Thursday, November 30, 2023

Fall Finery at Hoyt Arboretum

From late October until mid-November the trees around Portland and NW Oregon usually erupt in their finest fall colors.  This year was no exception.  Although for awhile the lack of turning leaves led me to believe we'd have a dud year, the first of November everything unexpectantly burst into their best and brightest hues.  I think we ended up having the most vibrant autumn I've seen in many years.

Mossy trunk and fall hues

While I took plenty of photos during the frenetic two week period when colors were at peak, I thought I'd first share some images from a morning walk in Portland's Hoyt Arboretum.

Roadside color

Just west of downtown Portland, Hoyt Arboretum is a unique place.  Located along a ridgetop in Washington Park, this 189 acre preserve features over 2,300 tree species from six different continents.  From forests of huge redwoods and to flowering dogwoods, 12 miles of hiking trails provide access to this biological treasure.

Colorful oak leaves

Although Hoyt Arboretum is lovely in any season, in my opinion fall is the absolute best time to visit.  Colorful leaves from the many diverse trees and shrubs provide a stunning backdrop.

Pretty red-orange leaves

In autumn, local photographers flock to the nearby Japanese Garden to capture images of a very colorful and iconic Japanese maple tree.  However, the morning I visited Hoyt Arboretum I saw only one other man with a camera.  And he was photographing the birds.

Lovely backlit leaves

I also passed by a couple of nice Japanese maple trees.  Maybe they weren't quite as stunning as The Tree at the Japanese Garden, but I also didn't have to wait in line to photograph them.

Japanese Maple tree without the crowds

This autumn walk through the Arboretum made me painfully aware of how little I know about trees.  I wish I was better at identifying the different species.  Something to work on for next year!

Yellow explosion

I admired a tree bursting with bright yellow leaves.

The ground was pretty as well

I enjoyed the leaf collection on the ground as well.

Nice place to sit and contemplate life

This park bench looked like a great place to sit and take in all the beauty.

More yellow beauty

I walked by another gigantic tree covered with more dazzling yellow leaves. 

Multi-colored eye candy

At one end of the Arboretum is a beautifully landscaped memorial to all the soldiers who died in the Vietnam War.  The tall trees surrounding this area were some of the loveliest - decked out in shades of orange, gold and yellow.

Stunning trees near the Vietnam Veterans Memorial

A great place for a fall ramble, I thoroughly enjoyed my November morning at Hoyt Arboretum.  Hope you enjoy it too.

Sunday, November 26, 2023

Craters of the Moon NM

After spending two great, but jam-packed days at Yellowstone National Park, it was time for my buddy Kim and I to head back home to Oregon.  From town of West Yellowstone, Montana we had a full day of driving across Idaho to get to Boise, our destination for the night.  But I'd planned one more stop as we passed through the state.  Although Idaho didn't have any national parks, it did have an area of unique volcanic landscapes that had been designated a National Monument - Craters of the Moon.

First views

Located in a sparsely populated area of Southern Idaho, Craters of the Moon NM is a 750,000-acre geologic wonderland managed jointly by the National Parks Service and Bureau of Land Management.  Exposed fissures, lava fields, lava tubes, craters, and cinder cones form this strange, but scenic landscape smack-dab in the middle of Idaho's Snake River Plain.  The volcanic activity that created this weird wonderland began 15,000 years ago and continued until just 2,100 years from the present times.  

Barren landscape at Craters of the Moon

Although the majority of this national monument can only be accessed by primitive dirt roads, requiring a high-clearance, 4-wheel-drive vehicle, the National Parks Service maintains a visitor center, campground, and paved roadway through a small portion of the area.  This was our destination.

Kim poses by a huge lava rock

After driving two hours westward from Idaho Falls, through an extremely sparsely populated area, Kim and I finally reached the visitor center.  We stopped to get maps and use the restroom before setting out on a quick tour of the National Monument.

