Ride Report: Day 8

Day 8 / Friday, September 4, 2009

Instead of fully closing myself and the sleeping bag inside the space blanket bag, I left the right side open to allow my body to breath and reduce the condensation that was happening overnight. I could feel the effect the blanket has as by morning I had a toasty left side and a chilly right side. Sleeping quarters are definitely tight and there's no room for rolling around and changing body positions through the night and I've slowly been training myself to sleep flat on my back with no rolling to the sides. Reduced movement was also required as the space blanket is pretty noisy; think of a candy bar wrapper. However, I was still getting good sleep and felt well-rested each morning.

Since I was sticking to tarmac for the next few days, I figured I could cover more ground and hence did a loop around the entire park in the morning before heading south to the start of the Great Divide Basin near Atlantic City.

The views heading up to Tower Falls were quite grand as the road crested up and over 9,000 ft. The landscape looked like many other places in the Rockies except for the steam coming up from geysers here and there.

From Tower Falls, the loop takes you west to the main entrance of the park near Mammoth Hot Springs. The geological features along the road make the ride interesting, such as columns of basalt lava that flooded the grounds before the last mega-eruption and canyons of volcaniclastic sandstone where the more porous sandstone wears away to reveal columns of harder lava underneath.

Heading north towards Tower Falls.

Looking east in the morning sun.

Fun mountain roads.

The thin shadows of lodgepole pine.

Expansive valley views looking towards Specimen Ridge.

Exposed columnar basalt lava rocks, near Tower Falls, which formed as huge floods of basalt from under the earth preceding the last mega-eruption.

Volcaniclastic sandstone canyon - the more porous sandstone erodes leaving behind the harder lava columns.

The stone archway entrance is pretty grand and it's quite fitting being the first national park in the world, back in 1872. Following America's lead, other countries started to set aside large areas of natural land for preservation as people began to see the value in doing so. Of course, the geothermal features were what set the Yellowstone area apart as a special place as people didn't understand what was causing these boiling ponds of mud and the rotten egg smell of all the sulfur along with the spectacular numerous geysers. It was feared as a kind of hell in the early years before geologists started to explore the park. And recently, with full understanding of what's going on under Yellowstone, this area has been made all the more special as a dynamic volcanic environment. To me, science and the knowledge it brings about only seems to enhance my appreciation of the natural world instead of detract from reverence for it.

At the northern main entrance to the park, which was the first national park in the world, established in 1872, giving credence to the concept of habitat conservation.

I've been as close as possible to the North Pole and now, time to head south 45 degrees of latitude to the equator.

A beautiful buck across the river.

Close up of the buck.

At the main developed area of the park, Mammoth Hot Springs, where the administrative offices are located, the grounds are shared with park residents who enjoy the shade of the buildings, namely elk. There are about 30,000 elk in the park and quite a few of them regularly enjoy sitting right next to the park offices on the manicured lawns and have grown accustomed to human presence, enjoying the benefits of no predators around. When they do show up, park rangers are always around to cordon off the area and keep the tourists in check from getting too close as the male elk won’t hesitate to gore an intruder to his harem of females. The animal kingdom is still generally male dominated and we Homo sapiens have evolved to where gender equality is becoming the norm around the world, albeit slowly in some places. This one male elk was watching over a harem of about 30 female elks. It's definitely fun to act like an animal at times :)

From the Upper Terrace Loop at Mammoth Hot Springs, I got a close look at cyanobacteria at the Canary Spring, so named due to the yellow bacteria thriving in the hot caustic water. Limestone is dissolved underground by superheated water and deposited at the surface of the hot spring as travertine. Different kinds of algae give rise to the colors of the travertine. This hot springs complex is the largest in the world of the kind that deposits calcium carbonate.

Area Closed near an administration building at Mammoth Hot Springs...

The resident elk resting in the shade. One male bull and his large harem of females. They've grown used to the human presence over the years and rangers are always around when the elk show up on the lawns.

Canary Spring area of Mammoth Hot Springs. Hot water is bringing up dissolved limestone and as the pressure reduces near the surface, it releases carbon dioxide and forms travertine, making up the terraces.

The Canary name for this spring coming from the yellow filamentous algae growing just under the water surface.

Caustic pools with thriving microorganisms.

Water flowing off the terrace edge resembling an eternity pool.

A long dead tree slowing being entombed by the travertine.

Bacteria giving color to the travertine.

Down the road is the Norris Geyser Basin that feeds the water to Mammoth Hot Springs. This is the hottest area of the park as it sits on top of three intersecting faults and is also a very dynamic area leading the water from the geysers to be acidic compared to being alkaline at other geysers around the park.

I took a short hike to checkout Steamboat Geyser as it's touted as being the tallest active geyser in the world. However, its major eruptions are quite erratic and can span 50 years between them. When I got there, she was continuously spewing out water a couple feet high. My ankle was getting better as it didn't hurt too much while hiking.

Heading south towards Norris Geyser Basin.

Looking out across the Porcelain Landscape at Norris Geyser Basin, shaped by hydrothermal activity. Click image for high resolution of the panorama.

Norris Info board.

Emerald Spring, looking green to our eyes as the sulfur and blue color due to minerals mix.

Emerald Spring info board.

