Posts Tagged ‘Caldera’

Lower Geyser Basin, Old Faithful, West Thumb, Grant Village, Fishing Bridge, South Entrancenorthwest corner of Wyoming
Visited: September 16, 2004
NPS Site Visited: 84 of 353
NPS Website

Yellowstone National Park is a diverse natural wonderland roughly twice the size of the state of Delaware.

We have broken our Yellowstone reviews into three separate entries: the North, Central and South because of the Park’s immense size and staggering variety of experiences..

Old FaithfulWHAT IS IT?
The South portion of Yellowstone National Park offers a wide array of tourist activities. It lies almost entirely within the Yellowstone caldera. The caldera is a remnant of tremendous supervolcanic explosions. It is the depression left behind by the reverse impact of the supervolcano’s debris. The supervolcanoes’ still active magnetic heat is partially responsible for the geyser fields and hydrothermal activity.

The South’s prime attraction is the incredibly active Lower Geyser Basin, which includes the Fountain Paint Pot and the Great Fountain Geyser. The Upper Geyser Basin is home to five predictable geysers including the Park’s poster child, Old Faithful. 70% of the Park’s geysers and hydrothermal activity occurs within this small area.

The 17-mile road east of the Geyser Basin crosses the Continental Divide twice before arriving at the West Thumb of Yellowstone Lake. The nearby Grant Village Visitor Center tells the story of the 1988 fires that swept through this area, burning over a 1/3 of the Park’s acreage. The blue expanses of Yellowstone Lake provide stellar fishing, bird watching, hiking and paddling.

The wildlife-rich Hayden Valley, the stretch of the Yellowstone River going upstream from the Lake to the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone is also home to two malodorous geothermal sites called Mud Volcano and Sulphur Canyon.

BEAUTY (10/10)
Yellowstone NP’s wide array of colors is absolutely dazzling. The thermal fields produce oranges, blues, whites and greens in indescribable hues. They combine with the yellow meadows, the changing leaves and a crisp blue sky to create masterpieces. Cameras cannot capture Yellowstone. Boiling water falls into creeks. Steam bellows off rivers.

Lone Bison bulls sit by the road. Bald eagles and osprey swoop overhead. Waterfalls roar from all directions. An eternal mist lingers and then rushes from above the earth’s vents. The cold blues of Yellowstone Lake stretch for miles. Youthful lodgepole pines sprout everywhere. This place teems with life. It is nature. It is beauty. You need to see Yellowstone to believe it.

In 1872, Yellowstone became the world’s first National Park, the first time land had ever been set aside for public use. Yellowstone NP served as the initial model for the conservation of our precious landscape.

The flight of the Nez Perce in 1877 took them from their Idaho homeland to their defeat at Bear Paw Battlefield took them through this section of Yellowstone NP. A few tourists were taken hostage and one was even killed.

CROWDS (8/10)
What a difference two weeks make. In late August, there are still lots of kids at Yellowstone NP. When we returned in early September, the diverse crowds remained but the kids were conspicuously missing. Now we were the young whippersnappers.

Michael was out-of-control giddy in the Upper Geyser Basin, speed walking from place to place hoping to catch every explosion. The many people he passed invariably commented, “do it while you can, young one,” or “when I was your age…” We loved it.

Despite the cold, calmness pervaded over some of the elderly vacationers. They slowly walked hand in hand with content smiles, not caring about Old Faithful scheduled explosion, just amazed at the beauty around them. Others were eager to see the geyser bursts, but none perhaps more unruly than Michael.

Both the South Entrance and the East Entrance lead into the South portion of Yellowstone NP. The East Entrance is 52 miles west of Cody, WY via U.S. Route 20 and not near any Interstate. The South Entrance incorporates the John D. Rockefeller MEM PKWY and leads directly into Grand Teton NP.

Waiting for Old Faithful While getting to remote northwestern Wyoming may pose problems, the Park, itself, is very accessible.

Numerous pull offs and picnic areas allow the motorist to see oodles of wildlife. The entire eight-mile stretch from the Lower Geyser Basin to the Upper Geyser basin is virtually connected with boardwalks, paved walkways and accessible trails. Yellowstone NP’s Rangers’ herculean efforts ensure the visitor an optimum experience.

The Yellowstone Association operates four bookstores in the South and eight in the Park as a whole. All eight have distinct National Parks Passport Stamps. Gotta get ’em all. Gotta get ’em all.

There are seven restaurants/cafeterias in the South, three at Old Faithful, two at Lake Yellowstone and two at Grant Village. The food looked a bit over-priced, but, geez, what can you do, the Park is bigger than two States.

