Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Mt Rushmore

This park is another 'must see' stop if you are driving to see Yellowstone.  Mt Rushmore is a national park, but does not charge an entrance fee.  The parking garage is privately run and charges $11 per car - there are a couple of small lots where you can park for free, but it is a longer walk to the monument.

The massive granite sculpture is great to see at any time of the day - and also lit at night for viewing.  There is a museum, hiking trail, movie about the history, gift shops and concessions on site.  If you hike the trail loop the original studio of Gutzon Borglum is open to visit.  There you will see plaster models and see Borglum's 'pointing machine' that helped the workers transfer the scale of the models to the actual rock face.
One of Borglum's models.  Notice the bar on top of Lincoln's head, part of the 'pointing machine'
Notice the hands and clothing in this model which didn't make it into the actual sculpture.
Design on the hall of records behind the figures which houses
the hall of records of US History
You can see the projecting shafts of granite in the eyes up close
which give the eyes a sparkle of light at a distance

The avenue of flags leading up to the monument has flags from all of the US states and territories.  President Coolidge dedicated the memorial in 1927, commencing 14 years of work.  The Washington head was dedicated in 1930, followed by Jefferson in 1936, Lincoln in 1937 and Roosevelt in 1939.    The total cost was nearly $1 million.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Devil's Tower with no Close Encounters!

When traveling on Interstate 90 in Wyoming - Devil's Tower is a nice place to spend a some time and stretch your legs.  It is part of the National Park System and has an entrance fee of $10/car.  We once again used our Nation Park Pass - getting a lot of use this year! 
Picture taken on the base trail

The park has a visitor center, hiking trails, campground (empty except for the campground hosts when we drove through) and a LOT of prairie dogs!

President Teddy Roosevelt designated Devil's Tower as the nation's first national monument in 1906.  Today it is best remembered for the movie "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" from 1978 (yikes - that long ago?!).

The tower is actually the core of a volcano exposed after millions of years of erosion.  There is a paved walking trail around the perimeter that is 1 1/4 miles.  The tower is 865 feet high and yes, you can climb it.  Experienced climbers have to register and follow set rules.
View from the monument to the wind

This is a sacred area to the local Native Americans and they come to perform ceremonies and leave prayer bundles.  Their legend  is that 7 girls were playing in the area when a large bear tried to get them.  The girls jumped up on a rock and began to pray that the rock take pity on them and save them.  The rock heard their pleas and grew upward pushing the girls higher, out of reach of the bear.  The bear continued to jump at the rock and clawed the sides.  The rock continued to push high and the girls were pushed up into the sky where they are now a group of seven little stars (the Pleiades).
The formation - bear claw marks according to legend

Prayer bundles left tied in trees around the base

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Thermopolis, Wyoming

A great place worth stopping by is Thermopolis if you are headed into or out of Yellowstone from the east.  This little town is in many of the guidebooks and has the 'World's Largest Mineral Hot Spring'.  The spring is now part of Hot Springs State Park.  A treaty was signed with the Indians in 1896 that secured 10 square miles to the US government for $60,000 (paid in cash, cattle, bacon, sugar and coffee) to be used for a National Reserve or Park and homesteads.
An older area of the spring - this is NOT where the water for the pools comes out
This is where the hot water comes to the surface, notice the pipes in the lower left

Part of the treaty states that the Indians would always have access to the healing waters of the hot spring at no charge.  For this reason - ANYONE can soak in the hot springs healing mineral waters at the state park bath house for FREE!   There is an indoor and an outdoor soaking pool, also locker rooms and you can rent a towel for $1 and a bathing suit for $1 too if you need one!  There are 2 other pools in this area that charge admission (commercial ventures) and they have water slides, hot tubs, steam caves and more.

The spring puts out just under 1.8 million gallons of water a day.  The water averages 127-129 degrees at the surface.  Hot mineral water is piped from the spring to cool it and fill the soaking pools.  The pools are totally drained every 2 days for cleaning - no chemicals are added to the water.
The state indoor pool (building with brown roof) and outdoor pool at right

There is a drive through a bison reserve on the grounds that is also free of charge.

Interesting formations from ancient springs

Jackson Hole and the Tetons

Let's start with a little information:  Jackson Hole (or Jackson's Hole) is the entire valley area south of Yellowstone.  It includes the Teton National Park, the town of Jackson, a couple of ski areas, the national Elk refuge and more!   I was under the impression that Jackson Hole was the I know better.

