US 2016

Yellowstone

Our first stop this year was Yellowstone national park, with our friend Random.

bison and mountain

This is a typical view at Yellowstone. We'd often ask each other, See anything over there? with the answer Other than stunning scenery and a few bison, no. About 1/3 of Yellowstone is the caldera of an ancient, active volcano. It is ancient in that it last erupted about 600,000 years ago, but it is active in that the hot magma is still below the surface and powers Yellowstone's unique geothermal features, such as geysers, hot springs, and acid pools. The other thing which makes Yellowstone amazing is that it has been a national park for over 120 years, which means it also has a good population of bear, bison, elk, and other wildlife, including the recently-reintroduced wolves. It's the kind of place where you come across something and think, Wow, I've never seen anything like this before, and a few moments later come across something else and think, Wow, I've never seen anything like this before, either, and this keeps happening all day.

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bison herd

Yellowstone is home to about 4900 bison. The Lamar Valley, which happened to be along the road by our cabin, is home to many of them. This view repeated itself for many miles along the river.

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road bovid

And, around dusk, the herd would move up from the river to the road. The bison seemed to accept the cars as part of the herd, and would often walk alongside the cars that were going slow... and since every now and then one would cross the road, going slow was a necessity. The closest one got about 2 feet (2/3 of a meter) from the car.

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Shiver McChillhoof

Random thought this one looked cold and needed to warm up in the car.

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bison with oxpeckers

Several of the bison carried a few birds on their back - most likely oxpeckers, who live symbiotically with the bison by eating ticks and other parasites.

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moose

Bison were far from the only wildlife in Yellowstone, though. This lady - I think a female moose - was grazing in the roundabout by the visitor's center.

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Calcite springs

This part of the Yellowstone River valley is called Calcite Springs. The Yellowstone river has been cutting through the crumbling rock of the valley since the last ice age. The Calcite Springs bubble hot oil and sulfur from deep below the surface. Puffs of smoke are visible over the sheet of white calcite. The gray streak just left of center in this photo is a column of smoke.

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bighorn sheep

Far below, a mother bighorn leads her baby to the river for a drink.

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elk

Not far down the road, we had to pause for a bull elk crossing.

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canid

And then we caught sight of a bit of buff-colored fur above the grass - this guy had found a groundhog snack. I think this is a big coyote, but it could be a young wolf that hasn't quite grown into its ears.

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gopher

Not all the wildlife we saw was exotic. There were plenty of groundhogs and gophers.

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deer

There were also no shortage of blacktail deer.

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acid cauldron

But also things like this - a pit of boiling sulfuric acid. Anything that falls into this pool will probably boil to death, then dissolve.

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It is not surprising, then, that things in Yellowstone tend to have names like The Dragon's Mouth. The origin of the name is not documented, but I would guess it's the sound of the water - a rushing hiss punctuated by roars as a wave of water rushes out.

bison by fumerole

The park's residents seem unperturbed by this strange and hostile environment. Note the smoking fumerole in the background.

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This one seems to be intentionally hanging out in the sulfurous steam bubbling out of this cauldron.

Eric with bison

Bison are not friendly. Bison are dangerous. They also sometimes hang around right on the walkways. We waited for this one to move a bit further away from the boardwalk, and then I snapped a quick picture as Eric walked quietly by.

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cloud rainbow

Yellowstone had an extra surprise for us this day: a cloud rainbow! The sun shining through ice crystals high in the atmosphere create a shifting rainbow, which looks entirely and indescribably alien, even in the alien landscape of Yellowstone.

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raven

Raven makes his opinion known to the crowd.

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We finally reached the destination for the day: Old Faithful. We arrived just as a large crowd was leaving, thus we deduced that we'd have to wait a while. We spent about 90 minutes looking at this. (Sound supressed so you don't have to listen to various people whining about having to wait.)

Finally, though, Old Faithful lived up to its reputation. (The full-length video is here, with sound supressed so you don't have to listen to various people being impressed in their own, unique, distracting ways.)

brown bear

On the way back, a crowd of stopped cars (wildlife jam) signalled that there was something to see. We parked at the next turnout and walked back to see this guy, placidly eating dandilions down the hill. My bear taxonomy is not very good - I'm not sure if it's a cinnamon black bear or a grizzly - but it was quite big.

