It took me a while, but I’ve now gone through my photos from Yellowstone that I took during a road trip in the US with Elizabeth in summer 2012. I’ve posted some previous shots from my travels in the US on the blog and in my Gallery, including the Deep South, Joshua Tree, San Francisco, and California Coast and the Redwoods. There’s more to come, namely Zion, Bryce Canyon, and Arches in Utah. I’ve also got some shots from hikes in Colorado. Anyway, now it’s all about Yellowstone!
Yellowstone is photographer’s heaven, but there’s only so much you can do in four days — one of them including a 49km run/hike around Shoshone Lake. The trip is not exactly in fresh memory, but I’ve got a lot of stories to tell. The Shoshone Lake roundabout is by far the most eventful. Fortunately, Elizabeth, who has much better literary talent than myself, has written an account of our little adventure. The story (all true!) was originally sent to a friend; I have reproduced it below with permission, including my own illustration. You can follow the route from my Garmin data. Lucky thing that I had the Garmin for a compass, as we didn’t even have a map…
Check out all the shots from Yellowstone here.
Back in civilization today after four days in Yellowstone, if you can call Idaho Falls civilization. Did a trail run yesterday that was supposed to be a rather easy (good trails and relatively flat) 24 miles around a lake in the back country. Instead, I saw my first grizzly and ran my first ultra. Running the three miles down from the road to the lake was easy and scenic, pine forests and little streams that wound through lush meadows. The lake looked huge, but the maps had it marked as 18 miles around. We set off on the first leg of the trail, five miles to a ford. Since June is a little early for Yellowstone, we wanted to see if it was passable before getting too deep in the wilderness.
Less than a mile down the trail though, Tuomas quite suddenly came to a halt and did a fantastic little panic/warning dance. So I crept up to the little rise in the trail where he was standing and saw a big fat bear ass right there. It clearly knew we were there and was ambling away peacefully enough, so we decided to wait twenty minutes or so and then go on cautiously. We jogged on talking loudly and noticing that the fresh bear tracks just kept going along the trail. Sure enough, we came around a corner another mile in, and there the bear was, still shuffling away. Again we waited, deciding we would give it one last shot, and if we saw the bear again, we’d have to go back before it decided we were stalking it, or just got annoyed and swatted us.
Fortunately that was the last we saw of the bear, though I worried a bit about it for the rest of the run, when I wasn’t worrying about other things. We made it to the ford, which was another first for me, thigh deep, fast and wide. The whole area was above 6500 feet and still melting. Stripped down, fought across glacial water running over pumice pebbles, put my running clothes back on… and though it was the only ford on the map, we wound up doing that at least five more times over the whole run.
The next challenge was snow, waist deep in places and soft from the pleasant June temperatures. Tuomas has, unsurprisingly, a preternatural ability to move over snow. Me, not so much, though now, I’ve learned to be much better at it. At first I lagged behind as we ran over swaths of snow and patches of trail. Then, we both slowed to a hiking pace as the snow deepened and the trail was completely obliterated. Although it was marked frequently with orange metal tabs bolted to trees, we lost over an hour trying to not lose the trail. As though that weren’t enough of a challenge, the wind picked up and trees started falling. We were going through one of the areas hit lightly by the 1988 fire, so there were a good number of old, dead trees still standing. Not quite so many still upright by the time we found the trail back down towards the lake.
Once we found our way, we tried to make up for lost time, anticipating additional challenges and wanting to get out before dark. Though we’d planned to finish five hours before sunset, the bear and the snow set us back quite a bit. We encountered several more fords and severely boggy ground until again the trail was entirely lost, this time in a marsh. We knew roughly where the trail should be, but that was waist deep water, so we worked our way around further inland, aiming towards an area marked as Shoshone Geyser Basin on the map.
The geyser basin was unmissable, but no sign of the trail. In the tourist crowded areas by the roads, the park has these wonderful signs warning people to stay on the boardwalks. They feature a curious and ill starred little boy falling through the thin crust of a thermal area, his face twisting in shock and pain as he sinks into a boiling pool of sulfuric acid. So here we were with no marked trail and a wide, treeless stretch of iron and sulfur deposits dotted with geysers in front of us. As we followed the sulfur and mud caked trees back towards where the lake should be, and maybe the trail, I was convinced that one of the geysers would go and melt my face off.
It was back to the bog and a compromise of calf deep water and geysers still too close for comfort. After about an hour of this, we found the trail. And where did it take us? Closer to more thermal features than we had previously dared to go. So again I thought I might have my face melted, but on the upside I got to check out some gorgeously colored pools and some boiling mud pots in complete solitude, no xxxl sized rednecks in xl sized shirts or 11 year old girls in pink brand hot shorts scratching their names into fragile, intricately textured bacterial mats.
The rest of the trip was a hard push across more snow, unmarked fords, and rolling terrain. We’d come 14 miles and found a nice trail marker reporting 16 miles to go. Very worried about time at this point, we pushed as hard as we could, running through deep drifts and jumping little streams. But it was Wednesday and I’d raced a half marathon on Sunday and I’ve never run 30 miles before even on asphalt… so I finally found the endurance limit in my legs, and we hiked the last seven miles out. Tuomas hallucinated some bears and other wildlife along the way. I became a glass pitcher half full of water.
The ending, rest assured, was a happy one nevertheless. Seitan sausages grilled on campfire and some Montana microbrew (Big Sky brewery, if I’m not mistaken) down the hatch, and all was better. It’s the first time I’ve seen a bear in wilderness as well.. so I had to get that shot! Didn’t dare to get very close though.
Well, I think that this story and set of photos is more than enough. General impression of Yellowstone was that there’s way too many tourists, but if you’re willing to go off the beaten path (see above), you’ll be left well alone. Again, make sure to check out rest of the shots.