In the beginning of 2010, I did not foresee myself traveling to the great Yellowstone and its wonderful surrounding area. After I was still buzzing from my excellent excursion to the Pacific Northwest in early July, I set out to reach the American West along the Rocky Mountains in the states of Utah, Idaho, Montana and Wyoming in early September. I arrive in Salt Lake City to perfect weather consisting of plentiful sunshine and temperatures ranging from the 50’s to 70’s. The Mirror Lake Highway had picturesque lakes surrounded by rugged mountains. The lake by the name Mirror fully lived up to its name due to calm winds in the crisp morning as I was meandering along its shore. Christmas Meadows within this same region was a waste of a 2 mile hike. I was expecting to have open meadow views with a river in forefront and mountain peaks in the background, but it was mainly a traverse in the woods. Provo Falls was a good road side attraction. I saw 2 different falls here along the Provo River. In the same region the road reached a height of over 10k feet. The overlooks were just okay, and the temperature was not very chilly for this elevation.
I make it to Crater Spring within the Homestead Resort after some minor traffic delays due to construction. I had made a reservation to swim in this crater with its 60 ft deep pool, but after seeing it I decided against it. It is unique to say the least, but I didn’t feel right entering the water with a school of divers in a small area with a cage obstructing the crater’s opening on top. Next to the swim area you have the attendant’s desk with cash register etc. All these were detractors to this place. I am glad I made the stop and touched its water as it was not out of my route. I then drove up the steep, windy, rocky road in the rented Mazda 3 to reach Cascade Springs. It is a series of mountain springs which cascade thru numerous wide pools that are surrounded my lush vegetation and flowers. There are various boardwalk paths that maze thru this system. It is a delightful and special place with its cold clean water running its wide course.
On my way to Bridal Veil Falls I see kayakers floating down a river. The day was now warm in the lower 80’s. I made my way down the steep river bank and entered in the cold rushing river in between some trees. I had to hold on to rocks to prevent from being swept by the swift current. It felt really refreshing as I fully immersed myself in the waters.
I was amazed at the sight of Bridal Veil Falls as I beheld it from a distance. The sunshine was bright and the wind was gusting ambitiously creating a spectacle. The sunlit mass of the second tier of the water fall would be blown sideways by the wind. When the wind would stop gusting a torrent of water would fall all at once straight down. In effect the veil was swaying in the wind in a type of ballet.
From this distance I saw people climbing to the base of the second tier of the water fall thru a series of steep loose rocks which water from the main falls were cascading on. It looked like a potentially dangerous route because of its rushing water on slippery rock and its steepness. I did not give myself time to be dissuaded so I left all my camera equipment in the car and put on my special river hiking shoes and proceeded to climb. There were certain sections of the climb that I had to really concentrate on each step and make slow deliberate moves while grabbing larger boulders for stability. In the midst of the climb there was a teenage girl barely making any progress as though she was afraid to move. I asked her if she was okay, and she said yes. She must have eventually managed as I did not see her on the way down. Shortly after, I scrambled atop the final boulder and reach the platform at the base of the main falls. This was one of the most impressive sights I had ever seen being displayed right before me. I would look straight up to this massive water fall as much of the water would be flying sideways due to the strong wind. The sound of it roar and the sunlight accenting its color made it into an incredible encounter. Once a the gust of wind would fade, torrents of water would fall all at once where I would be standing thus getting myself good and plashed. The way back down was a little more nerve wrecking at first, but I then got momentum by creating miniature rock slides with the cold rushing water thus causing me to make my descent quickly. The main issue I had with this method was that rocks would hit my exposed ankles. Fortunately it did not cause me any bruises. As I reached the dry and level bottom feeling exhilarated, I saw a couple of girls that were at the base of the falls that headed back down at the same time I did. They returned the dry and safe route and seemed to take the same time I did on my precarious route. I thought I was saving time by going the more adventurous way. I still would have chosen the watery rock route after learning this.
Now I was heading back to Salt Lake via Alpine Highway. This was a very scenic drive with views of MT Timpanagos and Aspen groves. I hiked halfway toward Timpanagos Caves (the caves were already closed for the day) to obtain better views of the canyon. I loved the dramatic sights of this canyon as the rocks were lit excellently by the late afternoon sun. I had sufficient time to make it to a state park on the Great Salt Lake for sunset. I saw many sea gulls reminiscent of an ocean’s coast line. The sun set in a golden glow and a cloudless sky over the peaceful, salty waters. I then drove to my hotel which was located about 15 minutes away reflecting on a great first day of my excursion.