Every May the local Boy Scouts gather shed antlers from the Elk refuge area and there is a big auction in town.  Part of the proceeds go to the Scouts.  This auction was the previous weekend, so we were not able to attend.  There are 4 huge arches around the park in the center of town made out of antlers.  Many homes and businesses also have antlers for decorations.
Antler arches in the town of Jackson, WY

We spent 3 nights in Jackson after leaving Yellowstone and were in town for the Memorial Day weekend and festivities.  They have a rodeo, parade, mountain man rendezvous, cowboy church, street music, beer festival and more.   The parade was fun with many interesting entries!
Old Yellowstone touring car
Dog sled team pulling a truck!
Dancing cowgirl grannies - age 50 to 94!
A few local parade watchers

Teton National Park is included with admission to Yellowstone.  The passes are good for 7 days to explore both parks.  This year we have purchased a National Park pass which gets us into all the parks in the system for $80.  (Yellowstone alone is $25, Badlands $15, Devil's Tower $15, Grand Canyon $25)  If you plan on visiting a couple of parks in a year it is your best buy.
Cathedral Peaks
Jenny Lake

There are a couple of visitor centers in Teton, a few lodges and many scenic drives and trails.  Just as in Yellowstone the snow closed trails and roads....and the bears kept us off the trails that were free of snow.  We enjoyed short hikes and drives to see the mountains and wildlife in the area.
Many areas were closed due to snow pack

Grizzly and cub (she has 2 with her - only one is visible in pic)
Fox at the ski area

Deer forage along the road
Moose in a snow storm

We did check out the ski areas and a condo that we have access to with our timeshare.  Winter would be fun with skiing, dog sled rides and sleigh rides....but summer is nice too with hiking, boating, white water rafting and more.  It is really a beautiful area any time of the year!
Mountain Bluebirds

Monday, June 13, 2011

Yellowstone National Park

Another check on the bucket list - Yellowstone!!  We spent 4 days in the park and enjoyed visiting many of the places we have seen on TV and read about.  The weather didn't cooperate at times and we had to deal with road closures due to snowfall, ice, avalanches and rock slides.  Going in the spring and early summer means less crowds, more baby animals....but 'iffy' weather!
The North Entrance - Roosevelt Arch

Yellowstone is America's first national park established in 1872.  There is no way to see all of the park in a week - or even a year!  There are 3,472 square miles of Yellowstone park - larger than Rhode Island and Delaware combined.  The park is located mostly in Wyoming, but also parts are in Montana and Idaho.  With so much area, 5 entrances, 466 miles of paved roads, 9 visitor centers and museums, 9 hotels, one marina and soooo many trails, scenic vistas and features it is overwhelming!!  We suggest to get a good guide book, check out a few forums online and talk with friends and family who have gone before you.  (If anyone in our area is planning a trip we would be happy to share our resources with you!)  We purchased the Yellowstone Expedition Guide a few months before our trip to help with planning.  It is a great book with an audio CD, DVD of the park and lots of easy to use information and maps.

People come to Yellowstone to see the thermal features (geysers, fumaroles, mudpots) and for the wildlife viewing (bears, elk, bison, eagles, wolves).  We were able to do a little of both.

Please heed the warnings that are posted and given to you in pamphlets about not getting close to the animals.  They are wild and have been known to attack.  We were fortunate and saw black bears on 3 occasions - even were able to get some pictures.  Bison are hard NOT to see...they are everywhere and in the roads, on the sidewalks and boardwalks.  The elk, bighorn sheep, wolves and moose are in their 'home range' areas and marked on some of the park maps.  These animals are not fenced in anywhere...just tend to stay in certain areas.  Internet forums were helpful on locating these areas and often listed daily sightings from others.

Bison at Old Faithful

Mountain Bluebird

Yellow Bellied Marmot

Black Bear - it is snowing at this time

Many of the trails we wanted to hike were either still under a few feet of snow, or closed for 'bear management'.   The bears come out of hibernation in the spring and head for the lower elevation areas that are snow free to forage for food.  These trails are closed due to the heavy bear activity.  Even on the trails which were open - and easily accessible from the very populated areas we saw many signs of bears. 

Claw marks on a tree

Black bear with a bison carcass

Old Faithful was right next to our hotel, so viewing that geyser and the basin was easy.  The trails are elevated boardwalks with benches to rest or enjoy the views.
Old Faithful
The 'essental attractions' are easy to get to and most are on boardwalks and overlooks.  This is where your maps will come in handy.  Road closures did cause us to have to miss the Lamar Valley area, but gives us a reason to return someday!

Thermal pool - blue = HOT water


National Park Mountain - the plaque tell that this is where Roosevelt and his crew decided to make Yellowstone our first national park
Morning Glory Pool
Looks like another planet!
A Winter Wonderland (in May!)

One of many waterfalls

We enjoyed all of our time in Yellowstone and will keep it on our list of places to visit.  Next time we would like to take a trip in the fall and see the Elk with their antlers and the changing colors of the fall foliage.