100 Mile Hiking Club – Mystic Falls

100-mile-hiking-club1There’s a little yellow book sold in our shop titled “Day Hiking Yellowstone” by Tom Carter. It’s simple and unassuming, the black and white photos are not high quality and the pages are just folded in half with two staples to make the binding. It was originally published in 1978 and it doesn’t look like much, but there’s an interesting story behind it.

Tom Carter graduated from high school in 1973 and left Arkansas the day after to come work out at Yellowstone for the summer. He enjoyed it so much, he worked a total of six years as a tour guide in the park, and still comes back frequently. He became a hiking aficionado and wrote this little book specifically for Yellowstone employees, to help them get out and explore more of the park’s back country. For years it was given out for free to any employee who was interested, in 1985 it was made available to the public.

A gloomy morning at Biscuit Basin

A gloomy morning at Biscuit Basin

Today, the Yellowstone Co-Op Employee Recreation Program manages the Yellowstone Hiking Club. There are three different levels, the first is the 100 mile club. For $10, employees get a copy of “Day Hiking Yellowstone”, a tee-shirt with the “Yellowstone 100 mile hiking club” logo on it, and a log book. The goal is to hike 100 miles in a summer season, and no – walking to and from work doesn’t count. You record your hikes in the log book, and when you get to 100 miles you turn it back in at the recreation office (most Yellowstone ‘villages’ have an employee recreation hall – the one at OF is located inside the OF Lodge, and features an indoor full size basketball court among other things). The reward for completion is another tee-shirt and a key chain. Not bad for $10.

Sapphire Pool is where Biscuit Basin got it's name. Until 1959, it was a small geyser with delicate mineral buildup around the edges that looked like biscuits. Following the earthquake, Sapphire had several explosive eruptions of up to 150 feet that destroyed the biscuits and enlarged the pool. Since then it's quieted to a hot spring.

Sapphire Pool is where Biscuit Basin got it’s name. Until 1959, it was a small geyser with delicate mineral buildup around the edges that looked like biscuits. Following the earthquake that year, Sapphire had several explosive eruptions of up to 150 feet that destroyed the biscuits and enlarged the pool. Since the mid 60’s it’s quieted to a hot spring.

I learned all this today as I was riding along with four of my coworkers to Mystic Falls, my first hike of the season. Normally I get a much earlier start on hiking when I arrive somewhere new, but the lack of days off while I was in training, the lack of bear spray for hiking alone, the rainy weather, and the abundance of things to see not far off the road on maintained boardwalks have all contributed to a later start.

Young lodgepole pine along the Little Firehole

Young lodgepole pine along the Little Firehole

Mystic Falls can be a 2.5 mile in and out hike, or a 3.5 mile loop. To get to it you park at Biscuit Basin on the road between Madison and Old Faithful. Heavy clouds lumber through the sky and there is rain in the forecast again today. I’m trying to remember how many days I’ve had here at Yellowstone where it hasn’t rained, I think maybe two or three. The clouds keep the temperature lower, and the hydrothermal features are shrouded in steam, lending an eerie look to the basin.

At the back of the boardwalk that circles the basin a sign points the way to Mystic Falls through a young lodgepole pine forest.

Mystic Falls

Mystic Falls

In 1988, massive wildfires swept through a good part of Yellowstone and killed off a lot of trees. You may have noticed in the pictures I’ve taken since arriving that there aren’t a lot of big trees around. The newer growth is no more than 27 years old. They’re by no means saplings, but they’re still a ways from attaining the maximum height of 160 feet that lodgepoles can grow to.

The trail is mostly gray gravel, the soil here is sandy and has a high obsidian content that makes it look dark in color. Out of the trees to the left of the trail the Little Firehole River appears, fast flowing from all of the rain we’ve been getting. It burbles merrily and when the sun breaks through the clouds, the temperature almost immediately rises. Not a bad day for hiking after all!

Elevation gain is minimal on the way up the river to the falls. We know we’re getting close when the burbling increases to a roar.

