Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming – August 19, 2013

Monday: The first photo below is our campsite, or part of it, showing my new two-man Kelty Gunnison 2.2 tent in the foreground (white and orange), with Julie’s new North Face Meso 2 in the background (green). The third tent is at the campsite next to ours. We also had a fire pit (not shown), which was to the left of the picnic table.

Some campgrounds limit campers to two tents per campsite (for example, some have a dedicated “tent pad,” which can be a flat area outlined by logs on which tents should be placed). There was no such restriction posted on the website for the Canyon campground, though I did not know if that was dispositive, or if perhaps they might still have such a rule. Therefore, I did not know if the three of us could each have his/her own tent or not. That was one factor in deciding to buy the two-man Kelty tent. Of course, I could have phoned the campground to ask if there was such a rule. But I had another reason for getting the two-man tent: my one-man tent does not have much room inside for gear, and it has no vestibule under the rain fly. In contrast, the Kelty’s rain fly provides a generous vestibule outside each door of the tent, under which one can leave boots, a backpack, etc. The tent itself provides 37 square feet of floor space, while each vestibule provides 10 square feet of floor space.

I left my duffel bag with my clothing in the vestibule. In theory we could leave gear in the rental car, which would also be more secure than leaving it in an unprotected tent, a concern as sometimes criminals do visit parks to steal unprotected items (or even tents). However, Yigal and I were staying until Sunday, while Julie was leaving Saturday morning, so we would have to store gear somewhere at least for Friday night through Sunday morning. Also, Hertz had talked Julie into renting a larger car, then gave her a Buick LaCrosse “mid-size” sedan that has a pitifully small trunk of only 13.3 cubic feet, compared to 20 cubic feet for a Ford Taurus. The trunk was mostly full of food we had purchased, leaving no room for my duffel bag.

Campsite, Canyon Campground, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

Our campsite

Yellowstone was established as America’s first national park because of the geysers, with a number of basins located adjacent to the roads. We planned to visit all of them, instead of hiking every day. Julie had proposed a 14-mile hike in adjacent Grand Teton National Park for midweek, and I proposed a 6-mile hike to the top of Mt. Washburn and back. This hike was the only one that was especially highlighted in the Moon Guide for Yellowstone, which was how I selected it. We decided to begin our week with the Mt. Washburn hike, reasoning that we could then recover on Tuesday (if any recovery were needed), before visiting Grand Teton on Wednesday.

Thus, we drove a short distance north from Canyon (at 7900′ elevation) to Dunraven Pass, elevation 8859′, the start of the trailhead up Mt. Washburn. As Julie was not wearing a belt, I was tasked with carrying the can of bear spray. We began our hike, appreciating the scenery, though visibility was far from ideal, both because of morning fog and especially because some small fires were burning in Yellowstone, to the south of the Canyon area.

Scenery from Mt. Washburn, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

Scenery from Mt. Washburn

We discovered that the trail was wide and typically devoid of rocks, tree roots, etc. It appeared that it had formerly been a road, and in places we saw bits of asphalt.

Climbing Mt. Washburn, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

Climbing Mt. Washburn

Some of the short trees growing on the mountain:

Climbing Mt. Washburn, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

Climbing Mt. Washburn

The surrounding landscape:

View from Mt. Washburn, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

View from Mt. Washburn

 

View from Mt. Washburn, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

View from Mt. Washburn

This rock had both yellow and red lichen:

Rock with yellow and red lichen, Mt. Washburn, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

Rock with yellow and red lichen

The peak of Mt. Washburn, complete with its observation tower, came into view:

Peak of Mt. Washburn, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

Peak of Mt. Washburn

When we had stopped at the grocery store at West Yellowstone on Sunday, Julie had been excited to discover a bota bag for sale. She said that she had wanted one for years, and could not resist making the purchase. I’ll stick with the less-fashionable CamelBak bladder hidden in my backpack.

Julie with a Bota Bag, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

Julie with a bota bag

We encountered numerous small flying insects that made a tremendous snapping or popping noise in flight. When they landed, they revealed themselves to be small, drab grasshoppers, a wrangler grasshopper (Circotettix rabula), or a similar species. We saw them in other parts of the park, and in Grand Teton as well:

Wrangler grasshopper, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

Wrangler grasshopper

As expected, the view improved as we neared the top of the 3 mile trail, though it would have been better without the smoke:

View from Mt. Washburn, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

View from Mt. Washburn

 

View from Mt. Washburn, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

View from Mt. Washburn

We completed the 3 mile, 1400′ climb:

Posing atop Mt. Washburn, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

Julie, Yigal and I pose atop Mt. Washburn

In the panorama below, one can see part of the substantial observation tower, which includes restrooms, an enclosed observation deck for park visitors, and a private residence on the top floor for a park ranger.

View from Mt. Washburn, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

View from Mt. Washburn

Two other panoramic views from the top of Mt. Washburn:

View from Mt. Washburn, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

View from Mt. Washburn

 

View from Mt. Washburn, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

View from Mt. Washburn

After a while, we began our descent, retracing our steps on the 3-mile path. I believe this little fellow is an Edwards’ Fritillary (Speyeria edwardsii):

Edwards' Fritillary Butterfly, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

Edwards’ Fritillary Butterfly

And this would be a Checkered White (Pontia protodice):

Checkered White Butterfly, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

Checkered White butterfly

Another view of the surrounding countryside:

View from Mt. Washburn, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

View from Mt. Washburn

After returning to the car, we continued driving to the north, to Tower Fall, where a walkway led to a platform from which we could view the 132′ waterfall.

Tower Fall, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

Tower Fall

We then descended a stairway which led to a small spot about 50′ above the Yellowstone River. A sign there noted that the trail was closed beyond that point, and visitors should continue at their own risk. A steep sandy descent led the remaining 50′ to the river, and a number of people had descended that, but we decided that climbing back up the steep sandy slope might be more trouble than it was worth, so we remained on the trail and had lunch.

Yellowstone River, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

Yellowstone River

We then drove south, returning to the Canyon area, where we visited the north side of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. At 24 miles in length, 800-1200′ deep, and ¼-¾ miles in width, the canyon is impressive (though still tiny compared to the real Grand Canyon, carved by the Colorado River). We descended a path, switchbacks and stairs to an observation platform at the point of fall of the Lower Falls:

Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

Grand Canyon of Yellowstone

I mentioned that the trunk of our car was primarily filled up with food. While I can survive indefinitely on cold food, Yigal decided it would be nice to have a campfire and bake potatoes, so at the grocery store on Sunday he bought two bags of them, as well as half a watermelon that we never ate. He also bought aluminum foil, lighter fluid and a lighter, and then we chipped in to buy firewood and kindling from the Camp Services store. (The park allows visitors to collect fallen wood, but the campsite only had pine trees, which is not especially suitable for fires.)

So we had a campfire that night and ate a few baked potatoes. Lacking sour cream, I put hummus on mine.

Coming up: Tuesday we tour the Mammoth Hot Springs; visit the Boiling River; and see Old Faithful erupt.

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