Rough lava outcrop

I decided to drive the short loop road and stop wherever something interested us.  The loop road had seven numbered stops (the first one being the visitor center.)  Kim and I first pulled over at the North Crater Flow Trailhead and gazed out on the vast plain of chunky, cooled lava rocks.  Beyond the rough immediate landscape, green foothills stretched away to a few snowy peaks that anchored the skyline.

Lava plain

I read that this inhospitable landscape had provided a training ground for the Apollo 11 astronauts in 1969.  At the time scientists believed that the barren, rocky plains closely resembled similar conditions astronauts would encounter when they landed on the moon.

I was surprised to see so many wildflowers

By now it was midday and the sun beat down.  With no shade to speak of and dark lava rocks reflecting the heat, Kim and I didn't linger long.  

The second stop on our drive was the Devils Orchard Nature Trail.  Only a half mile in distance, Kim and I decided to take a stroll, despite the heat.

Pretty yellow wildflowers

Devils Orchard was created about two thousand years ago when rivers of lava transported huge chunks of a crater wall into the area.  Time passed and the rocks eroded, creating soil to nurture the plants and trees that now grow.  Rabbitbrush and limber pines are the predominant vegetation.  The "orchard" name came from the fact that more plant life grows here than in other parts of the monument.

Lots of dead trees here!

We certainly saw lots of greenery.  And wildflowers!  I'm sure the early June timing of our visit had something to do with that.

Devils Orchard Trail

As we walked along the paved path through Devils Orchard I noticed a lot of gray, dead trees.  Not sure why there were so many.  It could be due to the rough climate conditions here in southern Idaho.  Rainfall is scant and weather extreme - scorching hot in the summer and bitter cold in winter.  And I'm sure the thin volcanic soil isn't enough to support very tall trees.

Lovely wildflowers

I particularly loved these pretty pink wildflowers (not sure of the name.)  They are apparently a very hardy variety, as I spotted a few blooms sprouting from a crack in the nearby lava rock.

Wildflowers growing in the rock

Finishing up our short hike at Devils Garden, Kim and I hopped back into the blissful car air conditioning and continued our drive.  The road wound upward around a feature called Paisley Cone to the next stop on the drive, a tall barren hill named Inferno Cone.

Paisley Cone

At the Inferno Cone parking area I noticed a flat plain of lava soil.  It was barren except for thousands of tiny plants dotting the area.  I'm sure in other seasons this area is in fact devoid of vegetation.  We were lucky to arrive in late spring when everything was growing.

Barren lava plain

Inferno Cone was a steep, conical hill made of volcanic ash and cinder.  These lava fragments were expelled via explosive eruptions from a single vent.  As gas charged lava was blown violently into the air, it broke into small fragments that solidified and fell as cinders around the vent to form a symmetrical cone.  I later read that Inferno Cone is unique because unlike other cinder cones, it does not have a crater at its summit.

Inferno Cone

Although the quarter mile hiking trail to Inferno Cone's summit was supposed to feature spectacular views, Kim and I took one look at the steep, gravelly user path and decided to skip it.  We felt temperatures were much too hot to attempt this shadeless trail.

Mountain views

After snapping a few images of Inferno Cone's dramatic, barren slopes, we piled back into the car for a short drive to the next stop on our Craters of the Moon tour, Spatter Cones.

Spatter Cone

The Spatter Cones were two miniature volcanoes with short trails around their cones, enabling visitors to walk to their center vents.  These small hills were formed when lumps of lava exploded into the air before falling back down around the vent they were ejected from.  As the molten blobs cooled, they formed the Spatter cones' irregular walls.

Looking towards the Snow Cone from Spatter Cone

The Spatter Cones trails were short, so Kim and I decided to check things out.  We walked up a paved path that transitioned into a curbed platform.  The main vent area was fenced, to keep overly curious visitors from falling in.

Trail to the Snow Cone

We noticed a third chunky hill beside the Spatter Cones.  A sign indicated this was named the "Snow Cone."  There was a trail leading to it, so Kim and I followed the path.

