Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Yellowstone- Lewis Lake, Old Faithful to West Yellowstone, Montana

My strategy was to go into Yellowstone before the Memorial Day crunch. Smart, huh? Well, not exactly. What I found was that everything gears towards that weekend, and even the bears aren't cooperatove before then :') That being that most services, campgrounds, ranger stations and whatnot are closed, and most of the backway roads and trails are closed for "bear management". I managed, focusing my time on road touring and the shorter and open walks and trails. No complaints really, although I got really frustrated over not being able to obtain a boat permit. On my way out, I ran into the ranger who managed the waterways, and she graciously gave me permission to kayak w/o permit. Ah well, I will be back soon...
As I made my way into the park, I visited Moose Falls, Lewis Canyon and Cascades, Lewis Falls and finally Lewis Lake. My initial plan was to kayak the lake, that being before I found the boating permits had not yet been distributed. Still, it made a nice stop for lunch.
After a side trip over to Yellowstone Lake, Grant Village and West Thumb, I made my way west in the general direction of Old Faithful. My second pass over the Continental Divide warranted a stop to do a virtual cache at Lake Isa. An interesting aspect to this lake which is perched on the divide: There are two outlets to the lake, but contrary to what you would expect, the eastern outlet flows towards the Pacific, while the western one flows towards the gulf! How can this be?!?! Well, the lake sits on a section of the divide that is situated midway through a "swithback" or s-curve...Another great stop on the way was at Kepler Cascades. Wow, that is a lot of water!, which has carved a deep canyon here.
I made it to Old Faithful five minutes before it erupted :). Timing is everything. After taking a look around, I headed over to Black Sand Basin just in time to witness the Cliff Geyser erupting. This area is just southwest of Old Faithful, and although it does not get much fanfare, I found it to be a worthwhile stop.
It was getting late in the day and I decided I'd go up to Madison to try for a campsite, and spend the next day taking in the geothermal basins in and around Old Faithful. Unfortunately, Madison was full, so I had to head out to West Yellowstone, Montana to find a place for the night : On the way out of the park, a pair of Bald Eagles have built a nest in a tree just a couple of hundred feet from the road. In an effort to protect the birds during their nesting, Wildlife management has posted big signs indicating no stopping or entry, "Bald Eagle management area" ! Well, guess what that does? Yep :') I at least respected the boundaries posted, when I stopped for pictures. More on these birds later...I also got to watch some Bison sparring. Lots of cool wildlife...
So, I ended up a few miles north of West Yellowstone, at Baker's Hole NF campground. Camping was right off of the Madison River, so it was definitely a nice enough spot. A large number of Bison have made their way out of the park, and some have taken up residence in camp! Calving has just taken place, and I was able to observe these little guys (from a safe distance) as they acclimated into the world. I cut short a morning hike cause one of the adult males kept giving me the stank-eye, even though I was over a hundred yards away. To date, these are the critters that I am most wary of around here.
A sidenote on these particular Buffalo: The Yellowstone herd carries brucellosis, which can cause miscarriage in cattle. Montana has an agreement allowing them to slaughter any bison that will not allow themselves to be herded back into park grounds. This was about to happen with the 300 wayward bison, but public outcry over the inclusion of many week old calves held things up and allowed one more hazing effort which seems to have worked. At least for the moment. This is an ongoing story.
On the way back into Yellowstone, I drove the "river drive" a short spur that runs along the Madison. Amazingly, I got to watch as both the Bald Eagles from the nearby nest flew over, with, get this, an Osprey (?) and a hawk harrasing them! This I had never seen before. Usually those two species are being harassed by ravens or crows. That both adult eagles had left the nest meant that this was some serious business! Later I would see one of them dutifuly perched on the nest, so I guess things worked out ok. This was a spectacular sight to watch!

I stopped by Madison and was able to secure a campsite for the night (regretably!), and made my way back towards the geothermal basins...

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