COSTS (3/5)
A $20 vehicle entrance fee is good for a week’s stay at Yellowstone NP and Grand Teton NP’s combined 2.5 million acres. Entry is free, free, free with the National Parks Pass.

Xanterra Parks and Resorts runs three of the four campgrounds in the South. The small city sized 432-site Bridge Bay and 425-site Grant Village Campgrounds are available through Xanterra. The 346-site Fishing Bridge RV Campground cost $31 per night and is an RV-only campground. These three accept reservations.

We stayed at the charming 85-site, tent-only NPS-run Lewis Lake Campground. First-come first served baby. That’s what we’re about.

Lodges are plentiful in the South, three in the Lake Yellowstone vicinity and three nearby Old Faithful. Xanterra Parks and Resorts runs them all.

The South boasts three large Visitor Centers all within 38 miles of each other. Grant Village and Fishing Bridge are well staffed, easily accessible and helpful.

In the summer, Ranger-led tours occur at the VC’s with ridiculous regularity. Fall and winter aren’t as active.

If you come in fall (like us) go inside! Museums a plenty. We loved the The Fishing Bridge Museum’s wide variety of stuffed birds; mounted and on display as far back as 1931.

The Grant Village Museum’s 1988 fire-themed displays showed how the American citizenry vilified the National Park for letting the fires rage. Rangers steadfastly averred that they must let nature take its course. Things will be OK. No one believed them. We remembered being so sad that we would never be able to see the grandeur of Yellowstone.

Well most of us were wrong and the Park Service was right. Throughout the Park, 10-foot high and growing lodgepole pines stand underneath their scorched ancestors. The dead trees will soon fall with millions poised nearby to take their place. The cycle of life is very beautiful.

Turbulent WatersFUN (10/10)
Picture us scampering from geyser to geyser just waiting for them to burst. Hear us oohing and aahing so loud that we felt uncomfortable…for a second. Then we sighed in amazement some more. Yeah, this place is fun.

If you come to Yellowstone NP, you have to see Old Faithful and the Upper Geyser Basin. It is as simple as that. If and when you do come, plan ahead and spend some time here. Yellowstone is so large and offers so much. Don’t just drive the 166-mile Figure Eight auto tour. You can’t see everything in one day.

Spend some time in the Park. Get out of your car. and hike the 1,000+ miles of trails accessible to all skill levels.

A Ranger told us, “everything is better in the backcountry.” She was right. The beautiful thing is that almost all of Yellowstone is backcountry. Walk twenty feet from the road and you are in a natural state. The Park is wonderful. Yellowstone NP is one of America’s crown jewels.

TOTAL 71/80


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Arco, Idaho
Visited: September 15, 2004
NPS Site Visited: 93 and 94 (We don’t understand either) of 353
NPS Website; Local Website

A Crater of the MoonWHAT IS IT?
Remnants of over 60 recent lava flows, the latest of which occurred only 2,000 years ago.

BEAUTY (6/10)
The landscape at Craters of the Moon NM certainly is distinct, but our 5 Rating might be a stretch. The subtleties were lost on us; we thought it looked like a gravel pit. The dark, fragile and sharp rocks decorate every flat horizon while cinder cones pop up every now and then. Sinewy curves run through the rocks, remnants of the fiery lava rivers that carved the land.

Not much. A foolish band of Oregon Trailers once tried to detour through the Craters of the Moon but rethought their route through the lava fields after their wagons and their feet were severely damaged.

CROWDS (4/10)
The crowds did not bother us; they were all smiles. We had problems with the small Visitor’s Center and its stuffy Museum. The Museum was our only chance to learn anything about the weird and foreign landscape we were in, but we had few occasions to read the exhibits. Too many people in too small a place.

Michael was especially disappointed not to take in the 70’s-era diorama explaining the pathway of the hot spot that now sits underneath Yellowstone National Park and created the Rift Zone of Craters of the Moon NM. After 15 minutes of trying to force his way through a phalanx of well-behaved 13-year olds receiving instruction from the Site’s one Ranger, we decided to start hiking.

Craters of the Moon NM is not as remote as Idaho’s five other National Parks Sites, but it’s close. U.S. Route 93 provides access from the west and U.S. Routes 20 and 26 from the east. The Site is 90-100 miles from the Gem State cities of Twin Falls, Idaho Falls and Pocatello. Craters of the Moon NM also falls along the scenic path that leads from Boise to Yellowstone NP and is nearby to the resort town of Sun Valley and the Sawtooth Mountains.

