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 – 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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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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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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Smoky Mountains – Day 1

Prelude:

Janet and I drove down to the Smoky Mountains in late June, which means that I’m about a month behind in posting this. We left my car at her parents’ house and departed the Chicago area on Wednesday night. She was driving and got us into Kentucky where we stopped for the night at about 2:30AM. The next morning we finished the drive to the park, getting there in the early afternoon.

We stayed in a nice little cabin off in the hills between Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg, somewhere around the #1 on the map below*.  After finding the cabin and depositing our stuff, we went back to Pigeon forge for a few more food items, to get a bit familiar with the route and to stop by the visitor center.  The cabin was about 5 miles, or 15 minutes out into the woods on some very narrow and winding roads.  There were definitely hotels closer to the park on the South side of Gatlinburg, but we were aided by the fact that there is a bypass around the city (#2 on the map) that we could use to get straight into the park without getting sucked into the tourist trap that is Gatlinburg.  We ended up not sure if we’d do a cabin or a hotel if we were ever to go again.

Park Map

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West Trip, Day 1 – Rocky Mountain National Park

We left Chicago at around 6:30AM flying into Denver on Southwest.  This was my first time flying Southwest after a lot of flying, mostly on Delta.  A few things were different – the main one being no predetermined seats.  Southwest has everyone line up by check in number and then you board taking any seat you want.  This is apparently for efficiency since people who want to hurry to find their seat will board faster and people boarding later will just sit in a seat since they don’t have to make their way to any specific seat.  Janet and I were able to get seats together about 2/3 of the way back on the plane both in and out of Denver.

By the nature of leaving at 6:30 AM, we got to Denver quite early.  After claiming luggage, we went to Avis.  (Side note:  Avis somehow charged two different rates depending on whether I was logged in or not.  I’m not sure what settings I had going on, but when I was logged in, using my standard work account, the car cost about $150 more than when I was logged out.)  While walking down the row to our car, we passed a  green Mazda 2 which yielded some entertainment.  Upon reaching the end of the row, we realized we had passed our car and turned back to arrive right at that very same Mazda 2 – which was actually fine, it served the purpose nicely.

Our first stop in Denver was the REI, with the only real reason being the need to acquire a single isobutane canister for the Narrows hike later in the trip.  On the way out of Denver, heading toward Rocky Mountain National Park we stopped at a Sam’s Club and a Walmart (Colorado doesn’t have Meijer) for supplies.  We ended up getting into Estes Park around 3:00 in the afternoon, just in time to come to a complete halt on behalf of some elk in the road.

After marveling at our first wildlife spotting, we noticed there were more elk wandering through town.  We drove up into town a bit to see about 12 elk walking around what was a Senior Center.  Pretty soon, they headed back over to the lake, and like the gawking tourists we were, followed them there in the Frog.  This was a sizable herd and we were not by any means the only ones who wanted to watch them.  We parked and spent a good bit of time wandering in the park with the elk and taking pictures and videos.  I did get one good video of two bulls doing battle, but at the moment, I’m not sure how to cleanly embed video in this page.  Maybe later.

After our elk curiosities were satisfied, we continued up into Rocky Mountain National Park for a drive through tour.  We stopped briefly at the ranger station, discovering that it was apparently the last day they were going to be open for the season.  This didn’t really affect our plans at all, but it did mean we were there on the border of what’s considered to be the normal season.  As we drove up into the park, we came upon a second herd of elk just at the park’s official entrance.  We stopped along the road there to again watch the elk, listen to the bulls bugle and got to see the kids play fighting.

Up up up and then down down down again into the town of Grand Lake just a bit after sunset.  There we found the Bighorn Lodge, which seemed a suitable place to stay for the night.  It had a hot tub, which was a major advantage for Janet given that she had just run her marathon the day before.  You might wonder who runs a marathon and then goes on a hiking vacation and think that such a person might be rather insane.  I couldn’t really argue with you on that one either, but that’s a different story, and not really my story.