Things to do in West Yellowstone

For a town of 1200, West Yellowstone is a fairly good-sized “small town”, with many hotels, restaurants, and a few tourist attractions.  It is land locked, with the park on one side, and US Forest Service land on the other.  If you will be staying in this area on your visit to Yellowstone, there are a few things to see.

Fishing is a big attraction, and this area is one of the top fly fishing areas in the country.  Dan has gone fishing a few times with our co-worker Tom in various rivers and lakes in the area.  (they have not had many keepers though)

Tom fishing

Tom fishing on the Madison River

Launching boat on Hebgen Lake

Launching boat on Hebgen Lake

Museum

The town has a very nice museum that details the development of the region, and how tourism has grown over the years.  The early visitors to the park arrived by train, and the museum is housed in the historic Union Pacific train depot.  On display are several stage coaches that transported visitors into the park, as well as other historical artifacts.

Museum

Museum

They left most of the train station in its original state.

All Aboard!

All Aboard!

early days of travel

early days of travel

Two excellent movies are also featured, one on the impact of the 1959 Earthquake, and the other on the 1988 wildfires that burned out of control in Yellowstone.  We gave both “two thumbs up”, but if you only have time for one, watch the one on the fire.  That alone was worth the price of admission ($6).

There are displays on fly fishing, including this unusual Singer sewing machine, which was turned into a machine to tie flies.

not your grandma's Singer!

not your grandma’s Singer!

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Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center is another very popular attraction in town.  It is a non-profit wildlife park featuring several wolves, bears and birds of prey that would have euthanized if not for the center taking them in.  Your admission ($11) is valid for two days.

The wolves are always in their habitats for viewing, and are well fed.

DSC_0304 (1)The bears are taken in and out of the bear habitat on a rotating basis.  Before they switch out the bears, the staff will hide food under the rocks, and then a few bears will be let out to look for food.  They have some nice sized grizzly bears on display.  The ravens patiently wait by the bears and clean up all the scraps of food.

DSC_0367 (1) DSC_0371 (1)They do have a children’s program where they let the kids come in and hide the food, which they seemed to enjoy, although some kids wanted nothing to do with touching the  fish!

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The center also tests out a lot of containers to see how “bear proof” they are, and have worked with companies to make bear proof garbage cans.

DSC_0337Although we enjoyed our visit, we thought Bear Country USA in Rapid City was a much more enjoyable experience, as the animals are left in a more natural environment.  But they did have a nice couch in their gift shop!

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Playmill Theater is a wonderful little theater right in downtown.  This summer featured three different plays, Damn Yankees, Mary Poppins and Foreigner.  We did receive a free pass ($26/per person) and saw a great musical performance of Damn Yankees.  Most of the cast is made up of college students from Idaho, Montana and Colorado.  Before each show, they have a quick variety show, displaying the talents of each member.

This is a photo before the play started/no photos during the play.

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If you have time for only one thing in town, this would be it.  Make sure you book your tickets ahead of time, as the theater is very small, which assures you every seat is a good one. For those of you who like movies there is a giant screen theater in town where we were able to see a nice 45 minute documentary on the history of Yellowstone.

Quote for the day:  “The nice part about living in a small town is that when you don’t know what you are doing, someone else does.” – Immanuel Kant

Yellowstone – summary of recent visits

Today is the 99th Birthday of the National Park Service!

We have taken advantage of having an entire summer to explore at the very first National Park, Yellowstone. We are very grateful that many intelligent folks had the foresight to protect and preserve so many parks, monuments, caves, historical sites, etc., for future generations to enjoy.

Yellowstone is such a wonderful park with so many unique features and areas to explore. Previously I have written about the thermal features in great detail. Instead of doing a lot of separate posts on the different areas, this one will summarize our last several visits.  So this is a bit photo heavy.

