Posts Tagged ‘Volcano’

Rainier’s WildflowersWe were so giddy about Al Gore and his team’s recent Nobel Peace Prize win that we had to come up with a National Park topic week in his honor. We could have looked at the Park sites that honor Presidents who won the Nobel but that correlation wouldn’t have been completely accurate. So instead we’re examining Park sites that concern natural disasters.

So far in this series we’ve been stuck in the past. Mount Saint Helens might still be rumbling but she’s in a rebuilding stage. She won’t experience major magma ejection in the near future. And the glaciers that covered Pictured Rocks? Are they even any glaciers left? No, we’re headed just north of Mount Saint Helens to her much more powerful older brother: Mount Rainier.

Back when we visited in 2005, Michael wrote that Mount Ranier would erupt before the Seahawks or Mariners won a sports title. He could have thrown in the Sonics for good measure. He even wanted odds. Just a few months after his bold comment the Steelers meekly vanquished the Seahawks in Super Bowl XL with a little help from the referees. Nevertheless, Seattle teams have yet to win anything and Mount Rainier has yet to blow.

But it’s going to happen. We visited so many National Parks will a destructive past and an unpredictable future. Most seemed to work with long, predictable cycles of dormancy between their difficult outbursts. We also noticed that many were just about at that dormancy’s end stage and moving into that oh-no-she’s-gonna-blow stage. Mount Ranier was no exception. We’re not saying “PPAAAANNIIIIC” but we’re not buying land in Seattle anytime soon.

Click Here to Read More about Mount Rainier National Park.


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Capulin Sky

On May 22, 1915 the continental United States saw its first major volcanic eruption of the 20th Century when northern California’s Lassen Peak, honored as Lassen Volcanic NP, exploded with terrifying force.

During the week of May 21-27 we will be highlighting volcanic National Parks with writing so bold and forceful that you just might explode with giddy anticipation. First up: New Mexico’s Capulin Volcano National Monument.

We are driving up a volcano, circling around its base, steadily climbing to its mouth. The sky climbs even higher. Untold blues, soaring clouds, no haze, no limits no imaginable end. The land below feels further and further away. The road lifts our Altima like a jet, the cars below and their lonely two-lane road looks smaller and smaller by the second. We have arrived. We are at the top.

We scurry out of the car to look into the heart of this once snarling beast. She erupted 60,000 years ago. The ground shook for days. From an innocent hole some 1,100 feet below our present location, the volcano’s base, steam blew, then…explosion. Cinders, rock and other debris flew into the air forming Capulin. This debris fell from the sky in near perfect symmetry, stacking and creating the volcano we now stand on.

The land below stretches endlessly. Five states are visible they say. We can see the barren earth and their bumpy undulations. Underneath the reborn grasslands and swaths of yellow wildflowers is lava, lava that flowed from Capulin.

A mile-long trail leads around this dead monster’s rim. A one-mile circumference, 1,000 feet deep volcano. Imagine the eruption, imagine the debris, imagine the power! Mini-Capulin’s are more visible from the high lookout. They are everywhere. These small volcanos rose quickly, like Capulin, in the blink of a geological eye. Some are as old as Capulin, 62,000 years, some are much older. They are all extinct, but if there had been scientists at the time of Capulin, they would have said the field was dormant too.

The rim trail has surprises of its own. A pleasant western aroma wafts from its numerous junipers and hardy sages, wildflowers bloom with unexpected color and jays loudly announce their presence. And what is this? The rocks lining the trail look to be moving; their richly-red lichen won’t stand still. Wait. Those are ladybugs. Thousands of ladybugs. We walk further. The ladybugs swarm around us. They land on our arms they land on our heads they envelope us they welcome us into their unbelievable world.

Click Here to Read More.

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near Toutle, Wash.
Visited: July 30, 2005
NPS Site Visited: Not an NPS Site
NF Website; VolcanoCam

Open-Faced VolcanoWHAT IS IT?
Site of, in May 1980, the continental United States’ most recent major volcanic eruption.

BEAUTY (6/10)
It is clear that a volcanic eruption happened here. The land is a dusty tan. Downed trees still stand where they collapsed in 1980. They now make wonderful homes to woodpeckers and assorted insects. Lakes created by the blast shimmer in bright blues. The earth undulates below in odd configuration created by the landslide and the mud floes.

Then there is the volcano. She stands with a pugnacious spirit, smaller and much less majestic than her Cascade mountain cousins. She is asymmetrical, without glaciers, angry, agitated and hard at work.

In 1980, she ejected thousands of tons of ash and smoke sideways through her northern face, then an unknown phenomenon. She now stands without a top, 2000 feet shorter than she was in 1979. She is exposed and not too happy about it. The exposed crater is ever-changing, billowing smoke and dispensing magma.