Day 2 I arrive at the Lake Blanche trail head pre-dawn ready to embark on a 6 mile round trip hike that gains 2700 ft of rugged terrain. I rejoice in the perfect weather of clear skies and temperatures starting in the 50’s with light wind. The golden light of the sunrise illuminated the canyon I was hiking in well. This was my first hike that I use my new hiking stick to help take some pressure off my knees especially during descent. I soon grew accustomed to using this inexpensive stick. I did feel my right knee a tad sore after the hike (it seems my right knee has a propensity to being sprained), but I know that the stick prevented a worse occurrence. During the hike up I was feeling very winded although I was trying to pace myself. I was not yet acclimated to the elevation this being my 1st real hike of the trip. At one point my peripheral vision was blurred. This lasted for no more than a few minutes. I was concerned, but not overly worried about this. I arrived (feeling well) at Lake Blanche which is met by the prominent Sundial Peak. There were few people at this time in this beautiful area. I meander the area for a while enjoying it fully. On my trek back down many people were on their way up (good timing).
After cruising Big Cottonwood Canyon I head to Antelope Island which is the largest island in Salt Lake. I saw innumerable shore birds wading on what seemed a thin film of glassy water surrounded by mountains as far as the eye can see. Shortly after arriving on the island I see a male antelope up close feeding off these desert type plants. Later I see a small herd of antelope from a distance. As I approached them they started to run which was quite a sight. I also saw herds of buffalo up close. Now it was late afternoon so I started my long 3 hour drive to Idaho Falls where I stayed the night.
Day 3 I experienced the coldest morning of the trip. The temperature read 27 degrees, but the wind was calm. I start the morning journey well before dawn so I would arrive at Mesa Falls at the break of day. I was astonished at the mass of elevating mist that came from the water fall. This mist coinciding with the sunrise created an awesome effect. The shadows of the trees were outlined on the rim of the gorge as the slowly moving mist cloud had varying shades of pink. The Upper Mesa Falls is a powerful and wide water fall set in a gorgeous gorge. The gorge is surrounded with rich green pine trees and the proceeding river is in a wide channel with white water ripples seemingly evenly spaced. The sounds of the falls are a great roar needless to say. I actually had this place all to myself on this beautiful chilly morning. A little over an hour’s drive away I enter for the first time the famed Yellowstone National Park on the west side. At this point the weather was mostly cloudy. There was snow lightly covering the trees on the higher elevations from the night before. My first stop in the park is Fire Hole River Canyon. There is a place designated for swimming in a pool like section of the river with surrounding cave like rocks. The water was clear with a greenish tint. If the temperature was warmer I would have loved to get in these waters. I don’t know why but I did not even touch the water even though I was on its rocky edge. I think this it is Warm River, but I am not sure. I now approach an area of geysers for my first time. The clouds are clearing as I see the steam of the geysers from afar. The outlook of the rest of the day was making me very happy and full of anticipation.
I go on a boardwalk that borders geysers, mud boils, steam vents and hot springs. This is a truly amazing place, but the throngs of people diminish the experience I am sad to report. In a peculiar instance I was getting in the car when an elderly man approached me. There happened to be vomit on the pavement and I warned him as he approached not to step in it. He stepped on the vomit as he commenced to rebuke me for briefly getting off the boardwalk to pass a crowd of people blocking the path. Due to unstable ground it is prohibited to get off the boardwalk. A ridiculous encounter it was. On 2 other occasions in the park random people would forbid me from parking the car in so called questionable spots. It was an invasion of the wannabe rangers. I got to see Old Faithful with 1000 of my closest friends. It was an experience enhanced by the constant commentaries and inquiries of a little kid. Prior to the eruption he would be expressing his eager expectation filled with excitement. He provided a refreshing amusement to all of us around him. I happened to be sitting on the floor right next to him. When the geyser erupted he continued to articulate his wonder and admiration. This is a good example of how we ought to be at any age. We should have a childlike wonder when beholding God’s grand work in His creation. The Yellowstone Lake is known to be the highest of its size in North America. There are geyser and hot springs right up to the shores of this beautiful blue lake. I saw an incredibly clear light blue spring in which one can see lucidly down its depth.
Later I arrive at Lamar Valley and see herds of Bison and a wolf from afar. I also see coyotes on the hunt though they look more like they are playing. After this I elevate to the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone while the sun was displaying its golden rays. The canyon itself is one of the most impressive sights I had yet to see. The great Yellowstone Upper Falls gushing over a cliff massively completes one of the wildest scenes imaginable. The rich shades of yellow and the variation of rock formations along the canyon gives an impression of being in another world. Leaving Yellowstone heading toward Powel, WY I drove thru a very unique mountain chain that contained a vast variety of rock formations.