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Eric bear selfie

Much nearer by, a black bear emerged from the tall grass. It was close enough for Eric to snap a quick bear selfie. I realize the bear doesn't look all that close, but believe me, this is about as close as you want it to be.

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black bear

Eventually it wandered close enough that we quietly made our way back to the car, and left the rest of the crowd to its fate.

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pronghorns

Pronghorn grazing along the roadside in the Lamar Valley.

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bison

And, of course, more bison.

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The first stop the next day was the Artist's Paint Pots. The paint pots are boiling pools of mud, colored white by calcium. There is something strangely disconcerting about watching the groud boil and hearing it blurp and spurk as it spits globs of white, plaster-like mud at passerby.

mineral pools

There are also brightly-colored pools - the water a cloudy blue-white, the edges a mix of yellow and red.

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mineral pool

The red color is caused by bacterial mats. The bacteria are specially adapted to the acid and heat of Yellowstone, and thrive in all but the hottest parts of the boiling pools.

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mineral pool

The braches of dead trees, bleached like bones, confess the harshness of this environment. Nonethless, wildflowers creep up to the edges of these hostile pools.

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Beryl Spring is one of the hottest springs, so the water is clear.

We walked up just as Fountain and Morning Geyser were erupting. They kept up this show the whole time we were there - about half an hour.

Fountain geyser

Fountain Geyser.

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Morning geyser

The much-smaller Morning Geyser has lovely pastel pools.

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Eric and Twig Geyser

Eric in front of a third erupting geyser in the area, the Twig Geyser.

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Just up the boardwalk, the Red Spouter fumerole roars like an angry dragon.

Leather Pool

The Leather Pool, opposite the Red Spouter fumerole.

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Celestine pool

The Celestine Pool - an otherworldly rainbow on the bleached landscape.

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Celestine pool

Its acid waters form eerie sculptures of white, red and gray.

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Excelsior Geyser Crater

The clear blue of the Excelsior Geyser Crater means it is too hostile even for the red bacterial mats to survive.

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Today's destination: The Grand Prismatic Spring. This is an otherworldly location even among the strange environs of Yellowstone. The wind blows a hot mist over the rainbow pool, like a portal to another dimension.

Eric and Random at Grand Prismatic

It's also a fine location for a tourist photo.

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Turquiose Pool

We decided this must be the Merely Astounding Prismatic Spring. Its smaller size actually makes it easier to comprehend. (Its official name is the Turquoise Pool.)

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baby bear

The ride home brought another wildlife jam at the bear-spotting point, so we stopped to see what had everyone's attention. This time it was a couple of baby bears waiting for Mom by a tree. Other onlookers assured us that mom was in the forest beyond the babies, not somewhere behind us.

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Soda Spring

Soda Spring is an old park feature that now only occasionally burbles out some calcium-laden water and a puff of sulfurous fumes.

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Random at the mountaintop

By day three we'd hit all the major features, so we dedided to see some of the park's lesser-known sights. The first stop was the Monument Geyser Basin, overlooking the Gibbon River canyon.

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Eric on an overlook

The traditional photo of Eric on something precarious.

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Random at Monument Geyser Basin

Monument Geyser Basin contains small geysers, fumeroles, and strange tubes of calcium that regularly emit clouds of steam. On this day, it also contained Random.

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chimney at monument geyser

One of the chimneys emitting steam.

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Eric and Random on the trail

Eric and Random on the trail down.

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disappointing steam hole

Our last stop of the day was the Great Fountain Geyser. This geyser erupts only once or twice per day, but regularly shoots water 100 feet in the air. The White Dome geyser is erupting in the distance.

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disappointing steam hole

Unfortunately, today, it was as placid as a cow pond. Random decided that there was nothing great about this geyser, and that it should be renamed Disappointing Steam Hole. We finally left as it was getting dark.

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Random with petrified tree

For our last stop, we decided to hike to the petrified forest. The way is marked by occasional petrified stumps and logs. Random pauses by an enormous, downed petrified tree.

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petrified log

Another petrified log overlooks the valley.

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Random and Eric

Random and Eric making soap commercials.

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Eric at the summit

The petrified forest is not at the summit of the hill. However, we were. There are many trails criscrossing the mountain, and we ended up on the wrong one.