Mystic Falls cuts through harder ryolite cliffs to cascade 70 feet to the softer rock below. You can get decent pictures of it right from the trail, or go a little off trail down to the river edge for a more intimate portrait. At this point, you could turn around and follow the trail back the way you came for an easier hike back, or follow some switchbacks to the top of Madison plateau (500 feet of elevation gain). The two more casual hikers in our group turn around and go back, and I go with the other two to the top of the plateau.

It’s a neat climb. As the valley becomes visible below, numerous plumes of steam can be seen rising up into the air. They’re all hydrothermal features, more visible this time of year when the air temperature is cooler. Abruptly there is a break in the trees, and an overlook grants a magnificent view of the whole upper basin.

The Upper Basin - click for larger image

The Upper Basin – click for larger image

100-mile-hiking-club7Yeah, this was worth the extra effort to see. Puffy clouds cast shadows on the landscape below, and sunlight glints off of the buildings at Old Faithful in the distance. Nearer, one can see the Little Firehole winding through the trees and a large barren thermal desert, Biscuit Basin where the trail started. Just on the other side of the fence to keep people from going too close to the sheer edge, a large metal medallion is set into a rock – a geological benchmark.

My two coworkers and I take in the view for a while. They’re both returners on their 4th and 5th seasons in Yellowstone, and have done this hike before. They point out which plumes of steam are what, and while we’re talking Old Faithful erupts in the distance! What a magnificent view.

That's Old Faithful erupting in the distance

That’s Old Faithful erupting

Down the switchbacks on the other side we go, offering encouragement to two different groups coming up that are wondering if the view is going to be worth the effort. Back down at the trailhead we meet up with the other two members of our party. Biscuit Basin looks very different in the sunlight, and I snap a couple more pictures on our way out.

To celebrate the first hike of the season, we all go out to eat at a place in West Yellowstone called Slippery Otter Pub. I get the fish and chips which is delicious, the fact that it’s 2 pm and I haven’t had lunch yet might have something to do with it. After being dropped off back home I walk over to the employee recreation center to sign up for the 100 mile club.

Back at Biscuit Basin, I believe this one was called Avoca Spring

Back at Biscuit Basin, I believe this one was called Avoca Spring

100-mile-hiking-club113.5 miles down, 96.5 more to go! Or possibly a bit less if my two boardwalk hikes out to Morning Glory count, I’ll need some clarification on the rules. Either way, this challenge is right up my alley and I’m looking forward to getting out and doing more hiking. I have 18 more weeks in Yellowstone, so with a bit of division I calculated I’ll need to average 5.36 miles of hiking a week to reach that goal. Lets do this thing!

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  1. Tom Dunn on June 1, 2015 at 2:48 pm

    Ordered the Tom Carter hiking books. He has one for Teton also. Thanks for the tip.

    • Becky on June 2, 2015 at 9:33 pm

      You’re welcome, hope they serve you well!

  2. Norm H. on May 31, 2015 at 7:48 pm

    Thanks for the hike. Enjoyed it immensely. Looking forward to “our” next 96.5 miles with you. Happy trails!

    • Becky on May 31, 2015 at 10:41 pm

      Glad you enjoyed it Norm, there will be a lot more to come. 🙂

  3. Nick on May 31, 2015 at 10:43 am

    Was there all week. Came in to meet you but you looked very busy. Hope you enjoy your season there.

    • Becky on May 31, 2015 at 10:40 pm

      Sorry we didn’t get the chance to say hi but I hope you enjoyed your visit Nick! It can get busy in there sometimes, especially right after an eruption.

  4. Jill on May 30, 2015 at 10:04 pm

    Thanks Becky, very interesting and beautiful. You’ll do the 100 miles easy, I think you love the challenge.

