Tetons & Yellowstone – Norris Basin

Day two in Yellowstone we started with a visit to the Norris Basic Geysers (#4).  This, as you may be able to predict from the name, is right next to our campground.  We arrived pretty early and were among only a few vehicles in the lot when we got there.

The area has two major walking loops – the first one we did was Porcelain Basin and the second was the creatively named “back loop”.  This area was largely devoid of plants with only a few dead trees poking up through the mineral deposited ground.  There was steam coming up from vents, fumaroles, geysers and springs all around us.  Overall there’s a wide variety even among the individual types of formations – some are crystal clear , others are milky white with dissolved limestone, others red, some just look like pools with some nice colors around the edges, others are constantly bubbling or steaming, others are violently erupting at short or long intervals.

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Tetons & Yellowstone – Mammoth Hot Springs

We had a leisurely start to the day packing up all the items that we had laid out to dry and charge the night before, the stopping at the Walmart in Cody for foodstuffs and getting gas.  We got back into Yellowstone through the East entrance (#1 on the map).

We happened upon a herd of bighorn sheep not far into the park (probably around Sylvan Pass) and stopped to take pictures until they wandered across the road, hopped the fence and headed down into a valley.

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Tetons & Yellowstone – Hidden Falls

Day two’s Teton destination was Hidden Falls.  We got a little later start because we had to pack up the tent and move out of camp.  It was a clearer day, so we swung by the Jenny Lake scenic drive for some more pictures (and to let it warm up for the hike, because the morning was apparently 32 degrees when we got up).  After another stop at the ranger station to double check that we were making the best decision on which hikes to pick, we headed out to the falls.  We met up with a guy named Casey from San Francisco and hiked out to the falls with him.

Without realizing it, we took the “horse road” to the falls, which was a path (when we could actually see the ground) along the side of the mountain.  This must have been, by far, the less traveled path to the falls because there were no footprints for the most part.  We crossed at least one avalanche path where all the trees had been blasted down the side of the mountain.  We crossed a second steep area which, though it didn’t have signs of an avalanche (maybe because there were no trees there) seemed steeper and was quite possibly a little dangerous to cross.  Casey seemed to trust that we knew where we were going… questionable decision making on his part.

Avalanche
The avalanche path as seen from the upper trail. We, of course, crossed it again on the lower trail returning.

Somewhere in between those points, a snow storm blew through.  We just waited it out briefly.

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Tetons & Yellowstone – Taggart and Bradley Lakes

Having successfully made it through the night without becoming human popsicles, we headed to the general store and ranger station.  The store had a surprisingly large array of camping gear.  The ranger station had a nice fire going, which would have been nice to sit by, but there was hiking to do.  Neither had many people around – but that wasn’t surprising since we were there when the doors opened and the season had barely begun.

At the park ranger’s suggestion, we drove to the Taggart and Bradley Lakes trail head which was just a bit south of Jenny Lake where we stayed.  We headed out on the trail only to realize that the bear spray was in the tent.  Too late, oh well, and as you can probably figure by this post, we didn’t get eaten.

We started the hike with a couple from Florida at the start of the hike.  They had rented bear spray with their car (interesting business model) and we hiked with them for a mile or so maybe.

The trail was officially open, but there was clearly not much foot traffic and the snow was at least three feet deep based on a couple times when we punched through.  We hiked around Taggart Lake and up over the ridge to Bradley Lake – I think we saw some moose tracks on the ridge (moose instead of elk because they were huge and because the ranger said the elk were just starting to move into the lower reaches of the park).  I’m certain we were the first ones to go to Bradley Lake that day and probably for a few days.  There wasn’t really any well marked or defined trail – we followed old footprints when we could see them and otherwise just pointed ourselves in a general direction.  The lakes aren’t that far apart, so there was limited area in which to get lost.  We made it to and around Bradley Lake, visit the bridge on the far end and declared that the end of the hike.

Bradley Lake Pano
The Tetons behind Bradley Lake

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Tetons & Yellowstone – Travel Days

In mid April, Janet and I took a week long road trip out to the Grand Tetons, Yellowstone and The Badlands.  This was about as early in the season as you would want to do this trip – many of the trails were still closed and most still had snow on them, particularly those in the Tetons.  Fortunately there are a lot of trails, so we had plenty of hikes available for our few days in the park.