The rocky edges of Snow Cone

Looking into another fenced-off abyss, we immediately discovered why this particular feature was called the "Snow Cone."  Deep inside the volcano's inactive vent was a large patch of snow.  I later read that this vent is so deep that snow resides at the bottom year-round.

Snow Cone is appropriately named!

Although there were still a few other stops along the park road, by now we'd spent nearly two hours at Craters of the Moon, and still had a long drive ahead of us to Boise.  So Kim and I skipped visiting several lava tube caves and some more large cinder cones.  I guess this means I'll have to come back again when I have a bit more time to further explore this unusual place.

Lava selfie

But I was glad I'd taken the time to stop at this unique National Monument.  Another one to check off the list!  Now to head for Boise, and the next day home.  

I hope you enjoyed this recap of my late spring trip across the great plains and Pacific NW.  Now I'll have to get busy and post all the fall color photos I've been capturing.

Tuesday, November 21, 2023

Yellowstone NP - Waterfalls, Hot Springs, and Bears, Oh My!

After spending the better part of two days geyser-viewing, my buddy Kim and I were ready to add some variety to our Yellowstone adventure.  So on our second afternoon in the park, we left the Old Faithful area to check out Mammoth Hot Springs.  

Well, I should say we tried to leave the Old Faithful area.  I didn't even get a chance to exit the on-ramp to the main park road when my car was stopped by a huge traffic jam.  Westbound vehicles of all shapes and sizes were at a dead standstill.  The road between Old Faithful and Madison junction was under construction and that meant one-way traffic for several miles.

Buffalo grazing in a field of flowers

Kim and I sat in the car for over 30 minutes, watching traffic stream by in the opposite direction.  Just when I thought we'd be stuck there all day, the cars in front of us began to finally move.  We inched through a rough gravel road, past lots of construction equipment.  I was never so glad to hit pavement again!  But after waiting in a group for so long all the vehicles were bunched up and everyone seemed to stop at the same places.  Although we'd planned on seeing the Grand Prismatic Spring, there was so much traffic trying to turn off into an already overflowing parking lot, I ended up just driving on past.

Unnamed waterfall

At the Madison Junction, I turned east along a road that followed the Gibbon River.  After a brief stop to view a churning waterfall (forgot the name!) Kim and I traveled a short distance further before pulling off at a place called Terrace Spring.

Terrace Spring lined with yellow wildflowers

There weren't a lot of vehicles in the parking area, which is one of the reasons we stopped here.  Kim and I followed a series of boardwalks to a lovely blue pool lined with yellow wildflowers.

It's a wonder the flowers can withstand the hot water temps

I was surprised to see wildflowers growing at waters edge.  I guess those plants were hardy enough to withstand the spring's hot temperatures.

Pretty blue pool

There were a few other hot springs to see.  The surrounding grassland outside of the pools was a lush green, fueled by winter snowmelt.  I don't think this area had been snow-free for long - spring comes late to the high country of Yellowstone (which is why they have to do all their road construction during the busy summer tourist season).

Another flower-lined hot spring

Back in the car, on the road again!  We pulled over to walk a nice path overlooking mighty Gibbon Falls.  The path boasted some great clifftop views of the 84-foot-high cascade flowing through a rocky gorge.

Gibbon Falls

Our next stop was at a geyser area called Artists Paintpots.  Seeing the sign from the road, Kim and I decided to check it out.  Although the parking lot was busy, I managed to find a spot for my car.  

Artists Paintpots area

We started off through a stark pine forest for about a half mile.  The lodgepoles pines here were damaged in the great wildfire of 1988.  Beyond this scorched forest, the terrain opened up into a barren, but colorful wasteland.  An orangish creek flowed lazily through this plain, ferrying geyser discharge water.

Blood Geyser

Stepping onto yet another boardwalk, the first geothermal feature I came upon was a geyser surrounded by red-stained soil.  Appropriately named Blood Geyser, this little guy was bubbling mightily.