Mount St. Helens is alive. We arrived at the Site just hours after some 3.3 scale earthquakes that made the national news. Steady smoke puffed out of its open crater. The Ranger explained that one theory is that the volcano is rebuilding its cone right before our eyes. She is working at such a fast pace that she might grow back her top in less than 50 years.

The 1980 event was unique among all of history’s continental United States eruptions in that it was broadcasted live throughout our nation. The two-month saga of will she or won’t she blow occurred before our eyes. We immediately saw the pictures, listened to the first-hand accounts and understood the unbelievable destruction of nature’s forces.

Everybody living in the Pacific Northwest at the time has a Mount St. Helens story – you should hear my cousin’s. It involves hundreds of rattlesnakes, ash fall and steep cliff sides. Mount St. Helens is 20th century United States’ understanding of volcanoes. She is the benchmark. Er…at least until the next one.

CROWDS (7/10)
Whenever Mount St. Helens makes the news, the crowds come. We beat the rush by a day but still toured with thousands of others. There is ample parking at the Visitor Centers but do not expect to be alone. Get in line a few minutes ahead of time for the introductory films; all showings were standing room only.

Portland, Oregon residents know that the volatile Mount St. Helens is only 100 miles away by car and less than 70 miles away as the crow flies.

Route 504 is the only way into and out of the volcano. The road, which begins at Interstate 5, Exit 49, has been newly repaved and makes for a smooth driving experience.

All three Visitor Centers are located on Washington Route 504. The Mount St. Helens VC is just 5 miles east of I-5. The Coldwater Ridge VC sits at Route 504 mile marker 43. The incredible Johnston Ridge Visitor Center, which allows head-on, close-up look into the volcano views, is at mile marker 52. The road ends here.

The bookstore carries a paltry selection of Mount St. Helens books, approximately 20. On the plus side, there are two different build-your-own volcano kits and plenty of Smokey the Bear dolls.

Busy SeismographCOSTS (1/5)
Mount St. Helens NVM is sneakily expensive. Entry is $3 per person if you visit only one VC. For $6 per person, you can visit all the VC’s. That is $24 for a family of four. Ouch.

The Park is not a part of the National Park System, so your Parks Pass is not honored here. For $15, you can get a Golden Eagle sticker for your Park’s Pass. This sticker allows for entry into all U.S. Forest Service Sites, Mount St. Helens included. Our Golden Eagle sticker has already paid for itself; it is also necessary just to park at most National Forest Sites in the Pacific Northwest.

The crowds were so large that any Ranger to tourist ratio is bound to be uneven. Still, the Forest Service Rangers did an incredible job of making themselves known and establishing a presence. Rangers were posted at overlooks and on pathways ready to answer questions. The frequent Ranger talks in high traffic areas were enhanced by microphone systems. They did a wonderful job.

The Ranger talks and walks, which occur at least every hour, are especially helpful because the story of Mount St. Helens is not static. Earthquakes and eruptions happen every day and the volcano is changing at a rapid pace before our eyes. If the Museum relied only on displays and not on Rangers, the lessons taught would soon become dated by the volcano’s constant transformation.

Nonetheless, the National Forest Service operates three tremendous museums at Mount St. Helens NVM. All three contain completely different content and each merit a visit. The Mount St. Helens VC is located the furthest from the volcano. It portrays the story of the 1980 eruption from the perspective of the outside world, relying on newspaper recaps and magazine articles of the events preceding and following the natural disaster. The Museum is a perfect introduction or reintroduction, depending on your knowledge, to the events that shook the United States.

The Coldwater Ridge Museum focuses on the areas wildlife through interactive displays, frequent Ranger talks and multi-media exhibits. You learn what settled in the area post-eruption and how life has returned and thrived.

The final museum is at Johnston Ridge. It examines the geology of the eruption with an exciting film, an electric map, a seismograph and Ranger talks aided by a microphone and speakers. The Museum also tells the dramatic stories of the handful of people who were trapped in the area during the May 1980 events.

Great Ranger TalkFUN (9/10)
We had a wonderful time. A trip to Mount St. Helens makes for a long day of sightseeing. Three museums, startlingly close views, great hiking opportunities and the chance to see a live, smoking volcano. It does not get much better than that.

Absolutely, but watch the news. If they tell you that she is going to blow, then don’t come.

TOTAL 62/80

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near Enumclaw, Wash.
Visited: July 26, 2005
NPS Site Visited: 223 of 353
NPS Website; Local Website

Rainier’s Wildflowers

Standing 14,410 feet, Mount Rainier is the tallest and most imposing of the Cascade Range’s volcanic peaks.