Day 4 I head over to Big Horn Canyon hoping to see Big Horn Sheep and the Wild Mustangs that roam the area. I only saw a small herd of dear while I was there. What this place lacked in viewing wild life it made up in grand scenery. It is a deep steep walled canyon that has dramatic curves and colors. The surrounding mountains have a beautiful combination of rocky out crops and deep green forests. Next I traverse to southern Montana to enter the Scenic Bear Tooth Highway. This is one of the most impressive mountain scenic drives I have yet to experience. The weather was mostly clear with interesting thin cloud formations accenting the beauty of the blue sky. The road reaches a height of over 10k feet above the level of the sea. The wind was strong at these elevations as the temperature was in the upper 40’s or so. It was feeling cold, but exhilarating. There is an awesome green forested valley set amidst glacier carved mountains. There are also some small active glaciers spread about. It is a combination of rugged Rocky Mountains with many large smooth surfaces that make up this range. One of the highlights in this area are the many alpine lakes of varies shapes and sizes. The colors vary from emerald green to dark blue. I set out to get a better view of a couple of these lakes in a valley by carefully scrambling to a narrow cliff. I had butterflies in my stomach while in this precarious position.
Later I reenter Yellowstone by the Northeast entrance where the best and greenest mountains of the entire park are found. At the foot of these mountains are green meadows and a river. This entire trip fell well short of my expectation for wild life viewing. I was in the famed Hayden Valley hoping to see bears and wolves, but only saw elks, bison and another coyote. There was a curious sight on the front yards of some houses found in Yellowstone. A casual herd of elk were grazing and relaxing on the bright green lawns of these homes while tourist (prevented by the rangers from approaching them) gawked at this sight. One of the top highlights for me on this journey was entering the “so called” Boiling River at the northern tip of the park. After a short walk along side Gardiner River I get to the designated swimming area. In this section there are a series of cascades which originated from boiling hot springs that rush over the river banks mixing with the cold water of the river itself. The idea is to find the “sweet spot” where the cold and hot water create a desirable mix. It tops any man made Jacuzzi. I would come in direct contact with the HOT cascades and then experience the swift cold water currents of the river. I found a wonderful spot on the rocks of the river bottom that was about 2 ½ feet deep where I would shift from the hot and cold flow within a few feet of each other. When the hot was to hot I would move a bit and be refreshed by the cold and vice versa. This was a unique and exhilarating experience for me. I felt invigorated with health after I exited the natural Jacuzzi. I then drove to my hotel located 5 minutes away and saw a deer from inside the hotel room.
Day 5 I woke up to the worst weather thus far on the trip as I reentered Yellowstone from the northwest to arrive at Mammoth Springs predawn. At the parking lot a shuttle bus packed with loud and excited tourist rushes out and kills the peace and mystique of the place instantly. Fortunately they left before the sun rose leaving very few people in the area. At the same time I met a photographer who is originally from South Africa now residing in L.A. We conversed for quite a while as the sun rose which was mainly a non event. The colors and contrasts of the sky with a mixed layer of dark clouds made for an intriguing backdrop to these fantastic multicolored tiers of hot steaming springs. I then walked much of the boardwalk trails in wonder of the hot pools set at varying levels of height. I later went to another geyser basin for my last time on this trip as I had ample time to venture south to the Grand Tetons. The weather remained hazy and cloudy with spotty showers in the vicinity at this point in the day. I saw Jackson Lake in these poor lighting conditions thus detracting from my initial impression of the otherwise impressive Tetons. The same experience with the weather persisted as I arrive to Jenny Lake. As I continue to head south on the main road, it starts to rain. The peaks of the Tetons at this point were being graced with passing white clouds and patches of blue sky while being illuminated with some sunshine. This was a window of opportunity I was hoping for. I then focused of nearby rain cells seen in open landscape pouring forth in an excellent display of nature. Later I go to Moose Road and see for my first time a moose in a pond up close. I was hoping to see a male with the antlers, but I was glad to see what I did. I neared the area of my hotel for the night in Jackson, WY and go to Elk Refuge, and don’t see a single Elk or any wildlife at all though I drove the extent of the road and hiked up a big hill overlooking the entire area.
