Exploring Tower Junction

Thursday, August 13

The campground is still a study in grays when I pull out this morning. The sun is just now officially rising, but because Old Faithful sits in a bit of a valley it’ll be a little while before the first rays can top the ridge to the east and cast things in color.

I don’t much care for waking up early, but I love how quiet and peaceful the park is at this time of day. Black Sand Basin, Biscuit Basin, and Midway Geyser Basin all slide past Bertha on the left without fanfare, it’ll be a while yet before the tourists get out here. Steam billows in the cool air into a cloudless sky.

Today’s destination is Wahb Springs in Lamar Valley, a good two hour drive from Old Faithful which is why I’m awake so early. The trailhead is supposedly 14.6 miles east of of the Tower/Roosevelt junction, so I keep an eye on my mileage.

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First bison jam I’ve been in for over a month. They’ve all moved to Lamar and Hayden for the rut and are scarce elsewhere in the park. Luckily this is a small herd and passes quickly.

At 11 miles I pass the Yellowstone Institute where I took my class last month and I begin to wonder… Yep, the trailhead is at a pullout I am actually quite familiar with, I just didn’t know it was a trailhead too. It’s the Footbridge, where my wolf class got so many sightings of the Lamar Valley pack.

Bathroom stop on the way to Lamar

Bathroom stop on the way to Lamar

My heart falls, there is no room in the parking lot to speak of and the trail is roped off. I drive to the next lot down and back looking for Jayne’s car and don’t see it. I speak to a fisherman who is also trying to find a place to park, apparently the trail is closed because there’s a carcass that the wolves are feeding on nearby – hence all the people with scopes.

Jayne is still nowhere around, and there is no phone signal to send a text. Luckily, on my way back to the Roosevelt lodge to get gas she spies me and follows me to the gas station.

We weigh our options and settle on two smaller trails in the Roosevelt area.

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The Yellowstone River Picnic Area trail begins at… well, I bet you can guess where. The trail climbs to the top of a ridge and the river becomes visible far below, a sparkling blue-green ribbon through the golden landscape.

Around a bed the opposite bank is devoid of trees and grass and loose soil seems to run in rivulets to the water below, it’s a thermal area! The small plumes of steam don’t show up on camera so you’ll have to trust me that they’re near the water line.

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The northern range looks a lot different in late summer than it did at the beginning of July. What started out sweatshirt and light jacket weather is quickly turning hot as the sun climbs through clear skies. Yellowstone gets less rain this time of year and the grass and sage in the valley turn yellow and brittle as summer progresses.

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Past the thermal area, the rock rises into steep cliffs, carved by nature into fins and spires. It’s one of those areas that really fill a person with awe. Imagine all of the things that must have come together to make this scene what it is. Think about how long it must have taken to sculpt these rocks into what we see today.

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Just upstream from the cliffs, the land mellows into a broad valley that the Yellowstone River meanders through. What a contrast. Where the cliffs were stark and imposing, the valley is serene and idyllic. In my eyes they’re equally beautiful, just two very different types of beauty. Maybe this is why when people ask me what is the favorite place I’ve visited on my travels, I can’t give an answer. Every place I visit I think is beautiful in some way, and trying to rate one type of beauty as better than another is impossible for me.

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As the trail leaves the river to venture further into the grassland, a faint noise catches my attention. What was that? It sounded like an animal, but a glance around doesn’t reveal anything.

A few steps further, and they become visible at the crest of a hill, a herd of bison on the move.

See the black dots along the top of the hill?

See the black dots along the top of the hill?

While the dry August grass may not look as inviting to our eyes, it still sports enough nutrition to keep the herbivores of the valley fed. The bison stop occasionally and drop their massive heads to grab a mouthful, and farther down the trail two pronghorn are also grazing among the sage. This one is standing right on the trail in front of us, and Jayne and I grab a hasty picture while he debates what to do. To our surprise he doesn’t dart away but slowly moseys off the trail, mostly unconcerned with our presence.

Antelope butt

Antelope butt

The animals inside Yellowstone haven’t been hunted in generations and don’t react as strongly to humans. This leads some visitors into thinking they’re “tame” and can be approached. Please, please, please, if you’re ever visiting a park, keep a respectful distance from the wildlife, even if they don’t run away when they notice you. We’re up to five bison gorings and I believe three elk attacks this season, and they were all people who thought it’d be alright to get within 20 feet of a wild animal. Park regulations state visitors should stay 25 YARDS (75 feet) away from bison, elk, moose, coyotes, pronghorn, etc., and 100 yardsΒ away from bear and wolves.

After finishing the Yellowstone River trail (4.0 miles), we drive back to the Roosevelt Lodge for the Lost Lake trail, which is advertised as a 2 mile, moderate trek.

Only picture I got on the way up: an RV by the cabins at Roosevelt.

Only picture I got on the way up: an RV by the cabins at Roosevelt.