BEAUTY (10/10)
On a clear Seattle day, she hovers omnipresent in the background like a lurking flying saucer. Her base is broad, her dome a perfectly symmetrical mound. She is cloaked by a permanent haze and appears to be a dirty yellow. Only rain and mist remove her from her keen watch over the Emerald City. When the sun returns, she does too, grander than ever.

As you drive towards her, she never disappears from view; she sees in all directions. Closeness inspires awe. There she stands with stern majesty. Glaciers and snowfields encapsulate her rounded dome. She is monolithic. She is power.

Her aura changes when you get closer and bask in her shadow. The meadows are swathed in a rainbow array of wildflowers. She is now delicate. Blues, oranges, reds and yellows stretch as far as the eye can see. She remains in the background framing every picture, providing water and life to the beauty below.

Tiny dots flicker above amidst the endless fields of white. They are hikers and climbers, every day numbering in the hundreds, aiming to scale her volatile sides and achieve personal goals. But she is unconquerable. We live with this sleeping giant, on time borrowed from her. She will not be dormant forever.

British explorers named Mount Rainier for one of their own. Local residents have since made unsuccessful attempts at renaming the peak Mount Tahoma, its Native American moniker.

Mount Rainier became a National Park in 1899 and the first to admit cars in 1907. The National Park auto tour vacation had officially begun. The 1908 entry fee was $5 per vehicle. In almost 100 years, the fee has gone up only $5. Not too shabby.

CROWDS (8/10)
Mount Rainier easy proximity to the Seattle metropolis brings big crowds, especially in the Park’s Paradise section. If you wish to avoid the throngs and still enjoy the wildflowers and stellar mountain-view hikes, then Sunrise would be a great choice. Still, the hikers at Mount Rainier were some of the friendliest and most courteous we have found in all the National Parks.

The Park has enough trails and backcountry opportunities to make seclusion a viable choice.

We took the Nisqually Vista Hike with about 40 other people. We were the youngest by far. Everyone our age had strapped on their mountaineering boots and was heading up the snowfields. Maybe next time we will act our age and make the hike to Camp Muir.

Gab and the Volcano
Hard to believe that such a stunning and accessible wilderness mecca is within a two-hour drive for so many people. At the same time, when this volcano blows, a lot of people are going to be in trouble.

The Paradise and Sunrise sections of the Park include easy trails that take you very close to glaciers. Mt. Rainier NP’s hundreds of miles of hiking trails are mostly accessible and subsequently real to the average visitor, unlike the bloated mileage numbers of so many other National Parks. The 93-mile Wonderland Trail, which people have been hiking for almost 100 years, sounds too wonderful for words.

Each VC carried a small selection of books, nature guides and maps. The Henry M. Jackson Memorial Visitor Center split its offerings into two separate shops.

One store is dedicated to Mount Rainier captured in print, large framed photographs, video and DVD. The second store caters to all of your apparel and souvenir needs. Pretty standard NPS fare, with the exception of some cleverly named food products and “Ashware,” plates and pottery created from Mount Rainier’s more volatile neighbor, Mount St. Helens.

COSTS (3/5)
Entry is $10 per vehicle, free with the National Parks Pass. Campsites are priced affordably, ranging between $10 and $15 per night. A mountain climbing permit runs $30, rental gear will bring this cost up.

Plenty of Rangers at all three Visitor Centers. Gab especially enjoyed her talks with a young female Ranger at Sunrise. The Ranger recognized Gab’s B hat, she had just graduated from Brown University! She gave us great hiking advice. The next day was her day off. Her plans: climb Mount Rainier. Wow.

Our first stop in the Park was the Sunrise Visitor Center near the Northeast entrance. We made a half-hearted attempt to browse through its wildlife displays, but Mt. Rainier in all its glory was beckoning us outside. After our chat with Gab’s fellow Brunonian, we skipped past the introductory panels and ran on the trails to experience the Park firsthand.

The Henry M. Jackson Memorial VC shows two films in a comfortable theatre. Its historical overview of the Site is more interesting than others we have seen, but we were still lured outside by the blooming meadows.

Mount Rainier recognizes that most of its guests have a hard time staying indoors and offers Ranger walks on a variety of subjects starting from each of its Visitor Centers. There are at least three daily strolls leaving from the Paradise and Sunrise VCs. We chose the Nisqually Vista Walk and were finally able to combine our quest for knowledge with the fresh mountain air.

Alpine Tundra
FUN (9/10)
Mount Rainier NP is a wonderful day trip. It makes an even better destination for a two or three day trip. Does any circuit hike sound better than the 7-14 day, 93-mile Wonderland Trek around the mountain?

