Monday, May 19, 2014

In the land of Mordor where the shadows lie

Yellowstone is an hour's canyon valley drive from Cody, and then another hour on weaving roads before you reach the first major point (with restrooms). Not that there aren't plenty of things to see along the way--river, valleys, cliffs, avalanche fields (with a cannon to spur them on), bighorn sheep requisitioning the road, stopped cars with people trying to see the distant bears, the occasional fumarole wafting its toxins across the road--and bison idling ahead of parades of cars.

The area is dynamic. A fumarole opened under the asphalt of a parking turnoff at the Mud Volcanoes--it's now fenced off. Since the bears recently came out of hibernation and are thus cranky and hungry, a number of sites and trails were closed--but figuring that the open view of the fumarole field was safer than the trails, a number of us went beyond the barricades. Did you know that a bison and a bear look slightly alike from behind?

Cyclists groaned up and raced down 7 degree grades with blind turns and about a foot of space to work with. Most trails weren't open (see "bears," above--also snow), so pedestrians were few. Birds though--bald eagle, ravens (thieves), widgeon, western bluebirds, heron, cowbirds, pelican, and some which look familiar but have alien accents.

And in other accents, we heard Chinese, French, German, Swedish, Hindi, Japanese, Korean (?), Spanish, 'Stralian, Russian or other Balkan, Flemish (we learned and promptly forgot the Flemish word for magpie) and others--and the season has barely begun.

Hot springs flow in a half dozen colors, in small ports or huge terraces, and the huge knob was built from years of deposits by families of hot springs. Two springs next to each other can have different chemistries and temperatures (and different colored algae). A spring may build a dome and then fail, and the dome be either hollow to begin with or dissolve away--solid ground isn't always solid.

From the bison scat I gather that they often come to take the waters--they can't be there to eat grass. Maybe wading in hot/warm water gets rid of parasites, or maybe they're as crazy as people.

A killdeer waded in hot runoff and pecked for invisible insects. How do they stand it?

Old Faithful we saw blow twice--the second time much higher, and a wind shift sprayed us and the camera lens with cool silicated water. (Not sure how to get that off). Anemone sprayed us with hot water. It would be a great one to show kids--about a 10 minute cycle: pool drains, refills, geysers about 6-8 feet and drains again.

There are cascades through canyons tinted by sulfurated gas vents, trees old and after-the-fire young, rivers we met a dozen times at a dozen stages, and where all is green and you least expect it--a whiff of hydrogen sulfide to remind you that the caldera isn't quite dead.

Dunraven Pass wasn't open yet, and since Golden Gate was unpleasantly narrow and precipitous, we asked some rangers for alternative paths from Mammoth Hot Springs. For future travelers, the Northeast exit from Yellowstone to Cody is longer, and the Chief Joseph road is extremely scenic, and by scenic I mean precipitous and tight-winding. It was wider, as promised.

Beautiful, wild and weird place. Some of the mud volcanoes and hot springs reminded me of Mordor, hence the title.

We stayed at Aunt Maud's Place in Cody (part of a house), where the bird dawn chorus was loud and complex. Yes, that's a good thing. Cody is a seasonal town where every fourth store is Buffalo Bill themed, and if you are quiet you can see deer wandering the back streets. The back roads are evocatively wide, and people use small dumpsters instead of garbage cans. I leave winter to your imagination.

1 comment:

Texan99 said...

We used to go with a guide every summer into Yellowstone, on horseback with a mulestring to carry the gear and provisions. After the first few hours, all the hikers were left behind. Most years we never saw anyone else at all once we got into the back-country. The guides, being old hands and having livestock trailers to deal with, avoided the geyser area like the plague, so we never even caught a glimpse of it. It's an amazing park.