Steamboat Geyser, the current tallest and largest geyser in the world, with eruptions reaching 300 ft, all though it doesn't happen too frequently and chances of witnessing it are low.

Steamboat Geyser info board.

She was constantly spewing out small spurts of hot water and steam.

A recent discovery by scientists is that of thermophiles, microorganisms that thrive in hot sulfuric environments, such as the hot springs in Yellowstone and near undersea volcanic vents. Discovering that life can exist in such extreme conditions pushed back the origin of life on Earth from 600 million years ago, as what was thought previously, to around 3.8 billions years ago, close to the formation of the planet at 4.6 billions years ago. This also had implications for finding life on other planets and moons, suggesting that life can arise quickly if the conditions are right, such as a heat source, some amino acids and a few chemicals.

Looking at the cyanobacteria in the hot springs, it's humbling to know that it took nearly 4 billion years for life to evolve from simple self-replicating RNA to this homo-sapien riding a motorcycle. Where is life going to go in the next billion years?...

Bison enjoying the warmth of the tarmac.

Soft shoulder... hard head.

The park ranger barreling down on the animal with siren blaring and lights flashing...

...driving the bull off the road, as we don't want to hold up our park guests.

Even around mid-day, bison were out in huge numbers. It really is a joy to see so much wildlife in their element.

Feeling satisfied after seeing all the major attractions at Yellowstone and getting self-confirmation of various processes in the natural world, I headed south, past the Grand Tetons towards southwest Wyoming.

After picking up a few groceries in Dubois, the ride to Fort Washakie on US-287 was very scenic and reminded me of southern Utah with lots of red rock cliffs. The setting sun threw some beautiful light on the landscape.

The Grand Tetons from Colter Bay.

Taking the paved route towards Lander, WY on US-287.

Crossing the divide.

Rocky vistas of the Teton National Forest.

Twisting road heading into Dubois.

Heading south towards Lander.

Riding the beautiful Red Rock Highway.

The red rock canyons reminding me of Capitol Reef in southern Utah.

Mr. Shadow, showing up as the sun sets on remote roads.

The clouds doing a dance around the setting sun.

Looking back towards the setting sun, near Atlantic City, WY.

I had hoped to make it to Sweetwater Camp past Atlantic City, but it got dark just before the town and I found myself on a downhill gravel road. I turned around and checked in to the rustic Atlantic City BLM campground.

My neighbors were a cowboy and his family with friends. I went over to say hello after setting up camp and Devin, the cook among them offered me some peach cobbler that he made using a Dutch oven. He introduced his wife Mary and their friends Craig and his wife, Karen. Craig was the real cowboy owning 500 acres of land in Cache Valley, Idaho, near Preston. They tended to about 500 Black Angus cattle and said I had just missed a great steak dinner. We got settled in around the fire and they shared about their life on the range. The property has been in Craig's family for over a century and it sounds like some fantastic land with lots of private rivers, seven natural reservoirs and his own water supply straight from the snow melt. Underground aquifers supply the whole ranch and he was quite proud of the fact that the water in his faucets saw daylight for the first time when he turned on the tap, describing how pure and untreated the water is.

I asked him about all the hay I had seen on my way here and he said they grow their own for cattle feed as they want to be all self-sufficient as possible. He described that the crop is alfalfa, which grows to about 5 ft tall and they can harvest it three times in a year or maybe even four some years. The interesting thing I learnt was that the protein content in the alfalfa increases with every cutting and I guess the price of the crop goes up accordingly. They tend to the cattle year-round and they said below -5 F in the winter when they're outside, it doesn't make a difference as the temperature drops to -40 F or even -60 F. Layering and bundling up is the key.

Besides Devin and his family that live a quarter mile away, they have no other neighbors and that's they way they like it. Coming up to this campground for a week in their trailers was their preferred vacation as they said they didn't like cities, or being in crowded places. They joked that this area around Atlantic City was the remotest region of the remotest state. Craig said he had been to Chicago once for some cattle business and it was just too much concrete for him. They also complained that more and more people were moving up towards them from Logan, Utah to escape urban sprawl.

Having so much land, they're trying to live as self-sustaining as possible and Devin recently got some hens and has been producing much better eggs than Craig said he could buy from the store. Devin's looking next to get a goat for milk. They said this was also to prepare for possible rough times ahead. I guess the economic collapse of 2008 has made more people aware of how vulnerable our societies really are the way they're currently structured.

I forgot the names of Devin's two kids, but the little girl was following her elder brother around and she stumbled a few times on the gravel and Devin said it was all right as she needed to learn to be tough. She didn't even cry; just got up and carried on with all smiles. Mary said watching TV wasn't part of their daily routine as the ranch dictated an early-to-bed, early-to-rise lifestyle. And being quite isolated, the kids were being home-schooled, with the state sending them a computer with internet and all the appropriate science experiments. She said being out on the ranch counted as field trip credits for the kids. It was very interesting to meet strong-blooded Americans living off-the-grid in today's ubiquitous high-tech society.

They said they were equally impressed to meet an Indian traveling deep into their country and Devin gave me a few pointers ahead of crossing the Great Divide Basin the next day. They invited me for a hearty breakfast the next morning and I couldn't refuse.

I tucked in for the night after a good 320 miles that day and a stomach full of peach cobbler.

Next: Day 9, Great Divide Basin into Colorado

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