    • Becky on May 31, 2015 at 10:39 pm

      Yep I do. There’s also a 500 mile, and 1,000 mile club but that’s for employees who come back year after year. Won’t be making either of those this time. 😉

  5. Roger on May 30, 2015 at 4:43 pm

    Your pictures are amazing…after working at Sequoia Lodgepole market you just taught me what the lodgepole is…

    I gotta get out more. lol

    • Becky on May 31, 2015 at 10:37 pm

      Hehe, there are signs around the park that talk about the pine, that’s how I knew what it was. 🙂 I didn’t know what sequoias were until I saw the giant ones out in California earlier this year.

  6. Andy on May 30, 2015 at 3:26 pm

    I love those photos looking down on the valley; I can’t wait to make it out that way.
    Andy recently posted..Tosohatchee Chimney Trip–Bumby Camp TrailMy Profile

    • Becky on May 31, 2015 at 10:36 pm

      It is a really great view of the valley Andy, was worth the extra 500 feet in elevation. 🙂

  7. Diane on May 30, 2015 at 12:25 pm

    Great photos! Yellowstone was one of the many parks I considered to work for this summer. I chose Grand Canyon this year. If you would like to follow me and the photos I take here, feel free to add your email to my newsletter. Also I post to the parks FaceBook page 🙂


    • Becky on May 31, 2015 at 10:35 pm

      Grand Canyon would be a good place to spend the summer too Diane, have a great time!

  8. Karen on May 30, 2015 at 12:19 pm

    I am pea-green with envy! I so love Yellowstone and the last time I was there was 15 years ago so I am vicariously visiting and enjoying it now with all your wonderful posts. Thank you!

    • Becky on May 31, 2015 at 10:34 pm

      You’re welcome Karen, hope you get the chance to go back soon yourself!

  9. Jodee Gravel on May 30, 2015 at 10:27 am

    Dad was in Yellowstone in 1988 when the fire got out of control. He was evacuated with thousands of others and unfortunately never made it back. I’m looking forward to going and seeing more of it for him next year. Your photos are wonderful and I’m excited about the 100 mile club. It’s funny how a small incentive can make all the difference in how you spend your free time – and really, is there a single mile in Yellowstone without a beautiful view?
    Jodee Gravel recently posted..Down to the Wire While Wrapping Up Life in the Stix-and-BrixMy Profile

    • Becky on May 30, 2015 at 11:51 am

      I kind of doubt there is Jodee, we’ll see. 🙂

      I’m sorry your dad never made it back, but I’m glad to hear you’ll be able to make the trip in his name. Less than a week until you go full-timing now, how very exciting! I wish you two the best of luck and hope to meet you on the road someday soon. Safe travels and happy trails.

  10. Arthur on May 30, 2015 at 9:47 am

    You are rapidly moving up my list of favorite blogs to near the top.

    You have a very nice way of sharing your sights and sharing your thoughts. You take me there.

    Thanks for the hike.
    Arthur recently posted..100 Mile Hiking Club – Mystic FallsMy Profile

    • Becky on May 30, 2015 at 11:46 am

      You’re welcome Arthur. I love spending time outdoors and hiking is one of my favorite activities, it was a big draw for me to travel like I do.

  11. Cheri Peine on May 30, 2015 at 8:48 am

    I always enjoy your posts Becky. Yellowstone is on my bucket list so i really look forward to reading each of your posts as you tell about all of the wonders of Yellowstone.

    • Becky on May 30, 2015 at 11:45 am

      Glad to hear it Cheri, I’m happy to provide reports on how my time up here is going. 🙂

  12. Janett on May 30, 2015 at 8:39 am

    Thanks for another awe-inspiring story and beautiful pics Becky. I love a challenge too and I’m sure you’ll knock-out that 96.5 miles…you gotta get that key chain!

    Fyi…My Lil’ Scamp now has electric brakes and we’ll be hitting the road next week. I was wondering if you’ve ever gone to a CAT scale or similar to weigh Cas?

    • Becky on May 30, 2015 at 11:44 am

      The key chain is very important! 😉

      Nope I never have, though it’s a good idea. I have had the tongue of the trailer weighed both times I stopped through Little House Customs to get work done on Cas and from that I can get an idea of what Cas weighs (close to the limit of 3,500 lbs).