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Ace and Random at the petrified stump

We finally made it to what was (I think) the petrified forest. A huge petrified stump marked the place. Ace and Random pose for a tourist photo.

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Eric with petrified trees

Eric made it a bit further down, to a pair of standing trees. These three trees seemed to be the most forest-y part of the petrified forest trail. We later learned that the petrified forest is actually many layers of forest buried by successive eruptions. The soft rock crumbles over time, and falls down the hillside. Gradually, parts of the forest fall down the hill, and new parts are revealed. Thus on this occasion there may be only two trees and a stump, but in a few years there may be more, or fewer.

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Eric and Random on the ridgetop

Eric and Random on the ridgetop overlooking the trail.

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Mammoth Hot Springs

The last stop was Mammoth Hot Springs. Like much of Yellowstone, the active areas shift over time. This area, looking like an inside-out cave, was formed by hot springs but no longer has any water.

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red bacterial mat

The areas that do have water are colored by the red bacterial mats.

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sandpiper

A sandpiper forages in the mats.

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calcifying grass

Grass along the edges of the pools dies, and is eventually calcified into a criscrossing pattern. Probably, these small formations eventually determine the shape of the larger pools.

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Minerva Terrace

Minerva Terrace

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Grassy Spring

Grassy Spring

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Canary Spring

Canary Spring

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Ace by Canary Spring

Ace by Canary Spring

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unnamed spring

An unnamed spring on the main terrace.

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Orange Spring Mound

The spring at the top of the Orange Spring Mound.

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Angel Terrace

A last look at the strange world of Yellowstone before heading back to civilization.

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San Juan Island

After visiting family in Saint Louis and Kansas City, we went on to go whale watching off of San Juan Island.

chickadee

San Juan is home to much more than just whales, of course.

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Harbor seals

On the boat - first stop is an island of harbor seals. Note the mother and baby on the far left.

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T125A and T128

Today we found two male transient orcas - the mammal-eating variety that earned orcas the name killer whale, for their ability to kill other, larger whales. This is T125A and T128, two brothers who are often found together. Unlike the resident orcas, which travel in a group with their extended family, transient orcas are rarely found in groups larger than three, and that is usually a mother with two offspring - her oldest male offspring and her newest calf. Other offspring will leave when a new calf is born.

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T125A

T125A has a very distinguishing notch in its dorsal fin.

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T125A

Today, though, these guys seemed entirely uninterested in hunting whales, or in fact doing anything but lazing about in the water.

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T125A

But despite the lack of action, it was a beautiful day on the water.

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T128

T125A in the afternoon light.

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orca with clouds

Orca with clouds

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clouds

Clouds in the evening light

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Mt Baker

Mt Baker

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eagle

As a bonus, a bald eagle flew by while going home on the ferry.

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Camping at Ohanapecosh

For the final stop, we went camping in the old growth forest on the east side of Ranier.
halloumi

Cooking halloumi on the barbecue, American style.

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sap

One of the trees at our campsite had been lightly burned, and was leaking sap in glittering droplets.

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sap in lichen

Sap in lichen

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Indian Pipe

Indian Pipe, a plant that has no chlorphyll but instead parasitizes fungus for its nutrition.

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Ohanapecosh river

Ohanapecosh river

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rapids

Rapids under the bridge

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hot spring

The (comparatively) tiny Ohana hot spring.

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hot spring pool

Someone has made a wading pool from this part of the spring. Note the bubbles in the back of the pool.

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unidentified flower

An as-yet-unidentified flower on the trail back from the hot spring.

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Antheraea polyphemus

Antheraea polyphemus, or giant silk moth. In this area they are probably living on the big leaf maples. This one was living on the floor of campsite washroom, so I picked it up to save it from being stepped on. Given its relatively dull colors and tattered wings, it is probably old anyway.

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Antheraea polyphemus

I set it on a nearby tree trunk. After spending a couple minutes vibrating its wings (warming up, perhaps?) it took off.

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Antheraea polyphemus

Head-on view

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raven

The ravens discussed whether we would leave anything for them as we packed up camp.

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Oregon junco

An Oregon junco

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For those that are not arachnaphobic, there's also a new spider on the spiders page.



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