The few accessible parts of the Site are very accessible. A newly paved seven-mile loop takes you to six different lava field overlooks. The overlooks and the trails that sprout from them are mostly paved or on boardwalks.

We saw no books specific to the environment of the Site. The generic selection of bird and geology guidebooks was no different from the base stock at every other Park or at the Borders™ around the corner.

Freezing GabCOSTS (3/5)
The Site costs $5 per car to enter. We believe entry is free with the National Parks Pass. No one was checking during our visit. The Park’s 51 campsites are absolutely free. The National Parks Guide stresses that you bring a sturdy ground cloth as you are camping in the middle of a lava bed field. We saw a few pitched tents and would have camped had it not been so cold. The campground looked really nice.

There was only one Ranger and one volunteer in the smallish Visitor Center to deal with over 35 tourists, including a group of 20 middle school students. There were no posted Ranger talks or guided hikes, they only happen from Memorial Day through Labor Day. We would have appreciated the Site more had we been able to both learn from and question a Ranger. Given the large amounts of visitors we encountered in mid-September, the NPS should heighten the Ranger presence throughout the months of May and September.

There were no guided tours of the lava beds. The mimeographed self-guided tour pamphlets were $0.50 and available only at the Visitor Center and not at the trailheads. Especially vexing since the 7-mile car tour is one-way. We had little idea what we were looking at. Troubling, since Craters of the Moon has been described, the free Park Pamphlet tells us, as “an outdoor museum of volcanism” and “the strangest 75 square miles on the North American continent”.

The Visitor’s Center introductory video is helpful but not nearly enough. The remainder of the museum had limited exhibits that looked to be from the Mission ’66-era that we could not even read because of the large crowds.

FUN (3/10)
There is not a lot to do here. The fragile rock restricts access to all but the few paved and permissible trails. You see the same tourists at every overlook and trail. By the end of your stay you know the make and model car of everyone you have said hello to.

The Way AroundWOULD WE RECOMMEND? (4/10)
We left with the feeling that we had arrived after the party was over. Instead of oozing lava, there were just flat fields of rock. Since the lava flows occur every two thousand or so years, the Great Rift field under the Craters of the Moon is due. The fun should happen again within the next few hundred years. Keep your eyes open, this place will soon be alive again.

TOTAL 31/80

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Mammoth Hot Springs, Tower-Roosevelt, Lamar Valley
northwest corner of Wyoming
Visited: August 22, 2004
NPS Site Visited: 84 of 353
NPS Website; USGS Website

The Roosevelt Arch. Welcome to Yellowstone NP. For the Benefit and Enjoyment of the People Yellowstone National Park is a diverse natural wonderland roughly twice the size of the state of Delaware.

Because of the Park’s immense size and staggering variety of experiences, we have broken our Yellowstone reviews into three separate entries: the North, Central and South.

Yellowstone’s northern tier exists outside of the Yellowstone caldera and, as a result, enjoys a much greater variety of plant and animal life. Herds of bison roam the expanses of the Lamar Valley, joined by wolf packs, pronghorns and elk.

Most of Yellowstone’s easily accessible mountain peaks are here in the North. Nearly all of the Park’s bighorn sheep live in the alpine terrain just south of Tower Fall around Mount Washburn.

The North’s most famous attraction is Mammoth Hot Springs. This extensive system of multihued cascading hot springs is very similar in geological development and appearance to the interior of spectacular caverns like Carlsbad and Mammoth. At Yellowstone, nature has been turned inside out.

The Mammoth Hot Springs exist outside the caldera and bubble and flow from the heat generated by the slow northeastward movement of the Jackson Hot Spot; the same Hot Spot that ten of thousands of years ago created the lava fields at Craters of the Moon NM and the rich potato-growing soils of southern Idaho.

View From Mount WashburnBEAUTY (10/10)
The North was the most beautiful part of the Park, especially the Lamar Valley. More wildlife, more diversity, higher mountains and supernatural hot springs.

In 1872, Yellowstone became the world’s first National Park, the first time land had ever been set aside for public use. Yellowstone NP served as the initial model for the conservation of our precious landscape.

The area also boasts of a long and important Native American history. The obsidian found throughout the Park was the most widely traded good in North American for thousands of years. Indians ranging throughout the continent fashioned arrowheads almost exclusively from materials mined here.