ANIMALS

The animals are a big attraction in the park, and sometimes people forget this is not a zoo. The animals are wild, and this is their home. To date, five people have been gored by bison (buffalo). Four of them simply walked up to the bison to take a better picture, and one startled a sleeping bison while hiking. Just remember, bison have no interest in being in your “selfie”! We have seen our fair share of animals, except for a grizzly and Bull Moose in the park. The Lamar Valley area is best known for animal sightings, and we spent a day driving in that area. If you want to see animals, go early (think 6am).

Lamar Valley

Lamar Valley

The park has a lot of Pronghorn’s

pronghorn

pronghorn

As well as bison

where the buffalo roam

where the buffalo roam

And a few bison that seem to hang out right near the road, so you can view them safely from your vehicle

no selfies please!

no selfies please!

But the highlight of our trip this day was seeing a bear foraging for food. We watched him/her(?) about 10 minutes lifting up trees stumps with ease, searching for food. The bear finally stopped and looked back at all the people, and then disappeared into the woods. A park ranger had also stopped, to insure people were not getting any closer to the bear. We stayed in our truck, but many people had exited their vehicles. I think my photo from the safety of the truck turned out just fine. No need to walk closer to the bear.

hmm, tasty people

hmm, tasty people

WATERFALLS

As you are aware from previous posts, Yellowstone has plenty of waterfalls. After viewing the animals, we headed over to Tower Fall, which we had not yet seen. At 132 feet, the falls is a very popular viewing area. It is a very short walk (150 yards) from the general store in the Tower-Roosevelt area of the park.  I am not sure why it is called Tower Fall, instead of Tower Falls.

Tower Fall

Tower Fall

There is a more challenging ¼ mile walk down to the river, but you are rewarded with some nice views in the valley.

Tower Creek

Tower Creek

On our way back up, we encountered a baby pronghorn that was munching away right on the path, oblivious to the warning on the sign!

what sign?

what sign?

MORE GEYSERS

After viewing the falls, we decided to hit the Norris Geyser Basin even though it was over flowing with visitors. They say attendance is way up this year, and we believe that! This geyser basin has a lot a fumaroles (steam vents), which are the hottest of the geothermal features in the park. They have been measured at 280 degrees, and quickly boil away what little water is in the vent.

Norris Geyser Basin

Norris Geyser Basin

steam vent

steam vent

steam vent boiling

steam vent boiling

ARTIST PAINT POTS

On another day we checked out the artist paint pots area, which is a short walk around some mud pots, geysers and hot springs.  The trail climbs to an overlook, which gives a nice overview of the area.

Artist Paint Pots

Artist Paint Pots

mud pot

mud pot

FOUNTAIN PAINT POTS

Another section of the park, on the way to Old Faithful, has more paint pots. Paint pots are a vat of bubbling mud formed by the mixture of heat, gases, volcanic rock, water, minerals, acid and living microorganisms. The pots in the Fountain Paint Pot section are fun to watch.  Photos just do not do justice to these.  You have to watch and listen to them plop and throw mud up and around.

Fountain Paint Pots

Fountain Paint Pots

In this same area, is another fumerole, Red Spouter. This was formed after the earthquake in 1959, which is example of just how unstable the ground is in many parts of Yellowstone. Prior to the quake, it was just a grassy hill.

Red Spouter

Red Spouter

And as luck would have it, we were fortunate to watch two geysers in this area erupt at the same time! Spasm geyser on the left, and fountain geyser on the right.

twin eruptions

twin eruptions

Having our geyser fix, we headed down Firehole Lake Drive to see what was located there. The Great Fountain Geyser, which had erupted the day before, was still very impressive to look at.

Great Fountain Geyser

Great Fountain Geyser

If you notice in the picture above, there is a castle shaped geyser in the background. (you may have to click the picture to enlarge) Shortly after this photo, that geyser started to erupt, so we watched from a distance. Given the relatively few people around that geyser, it was not a planned eruption.

White Dome Geyser erupting

White Dome Geyser erupting

After that one settled down, the Great Fountain Geyser started acting up, spewing a bit of water, before settling back down.

