The first time Alisha and I went to the Yellowstone back-country office we were given a piece of information which really changed how we viewed the park from then on. We were told that less than one tenth of one percent (one out of every thousand) of the visitors ever leave the pre-marked boardwalk trails. In fact considering that from the parking lot to the boardwalk back to the car its possible most of them never actually set foot on the ground itself.
True, Yellowstone is a mecca for Americas adventurous soft serve licking crowds, True, you will see chub-a-lubby American potatoes practically begging the buffalo to gore them as they stick cameras in their shaggy faces and pose in order to have pictures to show for their wild expedition and sadly but true there are thousands of them and miles of cars and trendy Yellowstone national park merchandise. All that’s forgotten more or less as soon as you set foot on trail and head into the back-country.
In order to do anything over a 2 day hike you will need to fill out a form and pick 1st 2nd and 3rd choices for which spots you want to camp out. There’s a 20 dollar fee to reserve your camp sites. Visit the NPS Yellowstone back-country for more information.
For those interested I created a google map with pin marks if this trip.
Day 1 – Lone Star Geyser – Lower Geyser Basin
We started two miles south of Old Faithful. 3 miles in we ran into Lone Star Geyser which goes off every three hours. We were lucky enough to arrive just as it was doing its thing
An hour or two before sunset and 4 miles later we set up camp and then decided to tack on an additional 6 miles to see the lower geyser basin which isn’t too terribly different from a lot of the other geothermal activity in Yellowstone except for the complete lack of people and boardwalks which makes all the difference in the world.
The photo above is a valley near sunset en route to the geyser basin
I really enjoy the sort of textures that happen near geothermal activity. My highlight of the geyser basin were the twin fumaroles. It sounded like satan gargling asphalt. I tempted fate to see what was inside. (Can you imagine the headline on the news? At 11 – Local Idiot gets face blasted off by steam after sticking head in fumarole)
Day 2 Yellowstone Valley & 3 River Junction
The second day was around 11 miles or so. The first photo is some weird bacterial mat with air bubbles trapped in it that we found in a river. Ill probably use this for art at some point
Alisha befriended an amanita, which for the record… was already knocked over before we got there and not plucked so we could take a picture with it
The valley is pretty amazing. In the photo below you can see the Bechler River to the right but running along side it is a small stream made of the runoff from hot springs. The temperature in these streams was pretty hot I would guess 170 degrees.
Inside the stream were the strangest thermophiles Ive ever seen. If anyone know for sure what these are please contact me. My shot in the dark guess is that they are strands of thermophile bacterial growth. The slow hypnotic undulation of this hot water forest was the highlight of my day, but as you know I’m geeky like that.
A close second favorite spot of the day was Leather Pond. Large thick bacterial matts growing at the bottom of this small pond. My first thought was of large vats of kombucha and probably went as far as thinking “I wonder what it tastes like” before I shut that thought process down and headed towards our destination.
I have to recommend this camp site if you are in the area. I believe its Abigail Falls, but the campsite is amazing! Right on the base of this huge towering waterfall which we watched the sun set on. We started climbing it but to the left and right were some seriously spooky caves and rock pits which could have easily made dens for any number of large animals that we didn’t want to encounter.
Day 3 Downward to Bechler Meadows
By day three the hiking is taking a toll on us. We are beat. Its another 12-14 mile day and luckily its all downhill with a 3,000 foot elevation change, but with a 40 pound pack and several blisters that’s a small consolation
This was the day of the waterfalls it seems. Here’s Alisha all explored-out at the mornings first waterfall.
I snuck up behind a dragonfly and ended up a little confused. Can dragonflies hear? This one didn’t notice me in its peripheral vision or hear the sound of my shutters but as soon as I stepped into its field of vision it bolted. Click the image for some great wing detail
Not too much happened this day. Long arduous and we filled the space talking about food.
Day4 Union Falls and Beyond
So we wake up exhausted and sore. It seems we planned our trip poorly and didn’t forsee how beat we would be. This day is the biggest of our hikes. To make matters worse we didn’t get our first choice campground and the one we got was 5 miles further out of the way. This was close to a 16 mile day because we decided to check out union falls anyways which added another couple of miles to our plate. I’m glad we did because the rest of the hike was ummm how do I say this? oh yeah BORING!
There was nothing else picture worthy this day which dragged on forever. We stopped to eat once, took a small nap in a meadow and plowed on relentlessly. Time was killed and filled by us talking about what we wanted to eat most. The consensus was that a big fat calzone was the most mouthwatering thing we could think of. Our meals had been too scarce for the amount of energy we were expending and if we overate we would be out of food. Next time I’m bringing a calzone!
We came to the point where we departed from the trail we would follow the next day. Another 5 miles to Abuela Lake. So we went ahead and forded a river (which I wasnt looking forward too first thing in the morning) The way we ended up taking took us outside the park borders and we ended up at a construction site for some kind of rock quarry which was the visual equivelant of nails on a chalkboard. I really bummed me out actually.
Day 5 FORGET THAT!
We wake up an hour before sunrise once again BEAT to tackle the 18 mile day which is all uphill with a 3000 foot elevation change. We are five miles off the trail, have to pass that horrible construction site with its orange water and mountains of broken stones, then have to ford a freezing river with really sharp slate… and then walk 13 miles uphill? FORGET THAT! hell no. It was the quarry that was the deal breaker for me.
So we took our time this morning and watched the sunrise on the lake and I got some amazing photos of the full moon setting and the fog burning off the lake. Im starting with my favorite
So we walk five miles to the main rode and then hitchhike the 12 to our car which our friend had moved to the trail-head. We decided then to kinda sorta start working on our wedding reception which was in two days. (like how we roll? we are pros!) But before we left Yellowstone I wanted to stop at this Basalt column rock-face we found last year but I didn’t get any good pictures of because the light was poor. It was the same this time around and I’ve come to the conclusion that a picture couldn’t capture the sheer magnitude of it – Heres my failed attempt
Near Tower Junction you can see the some really amazing rock formations from a high vantage point. This is one of my favorite spots in Yellowstone.
And then we went home. Our next back-country hike will be a 100+ mile hike in Glacier National Park in the summer of 2008.
You can view the rest of the photos here