CROWDS (9/10)
Everybody in the North was so happy. We encountered so many different and excited people many of whom gave us indelible memories. There is much space and a wide array of activities nearby: fly fishing, auto touring, wildlife watching, hikes along paved walkways and boardwalks, moderate hikes through valleys, strenuous hikes up mountains and little used backcountry trails.

As soon as you venture away from the road, you see few people. The Beaver Ponds Loop Trail begins and ends in the heavily trafficked Mammoth Hot Springs area. Once we started hiking, we saw more elk than humans. Solitude is possible but hardly necessary given the giddy joy on all faces.

North Yellowstone can be accessed from Interstate 90 in Montana via U.S. Route 89 and U.S. Route 212.

Route 89 travels 58 miles south from Livingston, Mont. to Mammoth Hot Springs. This scenic route follows the Yellowstone River the whole way and enters the Park underneath the imposing stone Roosevelt arch at the Park’s North Entrance.

Route 212, the Beartooth Highway, is a 124 mile drive from Billings, Mont. It is one of America’s most scenic drives. Starting in Red Lodge, Mont., it climbs tremendous heights, eventually crossing the Wyoming border at the 10,947 Beartooth Pass. The road passes through the Custer and Shoshone National Forests and is every bit as stunning as the Going-to-the-Sun Road at Glacier NP. Understandably, it weather often makes it impassable.

On the Way to the Visitor CenterRoute 212 enters the Park at Silver Gate, Mont., the Northeast Entrance, and travels 29 miles through the Lamar Valley before reaching the Yellowstone Figure Eight Driving Loop at Tower-Roosevelt. The Lamar Valley is home to much of the Park’s wildlife and is seldom traveled because it is outside the standard auto tour loop.

The North section of Yellowstone NP forms the ? portion of the Figure Eight Driving Loop.

Once you get to Yellowstone, the Park is very accessible. Numerous pull offs and picnic areas allow the motorist to see oodles of wildlife. Mammoth Hot Springs can be closely viewed due to an extensive boardwalk system that is constantly being rebuilt. Yellowstone NP makes incredible efforts to ensure the visitor an optimum experience.

The Yellowstone Association runs eight different (and all outstanding) online bookstores in the Park. The Mammoth Hot Springs Visitor Center hosts their only store in the North.

Two full-service dining rooms, one at the Roosevelt Lodge and one at the Mammoth Hot Springs Lodge offers meals and full Verizon cellular service.

COSTS (3/5)
A $20 vehicle entrance fee is good for a week’s stay at both Yellowstone NP and Grand Teton NP, an incredible bargain given the sheer amount of things to see in the Parks’ combined 2.5 million acres. And it’s all free with the National Parks Pass!

The North has five campgrounds and 237 campsites; all NPS-run and first-come, first-serve. Mammoth campground is Yellowstone’s only year-round campsite. These are some of the Park’s most popular car camping sites and often fill up early.

Loungin’ Near the Mammoth Hot Springs Visitor Center There are Xanterra-run lodges, cabins and hotel rooms at both Roosevelt and Mammoth.

Backcountry camping is free. If you’re the worrisome type you can make ahead of time reservations for $20 per trip.

Rangers are everywhere and they do a terrific job. Amidst the madness of the heavily touristed Mammoth Hot Springs Visitor Center, Gab received day hike brochures covering six of the Park’s major areas. The Ranger took the time to pick out her favorite hikes on all six and explain that she has made a concerted effort to try them all. Her picks were all stellar.

A zoologist Ranger spots wolves along the Lamar Valley road nearly every day. Her stories of the wolf pack soap opera-esque saga are legendary.

Yellowstone NP offers so many Ranger Programs that it distributes an 8-page newspaper handout to everyone entering the park regarding these tours. The number of programs tapers severely as the seasons change and the weather turns nasty. Take a tour here. The Rangers are great.

We took the Mammoth Hot Spring Terrace Walk during what was technically summer. The cold rains came and our delightful Ranger immediately made sure to put the plastic weather guard on her signature straw hat. The weather did not deter our tour, but it was nice to linger in the warm steam of the Hot Springs.

Mammoth GabWe gained a good understanding of the tricky geological notions of calderas, supervolcanoes, hot spots and travertine formations. Her talk was a remarkable introduction to the mystical steaming world of Yellowstone.

For $0.50 a pop, the Yellowstone Association provides helpful glossy, color self-guided trail booklets for nearly every sub-section of the Park.

FUN (10/10)
The Mammoth campground hosts were greeted by us every morning as we extended our stay “just one more day”. This happened three times. Rangers told us that the best hikes in the Park are in the North. We have no reason to argue.