The weather was clearing nicely as evening was approaching so I went to a section of Snake River that had great views of the Tetons. The sunset at this peaceful location was eventful in the way of changing rays of light shining behind the mountain peaks. The river in this place is still so it reflects the mountain range well. I return to Grand Teton National Park the next morning and greet the beautiful morning in The Chapel of Transfiguration thru its window that perfectly frames Mount Teton. The sign on the door of the Chapel says all are welcome to enter and pray so I did. I then hiked the 3 mile round trip trail to Taggart Lake where I got to see the Tetons at a closer proximity and the still waters acting as a perfect mirror. On my way back down I saw quite a few people which were hiking up in contrast to encountering no one on my way up. The weather also was worsening by the moment. When I was driving toward Utah again, I had to endure the worse weather of the trip which was heavy sustained rain. I was attracted by a sign by the National Forest Service that said Intermittent Spring. The drive up the canyon was interesting due to the beginning fall colors display and dramatic outcrops of mountain rocks. I had to reverse my course because a construction tractor was working on filling holes on the rocky road. I was thinking of asking the crew if they would allow me to pass, but as I pondered it a few minutes and the work crew did not acknowledging me I turned around.
I later read the this Periodic Spring (AKA) is one of the only springs of its kind that stop issuing water for a few minutes from its source and then suddenly gushes out especially during the very season I was there. I was a little bummed that I missed the chance to see it. I also read that it was a rugged hike of about a mile to reach it after the rugged road. Everything was wet due to the rain and more was on the way, so it seems these were not ideal conditions anyways. I had an early check in at the Super 8 in Montpelier, UT at about 2 pm (The only occasion on the trip). I left my hotel room shortly after to a site where fossils were found in southern Wyoming. I found silence and solitude in these mountains that contained an Aspen Grove. The sky had contrasts of deep dark clouds of rain with bright blue skies on other sides. I traveled back to Utah’s Bear Lake as the skies were mainly dark, but there was no rain at this time. It is a large lake with deep blue water. I did not get to see its full potential because of the poor lighting. A lot of various birds were active all along the lake shore. I also saw a small herd of deer, a small rabbit and few people.
Now it is the last day of the excursion. I take a final look at Bear Lake from a high overlook on the road as the sun was rising behind cloud cover. The 1st hike of the day was in Logan Canyon to reach these mountain wind caves. The hike was a steep 3 mile round trip event that yielded open views of the canyon. The caves themselves were different than any I had seen to date. It was the size of a large room with multiple openings above and on the sides. The side opening is very precarious as it opens to a vertical cliff on this mountain. I did not get too close to the edge. I took some “short cuts” on my return trek. After I made it down some very steep slopes, I thought I was lost and could not find the main trail. I was regretting ever trying this route as I was thinking I had to trace my steps backward. Indeed I had to trace some of my steps before I rejoined the main trail. I then took more short cuts and ended up on the highway quite a ways from where my car was parked. This has happened to me before. At the trail head before I started the hike I saw a little baby girl’s shoe sitting atop a post. When I returned, the shoe was placed on the hood of my car. I almost discarded it before thinking twice and actually keeping it. My mom now has it somewhere. She said it could be a sign that I will have a baby girl. I am pretty sure I know which hikers were the ones that placed the shoe on the car. One week later I happen to speak to a man (a customer service rep) that lives in Logan, UT so I mentioned Wind Cave and other places and he himself told me that he visits these places often and he loves the wilderness.
I return to Big Cottonwood Canyon for my second time in the trip to hike to Mary Lake. My 1st hike however was to Donut Falls. This was one the least impressive falls I had seen especially with a hike involved. To further insult me individually, there were several people reporting to me a dueling pair of male moose on the trail that lasted for several minutes which I totally missed. As I hiked to Lake Mary the cloud cover was gloomy. Along the way however it was a pleasant hike after I got away from some construction noise going on in the valley. I encountered and enjoyed chipmunks, prairie dogs, marmots and a pica. The lake itself is an emerald green surrounded by mountains.
I then go to Little Cottonwood Canyon to see more impressive mountains of all shapes and colors. There was some construction traffic deterring the overall effect of the place. The sun was now shinning in blue skies as I return to Provo Canyon and Bridal Veil Falls which was now pouring straight down instead of being wind whipped when I 1st saw it. I went up a different scenic road in a side canyon to see a good start to fall colors richly displayed all over the mountains. The trees varied from mostly bright green leaved trees to plenty of patches of bright orange. A week earlier these patches were much fewer than this. I considered myself fortunate to witness these colors in early September. I also returned to Alpine Scenic Highway to conclude the day and the trip where I concluded Day 1. I had more blessed views of Mount Timpanagos and I enjoyed the Aspen Grooves much more than before. The sun light thru these white barked trees all thin and closely planted were a fascination to me. I hiked up Timpanagos Caves trail to the half way point again to view the sunset in the v formation in the canyon thus officially ending the wonderful exploration.