This Park, as well as our other incredible outdoor experiences in the area, made us sincerely consider relocating to Seattle. Then we remembered that we had been frolicking around live volcanoes. The floods, blizzards and high humidity of Central PA suddenly do not sound that bad.

Michael thinks Mount Rainier is going to erupt before the Seahawks or Mariners win a World Championship. Will anyone give him odds?

Wholeheartedly. Mount Rainier is an accessible mountain, free of ski lifts and full of tremendous hiking opportunities and easy scenic walks. Heavy snowfall closes the Park down to casual tourists for much of the year. We recommend coming in July so that you can experience the vibrant shades of its countless wildflowers.

TOTAL 62/80

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near Mineral, Calif.
Visited: July 5, 2005
NPS Site Visited: 210 of 353
NPS Website; Local Website

Twisty RoadWHAT IS IT?
Mount Lassen erupted in 1921, making it the site of the second most recent volcanic eruption in the continental United States.

BEAUTY (8/10)
Lassen Volcanic NP is a pristine Sierra Nevada alpine wilderness. Glacial lakes, snowy mountain peaks and glimmering blue skies. Admittedly, we did not realize the absolute beauty of the Park until we had left. Pictures do not lie, do they?

Mount Lassen was America’s volcanic touchstone until the eruption of Mount Saint Helens in 1980. Since then, the California peak’s fame has waned. The volcano awoke from a 200,000-year dormancy in May of 1914 and continued to spit fire for a full year.

CROWDS (5/10)
The remaining July snow pack limited our hiking options and we were reduced to the venerable National Parks experience: the auto tour. Lassen Volcanic NP’s narrow, tortuous road makes for slow, careful driving and can lead to anger between the tailgating of behemoth trucks and the slow pace of nervous drivers.

The Park’s northern entrance is 50 miles east of Interstate 5 at Redding, Calif. along CA Route 44. The Park’s southern entrance is 50 miles east of Red Bluff, Calif. along CA Route 36 and then north for 8 miles on CA Route 89.

Route 89 twists, turns and climbs its way through the Park for a long 20 miles, connecting the northern and southern entrance. The road is closed for much of the year because of snow. Check ahead to see if the road is passable. This year it opened on June 1. The fall snow could come as early as late September, early October.

Signs at nearly every overlook as well as the front page of the Lassen Volcanic NP newspaper proclaim that a new Visitor Center is on its way and will be located at the Park’s southern entrance. “On its way” means spring of 2007 at the earliest. Meanwhile, visitor services and concessions inside the Park seem to have taken a backseat. We were not impressed by the small book selection at the northern Visitor Center.

Auto tour brochures are available upon entry for a steep $6. The booklet looked nice and was full color but six bucks was too costly for us. A topographic hiking map is on sale for the same $6 price. Do not bother getting the map in June or early July because most of the higher elevation trails are snow covered.

COSTS (3/5)
Entry is $10 per vehicle, free with the National Parks Pass.

The northern Visitor Center was packed with Rangers. One giving a 2 p.m. talk on animal tracks; at least three behind the desk. Thing is, we were on our way out of the Park by the time we found where the Rangers live.

If you enter Lassen from the north, you will find the Park well-staffed. If you are driving in from the South, you will probably wonder ‘where the heck is everyone?’

Old and New Rocks
We were too miserly to purchase the $6 auto tour guide, relying instead on the roadside pullouts to tell us what we were looking at. So we drove and drove until we reached the northern Visitor Center and Museum.

One worthwhile stop was the self-guided trail in the “Devastated Area”. This short, mostly paved walk gave us a crash course on the area’s turbulent history. The Devastated area, once green with trees and grassy fields, was swept clean (denuded says the Park pamphlet) by lava flow and onslaught of rocks spewed from the volcano. Interpretive panels explain how B.F. Loomis not only alerted the rest of the area’s inhabitants of the erupting volcano but also found time to photograph and document the event. The Site’s museum is named after him.

At the Loomis Museum, Daily Ranger talks are offered summer afternoons. There is a film shown on request, a few displays and a slight bookstore. We could have spent more time at the Museum and VC but, like we said, we were pretty much finished with our Park experience by the time we arrived.

FUN (5/10)
Lassen Volcanic National Park provided a scenic drive between Aunt Martha’s house in Paradise, Calif. and our last chance to have an In-N-Out Burger in Redding, Calif. It was a pleasant way to spend an afternoon, but we were hard-pressed to find a reason to spend more time since most of the signature trails were still snow-filled and inaccessible.

Mt Lassen
Lassen Volcanic NP contains all four types of volcanoes found in the world today. It also provides insight as to how an area recovers after a volcanic eruption. If volcanoes are your thing, you will find Lassen fascinating.

TOTAL 41/80

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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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