Great Fountain acting up

Great Fountain acting up

We drove over to the White Dome Geyser for a closer look. This geyser continues to get taller every year, as a small amount of silica is deposited on the sides after each eruption.

White Dome Geyser

White Dome Geyser

On our last visit to the park, we explored the West Thumb Geyser Basin and Yellowstone Lake. Due to the wildfires in Montana and Idaho, the air quality has really decreased, and there is a constant haze over the area. We stopped along the road to watch this little geyser erupt, with Yellowstone Lake in the background. You cannot see the mountains on the other side due to the haze.

Yellowstone Lake

Yellowstone Lake

Fishing Bridge used to be a popular area for fishing, but the park service no longer allows fishing in the area, as people were too successful, and the wildlife in the park depends on the fish more than us humans do. I was lucky to snap this photo just as four corvettes were crossing the bridge.

Fishing Bridge

Fishing Bridge

The most famous feature at the West Thumb is this hot springs fishing cone in the lake. Fisherman would boast about how they could catch a trout in the lake, then dunk it in the boiling water in the cone to cook it! This practice was banned in 1911.

Fishing Cone

Fishing Cone

We just never get tired of all the ever-changing features of Yellowstone National Park. It is truly an amazing place. If you have never visited, please put this on your ‘bucket list’. You will not regret a visit to the park, even if you only have a day. Thank you for following along this summer on our trips to Yellowstone. Hopefully you have enjoyed the photos (we have taken hundreds each visit), and learned a few things on geothermal features.

Quote for the day:  “There can be nothing in the world more beautiful than the Yosemite, the groves of the giant sequoias and redwoods, the Canyon of the Colorado, the Canyon of the Yellowstone, the Three Tetons; and our people should see to it that they are preserved for their children and their children’s children forever, with their majestic beauty all unmarred.” – Theodore Roosevelt

Hiking in Montana with Friends from Wisconsin

We received a text message from Dan’s former co-worker, Laura, stating she would be in Bozeman, MT for her nieces wedding. Laura is a high-school science teacher, and once a year I would take over her anatomy classes for a “career day” and talk about a career as a Radiologic Technologist, and go over the various areas (X-ray, CT, MRI, etc. that you could specialize in). I think both the students and the teacher enjoyed having a “day off” from their regular classroom studies.

Dan and I made plans to get together for a short hike with Laura and her husband Mike in Bozeman, at Drinking Horse Mountain. In the photo below, there is an “M” on the hill. (upper left)  That is another hiking trail, but we opted not to do that one. Our hike had both  ‘easy’ and ‘difficult’ options. We chose to go up the ‘easy’ route, which was also the more scenic of the two options. The trail is very dog friendly, and we encountered many off-leash dogs along the way. Sorry Makena, but you weren’t invited on this trip.

The begining

The beginning

We have had several months to adjust to the altitude, but it does catch people by surprise when they first arrive to the area. We stopped for several breaks and photo opportunities along the way.

Mike and Laura

Mike and Laura

The ‘easy’ portion of the trail.

The 'easy' trail

The ‘easy’ trail

When we arrived at the top, we noticed someone had built a make-shift ‘shelter’. The view of Bozeman from the top provides a nice contrast of the “big city” living in a rural setting.

City of Bozeman

City of Bozeman

view from the top

view from the top

The crew is still looking fresh at the top!

Ready to head down

Ready to head down

We had a wonderful hike with Laura and Mike. Dan was able to get caught up on many of the happenings at the high school for the past two years. After our hike we decided to check out downtown Bozeman for lunch. The downtown area, despite the usual big box stores and a mall, has many unique and thriving businesses. We had a great time for lunch, and then checked out the local distillery and micro-brewery that was also located downtown.

lunch downtown

cheers to lunch downtown

Montana is known for Huckleberries, and the distillery makes a huckleberry vodka, for use in Moscow mule drinks.

my new 'hiking' outfit!

my new ‘hiking’ outfit!

