At Mammoth Hot Springs on the north end of Yellowstone, I stop by the grill for a quick lunch and peel off layers down to my tee-shirt and jeans. It’s hard to believe it was 25 degrees when I woke up this morning, Bertha’s thermometer says it’s 72 now but Mammoth is at a lower elevation so that makes a certain amount of sense. Sadly the smoke has gotten no better.
Driving south from Mammoth one comes first to the Lower Terrace Springs, which I walked with Jayne last month, and then as the road climbs to the Upper Terrace Springs which I have not seen yet. Low and behold, there are parking spots open! You can also drive a short one-way loop through the Upper Terrace area, but parking along that is very hard to find so I opt just to walk the whole thing.
Right now, Lower is more active than Upper but that changes constantly. A new spring called Grassy Spring has opened up in a field of grass and is flowing strong, but it’ll be a while yet before it forms good terraces.
Farther south, I pull over to photograph another geological phenomenon that has interested me since my first time through the park. It looks like rubble has fallen from the mountain above in an old avalanche. They’re very jagged with distinct layers. If you’re driving south from Mammoth, there’s a small one-way pullout on the right you can turn into to get photographs yourself.
Next stop is Norris Geyser Basin, which I haven’t seen since my first week in the park before work started. Back in May I walked the Back Basin loop, this time I’m walking Porcelain Basin loop.
As I believe I explained before, Norris is the hottest basin in the park. About ten years ago they actually closed it down for a summer when scientists recorded ground temperatures over 200 degrees, the pine trees around the basin were turning brown because their roots were cooking. That fall it cooled back down to normal. Fluctuations like that are not uncommon in Norris.
I happen to run into an interpretive ranger that I met at the wolf class I took in Lamar last month. We have a good talk and exchange contact info. Maybe we’ll have a chance to take a hike together before the season ends.
Random bit of trivia learned from the ranger: the section of Norris pictured below was the first thermal area in the park to have a boardwalk, and there use to be a restaurant on top of that hill in the back. This area is very active however, if you look you can see at least a dozen small vents and geysers aside from the large pillars of steam (it’s very noisy too). It was deemed unsafe and everything was later dismantled.
Friday, August 21
Grand Tetons hike today! So excited.
The morning starts off cool and clear again. The smoke is still present, but isn’t quite as bad. After an hour of driving, four coworkers and I reach the shore of Jenny Lake where we board the “Jenny Leigh”, a shallow bottom boat that will ferry you across the lake to the mountains. It’s $15 round-trip for an adult, children and seniors are less.
Now if you want to save the money, you can hike 3 miles one way along the shore of the lake to the trailhead. That’s probably what I would have done had I been by myself, but paying for the short boat ride means you can hike farther into Cascade Canyon and see more of the Tetons up close and personal. Boats come about every ten minutes and the last one leaves the far shore at 7 pm this time of year, so if you don’t want to walk back make sure you’re on it!
Jenny Lake is gorgeous. The water is a clear blue-green and ringed by old Douglas fir. It gets over 240 feet deep and with the mountains as a backdrop, what’s not to love?
Our first hike is a short 1.3 trek up to Hidden Falls and back. There’s a lot of construction happening on the trails out here and the footing can be a bit rough right now, but it’s not a hard hike.
The trail crosses a little bridge over a fast-moving stream and then plunges into a massive fir tree forest. The only thing I’ve felt is lacking in Yellowstone is the forests. Lodgepole pine aren’t very impressive and the understory is almost non-existent in much of the park. Grand Tetons, well this part anyway, is more like what I think of when I think forest. It’s lush and has some truly massive trees. Anyone who’s watched my videos or been reading my posts for a while knows that I just love big trees.
Hidden Falls is a pretty neat cascade, threading it’s way over and around a rocky trough. Without zoom on my camera I can’t get a very good picture of it, but I try my best.
Normally, you’d only need to backtrack a little ways down the Hidden Falls trail to meet up with the next trail we’re taking: Inspiration Point, but with the construction that’s not possible and we need to go all the way back down to the dock to catch the other trail.
People talk about three different phases to the Inspiration Point hike: Perspiration, Desperation, and finally Inspiration. It’s not terribly long at just over 3 miles round-trip, but there’s a lot of up. At least it’s a pretty area.
When we finally get above the tree-line, glaciers in the peaks of the Tetons become visible in the distance. Here’s where the trail levels out and the Inspiration phase begins.
At the mostly-dry streambed, you can keep going straight and venture further into Cascade Canyon, but to get to the point you need to make a sharp left. The Point offers a truly magnificent panoramic view of Jenny Lake and the valley beyond.
Heck yeah I’d call this inspiring. A gentle breeze dries the sweat from the climb and multiple rock outcrops offer perfect perches for a picnic lunch Only three of the five of us made it up here, so we can’t linger too long. In a perfect world, there’d be no smoke and you could see the mountains way off to the east, but even as is it is, well worth the trip!
Before heading all the way back down, we make a brief tour to a large open area full of scree. Scree is what you call loose rocks, normally they get there by falling off the side of a cliff. This is where you find pika, another animal I have yet to check off my list. Pika are rodents that remind me a lot of hamsters or maybe chinchillas, they have fluffy brown/gray fur with rounded ears and no visible tail. They won’t come out unless you hold still and make no noise. We stand in place and keep silent, and I finally spot my very first pika – they’re too quick to photograph so you’ll have to take my word for it, they’re adorable.
On the way out of the park, we stop at Signal Mountain Lodge for a late lunch. I get the fish which is delicious (although being very hungry also helped I’m sure) and enjoy a view of Jackson Lake from our table on the deck – the mountains are hardly visible at this distance due to the smoke. After that, it’s back to Yellowstone and the new work week.
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