I wouldn’t call this moderate, even though it isn’t long. The trail climbs several steep switchbacks up the side of the hill behind the lodge and there is some deadfall to climb over. It’s vigorous enough that I don’t even think about taking pictures until we’re at the top, where a glimpse of the valley through the trees lets you know just how high we’ve climbed in 0.8 miles. There may have been some talk about Lost Lake staying lost on the trip up.

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The lake is pretty neat though, I must admit. A quick search of the guide reveals that there are no fish, but it’s a decent size and hosts several ducks. Lilly pads grace the shallows and tall spruce and fir grow right up to the shore on the northern side.

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There is evidence of beavers on the stumps and living trees near the waterline, but not recently. We walk to the end of the lake and could continue another mile up to a petrified tree, but as there has already been a lot of walking today and we’re getting hungry, we turn around and head back. Jayne nearly steps on this amphibious critter with a paddle shaped tail that I’m guessing spends at least some of it’s time in the lake. Can anyone identify?

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We take the horse trail down instead of the switchbacks. At first it seems clearly to be the better choice as it’s less steep, but there are a lot of horse apples to dodge and in places the trail is pretty churned up. A bridge crossing a little stream looks very inviting indeed as the day has only gotten hotter, but I don’t relish the thought of putting wet feet back into dirty, sweaty hiking shoes so I resist.

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Then we come to a pretty spectacular viewpoint: the gas station, lodge, and junction all laid out below with the valley spread behind. Okay, dodging horse apples isn’t so bad, really. A few fluffy white clouds have rolled in, but they don’t look like the sort that produce rain.

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The trail ends, understandably, at the horse corral. We attract the attention of several of the occupants as we stumble down the last couple yards. Maybe they’re wondering what we’re doing on their trail without horses ourselves.

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Well, that’s another 6.2 miles down on the way to 100. Jayne and I actually don’t end our day with this last hike. We drive out to Cooke City, peruse two of the NPS campgrounds in Lamar valley, and see a whole lot more bison – but that’ll all have to wait for another day as this post is already getting long and I still need to edit the pictures and get it up before going to bed tonight.

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Becky

At IO I teach people how to ditch the status quo and travel full-time before retirement, and share stories of my adventures (and misadventures) to inspire future nomads and armchair travelers alike. Included at no additional charge: seizing your dreams, living boldly, and making a difference.

24 Comments

  1. Angela on August 17, 2015 at 8:11 am

    You are such a descriptive writer. Do you read a lot in your time off? Or are you just a natural?

    Lovely pictures, as usual. I’ve been watching the Yellowstone webcams lately. πŸ™‚



    • Becky on August 17, 2015 at 10:14 am

      I do read a lot Angela, English was always my strongest subject in school.

      Fun! If I had the extra bandwidth I’d be watching them myself, when I leave here and have better internet I’ll have to peek in on occasion. Let us know if you see something neat. πŸ™‚



  2. Bodhi on August 16, 2015 at 11:55 pm

    Hello Becky,

    I hear y’all have had a bit of negative bear activity. Do they give you service talks about how to deal with that? I work for the Federal Government and we are often “guided” on how to respond to questions about events. If the answer is, “Yes.”, I guess that will be that. LOL

    Bodhi



    • Becky on August 17, 2015 at 10:13 am

      Yes Bodhi. πŸ™‚



  3. RGupnorth on August 16, 2015 at 11:00 am

    Enjoying updates on your travels. Your in an area very familiar to me. You should have gotten a cinnamon roll at the Bear Claw in Cooke City.



    • Becky on August 16, 2015 at 10:02 pm

      Hehe, I’ll try to remember that for next time RG, since we’d just eaten at the lodge I wouldn’t have been hungry for one this trip anyhow. πŸ™‚



  4. Norm H. on August 15, 2015 at 6:34 pm

    The meter is climbing! As has been said, it was nice to see you make lemonade out of lemons and take us on a lovely hike anyway. Loved the expansive views today. And, having hiked a few horse trails, I could enjoy the aroma of your hike as well. Happy trails.



    • Becky on August 15, 2015 at 10:54 pm

      Yes Norm, if I average about 7 miles of hiking a week I’ll make it to 100 by the last day of September, I’ve worked it out. πŸ˜‰ Glad you enjoyed this.



  5. Chris on August 15, 2015 at 11:44 am

    Becky,

    I would agree with Teri that the salamander you have pictured is one of the subspecies of tiger salamander. The term “water dog” refers to some of the gilled species of salamanders that live full time in the water and some times locally it refers to the gilled larvae of the above pictured salamander.

    I’ve also looked closely at some of the other specimens pictured in some of your videos (which are really well done).

    The banded and rounded rocks which you displayed in your videos of Truman State Park, in Missouri, are chert or more commonly known as flint. The pattern you saw in the limestone rock was a fossil, I couldn’t quite make out what kind.

    In Florida, the turtle you pictured was actually a chicken turtle, not a gopher tortoise. Florida has two species, the eastern and the Florida, but there wasn’t enough coloration shown, so I couldn’t quite make out which it would have been. The long, yellow snake was a yellow rat snake (totally harmless). In the video titled “bird song”, those birds were sandhill cranes! Since you were recording on an iPhone, they had to be really large to be seen in that video, and if you google “sandhill crane call”, you’ll find sites that you can hear the same call that you recorded.