Steamy overview

Beyond this first geyser, the boardwalk transitioned back into dirt trail that climbed a nearby hill.  Kim and I huffed and puffed up the steep grade.

Interesting looking hot spring

Our steep trek had its rewards.  Once on top of the hill, Kim and I were treated to a grand view of the entire paintpot area, the surrounding forest, and a couple of snow-capped peaks way in the distance.

Another aerial view of Artists Paintpots

From up here, the orange-ish, red-ish soil surrounding the geysers and hot springs really did look like a bunch of paint on an artist's palette.  I later read that these bright colors were due to the abundance of iron oxide.

We climbed a steep hill for this view

Another feature here on this hilltop was a large mudpot, full of boiling gray mud.

Bubbling mud pot

As with the mud volcano area that we'd visited on our first day, this mudpot was mighty smelly!  All thanks to the microorganisms that live in these hot, muddy areas using hydrogen sulfide to break down rocks into wet clay.  The mud bulged and popped as gas bubbles rose to the surface.

Interesting colors and patterns on the mud pot's surface

After watching the mud burble and spatter for a few minutes, Kim and I climbed down the hill and resumed our boardwalk tour of the final hot springs in this area.  One in particular was an eerie gray-blue color.  Guess that was the blue paint in the artist's palette!

Weird blue pool

After the paintpot stop, I drove past the Norris Geyser Basin junction (we'd already visited all the geysers there yesterday) and then turned northward towards Mammoth Hot Springs.  I'd driven about 10 miles up this road when we suddenly came upon a huge traffic jam.  Cars were parked everywhere, lining both sides of the road.  I knew what was going on.  Seeing a place to park in a gravel pull out nearby, I guided the car into the spot and told Kim "there's an animal sighting nearby."

Mama Grizzly and cubs!

Hurriedly I switched to my big zoom lens.  Then Kim and I hustled towards where it seemed most of the onlookers were gathering.  I asked a group who was walking back what was going on and they told me "A mama grizzly bear with three cubs is out beyond the trees."

The bears were adorable

Good thing I had my zoom lens!  The mama and babes were quite a distance and the extra magnification of my big lens helped me see them.  Also considering it was a mother bear with young ones, I was glad they were far enough away that I felt safe watching.  (And thankfully all the onlookers were being smart and keeping their distance.)

In this view all 3 cubs are visible

The bear family were busy feeding, likely filling their bellies after a long winter.  The cubs were so small the tall grass partially hid them at first.  But eventually their mother wandered into a more open area and I was able to get some photos of all four bears.

The bears were busy feeding

An amazing wildlife sighting!  Kim and I lingered for at least a half hour.  By then I had dozens of images and the bears weren't doing much but eating.  Time to get travelin' to our final destination before it got too late in the afternoon.

Precarious roadway

Approaching the Mammoth Hot Springs area, the road had to squeeze through a narrow canyon.  In some places the highway was cantilevered over the dropoff, wedged beside a tall cliff face.  We climbed steeply and then wound downhill, the road full of switchbacking curves.  But finally we made it.  Mammoth Hot Springs, get ready for Linda and Kim!

Minerva Terrace, Mammoth Hot Springs area

Although yet another hydrothermal feature, the unique landscape at Mammoth Hot Springs sets it apart from the other geyser basins in Yellowstone NP.  Instead of large pools of hot water or erupting geysers, the main formations here are large stepped terraces of colorful rock.

Looking back towards the hotel area

A network of fractures and fissures in the underlying rock strata enable hot water to flow upward through the limestone layers.  Scientists have not yet identified the volcanic heat source, but some believe it is due to a large magma chamber.  The hot water from underground contains carbon dioxide and as this solution rises through the rock, it dissolves calcium carbonate, the primary mineral making up limestone.  As the water bubbles out onto the surface, the calcium carbonate is deposited in the form of travertine, thus creating the unusual terraces one finds at Mammoth Hot Springs.

