Thursday, August 13 (continued)
After two fun hikes in the Tower Junction area, Jayne and I are feeling pretty hungry and we stop in at the quaint Roosevelt Lodge for a late lunch. The menu is limited and prices are a bit high since it’s in a national park, but it tastes fine enough. I have the buffalo chicken wrap and mashed potatoes. That may sound like an odd combination, but it’s been a long time since I’ve had mashed potatoes and they were calling to me!
Today is Jayne’s last day off before she goes back to Florida, so we make the most of it. Neither of us have been to Cooke City that we can recall, a small tourist town just out the northeast entrance to Yellowstone and we’re in the right area, so we leave her car parked at the gas station and take a drive out to see.
Yes, it’s a tourist town, but it does have a certain charm. Perhaps the fact that it doesn’t look hurried or busy is what draws us. Visitation in Yellowstone is up about 20% from last year as of the end of June (July’s numbers aren’t in yet), and we’re both getting tired of the crowds. I’ve been invited back to Yellowstone next summer, but I doubt I’ll accept. Besides wanting to see new things, next year is the 100 year anniversary of the National Park Service, and there is already merchandise for sale and special events being planned at parks around the country in celebration (for starters the “Find Your Park” campaign).
Don’t get me wrong, it’s great that the NPS has been around 100 years and I love the national parks, I just don’t relish the thought of the even larger crowd expected at Yellowstone next year. In fact, I’m contemplating skipping the national park system altogether next summer and working elsewhere, but I haven’t any details on that yet.
Anyway, we drive through Cooke City, then turn around and go back through Lamar, making two more stops along the way.
Yellowstone has 11 campgrounds. Five are run by Xanterra and are by reservation, Fishing bridge is the only FHU campground. Seven are run by the NPS and are first come come served, I believe all of these are dry camping.
I have yet to see any of the campgrounds inside Yellowstone and there just so happens to be two NPS ones on our route back to tower.
Pebble Creek campground is at the far eastern side of Lamar Valley, set just a little ways off the road along the treeline and yes, does have a rather pretty little creek running by it. It’s quite small with only 27 sites on three loops, there are a couple long pull-throughs, but most are smaller. There are two pit toilets on site, generators are not allowed.
All in all, I find it quite adorable and would enjoy camping here sometime, though I’d need solar power first. It’s $15 a night, less for senior and access pass holders, and the maximum stay is 14 days during peak season. The camphost site is the first one in and they have a sign out saying the campground is full – no surprise there, you need to get to these campgrounds early in the morning to snag a site in July and August.
The second campground is Slough Creek (pronounced “slew” creek), two miles down a dirt road that right now has some pretty serious washboard action going on. A large herd of bison is out here and making driving a bit of a challenge, but they’re sure fun to photograph.
Slough Creek has 23 sites and the same rules and amenities. Maximum length is 30′ though, and that includes all equipment towing or being towed so I wouldn’t be able to come out here with Cas. I don’t take any pictures because there are a lot of people around and it always feels invasive to take pictures of campsites when the occupants are in them. Instead of loops, this campground runs in a long line that dead ends in small circle just big enough to turn around in. Behind the sites runs the creek, it’s also a pretty area.
I drop Jayne back off at her car and we say our goodbyes for now. I’m sure we’ll meet up on the road again someday.
Thursday, August 14
Gray-bottomed clouds are piling up to the southwest, and I eye them with suspicion while preparing for today’s hike. My windbreaker and an umbrella make it into the pile of gear to take with, but I forget completely that I do have a rain jacket as well, buried in one of the storage bins in the back of Bertha.
It sprinkles on and off on the way to Fishing Bridge, located at the north end of Yellowstone Lake which is where today’s hike is. I’m going with my coworkers – all of whom have real rain gear.
The skies open up just as we’re getting our stuff out of the trunk. If I’d been hiking alone I simply would have waited for better weather. My shoes aren’t waterpoof, my rain jacket is heavy and doesn’t breathe, and my pants aren’t quick-drying. I have at times lamented not having “real” hiking gear (if you look at my pictures on hikes, you’ll see I do it in jeans, a t-shirt, and tennis shoes), but that’s one of the trade-offs I make for living on the road. It’s an acceptable trade-off in my book. The most important piece of gear for hiking as I saw it was the backpack with the water bladder, and so I bought myself one of those for my birthday. If hiking continues to be a big draw for me, I’ll buy myself another piece of gear when I have a bit of spare money again.
So I pull out the hot pink umbrella, a loan from one of the coworkers on today’s hike, and take that with me. The first bit of the 2.3 mile hike to Storm Point goes through a wide meadow, and a couple distant rumbles of thunder issue from above. “Lets pretend I’m not hiking through a field with an umbrella in a thunderstorm.” I say to my companions. I’m sure I look pretty ridiculous (and the pink clashes horribly with my orange backpack), but I stay more or less dry which is the big thing.
A flock of Canadian geese sit by the shore of the lake, as we approach they fly off to land in the water. A lot of my photos from today look like they’re black and white but they aren’t really, it’s just the way the lighting is. We’ll call it mood lighting and say it’s intentional.
One of my coworkers says this hike reminds them a lot of Acadia National Park up in Maine. I’ve never been to Maine so I can’t confirm or deny, but the tall conifers decked out in moss sure do look neat next to the lake. And the lake is big enough that with the far shore partly obscured by rain, that one could imagine they were walking along the ocean.
Adding to the ocean feel is the exposed shoreline reminiscent of low tide, the water level has continued to fall in the lake as the summer wears on. The flock of geese keep pace with us along the waters edge. The more I walk, the more glad I am that we hiked on a day with less than ideal weather. I rarely get to see the park like this in the rain, it feels like a completely different place.
The low clouds and dimness make it feel more intimate somehow. There is little wind and remarkably little chop to the water. The mountains are cast in silhouette with the sky brighter behind them.
And the geese swim on.
The forest abruptly ends and we’re cast out into a clearing. The rain has stopped and there’s even a hint of blue sky, but the next cell is visible over the lake and has partially obscured the mountains to the south.
Storm Point juts out into Yellowstone Lake, very aptly named on a day like today. Stunted fir and spruce struggle in it’s thin soil, exposed and perpetually leaning away from direction the wind comes from most often. What a perfect day to photograph this little piece of the park.
The shore is rocky, with eroded cliffs biting into the meadow. The whole place looks more than a little forbidding.
The rain moves closer as we approach the point.
It’s a long way down from the point to the water below, and large rocks are visible below the surface. Not the sort of place you’d want to jump in from.
From here, the trail follows the shore along the crest of the eroding cliff. Geologically the area is very intriguing. There are layers of different kinds of soil and rock which I sadly know nothing about.
Just as the rain starts up again – this time it’s quite gentle – the trail turns off into more forest. It looks more like the woods near Old Faithful, lodgepole pine with saplings coming up underneath. Many of the saplings have some brown needles although again it’s hard to tell in this light. It could be the pine bark beetle, or it could be something else.
A bridge crosses an unnamed creek, then the trail climbs back up to the meadow we started in.
Three large bull bison are hanging out by the pond in the meadow, they must have moved in after we left for the lake edge. People have pulled their cars off the road and are walking out to get pictures of them, we warn them to keep their distance and need to strike off the trail ourselves a ways to keep the 25 yard rule.
It started out kind of rough, but turned out to be a really neat day for hiking. That evening, strong storms with a lot of lightning and hail roll through Yellowstone. I’m glad they waited.
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