Moose Day in Yellowstone

In addition to seeing many more bison I saw lots of moose today.  This was the only male, and was grazing right next to the road late in the afternoon.  I was hoping he’d raise his head a little more but then a ranger yelled at me for being too close (“but it’s for my blog peeps, ma’am….”) so I had to back away.

Earlier in the day a large female moose (called a cow, but it was definitely a moose) crossed the road right in front of me.  I had just come around a turn and there she was.  By the time I got my camera unlocked and ready, poof, she was gone.  There was a steep embankment next to the road and she had already gone down it.

Later I saw several females with some young’uns laying in tall grass near the road.  All I could see were their heads and their ears twitching.  When I got out of the car several of them stood up and moved a short distance before laying back down in the grass.

And as I was leaving the Park for the day I saw several more females both next to and in the road.  They were mainly showing me their backsides so the pictures aren’t very flattering.

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I also saw a black bear today, although by the time I got up to where it was it had gotten  so far up the hill I could not get a good picture.  Funny thing when you are driving in the Park –  If a car is stopped by the road then 6 more will stop.  If a car is stopped and someone is pointing, 12 more will stop.  I talked to a guy who used to work in the Park and he said when tourists would pull up behind him and start tailgating, all he had to do was point off to the side of the road and they’d all pull over and stop.

I also saw two brown bears today (most likely grizzly’s in these parts).  They were both outside the park (I had to drive about 90 miles down from Bozeman to get to the closest entrance). I saw one this the morning on the way down and one in the evening on the way home.  Both times they were pretty far off the road but you could tell they were VERY big.

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This post is dedicated to my brother Stephen who, despite spending many summers vacationing in Maine, has yet to see a moose in the wild.

And I did resolve an earlier question.  The naming rules for Cows (I’ll have to start calling them Moo Cows), Moose and Bison are all the same:  Bull/Cow/Calf/Herd.

Yellowstone Lake

After driving around the park for much of the day I decided to take a break by Yellowstone Lake.  It is in the southern park of the Park and is huge. I got my chair out of the car, grabbed my binoculars and found a nice spot in the shade.  There were no boats or jet-skis (they launch in the northernmost part of the lake) so it was very serene (well, except for the vehicles zipping by behind me).  There were short breaks when there was no traffic, though, and then it really was quite tranquil.

You are only seeing about 1/3 of a very small portion of the lake called the West Thumb.  Yellowstone Lake is at an elevation of 7,733 feet (I got that from the official map of the park.  I didn’t drive out there to verify it with my GPS!). It alone is 136 square miles in size.  For you folks back in North Cackalacky, that makes it seven times larger than Falls Lake.  For those of you not familiar with that reference, it is larger than Durham (City) and Chapel Hill combined.  Despite it’s size, the lake completely freezes over in the winter.

The area north and east of the lake suffered a big fire back in 1988 (really big) and all the trees are dead.  New growth is starting to show, though, and while it will take a while it should eventually regain its majesty.  The 1988 fire was so big that the entire Park closed for the only time in it’s history.  The fire ultimately affected 36% of the park in one way or another.

After about 30 minutes I hopped back in the car and resumed my adventure.  Lots more to see and do!

Bubble bubble, toil and trouble

This is one of the small, but entertaining, hot springs.  There is often a gurgling sound which, on the larger springs, sounded like a washing machine running with the lid open.  There was one spot where you could hear the water gurgling in a tunnel and the whooshing sound of the steam coming out made it seem like the snout of a fire breathing dragon (but without the flame).  I have video of that and hopefully you’ll be able to hear it as well.

Given that this is Mother Nature at work, geysers and hot springs are unpredictable.  They may appear dormant but then will suddenly break out in a flurry of activity.   I tried taking still pictures of one of the geysers which went through a whole range of eruption levels in the course of just a few minutes.  Again, the still pictures really don’t capture the fun of watching them in action.  After watching that geyser erupt for a few minutes I turned around (literally just shifted my body by about 75 degrees) to take this picture.  Of course then the geyser (now behind me) went nuts, shooting water so high it I could feel the mist from it on my back.  I turned around and started shooting video again and it sat and did nothing….