Palette Spring

Due to the paintpot trek and bear viewing detour it was late afternoon by the time we rolled into Mammoth.  And the temperatures were downright toasty!  After missing the parking area and turning around in the small village of hotels and shops in the valley (and eyeing one store advertising ice cream) I found my way back to the lot providing access to the main terrace.

Cleopatra Terrace

More boardwalks awaited us - and stairs!  Since the terraces are stepped up hillsides, one must climb several feet of elevation to see them.  Not what one wants to do when temps are in the upper 80s.  But those colorful features of Mammoth beckoned, so Kim and I sucked it up and started out.

I spotted three elk!

To reduce weight, I left my backpack with big zoom lens in the car.  One our way up what should I spot on the hillside but three female elk.  They were close enough, if I'd had my zoom lens I could've snapped some great images.  But since I didn't, these were as good as I got with my 24-105mm lens.

Jupiter Terrace

Despite the hot uphill trek, when Kim and I finally reached Jupiter Terrace, we gasped in awe.  The terraces were a mixture of orange and white minerals.  The travertine formed uniform steps that cascaded down the slope.  It looked like a piece of art.

A closer look at Jupiter Terrace

I read that it took hundreds of years of mineral deposits to form these intricate terraces.  I also found out that the white or yellow colors indicated the hottest water, while orange, brown or green colors were created from (relatively) cooler water.  Mother Nature is pretty darned amazing!

The terrace formations were incredible!

Many photos were taken.....and I don't feel my images really did the place justice.  All I can say is go see it for yourself if you get the chance.

Selfie time!

I would've loved to explore the area further, but the heat and the long day had taken its toll on Kim and I.  The ice cream in the general store was calling.  So we turned around and retraced our steps back downhill to my car.  

Mound Spring

On our way back, we stopped to view lovely Cleopatra Terrace, whose mineral deposits looked like candle wax dripping down the hillside.  Not sure why these hot springs waters didn't form terraces like the other features.  

More terrace detail

Once at the car, I made a beeline for the main village area and that general store with the enticing ice cream sign.  Apparently lots of other people had the same idea as us, because the line for frozen treats was long!  But after our sweltering trek through the terraces, Kim and I had our hearts set on ice cream, so we braved the line and were duly rewarded.  Boy did it taste good!

Some of it looked like melted candle wax

By this time, it was past 6 pm and we needed to get to our motel for the night in the town of West Yellowstone, Montana, 50 miles away.  The shortest distance to get there was back through the park.  Although that might not seem very far, due to the tourist traffic it would take us nearly two hours to make our way there.

Another elk sighting

One thing I'd forgotten when planning this trip for early June.  Memorial Day to Labor Day is prime tourist time at Yellowstone.  I was amazed at the number of people and vehicles on the road - on a Monday!  Driving back through the park, I was consistently slowed down by large RV's, or people taking their sweet time.  And there weren't many places to pass.  Passing by the place where the bears had been spotted, the beasts were obviously still there, as evidenced by heavy traffic and vehicles parked everywhere.  One car in front of me came to a dead stop on the roadway as the occupants tried to see what was going on.  After a few minutes of no movement I laid on the horn.  I'd had it with all the dumb tourists!  Then, coming upon the Madison Junction, traffic again slowed and then crept along for several miles.  We finally came upon a lone female elk next to the roadway.  Everyone had been stopping to photograph the animal, thus causing the massive jam.  Luckily by the time we passed by, a park ranger had come upon the scene and began to direct traffic.  He motioned everyone to keep moving.  Thank goodness!

Ice cream reward after a hot trek

Finally we arrived at our (very expensive) hotel in West Yellowstone.  For what they charged for one night, I wasn't impressed.  But as we learned, you pay dearly for the convenience of staying close to a national park.  After battling stupid tourist traffic all afternoon I was more than ready to relax with a cold beer (or three!)

Tomorrow we would start for home.  But I had one final stop planned in central Idaho.  Join me for my next post to learn all about Craters of the Moon National Monument.