    I’ve been following your blog for a couple of months. You do a great job of describing your experiences in very engaging narration. And you sprinkle it with just the right amount of pictures to really illustrate your story!

    My son is in marketing and advertising. He says that one common mistake is that videos can be too long, and in doing so, lose the interest of the audience. Your videos are right on the mark for length and you do such a great job of narrating them. Two months ago, I binge watched them over a two day period and they really held my attention and were entertaining the whole time.

    In closing I’d like to say thanks for doing what you’re doing, sharing what you’re doing, and allowing others to live vicariously through your videos and writings!

    A fan,
    Chris



    • Becky on August 15, 2015 at 10:53 pm

      Wow, you’re an encyclopedia of information Chris! Thanks for all the identifications, I’ll have to go back through and put in the descriptions at some point.

      I’m glad that you’re enjoying IO. I’ve had no formal training in writing, photography, recording, or marketing; but I did a pretty thorough perusal of the internet for information on those topics before I started IO and am glad I took the time and effort to do so, I’m sure IO is a better blog for it.

      Thanks for reading!



  6. Kathy on August 15, 2015 at 9:44 am

    Early morning walks at Old Faithful are eerily quite. Getting up early one morning I started walking on the boardwalk alone when suddenly a Bison stood up about 20 ft in front of me. I hadn’t seen him on the ground but I sure recognized his size when he started moving. That was the last early morning walk I took by myself in Yellowstone.
    Thanks for the info on the Lost Lake Trail. This was on our list for next year but I wouldn’t be able to keep up so we will pass on that one.
    Thanks for the great photos and info.
    Kathy recently posted..LOOKING FORWARDMy Profile



    • Becky on August 15, 2015 at 10:11 am

      Apparently an employee who works at the Inn got a photo of a bison right next to Cas one day when I was at work, I need to get it from her. πŸ˜›

      What’s really creepy is when they hang around in the campground after dark and you can hear them chuffing through an open window, but aren’t sure exactly where they are. πŸ˜›



  7. Jodee Gravel on August 15, 2015 at 9:28 am

    I’m always impressed with how well the parks are managed, getting the trail closed so the wolves aren’t disturbed while at the carcass is great. And you found a couple nice alternatives. I love the carved rock cliffs over the meandering river – if you could only go back in time and see the area before all the carving it would be fascinating. The view across the valley is beautiful as is the little lake.
    Jodee Gravel recently posted..Sometimes It’s Hard to Remember Where You WereMy Profile



    • Becky on August 15, 2015 at 10:09 am

      It’s a colossal feat of coordination if nothing else Jodee. Yellowstone is 2.2 million acres and the NPS has something like 850 employees in the summer. That’s a lot of ground those people have to cover, communication would be key.

      And yes, never do I wish for a time machine so much as when I’m exploring outdoors.



  8. frugalrvgals on August 15, 2015 at 7:30 am

    I always love seeing the pictures. I would say the little creature is a “waterdog”. First time I saw one of those was when I was real young and we were fishing in Colorado.
    frugalrvgals recently posted..Campground Hookups in a Truck CamperMy Profile



    • Becky on August 15, 2015 at 9:55 am

      Now I’ll have to Google waterdog frugal. πŸ™‚ Glad you liked the pictures.



  9. Teri Live Oak, Fl on August 15, 2015 at 4:52 am

    I think the amphibian is a tiger salamander. Why no fish? I don’t believe I’ve ever seen a lake that size without at least minnows. Great post as always.



    • Becky on August 15, 2015 at 9:52 am

      Thanks for identifying Teri.

      I’m not sure. Maybe it’s not very deep and freezes all the way through in winter. Glad you enjoyed this. πŸ™‚



  10. Ed@Chasing Sunrises and Sunsets on August 15, 2015 at 3:00 am

    You were exercising item #8 of your “Ten Things”…be flexible. You made lemonade out of lemons. When one trailhead is closed to you after so many miles driven to get there, you found other trails to explore while in the area. Maybe, that was what was supposed to happen. πŸ™‚
    Ed@Chasing Sunrises and Sunsets recently posted..Tent CampingMy Profile



    • Becky on August 15, 2015 at 9:51 am

      Maybe so Ed! That was the closest I’ve ever been to a pronghorn and it was a neat experience to watch them (there were two) grazing and chilling.



  11. Ron on August 14, 2015 at 10:20 pm

    Again Great photos and a nice description of your hike.



    • Becky on August 15, 2015 at 9:49 am

      Glad you enjoyed this Ron.



  12. GB in norcal on August 14, 2015 at 9:20 pm

    Nice shots. Glad you got some hiking in. Looks beautiful.



    • Becky on August 15, 2015 at 9:49 am

      Yes GB, was so happy to be able to go hiking this weekend after spending last weekend home sick. I feel better about the coming week having had some time outside.



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