very thin. Walking off the path can mean breaking through to a hot steam vent.

Lower Terrace

The lower half was mostly wide open, with a long cascade of springs dominating the area.
There are 5 different named terraces.   

The "plumbing" underground is constantly getting blocked, building pressure, and opening new paths.

This means the exact spot where the spring emerges from changes over the years and decades.

As a result, instead of cones, we end up with thousands of tiny incremental terraces.

The different pools were all different colors. As the water runs from pool to pool, it cools down. Different microorganisms are tailored to different heats, and each one is a different color, and so the terrace was a cool rainbow.

I really wanted to touch the water to see how hot it really was, but Colleen's readings of phrases like "corrosive" and "battery acid" stopped me. I kind of regret it, because how hot was it? I mean really how hot?

Upper Terrace

The upper terrace is much more treey. A road weaves between all the springs, most of which were not as active as the lower terrace ones.
At this point I started laughing. This whole area used to be a death trap. The settlers moving west would be passing through this nighmarish terrain on their way to (hopefully) cross the mountains. A wrong step here could mean being scalded to death. Now, here I was, sitting in a cushioned chair with the windows down, the heat on (it's cold with the windows open), eating chips, and my wife scolding me that I keep stopping the car to point at things.

Things have changed.

Just after exiting the Mammoth Hot Spring area is the Roaring Mountain. For many years, this mountain made a rumbling noise that could be heard from across the park miles away. It's quieter now, but we could still hear it from the car where we took this picture.

And finally a picture out across the basin of the many geothermal vents.

Colleen's Bison Obsession

Yes! Found one!
After a number of false alarms - since the Badlands - ("Oh god! I think that's one! Look through the binoculars!"~ 3 minutes later ~ "No, wait, that's a bush") we finally saw some bison. Pulling over and parking the car, we took LOTS of pictures. Pictures zoomed up on the bison.
Pictures of Colleen (very pleased) with dots (bison) in the background.

Colleen would not miss out on photo evidence of the giant beasts again!

Another handy warning sign given to you when you enter the park.
Andy was fascinated with them and growled a little at them. Fortunately he didn't notice when they walked right by our car. We were very careful to make sure he didn't bark and startle them into ramming our car.

Artists Paint Pots

Paint pots are springs that are clogged with mud. Instead of a pool of water, it ends up as a bubbling thick pool of mud. Just like the springs, microorganisms color these pools, making it look like bubbling paint.

These particular pots were interesting, but just looked like slightly cloudy pools. They didn't look like the bright Crayola that I had built up in my mind. (those pools do exisit, it wasn't sunny enough to see the colours that day). Oh well, moving on.

Firehole Canyon

There was a short side-track through Firehole Canyon.
This seemed to be a special tourist thing, (Colleen: it is actually cliffs of old lava flow) with a bunch of old-style taxis taking tourists through it. It was deep thin canyon leading to a waterfall. Normally, I could see how this would be huge with tourists, but with how amazing this entire area was, it's hard to single it out.
Andy loved it though. Lots of ears flapping in the wind.
On our way out of the canyon, some bison were walking along the road. We had to kind of pull over to let them pass. They were close enough to be kind of concerning though, and I'm glad Andy didn't start barking.

Fountain Paint Pots

Behold the better pots of paint. These things were everything that a pit of paint-colored boiling mud from the center of the earth could be.

Unfortunately the pictures don't do it justice, but these things had brown, yellow and red (and I mean red) pools of mud. Some were mildly bubbling (reminded me of the eternal bog of stench) but others were whistling and spitting like they were about to explode. Some seemed so furious and over the top, it almost seemed fake. Like how ninja movies have so much blood it just seems ridiculous.

There's no pictures of Colleen and I here because we ran over to see the pots separately while the other waited with the car and Andy (also why there are no photos of the red pots because Colleen missed them). Parking at that place was a zoo.

Old Faithful

Time to head to the main event. The thing that Yellowstone is know for. Heading further south, we made for our final stop in the park. First though, more bison.
Always more bison.
Uh oh. As we climbed up a hill and passed the sign for Old Faithful, it started to snow.
By the time we reached the parking lot, it was snowing for reals. Colleen and I put on our "winter" gear (this was basically a hoodie and the fleece inside from a jacket) and head out (we are going to California, who needs winter gear?). While the fountain's schedule is more reliable than other fountains, it's not 100%. We had somewhere between 15 and 30 min until the next eruption. This meant alot of standing around in the snow, getting colder and wetter.
Soon enough though, we were rewarded. What you see here, in all it's clear and obvious glory, is Old Faithful erupting. The majesty of white steam and white water stands out on the white blizzard.
We did it!
With that done, we headed back to the car. On the way, we cut through the Old Faithful Inn. The main part of this place (known as the Old House) was finished in 1904, and it's crazy. That picture shows a 6 story log cabin that's mostly open in the center. There was a huge fireplace too. It was impressive.
By this point, Colleen's knee was pretty sore, so I ran over to grab the car and picked her up from the visitor's center. And it was off through the snow for the rest of the day of driving.
The snow stopped after about 20 min, however, and it was clear.
Using the internet on the iPhone, we checked the weather for our camp site in Craters of the Moon that night. Snow.
Not good. After days of driving, and now with our only warm clothes already wet from the blizzardy Old Faithful, camping in freezing weather didn't seem like a good time. So Colleen started searching around for pet-friendly motels along our route. Andy did his part by providing moral support.

Using the fading internet whenever we passed through a town big enough to have good cell reception, she found something.
In a tiny town called Arco, a simple, but clean and well kept, motel was waiting for us. We went out to a restaurant to grab some take out, brought it back, and had dinner in our room with Andy passed out beside us.

Arco apparently has a tradition where the some students from a graduating class will climb up the mountain that looks over the town, and carve the number into the side. If the numbers are to be believed, it's been going on since 1925. One of the people checking in at the same time as us remembered doing it when he was in high school in town, and wasn't sure how often it still gets done.
With that little bit of local lore, we plugged the phone in to charge, set an alarm (gotta get up early for Craters of the Moon tomorrow!), and passed out.