Sapphire Pool, Yellowstone

I replaced the picture I originally posted here with one that more accurately represents the true color.  It is crystal clear and simply gorgeous.
There is an area of the Park where there are several “basins” holding a variety of geysers, mud pots, fumaroles, hot springs and other interesting hydrothermal features.  There is a very strong sulphur (rotten egg) odor present when you are near these basins.

It is hard to capture the beauty and character of these various things with still pictures.  I did take short video clips of many of them and will share them when I get home.  I waited almost an hour and a half to watch Old Faithful erupt and have video of it.  It erupts every 35 to 120 minutes and evidently I got there shortly after it had just done so, so had to wait what turned out to be more towards the longer end of the range.

 

 

This really put me in my place

As I turned around to go back and take a picture of these abandoned buildings I was trying to think of something clever and witty to say about them.  When I read the nearby sign I learned that there is nothing funny about it.

This is where 74 coal miners died the morning of February 27, 1943.

You are looking at what remains of Smith Mine #3 which was operated by Montana Coal & Iron Company.  On that fateful morning 77 men were working within the mine, most of them 7,000 feet underground, when an explosion occurred.  The men died either from the concussion of the blast itself, or from the poisonous gas which resulted.  3 men were working closer to the surface and, knowing that something terrible had happened, were able to put out a call for help before themselves being overcome by the gas.  They were found in time by rescue workers and were the only survivors.

The company paid time-and-a-half for Saturday work and the men were eager to sign up for the extra pay during those hard economic times. About 930 that morning the blast, whose exact cause was never determined, occurred.  It is possible that it was caused by a buildup of methane gas in the adjoining, abandoned portions of the mine.  Of the 74 who were killed (ranging in age from 19 to 72), 58 left behind widows.  125 children lost their fathers that morning.

The mine is located a few miles east of Red Lodge, Montana.  The little towns of Washoe and Bearcreek are on either side of the mine and were almost exclusively inhabited by mining families.  Most moved away and many homes were torn down, abandoned or physically moved to Red Lodge, some 6 miles away.

This remains the worst underground mining accident in Montana history.  The mine never reopened.

The sign in the next post is located at the site.  It ends with a message written on the wall of the mine before the authors succumbed to the lethal gas.  If you are unable to read it let me know and I will transcribe it below the picture.  If you right-click on the picture on your computer you should be able to save it to your hard drive where you can then open it with an image browser and increase the size, making it easier to read.

Big Boy statue, Wapiti, Wyoming

I knew this was here or I would have flown right past it.  Off in the middle of a farmer’s field, pretty far off the road, actually, sits this Big Boy statue on a concrete slab, patiently waiting for someone to build a restaurant behind it.  Apparently this mysteriously appeared in 2013 and no one claims to know anything about it.  I have a full frame picture I can send anyone who is interested.

I didn’t want to march out in the field for a closeup because for all I knew there was some guy inside with a 12 gauge shotgun just waiting for trespassers.  “Git off my land Mister.  Go on now, Git!”

This is on the road between Cody and Yellowstone.  I was trying to get back through the park before one of the roads on the west side was closed for the night (8P-8A for maintenance).  Well I got delayed twice, once by a herd of bison who literally stopped traffic for 15 minutes or more as they blocked the road, and a second time after I came across what appeared to be a bicyclist who had been struck by a vehicle.  I had no cell signal, which was the case most of the day, and had to drive about 15 minutes before I could try and call 911.  I finally found a spot but it didn’t seem as though my call went through.  Sure enough, someone from Yellowstone Emergency Services called me back but I had to stop in a turnout (in a very specific spot where she could hear me) so I could give her the information.  I made it out just in the nick of time but still had a 90-minute ride home.

Surprisingly I didn’t see any wildlife on the drive back to Bozeman (was worried about all those damn black cows).  I got back to the house at 10P local time and it was just about totally dark.  My windshield was plastered with bugs and I could barely see (I need some of those NASCAR tear-offs).  I am one tired buckaroo but my first day in (and out and in) Yellowstone was very rewarding.  And I plan to go back down there tomorrow.

Put 509 miles on the car today.  4,465 miles for the trip so far, and I’m only done with Day 9!

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I tried to get the levity out of the way today.  There will only be two posts tomorrow night regarding a more serious subject.