The trip started out with a bit of excitement when at about 9:30 at night, with Janet asking how the packing was going, I realized that we had planned on going the week before and including Memorial Day and not the week after.  There had originally been talk of doing two weeks, which was then abbreviated.  We had discussed doing before or after and we agreed on before, but I noted after on the calendar.  Oops.

So, I got to Chicago early Saturday morning and we transferred stuff, and headed out later Saturday morning.  The goal for the first day was to make it to Sidney, NB, which we did.  I’ve been through the flat expanse of Nebraska before… it really didn’t *require* a second visit.  There was a Walmart and a Cabela’s just off the freeway in Sidney, so that was convenient for food and last minute supplies.

The only major event, other than logging wildlife along the route, was the discovery that Sierra Trading Post has a brick and mortar store – an outlet in Cheyenne, WY.  Being a connoisseur of great deals on possibly fine stuff, we had to stop.  We both picked up a few apparel items, some bear bells (so they can find us easier), a can of bear spray, and maybe a few other odds and ends that caught our attention.

We probably spent too much time at Sierra Trading Post, but that was OK since the day’s goal was just to get to the Tetons and we didn’t really expect to arrive in time to hike anything.  We saw two moose just off the side of the road on the drive in – sadly they were the only moose sightings of the trip.  We arrived just before sunset, around 8pm, just early enough to pitch the tent before dark.  Many of the camp sites, a good chunk of the loop at the Jenny Lake campground, were still snow-covered.  There were two left when we got there, one had snow on part of the site and one had a snow bank getting into the site.  We chose the one which we could use the Subaru to plow through.

It gets cold in the Tetons in April, be warned.  15 degree down sleeping bags coupled with sleeping pads come in handy.  I suspect it got just below freezing, but we were comfy.

San Francisco Day 4 – Yosemite Valley

We stayed in Yosemite for a second night (probably because I’m cheap and the camping didn’t cost much). Day two, after packing up, we went to find the Cathedral Lakes.  It was about a 45 minute drive to get there, all inside the park, which is of course, huge.  We stopped off at a side-lake on the way, though I can’t remember the name any longer.  And, just now, upon looking up the link, I realize that we completely failed to hike the extra .5 miles to Upper Cathedral Lake… seems like the plural in the hike name would have been a hint.  Oh well, we’ll have to go back.

Lower Cathedral Lake

Between the drive and the hike, this took most of the day.  We got back to the visitor center area just before sunset, shot a few pictures and stopped in the store for souvenirs before heading out.

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San Francisco Day 3 – Yosemite Valley

So, San Francisco Day 3, happened quite a way out of San Francisco in Yosemite Valley.  We drove out to the North, across some other large bridges which are not nearly as famous as the Golden Gate.  We drove the three or four hours out to Yosemite National Park – getting there sometime after they had more or less closed down for the day.  We had reserved a camp site, so we just proceeded there to setup camp for the night.

Half Dome
The view of Half Dome from the valley overlook point.

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San Francisco – Day 2 – Muir Woods

Monday we woke up early and packed up to head to Muir Woods on the suggestion that it was a place best visited early before the crowds. Even with the unexpectedly long drive, winding through a lot of hilly roads, we were there just before 8. We happened to find a ranger who informed us that the park would open at 8:00 but we were free to park and walk in.  This was convenient because it avoided the need to buy a pass or pay any form of entry fee, as well as because it got us there before the crowds.  Also, an interesting note for anyone visiting and not wanting to pay – if you park in the further lot and want to do a hike, the hiking trail has no gate, leaves the parking lot and deposits you smack in the middle of the woods when done.  It does have about 800 ft of elevation change though.

Redwoods

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Smoky Mountains – Day 3

Day three of the Smoky Mountains adventure was back to hiking waterfalls, and first on the list was Laurel Falls.  This had to be the most popular falls because it was a paved trail (in rather poor condition) up to the falls.  Like the Clingmans Dome trail, I think this gave people the impression that it wasn’t going to be steep.  As it turns out, you’re still hiking up a mountain for 1.3 miles.

Park Map

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Smoky Mountains – Day 2

Since the previous day’s visit to Clingmans Dome was a bust, we headed up there first thing on Friday.  The view was much better.  The Clingmans Dome trail is a half mile paved trail up to a lookout ‘tower’ at the top.  I suspect it’s highly traveled because it’s paved, and that people are surprised to find out that they’re still climbing a mountain.

Clingman's Dome

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