The brew pub has what they call a “frost line” on the bar that you can set your beverages on. We all thought that was a nice feature to keep your beverages ice-cold.

the frost line

the frost line

cheers

We tried a little sampler platter of local brews

We said our good-byes for now, and made the 90 mile drive back ‘home’. Mike and Laura’s kids were going to be flying into Bozeman later that night. A few days later, they made the drive down to West Yellowstone, along with a number of other relatives. They rented out a bus and did an all-day tour of Yellowstone National Park.

Before heading back to Bozeman, they stopped in to our store, and Dan was thrilled to spend some time catching up with their kids, Rachel, Michelle and Ryan.  Dan had all three of their kids in his math classes.

Rachel, Michelle, Dan and Ryan in the store

Rachel, Michelle, Dan and Ryan in the store

It was nice for all of them to take some time out of their busy “wedding week” to spend some time with us. We look forward to catching up with them again in the not too distant future.

Quote for the day:  “Most of us end up with no more than five or six people who remember us.  Teachers have thousands of people who remember them for the rest of their lives.” – Andy Rooney

Hiking with Friends (x 2)

Wow, it is hard to believe that our time here in West Yellowstone is almost over! We have only 4 weeks left of work, before we start venturing back east for a few weeks to visit with family and friends, as well as dentists and doctors (for Dan….Makena and I are good!). Then we will be heading down to begin our fall jobs at Amazon in Jeffersonville, IN.

The temperatures here still get in the low 40’s at night, with 70’s during the day. It has been a very pleasant summer. We have been venturing into Yellowstone every week, mostly for just a few hours, as it gets extremely crowded. Towards the end of August, it should get better, as the kids start going back to school.

Since we need to start increasing our walking to get ready for Amazon, we met up with friends for two hikes last week.  Originally, I was going to do both hikes in one blog, but decided to split them up, as it was getting a bit lengthy. So the second part will be posted in a few days.

On Sunday, we met up with Karen and Al at Biscuit Basin in Yellowstone for a short 3 mile hike to Mystic Falls. We started out looking at the various geysers in the area, the most famous of which is the Sapphire Pool. It had biscuit shaped formations surrounding it, but they were all blown off in the 1959 earthquake (our previous blog gave more details about this earthquake). The beautiful sapphire color remains, and it is one of the prettiest geyser (as far as color) that we have seen this summer.

Sapphire Pool

Sapphire Pool

The trail starts out relatively easy, and then the trail splits off. We had been advised to “go left” as it was the easier route to the falls. We discovered later that was very good advice, as it is much easier to go down the steeper climb of 700 feet, then up! The trail winds along the Little Firehole River, and is very scenic.

the easy trail

the easy trail

Even though there were “bear aware” signs, we did not see any wildlife at all, except this little guy.

our 'wildlife'

our ‘wildlife’

After less than a mile, we reached the 70 foot high Mystic Falls.

Mystic Falls

Mystic Falls

Karen and Al

Karen and Al

We had 2 options, go back the way we came, or take the more strenuous and less scenic route. We all opted for the latter! The new route back down began with a steep climb, but did offer a nice overlook to the Upper Geyser Basin which is about 3 miles away.

Old Faithful in distance

Old Faithful in distance

We continued climbing, and commenting that we are supposed to be ‘heading down’. Al has a GPS tracker on his iPhone, and it indicated we had climbed over 650 feet in a very short distance. We were happy much of it was in the shade of the trees. We stopped at the ‘scenic overlook’ which looked over the parking lot and the Biscuit Basin where we began our hike. In the upper right corner of the photo is the Upper Geyser Basin where Old Faithful is located.

Biscuit Basin overlook

Biscuit Basin overlook

And then we began a rapid descent, going down switchbacks for most of the way. Al’s GPS indicated we were going down a 12% grade. We met a lot of people huffing and puffing their way up, and were glad we chose the “left” option up, and the “right” option down.  Dan is in the center of the photo below.

heading on down

heading on down

Al is the tiny orange dot in the center of this picture.