  13. Rob Getman on May 30, 2015 at 8:36 am

    Enjoyed, Thanks!

    • Becky on May 30, 2015 at 11:42 am

      You’re welcome.

    • Hugh Billingsley on June 7, 2015 at 1:09 am


      Surprised and pleased to see your comments to Becky. Would like to reconnect. Please contact me at the included email address.


  14. Mike Goad on May 30, 2015 at 8:03 am

    Yellowstone is a great place! I’m envious of your long stay there this year.

    My first visit there was in 1963 with my grandparents and little sister. The next visit was in 1973 with my wife and our new daughter when I was a student at the Nuclear Power Training Unit and we were living in Idaho falls. We visited several times that wonderful summer. In 1977, I was back as an instructor. Over the next 3 1/2 years, Yellowstone was one of primary destinations. After leaving Idaho, in 1980, we’ve been back to Yellowstone many times, most recently a week each in 2010 and 2014. Last year, we were fortunate enough to see 6 grizzlies and 2 wolves in our many traverses across Hayden Valley.

    Our 1963 visit was before the change on bear policies. That year, we saw bears everywhere, including one black bear sow being chased from Grant Village toward where I had just stepped around the side of our trailer — her cubs in the woods behind me. On the road from Canyon to Mammoth, I remember see a car pulled over with the occupants tossing food to a grizzly sow and her 2 cubs! At Lewis Lake, my grandfather woke me up so I could see a bear cub hanging by it rear legs retrieving garbage from an open top trash can.

    Enjoy your Yellowstone adventure!
    Mike Goad recently posted..Lights in Motion: Aurora of DenaliMy Profile

    • Becky on May 30, 2015 at 11:41 am

      Yeah Mike the bear policy was a lot different then. Yellowstone went from seeing an average of 45 bear attacks a year to one every other year once people were no longer allowed to feed them. There are actually more grizzlies in the park today than there were in the 60’s, but they aren’t as visible because they’re off in the woods getting their food by natural means.

      Glad you enjoyed your time in Yellowstone, so far I’m really enjoying mine. 🙂

  15. Frank on May 30, 2015 at 7:43 am

    You are living our dream. In just a couple of years we will retire and we will work at Yellowstone to escape the Texas heat. I enjoy reading about your travels!

    • Becky on May 30, 2015 at 11:34 am

      So far I’m really enjoying it Frank, at least with YA – I can’t speak for other employers out here. I hope you didn’t get flooded out with all the rain Texas has been getting, best of luck!

  16. Tom Reed on May 30, 2015 at 7:18 am

    Thanks for another great episode in the “Adventures of Becky”. You will make this 100 mile easily. The story line and pictures are great and I for one hung on every word.
    I have an offer on my house and so another step closer to going full time. Keep up the great narrative and stay safe…TR

    • Becky on May 30, 2015 at 11:29 am

      Congrats on the offer Tom, hope it all works out!

  17. Oystein on May 30, 2015 at 1:09 am

    Awesome post and fantastic pictures. By the time your 18 weeks are done, I should be well educated about Yellowstone, very cool. I especially like the pic of the upper basin and how it shows a much better perspective. 100 miles by 18 weeks is doable.

    • Becky on May 30, 2015 at 11:28 am

      Glad you liked this Oystein. There sure is a lot to learn about Yellowstone. Being the oldest national park in the country it has a lot of history, and it’s also so big, it’s hard to explain the scale. There are over 900 miles of hiking trails, so my goal of 100 for this summer will be but a fraction of them.

  18. Ron on May 29, 2015 at 11:32 pm

    Great photos again, You will make the 100 miles, no problem.

    • Becky on May 30, 2015 at 11:25 am

      Yeah I should be able to, as long as I get at least one decent day off a week for hiking. It’s also something of a competition among people here, to see who can finish first.