The North also felt less crowded and more off the beaten path. The outsourced lodges, campsites and gift stores have less of a presence. If it hadn’t been for the crazy weather we don’t know if we ever would have left.

On Top of WashburnWOULD WE RECOMMEND? (10/10)
Oh my heavens yes. Yellowstone NP is the classic National Parks destination. Much to our delight the Museums, tours, staffing and bookstores are all equal to the stunning natural surroundings.

Everything here is done right.

We loved the North and would love to spend days, if not weeks, in the backcountry here sometime soon.

TOTAL 74/80

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near Capulin, N.Mex.
Visited: August 14, 2004
Second Visit: August 24, 2005
NPS Site Visited: 78 of 353
NPS Website; Local Website

Nearing the Volcano

A 1,082 foot high cinder cone formed by a volcanic eruption some 60,000 years ago.

BEAUTY (8/10)
The Capulin Volcano sits in a now dormant field of volcanic activity. It is astounding to stand along the Volcano’s rim and see its effect on the surrounding lands; the land’s undulations are a result of the lava flow. From these heights, you can see four, maybe five states (New Mexico, Texas, Colorado, Oklahoma and sometimes Kansas) as well as Sierra Grande, North America’s largest freestanding mountain.

The geological history of the Raton-Clayton volcanic field is evident everywhere you look. Michael had always pictured volcanoes like the ones you see in Hawaii that spew lava every now and then. Capulin was different. The ground shook for days and steam blew out of a hole in the ground at about 7,000 feet above sea level; the same height as the base of Capulin. Then an explosion occurred throwing cinders, rock and other debris into the air. It is this debris that formed Capulin which, soon after the bang, rose in near perfect symmetry over 1,000 feet. Lava then flowed to create the bumpy grasslands of the area.

All of the nearby peaks that you see from the top of Capulin rose quickly in the same fashion. Some are as old as Capulin, 62,000 years, some are much older. All the volcanoes you see are extinct, but if there had been scientists at the time of Capulin, they would have said the field was dormant too.

CROWDS (6/10)
There were too many people squeezed into a small Visitor Center area. Once you drive the dizzying guardrail-less road up the volcano there is enough room for everyone.

Big Sky Country
Capulin Volcano NM is located in the northeastern corner of New Mexico. It is about 30 miles east of Interstate 25 along U.S. Route 64/87.

The space was very tight given the good amount of tourists. There weren’t many adult books. The store was kid oriented. Still, there was some nice stuff. How can you resist those Build Your Own Volcano kits?

COSTS (3/5)
The Site costs $5 per vehicle, free with the National Parks Pass.

There were a few Rangers in the Visitor Center as well as a few at the summit.

Capulin Volcano NM’s Mission-66 era Visitor Center and Museum try to be helpful but a doomed by their age and limited space. The exhibits are at least 35 years old. Generations of mischief have scratched off much of the text on the written panels. From what we could read, the teaching is good and the examples straightforward.

The film was retouched in 1997 but may be much older. The age is irrelevant though because the film tells the story well through animated diagrams, illustrated slides, and historical photographs. We understood what had happened here 60,000 years ago, but Michael was still incredulous.

The walk around the volcano rim is supplemented by small signs that explain the plant life, the states you are looking at and the history of the volcano. These signs are old and, like their museum counterparts, have been the victim of scratching. However, they work and are helpful.

We skipped the Ranger talk that occurs every hour on the hour. We wanted to hike the rim and go into the mouth. About 2/3 of the way around the 1 mile in circumference rim, we turned and saw a Ranger. She told us that after her talk, held in the Parking Lot, she does a lap around the volcano just in case anyone has any questions. And we did. We spent the rest of the hike talking with her and learning more about Capulin and the surrounding sites. We have encountered so few Rangers so far along their Park’s trails. Their presence, even on paved nature walks, can make your visit so much more special. The Ranger at Capulin Volcano made our day.

Inside the Volcano
FUN (7/10)
How many places in the United States can you walk into the mouth of a volcano and see where the steam and lava once shot up? Not many, our Ranger reassured. In 1916, a man somehow surreptitiously built the two-mile road to the summit. Yes, in the teens! Nowadays no such road would be built, as it would harm the fragile ecosystem.

If you are nearby, you should definitely visit the Capulin Volcano NM. The Site is a 60 miles detour from Interstate 25, so if you happen to be traveling from Denver, Colo. to Santa Fe, N.Mex. It is a nice stop but not a place around which you want to plan a vacation. We spent a nice two hours there.

TOTAL 51/80

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