Hello Al!

Hello Al!

After we made it back down, we decided to go to the Old Faithful Inn for lunch. After lunch, we discovered a tour of the Inn was in progress, so we tagged along on. The tour lasts about 45 minutes, and is very informative, and includes a view of one of the rooms for rent. This room rents for $109.00 night, and you have your own sink (not original) but do share a bathroom with everyone else on the floor. It was quite the deluxe room back in the early 20th Century!

Old House Room

Old House Room

sink is not original

sink is not original

On the second floor of the Inn, there is an overlook into the dining room where we had lunch.

Dining room

Dining room

The flag inside the Inn contains 45 stars, representing the 45 states at the time the Inn was complete in 1904. By 1912 there were three more stars added to the flag, with Oklahoma, New Mexico and Arizona being added. The remaining two stars were added when Alaska and Hawaii were added to the union in 1959.

45 stars on the flag

45 stars on the flag

We hope to get together with Karen and Al one more time before we leave this area, to do some more hiking.

Quote for the day: “Hiking is just walking where it’s okay to pee.” – Demetri Martin

Earthquake Lake

The night of August 17, 1959 forever changed the landscape and the lives of the residents and visitors of Madison Canyon (about 10 miles northwest of West Yellowstone). Close to midnight, an earthquake, measured at 7.5 on the Richter Scale, struck this area without warning. At the time, it was the 2nd largest earthquake measured in the lower 48 states. A massive landslide, over 80 million tons of rock, crashed down into the canyon and blocked off the Madison River.

Many people were camping along the banks of the river in a popular campground. The landslide buried parts of the campground, and the rapidly rising waters submerged the remainder of the campground. Twenty-eight people were killed as a result of the earthquake. By dawn, a lake had formed in what was once just a river.

In this photo below, you can see what is now referred to as “ghost-trees”, where the campground used to be. The hill where the landslide occurred is on the left side, and you can see what is called the “bathtub ring”, along the right side of the photo. This is how high the water rose after the landslide.

Ghost-trees

Ghost-trees

After the landslide, the water continued to rise and began rising backwards over the dam in nearby Hebgen Lake, causing several cabins to be destroyed. The water washed out many sections of Highway 287 which runs along the river. Within three weeks, what was once just a river, became a 5 mile wide, 190 foot lake. The Army Corps of Engineering was deployed and was able to blast through part of the landslide to create a spillway and relieve the pressure of the lake and control the flow of water. They were concerned if the landslide shifted, the Madison Valley area would be flooded.

This photo shows the other side of the landslide, where they created a spillway to prevent the valley from flooding. Originally the spillway was a straight river, but over time, nature has taken back the landscape and created this winding river, which has become a popular trout fishing area.

Madison Valley river

Madison Valley river

It is believed that the lake will continue to drain down, and eventually return to a river. But it could be decades before this happens. In the meantime, the lake is a beautiful, scenic area that covers up the scars of the past.

Earthquake Lake

Earthquake Lake

But once you turn around, the evidence of the landslide remains, with a large barren area.

area of landslide

area of landslide

A portion of the rocky cliffs was sheared off, and this remaining rock has been turned into a memorial for the deceased. A plaque has been placed on the boulder with the names of those that did not survive. Over 250 people were camping in the area, so the death toll could have been much worse.

Memorial Boulder

Memorial Boulder

rest in peace

rest in peace

The U.S. Forest Service maintains a visitor’s center at Quake Lake. It offers an excellent video detailing the events on that fateful night, along with many photographs taken after the earthquake, and survivor’s stories.

One interesting fact from this earthquake. Over 200 geysers in nearby Yellowstone National Park erupted following the earthquake.

If you are in the area, this is definitely worth taking a short day trip to see this area.

Quote for the day: “In the morning we looked across from where we were, and the mountain had just fallen down.” – JoAnn Gartland, earthquake survivor